Friday 7 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

I met Karin Bachmann at the Swanwick Writers’ Festival last summer where she taught a meticulously planned and engaging course in editing – in English, her second language. I know, I know! Some of the examples she gave of published texts in need of a good comb were eye-opening to say the least – she says, checking particularly carefully for her own typos and howlers.

Karin recently blogged about her latest Work In Progress in contribution to The Next Big Thing, a blogfest currently whizzing its way around the world in which writers from different countries and writing backgrounds answer the same ten questions about a work in progress.

Karin is one of a group of writers working on an anthology of short stories under the title, ‘Mord (murder) in Switzerland’. Her story is about a young photographer whose pictures cause a whole heap of trouble. You can read more about it here: 

I was delighted that Karin chose me as one of her five to take the Next Big Thing baton from her but must admit to cheating a little. My Work In Progress is a book called Misguidance and I’m a third of the way through the first draft. Like many before me, however, I am a little superstitious about discussing a story that’s still in my head so I’m going to concentrate, instead, on the completed manuscript of Glass Houses.

Here we go…

- What is the working title of your book?
It’s Glass Houses but I’m afraid I’ve gone off it. I fear it’s too twee, too safe, even if it does do what it says on the tin. I’m told not to worry about it though, that the worst a writer can do is be precious about a title because a publisher will always change it. So, really, my dissatisfaction is a good thing.

- Where did the idea for your book come from?
When an amazingly charismatic lady spoke of her forgiveness for her son's killers in the 7/7 London bombings, I was struck by how much more powerful this was than the, nonetheless, very human reaction of anger.

I also remember noticing the utter devastation in the face of the driver who caused several deaths in the Selby train crash, by falling asleep at the wheel. The press demonised him but I couldn’t help thinking that this wasn't the face of a cold blooded killer, rather of someone who'd made a dreadful mistake. He'd punish himself for the rest of his life - maybe he didn't need us to do it too? 

I decided I wanted to write a – what happened next – type story but this time with the perpetrator of an incident at the helm.

- What genre does your book fall under?
General fiction with a contemporary smudge.

Brenda Blethyn
- Which actors would you choose to play characters in a movie rendition?
Please can I have Brenda Blethyn for Tori, my main character? Tori is a killer, albeit unintentionally, she is also feisty, caring and a survivor with a great sense of humour when she gets the chance to use it. She has wild curly hair which doesn’t need washing and a face which tells the tale of a horrendous car crash followed by weeks in a coma – this isn’t true of Ms Blethyn’s face, I hasten to add, but she can contort it masterfully into a whole gamut of ages and expressions.

Imelda Staunton would have to play Tori’s mother, Rose. Imelda (I’m particularly picturing her in Vera Drake) would be masterful at the troubled, but sensitive, role of a mother who has to care for a daughter with whom she hasn’t had the best of relationships over the preceding few years.

Damian Lewis
If Damian Lewis hadn’t made it so big in Homeland, I’d snatch him up for Doug, Tori’s mild-mannered husband, whose patience is being tested to the hilt and who also happens to have ginger hair. However, Doug despises the limelight given to him by Tori’s fall from grace and it would seem fitting that he be played by a scarcely known, quality actor. 

Unfortunately, ask anybody who’s had the misfortune to have me on their quiz team, names of all but the biggest stars are not my forte so I will stick with Mr Lewis for now.

Rachel Weisz
Etta, caught up in Tori’s ‘moment of madness’ and haunted by demons from her past, would have to be played by Rachel Weisz. Etta is quietly determined and fiercely principled but her life is crashing around her ears. À la Rachel Weisz, she remains resolutely demure throughout.

- What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Glass Houses is the story of one woman’s moment of madness and its massive repercussions.

- Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m waiting to hear back from one agent who has the full manuscript of Glass Houses and have also recently applied to a small press who are taking an innovative approach to the new publishing world – theirs is a middle ground with no author advance but no financial outlay for the author either.

- How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took me about 18 months as I kept stopping to carry out more research - and it took me almost as long to edit it. I love every aspect of writing, from the research to the story writing to the editing and even the proof reading, so I’m never really in a hurry.

- What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Glass Houses is reminiscent of novels where fate plays a great part but it’s the film, Sliding Doors, written and directed by Peter Howitt, which always springs first to mind.

I recently read A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards and it struck me that it tackles similar themes. This is also a book about redemption and taking responsibility for our actions. A daughter killed her mother (or so she believes) and the guilt has strangled her life ever since. One of my main characters, Etta, didn’t kill anyone but had Tori not intervened, her guilt would have stifled her life; her marriage, at the very least, would have paid the price. I like the way Edwards takes a dark, serious theme and gives it a light touch through her appealingly flippant writing style. Right at the beginning she slips in, ‘… and the fourteen years since he’d last stood there, the fourteen years since the night I’d killed my mother, hadn’t really happened at all,’ for our very first introduction to the main character’s secret past. It would make me very happy to think that Glass Houses had achieved a similar light touch with the ability to shock the reader as well.

- Who or what inspired you to write this book (story)?
No one person or event particularly inspired me, however, I couldn’t shake the images of the two people I mentioned earlier. During a week-long Arvon writing course, the first scene flew into my head and I felt compelled to down tools on the project on which I had been working and hurl myself headlong into Glass Houses.

- What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Glass Houses is about the fragility of life and how, through our own mistakes combined with those of others, our existence can be shattered in an instant. Even if we try to rebuild our life, the new model will never look the same as the original. However, Glass Houses is also a tragic love story where external forces subject three couples’ relationships to grave pressure. The lengths these people will go to in order to protect their relationships is, I hope, uplifting. 

Now it’s my turn to choose five writers for the next stage in the Next Big Thing’s journey. Some took part in NaNoWriMo, writing 50,000 words in one, tiny month. I’d really like to know what they came up with. The others are blogs I’ve fairly recently stumbled upon and have piqued my interest. I should add the proviso that if they’d rather cheat and talk about a different piece of writing to their Work In Progress, then I am in no position to stop them.

Tuesday 20 November 2012


Many brave souls I know are currently involved in the hugely impressive NaNoWriMo – national novel writing month. These diligent writers commit to scribbling 50,000 words of a novel in one tiny month. Not only that, it’s November, national present buying month if my bank account is anything to be believed, where cosy fires and Christmas to-do lists flutter their procrastination-inducing eyelashes and before you know it, you’re wondering where you stashed the Advent Calendar and mild panic sets in that you may, in fact, have forgotten to buy one.

The brilliance of Nano is in its time frame. There is nothing like a deadline to get those fingers typing, those characters inventing a story for you while you sit, almost as a by-stander, and watch your tale appear on screen. At the last count, Nano writers had written over two billion words and we’re only three quarters of the way through the month!

Another year and I could be tempted. This November, however, I needed the opposite of NaNoWriMo. 

I had a wonderfully indulgent autumn of total immersion in my novel, following interest from an agent with whom I’d dearly love to be associated. (Yes please! All wafts of fairy dust always gratefully received.) The rest of my novel and an alternative ending, or three, submitted, I finally raised my head from the keyboard and could hardly bare to look at the carnage that the total immersion had left in its wake. The light fittings belonged to a disused stately home, spiders weaving works of art which almost stretched the length of a room; a battered cupboard sat hopelessly in the middle of the study despairing that anybody would ever bother to take it to a better place and it would take three bags to cart off the reams of post I’d saved for unnecessary filing.

Thus, I embarked on my own NOTNaNoWri month whereby I banned myself from any writing of book two until Advent descends. I am still writing short stories, book reviews and teaching but the rest of the time I’m … tidying up. 

It isn’t without some trepidation that I set about my NOTNaNoWriMo. There’s a loud voice in my head which normally prevents excessive expenditure of time on such frivolous past-times as domesticity, by instilling fear. It’s the fear that if I do not keep writing my current novel, I will simply forget. I will forget what I’m writing, I will forget where it’s going and I will forget how to write. 

This isn’t helped by the anti-dorphins, those pesky little destructors which have the opposite effect of the endorphin rush I get from story writing and which need to be firmly quashed by constant busy-ness.

Look! Nothing on the floor.
But it’s going well so far. Three times last week I went shopping. From a mere spot on the post-total-immersion to-do list, my Christmas presents are almost all bought. I’ve had coffee with friends, been out to supper, met with my Mum and my sister, the latter lives five hours away, and even indulged in a full week of illness. Then, I scrubbed the entire house from top to bottom – pictured room above, clearly excepted. This is in preparation for the journey to the Floor Of The Office. 

It may be that I’m blogging now because I’m left with the study project and no decent plan of where to start. But start I will. Today. I have ten days left of NOTNaNoWriMo and, as mentioned earlier, there’s nothing like a deadline for complete strangulation of inertia. If I can make it through to the carpet, I’ve been promised a new desk. I’ll let you know how I get on. 

And to the thousands of NaNoWriMo writers, I wish you the very best of luck - not that you’ll be reading this, of course, as you type feverishly at your desks, in total writing immersion. But I hope we can meet for a cyber mince pie or two together in December?

Saturday 27 October 2012

The Sound Bite Novel

In this crazy world of sound bites, tweets and single character texts –the ‘y’ from my husband springs to mind. He meant ‘yes’, I thought he was asking, why? – the Guardian invited well-known writers to join their Twitter challenge. They asked for 140 character novels and the responses were surprisingly good. I say, ‘surprisingly’ not, I hasten to add, because I don’t love and respect the authors in question but more because it couldn’t be done, could it?

My half-brother had a stab and I was suitably impressed. He’s not particularly known for his musings, incredible artist that he is, his talents are more generally seen in his elaborate, if slightly terrifying, tattoos:

Awake. I'm late, procrastinate. That rat race; a slave, there lies in a hellish place, I hate! I realise with tired eyes, YES! it's Saturday. By Gareth Hares.

So I thought I’d have a go:
Her finger hovered over the bell. 8pm, he’d said. She could walk away; he’d never know. She rang it. Better him, than an orphan for ever.

So, over to you! I look forward to reading your novels :)

Thursday 11 October 2012

A Robbery, a Bus and a Bird

So, ahem, not known (as you are about to witness) for my great skill as a poet, I nonetheless had the urge to do something with the brilliant entries into my blog competition to win a signed copy of the wonderful Rook, by Jane Rusbridge.

If the below makes no sense at all (and why ever not?), the entries, listed as comments in my previous post, A Pet Rook and a Competition, might shed a little light.

And they're well worth a read.

Thanks so much for all your intriguing and imaginative entries and well done to June Seghni, our winner as chosen by my esteemed judges - creative writing class students. June, please could you email me your address so that I can get your prize to you.

There once was a pupil called Teresa
Who travelled on the same bus as Jane
The two never did meet
Though they lived on the same street (practically)
Because Teresa was too busy getting the cane.

Phil’s Dad was a waiter in Brighton
Antonia’s sister was a student there too
Jacqueline’s grandparents lived in Lancing
With her best friend she’s no longer dancing
But the beach she still likes to do (as long as she doesn’t get a parking ticket).

Amanda met Jane on Twitter
And then met her again in real life
She has two of Jane’s books
Is excluded from the competition about Rook
But has decided not to put up a fight.

Jennie has no connection with Brighton beach
But has a Granny from Sussex called Meg
She blackmailed the local birds
To visit her in hoards
Though the neighbours to stop, they did beg (ouch!).

Kate has a pet rook called Bunting
She found her at the end of her tether
She survived the fall
Broken legs mean she’s not tall
But she’ll always be fun and clever.

Skyblue is surrounded by rooks and crows
And has a cousin by the name of Jane
She says the sea stopping of King Cnut
Criticised - and unfairly to boot
Should be tried by complainants if they deign.

Alison has a son with a penchant for hamsters
Who imagines them rather as fighters
She loves to visit West Pier
To her and Jane held dear
And they’re also well connected as writers.

June knows about the Goldstone Robbery
When Edward Howell stole mail from the train
All at Goldstone Bottom
Knew that James Rook was also rotten
But June gets first place for his pain. Yay!