Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Novel 2

Novel 2 has made its way from my desk to the desk of my editor. Phew!

It's a book about first love, possessions, parenting, allotments and the joy of Biscoff spread, and it will be published in June 2016.

Now I can finally start to catch up on my reading list, which is currently about two feet high...

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Preston Family

My daughter Libby died when she was a baby. Here she is with my husband. He is holding her moments after a final, failed attempt at resuscitation. It is the saddest photo I own.

Libby had a mitochondrial disease. I'd never heard of such a thing until she was born.

After Libby died someone told me about The Children's Mitochondrial Disease Network. This was in 1999, in the days of dial-up internet, before I even had an email account. I phoned the founder of The Children's Mitochondrial Disease Network, Paul Preston, and he very kindly spoke to me on a few occasions.

Paul was volunteering his time. The Children's Mitochondrial Disease Network has no paid staff and is supported entirely by donations. When Paul spoke to me he and his wife Rachel had already lost a baby, Kristen, to mitochondrial disease. He was also facing up to the devastating news that two of his older children, Stacey and Kieran, were suffering from a type of mitochondrial disease that had manifested more slowly, but would ultimately prove to be fatal.

Stacey died in July 2015, aged 20. Throughout her life she was cared for at home by Paul and Rachel. Now Kieran's condition has deteriorated to the extent that the family are making plans for his end of life care. Kieran is also cared for at home by his parents, siblings and various medical teams. Paul and Rachel are trying to raise some money so they can do some special things with Kieran while they still have time. 

I know what it's like to lose one child to this condition. I have no idea how it feels to lose three. I have no idea how it feels to provide round-the-clock care for two decades. I know I'm a writer, and I make a living by imagining things, but this particular thing is beyond my imagination.

Times are hard for many people and there are so many worthy causes. But if you're lucky enough to have a spare fiver, do think of Rachel and Paul and their family.

Kieran's GoFundMe page.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Book Giveaway

I've been busy trying to finish off book 2 but on Friday I'll be enjoying the treat of chairing an event at Cheltenham with writers Claire Fuller and Sarah Leipciger. Their debut novels, Our Endless Numbered Days and The Mountain Can Wait, are excellent and I can't wait to find out more about them. It will be the first time I've chaired an event - I was so excited to do it that I went out and bought both novels (I used to have a copy of Claire's novel but I pressed it on someone: 'you must read this') and then, a few weeks later, I received my copies from the festival - oops!


As I now have a spare copy of each novel (in hardback, too!) I'm giving them away. If you'd like to win them, pop over to my Facebook page and comment on the thread. I'll draw a name out of a hat at the weekend. I'll try to remember to take them with me to Cheltenham to get them signed, too.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Richard and Judy Book Club

The Richard and Judy Book Club is spotlighting A Song for Issy Bradley at the moment which means that some bonus content will be released on their website in the coming days. 

Here are a few links:

A piece I wrote about grief.

An author Q & A

A podcast interview with Richard and Judy.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Interview with Anne Goodwin

I'm surfacing from a few busy weeks to talk about Anne Godwin's debut Sugar and Snails which will be published on 23rd July in paperback and ebook.  I spoke to Anne about writing and the inspiration behind her novel. 

When did you know that you wanted to write?

I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember, telling them to my sister or writing them down. When I was at university, I submitted a couple to magazines, and even won a national travel writing competition, but I was much too self-conscious and secretive about my writing at that stage to elicit the feedback that’s vital to developing one’s skills. It wasn’t until I hit a bad patch in my life a good twenty years later, and had to examine my priorities, that I could admit how important it had always been to me and commit to the long process of discovering if I had it in me to produce a novel worthy of publication.

Were you a big reader as a child? If so, what books did you like?

Definitely! There was a period when I was about eight years old when I went partially deaf, but I really didn’t mind because it made it easier to shut out the noise of a large family and concentrate on my books. I liked Enid Blyton of course (my loyalties were with the Famous Five rather than the Secret Seven); Richmal Crompton’s William series (although looking back now, it’s hard to see why, as I didn’t identify with any of the characters); and the Australian writer, Ivan Southall. In my early teens I moved on to Agatha Christie (Miss Marple in preference to Hercule Poirot, though I probably devoured the whole lot) and Baroness Orczy for the Scarlet Pimpernel series. Then, through school, I was introduced to Jane Austen and the Brontës at about age fourteen.

What is Sugar and Snails about?

It’s about a woman who’s never felt comfortable in her skin, always conscious of not being the person she feels – or others make her feel – she ought to be. In adolescence, she thinks she’s found a way of bridging the gap, but her solution brings its own problems as she feels compelled to keep her past life a secret. Although the particular path she takes is quite unusual, I think (hope) that her emotional journey is one with which many readers will connect.

How does your background as a clinical psychologist inform your writing? Were you conscious of a need to strike a balance between explaining enough and explaining too much when writing about Di's career? 

Over twenty-five years as a clinical psychologist, I’ve been privileged to connect with people at a particularly vulnerable, and often particularly interesting, point in their lives. Of course, I could never repeat stories shared with me in confidence, but it’s given me a solid foundation for creating characters with emotional depth. Years of practice constructing a narrative that makes sense of someone’s foibles in the context of their life experience has also proved a good apprenticeship for writing character-based fiction but, of course, I’ve had to throw away the terminology of clinical reports.

As an academic psychologist, Di is quite sceptical about clinical psychology and messy feelings which can’t be measured. I didn’t set out to make her a psychologist, but I wanted her to work in a large organisation, so put her in a university that was fairly familiar to me. I gradually realised that making her a specialist in adolescent development could provide the reader with insights into her own adolescent predicament from which she herself was detached. (As a recipient of psychological services in childhood, a fascination with the technology served to distance her from the painful emotions.) Because she lacks confidence in the validity of her own perceptions, she tends to filter her experiences through psychological theory. Rather less of this showed up in the later drafts, however; partly because it entailed too much “explaining” and partly because it no longer seemed necessary to the story. I suppose it’s up to readers to decide whether the balance is right for them.

PictureCarol Shields is credited with saying, 'write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find.' Is Sugar and Snails the kind of book you would like to read but haven't been able to find?

I’d readily follow any advice put forward by Carol Shields, but I do think it’s impossible to tell if the book you’ve written is one you’d like to read. But Sugar and Snails has many of the elements I look for as a reader, with an emotional undercurrent that resonates for me personally while showing me a way of being in the world that’s so different to my own. I’m also drawn to characters who, like Diana, encompass contradictions – being both ordinary and extraordinary, competent and vulnerable – because that’s what I see in real life.

Your next novel, Underneath, is about a man who keeps a woman imprisoned in his cellar. It sounds terrifying. What made you decide to write this particular story, and when will we be able to read it?

Because I became engrossed in the narrator’s rationalisations for his actions, I sometimes forget how ghastly the premise of this story is. My initial idea was to see if I could write about the terror of being totally dependent upon another person who can’t be relied upon (which would have been the captive’s experience), but it morphed into a story from the other side. I get very frustrated by media reports of violent crime being “explained” by the perpetrator being diagnosed with a mental illness (when, in fact, people with such diagnoses are more likely to be the victims of crime). Underneath is partly my answer to that by showing an ordinary(ish) man’s gradual unravelling through his attempts to deny what he’s lost.

I started writing Underneath after completing my second draft of Sugar and Snails (thinking it was finished, but it was far from it), and would alternate between the two novels over the next few years, not knowing would get published first – or indeed if either of them would get there. I don’t yet have a date for Underneath as yet, but I’m not in any particular rush: I want to make sure I can apply all I’ve learnt through the process of publishing its older sibling.

Thanks for your interesting and informative answers Anne, and all the very best with Sugar and Snails.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Some Reading

I don't get to read very much at the moment, which is a real shame, but I have read two fantastic books recently. Firstly, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. What a charming and beautifully written novel. The characters were memorable, the prose insightful, the descriptions deft - I was enchanted; I didn't want it to end.

Secondly, The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman, a novel about female pugilists in Georgian Bristol that is accomplished, gripping and bloody brilliant. The BBC acquired the rights and I really, really hope the series is made - *everything* crossed.

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The Trouble with Sheep and Goats won't be published until 2016, but The Fair Fight is now out in paperback. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Desmond Elliott

Warmest congratulations to Claire Fuller who won the Desmond Elliott Prize last night, for her novel Our Endless Numbered Days

It's strange attending prize a prize ceremony and waiting for the announcement. The wait is really nerve-racking, but once the announcement has been made the rest of the evening is actually quite fun. And, in this case of this particular prize, not winning results in the arrival of this:

How lovely is that? It's easily the poshest present I've ever received.

And, even better, this was also waiting for me when I got home:

(The legs - perhaps she thinks I rode a horse back from London)

Monday, 29 June 2015

Growing things

I'm in the middle of growing my second novel. I'm writing about allotments, and weeds, and sowing and reaping, which means that the time I spend at our allotment essentially counts as research. This makes me happy.

The fact that I'm writing about something I know (in this case allotments) doesn't make the novel autobiographical. I'm also writing about things I don't know - being a single parent, being an only child, living with someone who struggles to throw things away, and so on.

I'm often asked whether A Song for Issy Bradley is based on my own life. I certainly know a lot about Mormonism, but there are lots of things in the novel that I don't know - I don't know what it's like to be a Mormon convert, or how it feels to be a Mormon Bishop, or what it's like to love Liverpool FC etc.

I don't want to go all Donald Rumsfeld and start talking about known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns, but I like to write about a combination known and unknown (to me) things. Here's some pictures of the known things I'm currently writing about.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Authors' Club First Novel Award

On Wednesday evening it was the Authors' Club First Novel Award reception at the National Liberal Club. I won - something that doesn't feel real, but there is photographic evidence, so I suppose it must be true. I hadn't prepared anything to say, so I just grinned like a doofus and said thank you. It was a lovely day. 
Earlier, in the afternoon, Emma Healey, Claire Fuller and I met up at Fortnums for some photographs in advance of the Desmond Elliott Prize announcement on 1st July. The photographer asked us to talk to each other while he took pictures; it was nice to get a chance to know Emma and Claire a little better. 

Next week I'm off to Devon for a whole 5 days of writing. I can't wait to spend some time alone with novel 2. Writing to a deadline makes the process feel different - aside from the added element of panic, I have a much stronger sense of writing as work, which is probably a good thing (and which is why my blogging is likely to become even more sporadic in the coming weeks and months). 

Monday, 15 June 2015

A year since publication

This week it has been a year since A Song for Issy Bradley was published. It's been an amazing twelve months, easily the most interesting and exciting time of my life (cue the Dirty Dancing soundtrack). 

To celebrate I'm doing an Issy Bradley themed giveaway. In addition to a signed hardback and audiobook I'm also giving away a copy of my short story collection Sweet Home and some items that have a connection to the novel: a DVD of Jane Austen's Persuasion, an "emergency" Mars Bar, a Steven Gerrard air freshener, a pair of goldfish earrings and a scarf covered in geese.

If you'd like to enter, you just need to 'like' my Facebook page and the Facebook post about this giveaway. Good luck!