Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A Conversation with Denny Brown

Denise Brown was originally an Essex girl and is now settled in Dumfries & Galloway. Denise pursued her dreams of being a writer after a friend recommended she read JK Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech on the ‘Benefits of Failure’. She studied Advanced Creative Writing with the OU, balancing writing with a full-time job and being mum to five beautiful children. In 2014, Devil on Your Back, her gritty YA novella set in inner-city Britain, was published in ebook format by Salt Publishing. She has since had short stories published in Rattle Tales Anthology 4 and various online magazines, and was long-listed for the Mslexia novel competition with the first draft of an unpublished novel.

Denise writes about things that disturb her. She once lived on a dismal estate similar to that featured in the forthcoming I am Winter, and made bearable only by the surreal effect of being surrounded by woods. It was the lack of hope in the faces of the local teenagers that were the inspiration for her novel.

One day she wants to live in either a book shop or Hogwarts, with a Rottweiler and the complete works of Thomas Hardy. 

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I think it all began with my dad. We used to go to the library together every three weeks when I was a teenager. I loved books. I always wanted to write but never considered it as a possible career so I left school, worked in a bank, got married and had lots of babies. It wasn’t until my youngest daughters were growing up that I decided to take the plunge and study (Advanced) Creative Writing with the OU. I was instantly addicted and started entering short story competitions – I won the first competition I entered which was a tremendous ego boost – and worked my way up to writing my first novella which was based on a short story submitted for one of my course assignments. When I saw Salt’s call for submissions for their Modern Dreams series I sent them my novella Devil on Your Back and three weeks later signed a contract with them. Seeing my photo on Salt’s website as one of their authors was so exciting! Since then I have continued working on several novels, been long-listed for the Mslexia novel competition and recently signed a contract with Cranachan Publishing so it is a very exciting time for me.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I see myself as a crazy woman with lots of people living inside my head. No seriously, what I love most about writing is having a character that might begin as simply a face with a few freckles across the nose, and watching them develop into someone with history and passion, with likes and dislikes and family and friends, and a story to tell.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Yes all the time! I think we all have the potential for good and evil; it is life that moulds us into the people we ultimately become, and it is the situations that people find themselves in and the way that they deal with them,that I tend to write about. Things that sadden or disturb me.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

We all know or have encountered a plethora of diverse characters in real life; it would feel unnatural to not carry this knowledge across into my writing.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

At home – I am exactly where I want to be because home is where my family is.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

The Secret History by Donna Tartt – thanks to my son Dan who gave me a copy for my birthday. It gets under your skin, slowly, subtly, unnoticeably at first, and then you feel as though you’ve become embroiled in a world so sinister and disturbing it cannot fail to go horribly wrong. Immaculate writing and utterly un-put-down-able.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Read, write, persevere, don’t give up. My first novel was attempted during Nanowrimo. I say ‘attempted’ because even though I completed the novel in the month, it wasn’t until I read it back that I realised how mind-numbingly awful it was. And still is. It’s unsalvageable but it proved to me that I could write a novel.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I am Winter will be published late 2017 by Cranachan Publishing. It is a contemporary coming-of-age novel about Summer, a teenager whose mother’s tempestuous relationships leave her feeling unloved and abandoned until she discovers a bear-dog living in the local woods. I feel incredibly lucky to be working with Cranchan’s Helen and Anne to tell Summer’s story, as they share the same passions as myself about the novel.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I’m not sure I have a favourite character from childhood. When I was fifteen I read Forever Amber and Amber St Clare remains to this day the character from a novel I would most like to be.

I am Winter is published by Cranachan Publishing

Follow Denise on Twitter @DeniseBrownUK

Friday, 2 December 2016

Helen Macdonald - H is for Hawk

Award-winning author Helen Macdonald headlines Writers in Conversation

The highly popular Writers in Conversation series returns to the University of Southampton with Costa Book of the Year winner Helen Macdonald headlining the autumn programme.

The author of the bestselling H is for Hawk comes to the main stage of the Nuffield Theatre on Monday, 5 December. The book, a touching memoir of the year Helen spent training a goshawk named Mabel in the wake of her father’s death, won both the Costa award and The Samuel Johnson Prize in 2014. Helen is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian, naturalist and professional falconer. Throughout her career, Helen has worked as a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge and assisted with the management of raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia and bred hunting falcons for Arab royalty.

“Helen’s book is an astonishing mix of science and memoir, fact and emotion, told with a poet’s ear for language, and a storyteller’s sense of drama,” says Carole Burns, Associate Professor and Head of Creative Writing at the University of Southampton, who hosts the series. “H Is for Hawk has become a modern classic, and I can’t wait to hear her read and talk about how this book came to be.”

Writers in Conversation features some of today’s best fiction writers, poets, non-fiction writers and playwrights reading from their work and talking about their writing lifestyle. The talks are hosted by Carole Burns, a former journalist who still writes for The Washington Post. She is also a fiction writer, whose collection, The Missing Woman and Other Stories, won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award last year from Ploughshares.

“Reading stories is a part of our education that we most often bring with us into our adult lives – whether by reading the latest Costa Prize winner, or taking a thriller to the beach,” says Carole. “I hope this series gives people a chance to deepen that interest, by hearing writers read their own work, and asking them questions about their art. “Nuffield provides a wonderful setting for this event, lending the readings a salon-like feel,” she continued. “They’re casual and engaging, and writers seem to love Writers in Conversation as well.”

All Writers in Conversation events in the autumn series start at 19:30. Tickets for Helen Macdonald priced at £12.00 each.

Follow Helen on Twitter: @HelenJMacdonald
Follow Carole on Twitter: @Carole_Burns

Friday, 25 November 2016

A Conversation with Elle Wild

Elle Wild grew up in a dark, rambling farmhouse in the wilds of Canada where there was nothing to do but read Edgar Allan Poe and watch PBS mysteries. She is an award-winning short filmmaker and the former writer/host of the radio program Wide Awake on CBC Radio One. Her short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Magazine and her articles have appeared in The Toronto Star, Georgia Straight, and Westender. Wild’s debut novel, Strange Things Done, won the Arthur Ellis Award 2015 for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel, and was shortlisted in multiple contests internationally. Recently returned from the U.K., Wild currently resides on an island in the Salish Sea named after the bones of dead whales.

As winter closes in and the roads snow over in Dawson City, Yukon, newly arrived journalist Jo Silver investigates the dubious suicide of a local politician and quickly discovers that not everything in the sleepy tourist town is what it seems. Before long, law enforcement begins treating the death as a possible murder and Jo is the prime suspect.

What a wonderful dark, quirky, and complex debut novel this is. Canada’s north was never more sinister. Jo Silver is a character who needs more than one book.”
                                – Ian Hamilton, author of the internationally bestselling Ava Lee series

The deeper that Jo is drawn into the investigation, the more she finds that everyone is hiding something. Ultimately, Jo must piece together fragments of her own memory about the night in question, culminating in a startling revelation. 

Strange Things Done is a top-notch thriller — a tense and stylish crime novel that explores the double themes of trust and betrayal against a snow-swept backdrop of the Canadian north. We would like to thank Elle for taking part in A Conversation... and wish her luck with her writing for the future.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

My journey to publishing has been rather circuitous. I spent years as a short filmmaker, then worked in advertising, wrote and hosted a CBC radio show in Canada, and then finally began my novel during an Artist in Residency stint in Dawson City, in the Yukon. I continued working on the story when I moved to the U.K., and finally entered the manuscript in some contests there. It was shortlisted in the “Criminal Lines” contest by London literary agency A.M. Heath and in the Harvill Secker/Telegraph Crime Competition, among others, and finally won the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel, which is when it was picked up for publication. Strange Things Done launched in North America on September 24th and is coming soon to the U.K.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

My favourite thing about being a writer is doing a lot of daydreaming. When Strange published this fall, it felt like I’d downloaded a long daydream in book form that someone else could then upload to their brain and enjoy. It’s a funny feeling – but a pretty wonderful one. I kept sneaking into Chapters Indigo in Vancouver to see my book on the “W” shelf next to Irvine Welsh. It still feels very surreal.

I see the role of writer as being primarily to entertain an audience and provide a passport into another world.  That said, I think there’s also an opportunity whenever someone spends time in another person’s head to experience empathy, another perspective, another culture, and to increase our understanding of the human condition.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I empathise with all of the characters in my novel and short stories, even the ones I wouldn’t spend time with if they existed in real life. I’m fascinated by the grey area that exists in all human beings. To me, the most interesting characters in literature are the ones who operate in that moral grey area; they’re the characters who are most in conflict, and conflict creates drama and forces difficult but interesting choices. As a reader, I love it when an author gets me to understand a character’s choice and empathise with them, even if it is the wrong choice from a moral perspective. In Strange Things Done, I tried to create a world where everyone is keeping secrets and making dubious choices, but hopefully the reader will nonetheless empathise with the characters.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

One of the main characters in my debut novel is Canadian First Nations, from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in band in Dawson City, Yukon. The Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) helped pair me with a representative of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in while I was in Dawson researching the story, so that I might be able to ask questions about who I thought the character might be, and to better establish what might drive my character, what kind of issues he would face, and what his own personal conflicts might be. All of the details were called into question, things like where the character might live, or whether or not he would still be single if he were older, (unlikely, I was told, as people marry much younger in the North). I had to change the age of my character, and many of the little details about him and what made him tick. I was extremely fortunate to have that kind of research assistance.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Oh, that’s a challenging question, as I am a person who is torn equally between two places, the U.K. and Canada. Here in Canada, I live on an island off the rugged coast of BC. I’m spoiled with lush fern and forest views from the window of my home office, and I’m a five-minute drive to the beach. Often, though, I miss my old loft office in the Victorian house we owned in the U.K., and the views of rolling farmland just outside the charming village of Box, near Bath. Given the choice, I’d flit back and forth between the two worlds at random. At the moment, I settle for importing my old Box neighbours in from the U.K. for summer and winter holidays. I try to get back whenever I can to visit, and to research my next novel, which is set in Victorian London and Dorset.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I wish I’d written Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. It’s a wonderful story, speaking of empathy and characters who operate in the moral grey area.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

I think you have to be prepared to set your first ten drafts on fire, and just keep the story evolving. Have trusted readers provide critiques of each draft. Then put it away for a while and come back to it with a fresh perspective. Try not to absorb the negative remarks yet also try to learn from them. (It’s a difficult balance to find, but I think it becomes easier with time.) Ignore anyone who tells you that getting published is difficult or impossible. Persevere. Believe.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

Ooh, I’m so excited to start working properly on the next novel. This story is a historical mystery set in Victorian London and Dorset, called The Secret Bones. Can’t say more than that at the moment, but I will keep you posted.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Probably Alice in Wonderland, because I always admired her great (if troublesome) curiosity and willingness to plunge herself into strange new worlds.

Strange Things Done is published by Dundurn Press

You can follow Elle on Twitter: @ElleWild_Writer

Saturday, 5 November 2016

A Conversation with Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith teaches creative writing at the University of Southampton, and is the author of three novels: The Bluebird Café, Happy Birthday and All That and A Bit of Earth as well as a work of nonfiction, Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas. Her first novel for children, Shadow Eyes, was shortlisted for the 2012 Kelpies Prize. From 2009–2010 she was the Writer in Residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. She lives in Southampton.

In her latest work of nonfiction, The Jane Austen Writers ClubRebecca examines the major aspects of writing fiction - plotting, characterization, openings and endings, dialogue, settings, and writing methods--sharing the advice Austen gave in letters to her aspiring novelist nieces and nephew, and providing many and varied exercises for writers to try, using examples from Austen's work.

Pretty much anything anyone needs to know about writing can be learned from Jane Austen. While creative writing manuals tend to use examples from twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers, The Jane Austen Writers' Club is the first to look at the methods and devices used by the world's most beloved novelist. Austen was a creator of immortal characters and a pioneer in her use of language and point of view; her advice continues to be relevant two centuries after her death.

Bursting with useful exercises, beautiful illustrations and enlightening quotations from the classic author’s novels and letters – and written by none other than Austen’s five-times-great-niece – this book will teach you her methods, tips and tricks, from techniques of plotting and characterisation through to dialogue and suspense.

“This book channels Jane Austen so convincingly I wasn't at all surprised to learn that Rebecca Smith is her five-time great niece. Smith doesn't just use Austen's writing to illustrate important points in creating fiction, but offers letters where Jane advised aspiring writers on their craft. She even has a few saucy tricks up her sleeve that are surprisingly modern--such as torturing your darlings.” – Book Trib

Jane Austen is one of the most beloved writers in the English literary canon. Her novels changed the landscape of fiction forever, and her writing remains as fresh, entertaining and witty as the day her books were first published. We'd like to thank Rebecca for taking part in A Conversation with...

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I started writing when I was a teenager. My mother, Shena Mackay, is a writer so I grew up thinking that being a writer was very normal. When I was a student I started what would have been a truly dreadful novel. The title was from Candide… I’m so impressed by the things my undergraduate students write – a thousand times better than anything I was doing when I was their age. The first novel I finished was The Bluebird Café. I started it just after I’d finished university but it took me ages to complete as I didn’t focus on it properly until I was on maternity leave with my first child, Harry. I worked in short bursts when he was asleep; somehow having less time made me work much more efficiently.

I didn’t do an MA in Creative Writing as they hardly existed when I was starting out. I would love to have done one. If I had I would probably have completed The Bluebird Café much sooner. What I did do was read - that is the most important education for a writer. Bloomsbury bought The Bluebird Café and commissioned my next two novels (Happy Birthday and All That and A Bit of Earth). I was very lucky. I work best to deadlines. Since then I’ve written a novel for children, Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas and The Jane Austen Writers’ Club and have just about finished another novel, but hardly anyone has seen it yet.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I can’t say I’ve ever really thought about “my role as a writer”. Writers write. I like telling stories, inventing characters and trying to capture places at particular times. I like thinking about the shape and structure of what I’m working on. With my non-fiction I aim for clarity and I hope to entertain. In my Jane Austen books I’ve wanted to communicate my love for her work and to share what I’ve learnt from her novels, letters and spending so many happy hours at Jane Austen’s House Museum. The Jane Austen Writers’ Club grew from the workshops I’ve run at the Museum.

I’m very lucky to be a writer. I love the days when I’m at home and writing, that’s the most enjoyable thing, The earliest stages of a book are the most exciting, but I like the editing and polishing stages too. You have to be tireless and meticulous if you want to get things right, obsessive really. Writers aren’t the easiest people to live with.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

In Happy Birthday and All That, husband and wife, Frank and Posy Parouselli are both a bit dreadful but I wanted readers to sympathise with them equally. The novel’s ending comes down more on Posy’s side, but actually I feel sorrier for Frank.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I had an Indian grandmother who, very sadly, died when my father was little. In the novel I’m just finishing I’ve tried to imagine what it was like for a woman like her, having children with a white tea planter in India in the 1930s and 40s. The novel isn’t about her or my family, but I have been inspired by some letters and photos. That novel spans 100 years and I have a diverse range of characters.

My first three novels are set in contemporary Southampton. I came to Southampton as a student in the 80s and have got to know the city well. I would never try to write about a character whose voice and point of view I didn’t think I could capture effectively. I do enjoy creating characters of varying ages and backgrounds.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I’m really lucky to have been the Writer in Residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire so have already spent time writing in one of the loveliest places imaginable.

I would choose to go to Klovharu, the tiny Finnish island where Tove Jansson lived and worked. (See ) I would love to visit there. I don’t think anybody not related to her would or should be allowed to stay in her house, so perhaps I could have a temporary hut next to it. I adore her writing, not just the Moomins, but her fiction for adults, and her drawings and paintings. I feel very drawn to the north and would also like to visit other parts of Scandinavia, Iceland, Alaska, anywhere within the Arctic Circle…

What is the one book you wish you had written?

There are too many to pick just one. Emma by Jane Austen, Howards End by E M Forster, Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book and A Winter Book, Lorrie Moore’s short stories and novels, all of Carson McCuller’s work, Anne Tyler’s novels, particularly Saint Maybe, Dinner at The Homesick Restaurant, Searching for Caleb, A Patchwork Planet and Morgan’s PassingDogger by Shirley Hughes and The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr are perfection.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Read. That is what Jane Austen would say too. I hope would be novelists will find The Jane Austen Writers’ Club useful. I’ve tried to put everything I’ve learnt from Jane Austen and from my own experience of writing into that.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’ve pretty much finished a novel. My one after that is going to be set in a seaside town. I’m going back to using a contemporary setting – much easier.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Garnet Linden of Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright which was first published in 1938.

“Garnet was halfway between nine and ten. She had long legs and long arms, two taffy-coloured pigtails, a freckled nose that turned up, and eyes that were almost green and almost brown. She wore a pair of blue overalls cut off above the knee. She could whistle between her teeth like a boy and was doing it now, very softly, without thinking.”

Garnet finds a silver thimble when she’s swimming in a creek and a strange and wonderful summer ensues. This novel for 7 to 12 year olds is perfect in every way – characters, setting, plot, structure. I realised after I’d finished my first two novels that it had been a huge influence on me and my writing. I adored it when I was a child. Elizabeth Enright also wrote The Saturdays which is the perfect book to read if you are ill in bed, particularly if you are under 13.

The Jane Austen Writers Club is published by Bloomsbury.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @RMSmithAuthor

Thank you to Bloomsbury for the review copy

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Conversation with Lyn G Farrell

Lyn G. Farrell grew up in Littleborough where she would have gone to school if things had been different. She studied Psychology as an undergraduate and gained a Masters in ICT and Education at the University of Leeds. She currently works in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University and is currently working on her second novel, a story about the healing power of unusual friendship.

Lyn is the winner of the 2015 Luke Bitmead Burary and The Wacky Man is her debut novel. 

Amanda secludes herself in her bedroom, no longer willing to face the outside world. Gradually, she pieces together the story of her life: her brothers have had to abandon her, her mother scarcely talks to her, and the Wacky Man could return any day to burn the house down. Just like he promised.

As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?

'Harrowing, unsettling, but brilliant from first page to last. My Book of the Year.' - Clio Gray, Man Booker International and Baileys Prize-nominated author of The Anatomist's Dream

The Wacky Man is a powerful and emotional story of Amanda, a young girl with serious mental health issues as a result of a lifetime of abuse at home. An incredible, disturbing, and important book we'd like to thank Lyn for taking part in A Conversation with...

Tell us of your journey as a writer

My journey was a very long one. I told nobody that I was writing a book, mainly because the process of writing was so difficult. I’d had the idea buzzing away in my mind since my thirties and my first notes and snippets of conversations or scenes date back to around 2004. I’ve lost count of both how many rewrites it went through in the first seven years and how many times I put it aside vowing never to return. When it finally starting taking shape I searched for a mentor and through sheer luck, found Clio Gray, author of The Anatomist’s Dream. She pointed out all the bits that needed work and taught me so much about structure and editing and also encouraged me to submit to agencies and competitions. When she forwarded me details of the Luke Bitmead Bursary Award, I was so impressed with what the Award was about, and on an impulse, sent in my novel. Publication was part of winning the award and so then I worked on further edits with Lauren from Legend Press for about six months. The novel was published in May of this year.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I’m not sure I view it as a role but I am passionate about giving voices to those in danger of being silenced. I am drawn to writing about characters that are often marginalised or whose stories are difficult to deal with. My writing role is definitely part time. I have to squash in writing when I’m not too tired after the full time job. I usually write in the early morning or immediately after work. Fortunately, whenever I get started it reenergises me and I’ll find an hour or two has flown by and a little more of the story has revealed itself.

The best aspect is definitely the new writing networks I’ve forged; readers and reviewers, other authors, festival organisers and goers and the great team at the publishers. It’s wonderful to know there are so many people that passionate about stories and creativity. It makes up for all the agonising over phrases and sentences and the necessary evil that is editing.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

The character Seamus in The Wacky Man is a terrible, cruel man and I have little sympathy for the choices he makes as an adult but I empathise with his early life. He was diminished by lack of education and money. I have to be able to empathise with some part of the character, no matter how small, otherwise they would be cartoon like or flat. I always keep in mind that characters are human and have emotions – no matter how far from the surface or distorted they become.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

My debut novel was autobiographically inspired, so though my characters are definitely not ones you often find in mainstream literature, they’re not diverse in the sense of how I relate to them. I knew the main character very well. My second novel has two characters that I think are diverse, with experiences and backgrounds that are very different to me and, perhaps, to a lot of readers. So I’m researching extensively, and thinking about them a lot. It’s very exciting to have characters so independent of me, but a little bit nerve wracking at the same time.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I love this question! And without hesitation I can say Tibet. Markam in Kham (east of the country) to be specific. The first reason is writing related. Tibet features in my next novel and though I have lots of Tibetan friends to consult, in an ideal world I’d be able to spend a few months there collecting first hand experiences. I’m also in dire need of improving my Tibetan language. With a full time job and writing on top, my language study has been neglected. The luxury of complete immersion in the language would be a dream come true.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

This changes depending on what I’m reading. At the moment it’s Peter Carey’s Illywhacker, which I’m reading again as it’s one of my favourite books. He is so inventive in style and structure but most of all, his imaginative powers are astounding. I can only hope to aspire to this level of novel one day in the far off future. Enthralling stuff.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Never give up, no matter how frustrating it gets. The more you write and read (and the better the novels you read), the more you will progress. I also recommend creative writing classes. I wish I’d done some before starting my novel instead of pitching in and finding myself in a murky moat of words for so many years. On reflection I think I held myself back. I’ve taken two creative writing courses since finishing the novel, one free one with FutureLearn and Intermediate writing with the UEA. Both were brilliant and taught me a lot.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

The next novel is about the healing power of unusual friendship. Thought it deals with loss and sorrow and lives becoming derailed, it’s looking at it from the other side of those experiences, so where The Wacky Man was brutal and raw this is gentler and happier.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

One of the first books I can remember reading as a very young child was Mr Dizzy. I related to him in terms of being bullied and sad and I think his simple tale of overcoming hardship was very inspiring to me. I also read The Golden Goblet obsessively from age eleven to about thirteen. Ranofer, the main character, was exotic to me but he was also exactly like me, enduring physical abuse and loneliness. I felt like we were suffering together and he escaped which gave me hope. I still have the book and have read it a few times across the years.

The Whacky Man is published by Legend Press

You can follow Lyn on Twitter: @FarrellWrites

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A Conversation with Peter Cunningham

Peter Cunningham is from Waterford in the south east of Ireland. He is the author of the Monument series, widely acclaimed novels set in a fictional version of his home town. His novel, The Taoiseach was a controversial best seller. He is a member of Aosdána, the Irish academy of arts and letters.

‘Peter Cunningham’s superbly crafted psychological thriller echoes the terse battle of wits between a wily angler and a wilier trout who has mastered how to hide unseen in plain sight. It is a masterly study of a man whose life is turned upside-down by childhood secrets in an Ireland where evil could hide in plain sight because nobody had the courage to confront it. Now the consequences of his past must be confronted, no matter at what danger to himself and to those he loves. Packed with canny and uncanny insight, The Trout grows into a mesmerising read.’ Dermot Bolger

In a spellbinding story of one man’s search for the crucial secret locked in his memory since childhood, The Trout bursts up through the conventions and falsehoods of the past and hangs, beautiful and shimmering, in the clear and vital light of truth.

Alex and his wife Kay live in Bayport, near Toronto, on the shore of Lake Muskoka.  Alex is getting ready to publish his second novel when he receives a package from his publisher containing a curious insect: a fly for fishing. 

This discovery awakens in him painful memories from childhood of an overbearing father, priests who are troubled and in trouble and a betrayed friend in an Ireland in which everything is known but not talked about…

Alex and Kay had began their relationship many years ago in Ireland where Alex was destined to become a priest. His father, a well-respected doctor, is immensely proud of him until the day Alex meets Kay, a meeting which changes Alex’s life and his relationship with his father forever.

Rejected by his father and his friends, Alex and Kay eventually settle in Canada to lead a normal family life. Normal life, however, is only a thin veneer covering a world of childhood secrets and lies and when the mysterious letter arrives it triggers a long-buried guilt in Alex, leading him to risk all to track down its secrets. 

Tell us of your journey as a writer

When I was ten years old I began writing stories for the Christmas supplements of the local newspapers in Waterford. These were usually ghost stories that I had already tried out at bedtime on my sisters and they involved deserted mansions, creaking doors, and large, terrifying spiders. I remember how thrilling it was the first time I saw my name in print.

I have always written, even when I worked at other jobs. As a teenager in Paris, where I washed dishes in a restaurant in Montmartre, I wrote fiction that was very self-consciously Joycean. In London, I painted barges on the Thames by day and wrote stories at night. When I got a job on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange – relaying telephone orders to floor traders – I was also writing a short story that would, several years later, go on to be published in the well-known New Irish Writing pages of the Irish Press.

Nonetheless, I was almost forty before I attempted a novel. A thriller, called Noble Lord, it was begun on holiday, finished in six months and sold within three weeks to HarperCollins. Never has there been a moment when writing has not been central to my life. It is what I do, and I feel very fortunate to still be able to do it.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I am a storyteller, which in Irish is seanachaí, an ancient and honourable occupation.  Writing is my obsession, my addiction and my job. It is the only area of my life in which I am truly patient. W. H. Auden, when asked what he thought of something, answered, ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I write?’ That sums up my thought process.  Every morning, usually early, I sit down and resume whatever I was writing the day before; and when that book is finished, I begin another.
I’ve never thought much about my role, even though for years I have been chronicling many of the issues that have consumed modern Ireland. If I get my readers to see the world around them in a fresh, exciting and different way, then I will have achieved something.
I love the cocoon that envelops me when I’m writing, and in which time stands still. The process of creativity is so beguiling and mysterious. I feel that writing offers me redemption.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Some of my characters are very dark and devious – in The Trout, my new novel, several such characters are hiding in plain sight.
Sometimes a character emerges and takes over the story. When this happens, it’s very stimulating: as the writer, I know I’m on to something. How does this happen? I’m not completely sure. I just know when I hear that character’s voice – even if he or she is a rogue – that the voice is authentic.
My novel, The Taoiseach, based in part on the life and times of former Irish Prime Minister, Charlie Haughey, threw up a dark, central character whom I grew to admire and despise in equal measure. There are now plans to make The Taoiseach into a six-part mini-series for television.

Last year, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Writing diverse characters does not trouble me. Most of my novels are written in the first person, and in each case it can take me many months to get inside the head of my new protagonist. Nor does gender worry me, one way or another. My novel, The Sea and the Silence, is written in the first person, entirely from the point of view of a woman. I thoroughly enjoyed writing that novel and plan to repeat the experience before too long.
Much of The Trout is told from the point of view of a seven year-old boy. That was difficult and took me nearly five years to write.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I’m extremely lucky insofar as I often write overlooking the sea in County Waterford, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world. There are, admittedly, dark days in mid-winter when I dream of being in Sydney, where my maternal grandfather came from, but the truth is that entombed in the Irish winter I write best.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.  An elderly French lady who I met many years ago in Normandy, told me that she was going home to Paris to read Proust again before she died. What greater accolade could a writer seek?

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Get into a routine. Don’t be afraid to let it all pour out. Forget rules.  Be patient. Remember that all writing is rewriting. Read your work aloud – it’s amazing how infelicities emerge when spoken. When you are re-reading what you have written, beware of the passages you are tempted to skip. If you feel like skipping them, imagine how your readers will feel. Try and get your finished work into the hands of a professional – an agent, or editor, or someone who reviews books.  My dear friend, the late Maeve Binchy, and her writer husband, Gordon Snell, wrote side by side every morning, and then handed over their work to each other for criticism. Maeve told me that this exercise was usually followed by a twenty minute period given over to sulking.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

A novel, The Secrets, which is scheduled for publication by Sandstone Press in late 2017.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Hercule Poirot, followed closely by Sherlock Holmes. I devoured those books as a child – it’s no coincidence that Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle write very well. I had read everything both of them wrote before I went away to school.

The Trout is published by Sandstone Press

You can follow Peter on Twitter: @PCTheAuthor

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Conversation with Maggie Wadey

Maggie Wadey is a playwright, novelist and screenwriter. Her childhood was spent in England, Egypt, Cyprus and a Sussex boarding school. After a brief time as a model, she read Philosophy at University College London. Maggie is married to actor John Castle and has one daughter and two grandchildren. She divides her time between London and Devon.

As an established screenwriter, Maggie Wadey is known for bringing stories to life on screen – her credits include Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, The Yellow Wallpaper, and Stig of the Dump. But it was only later in life that she discovered an equally compelling story closer to home – that of her own mother. 

‘Maggie Wadey has created a portrait that is both a rich and touching tribute to the heroism of daily survival, and a remarkable, nuanced and powerful work of social history about rural Ireland and wartime England, about precariousness and stability’. - Marina Warner

As a child, Maggie was aware that her mother, Agnes, was different from her father and his family, who were very English. But she knew little of her mother’s Irish background, her family’s experience of famine and civil war – nor the secrets her mother never told her. In The English DaughterMaggie Wadey tells the enthralling story of her search to find the truth. 

Maggie knew Agnes was from Ireland, but beyond that information was sketchy: ‘I know my mother had come from Ireland, alone, on a ferry boat with only a hat-box (though it contained no hats), having left home in a hurry after poisoning her mother’s geese.’

Then, before she died, her mother finally started talking about her past, and Maggie could begin to piece together details of her early life in Ireland. The first part of the book is based on these memories, of family gatherings, the family home and flower garden, and of growing up and playing in the fields.

Grieving after her mother’s death, with whom she had a close but sometimes difficult relationship, Maggie then travelled to Ireland to find out more. There she gradually began to uncover much more about the truth behind the stories, and discovered an explosive secret known only to the women of the family. 
The English Daughter is a powerful family story told in an original way, through layers of discovery which invite discussion around the power of memory and the nature of truth. Lost worlds, events, and people, 'fallen women', adoption, all come to life through the extraordinary vividness of the writing, ultimately bringing a sense of closure that helps the author come to terms with her mother’s death - and with a troubling incident in her own youth.

Here is a 7-year detective story and an enthralling unput-downable saga of an ordinary family living through extraordinary and tumultuous times. We'd like to thank Maggie for taking part in A Conversation... 

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I began writing as a child, stories in which I tried to imitate my literary hero, Enid Blyton, and complicated ballet scenarios I fancied would fit the few pieces of classical music I knew. As a young adult living in a rented basement room in Earls Court I wrote many stories in imitation of Nathalie Sarraute and Doris Lessing. I collected enough rejection notes to paper the walls of my room. As a young mother I finally made time to concentrate on a novel and I was lucky enough to have it quickly accepted and published. But this wasn’t the way to make a living, let alone a fortune. My husband was an actor. Reading the TV scripts he was working on made me think: I could do that. After a few failed attempts I began to have my work accepted and, though no fortune came my way, I continued in television, writing original dramas and adaptations, for thirty years. In between times I wrote several novels, only to abandon them at first draft: laziness, lack of focus, the need to earn my living. But TV changed, and so did I.

I had work and life scores to settle with myself: I needed to get back to writing for the page. Which is how, after many years of research - and several drafts – I came to write ‘The English Daughter’, a memoir of my mother and Ireland.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

Hunting something down – a mood, a landscape, a person – catching and arranging to make a shape, a story. What I like most about it is: freedom, solitude, words.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

The closest I’ve come to disliking a character is creating a woman who kills her child - but she’s seen only through the eyes of her own mother, so fear, anger and guilt are mixed with pity.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Some of my adaptations involved characters living in earlier times and that offers its own challenges. In my own work, I’ve written about people of different sexuality and very different backgrounds. My memoir of Ireland starts in 1845, at the height of the potato famine, and follows a poor, rural Catholic family (my own) through poverty, the War with England, the Civil War, and emigration. Very different from my own experience.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

That’s easy. I spent seven winters writing in a barn in Devon, at a big table in a bedroom overlooking the lovely gentle hillside that slopes down to a pond and then to the river estuary. Perfect mix of diversion without distraction.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Difficult, but I’ve settled on ‘The Beginning of Spring’ by Penelope Fitzgerald for its intensity, economy and strangeness, like a spontaneous leap of powerful, unmediated imagination.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Just keep doing it. Read lots, be alive to experience, keep a notebook. Write and re-write.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m working on a collection of connected short stories – they move in a roughly chronological order through the lives of two very different women and of those associated with them. They’re about sex, death and infanticide. And I’m not entirely joking.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Now we’re going back a bit. I was born in 1942 so my childhood was the forties and fifties. I adored Rupert Bear, for his familiarity and innocence, I suppose, but also for the wild imagination of those stories. But a good part of my childhood was spent in the Middle East. One of my favourite books was the ‘Tanglewood Tales’ versions of Greek myths, and it was Theseus on his search for the golden fleece that most fired up my sun-soaked imagination. 

The English Daughter is published by Sandstone Press

Thank you to Sandstone for the review copy