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! 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

New Books

There was a brief window between finishing my PhD and getting properly stuck into the first draft of novel 2 when I had time to read and enjoy some of the proofs I had been sent. Here are some brand-spanking new books that you'll be sure to enjoy when they are published in the coming weeks.

If you like suspenseful, frightening novels, you'll love Ruth Ware's In a Dark Dark Wood. Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years. Consequently, she is surprised to be invited to Clare's hen-do. It's clear from the outset that something is not quite right. Perhaps there's something strange about needy Flo, perhaps the feelings of discomfort are all in Nora's head or perhaps it's Clare, the bride to be, who isn't quite what she seems. This novel is set in a dark, snowy wood, in an isolated house, inhabited by a group of friends who can hurt each other in myriad ways - it has all the perfect ingredients for a scary read. In a Dark Dark Wood is less of a who-dunnit, than a why-and-how-dunnit, and Ware will keep you guessing and grasping at straws until the grisly and gratifying conclusion. 

Sarah Jasmon's debut The Summer of Secrets is an evocative and atmospheric coming-of-age story. Set in idyllic countryside, this novel is a meticulous rendering of young friendship. Helen’s summer is set to be boring and lonely, but then the Dovers arrive and she is mesmerised by their casual largesse and bohemian ways. As the weather heats up, emotions heighten and something terrible happens. The novel is divided between the seemingly golden past and a difficult present. It is clear that Helen’s isolation in the present is related to the events of that summer. But what exactly happened and who is to blame? There are plenty of candidates: the petulant and charming Victoria, her damaged mother, her exotic uncle Piet, the mysterious Moira and Helen's morose father. When the denouement finally comes it's guaranteed to take you by surprise.

In Stephanie Bishop's The Other Side of the World artist Charlotte is unable to resist husband Henry's enthusiasm for sun and adventure. She allows herself to be swept to the other side of the world where she is crippled by homesickness and overwhelmed by the lonely routines of motherhood. The are moments in this novel that are so beautifully and painfully evoked that they sent me right back to the claustrophobic and seemingly endless days of toddlerhood (I spent about 8 years with a least one toddler in the house). I felt uncertain and bereft at the end of the novel; I thought about it for days, unable to decide what I hoped would happen next. The Other Side of the World is a meticulous portrait of ambivalent motherhood and the pain of nostalgia. 

On the bleak, windswept moors of northern England a religious cult has cut itself off from society. Meanwhile, vulnerable single mother Stephanie is falling for the enigmatic Nathaniel. Eventually Nathaniel brings Stephanie and daughter Judith to live with the other followers. Judith's feelings, unlike those of her mother, are not complicated by romantic love. She struggles to fit in and determines to escape. Rebecca Wait's The Followers is a fascinating look at what happens when doubt is equated with sin and one man speaks for God. It's also a poignant evocation of parental betrayal and the helplessness of children. I really enjoyed this quietly terrifying and suspenseful exploration of obedience to authority and the dangers of fundamentalism. 

And lastly, although I haven't read it yet (a casualty of PhD revisions) do look out for Cassandra Parkin's recently published novel, The Beach Hut

Parkin is an excellent writer - her collection, New World Fairy Tales, published by Salt, is one of my favourites.