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.