Monday, 15 January 2018

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

Jonah Hancock has lived a merchant’s life. From his wedge-shaped counting-house in Deptford he sends vessels to the Far East that return with valuable commodities. He continues in the tradition of bringing fortunes from the investments his father and his grandfather built. He knows no other way. In autumn 1785, one thing makes him anxious: for eighteen months there has been no news of The Calliope. Nor does he receive any communications from the ship’s captain. Until on a stormy night Captain Jones knocks on his door bringing in the most peculiar creature the merchant has ever seen.   

Somewhere a tide is turning. In that place where no land can be seen, where horizon to horizon is spanned by shifting twinkling faithless water, a wave humps its back and turns over with a sigh, and sends its salted whispering to Mr Hancock’s ear.

This voyage is special, the whisper says, a strange fluttering in his heart. 

It will change everything. 

Sitting at her dressing table, Angelica Neal stares at her reflection in the mirror. After three years with her patron and following his death, her ‘term of employment’ has ended. What’s more, he seems to have forgotten her in his will. The high-class courtesan is pondering over her options; her money is dwindling and yet there is also a new sense of freedom whereby no man has claim to her body but her. Either she is to return to Elizabeth Chappell’s Temple of Venus or hasten to seek another patron. This time, however, she wishes for a lover and dreams of marriage.

In Eighteenth Century London, Hancock and Neal would have brushed past each other on the streets. One a widower and childless, a man who knows money but does not spend it in the embrace of women. The other carries on an ‘adventurous’ life in the embrace of men and values them by how much they would spend on her. In a nutshell, their worlds are like two blinds that stand parallel. Nevertheless, Imogen Hermes Gowar believes they should meet. 

Coined as Vintage’s Lead Debut for 2018, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock spins a bewitching narrative with a fairy tale thrown in. Based on a classic legend sung in various rhymes by seafarers and in the dreams of explorers, it’s something familiar to everyone but a kind of tale that might have been unheard of before.  

Imogen yarns the plot that entices readers to regard a period of time years before Andersen’s Little Mermaid was published but some time after the tales of the Mermaid of Amboina reached the ears of Tsar Peter The Great and George III of England.

It might have surprised Imogen that there hasn’t been a mermaid character in English fairy tales, but the public have an insatiable curiosity of the mysterious embodiment. And so it goes: how about a London mermaid - her own very tale?

‘But what am I to do with it?’

‘Why, exhibit it!’

‘I am not a showman,’ says Mr Hancock primly. ‘I shall notify the Royal Society. This must be an important development for science, and I am not a scientific man either.’

Captain Jones waves his hand in disgust. ‘And then how will you recoup your cost? Listen, ‘tis common sense. Find a coffee-house, charge a shilling per view, and say three hundred view it in a day – I am being conservative- why that s ninety pounds in a week. ‘You might tour the country with it. Take it to fairs. The provinces’ appetite for such things has never been quenched.’

‘Ninety a week, though?’ wonders Mr Hancock.                    

Mermaid for profit. A dead mermaid for hire. Imogen might have had this idea after she set eyes on a mermaid taxidermy at the British Museum where she used to work. The idea of hiring a place to display a curio, let alone artefacts in designated premises might possibly be far-fetched. Through her depictions Imogen is inviting us to foresee particular circumstances wearing different thinking hats. 

Imogen is painstaking in her details. Her fruitful labour gives birth to a new tale that is brought together because of her protagonists’ distinguished viewpoints. Her mermaid has a voice; she conjures not a prince for the immortal soul but men with attitudes; an unscrupulous abbess for a mer-grandmother and the sisterhood of the Temple of Venus’ girls to replace the Little Mermaid’s sisters. Consequently, she shies herself not from dwelling into judgment on moralities; racism and class or hypocrites and thieves. Her minor characters are assertive and audacious, seemingly strong but vulnerable people that shadow Hancock the mermaid man and Neal the courtesan and pull them in different directions.
There’s more to Imogen’s mermaid than meets the eyes; pages that oftentimes would be understood better after a second reading. Her approach in blurring the world between the mer-people and humans’ is a departure from Andersen’s firm inclination to the opposite.

In the excitements of unfolding events, however, Imogen’s subplots are ripped at the seams. In spite of flowing dialogues, she makes the audience extend their patience a little while anticipating the climax. After so much has happened, is the denouement going to be a little flat?    
‘Mr. Hancock?’ Mrs. Neal turns restlessly, and lays her face upon her arm. ‘Were you ever in love?’

He tugs his cravat. He feels that Henry has walked beside him all the day, and many hours after waking, his mind is still so distracted that the word love on the lips of a beautiful woman puts him in mind of nothing that it ought, but instead lays in his arms once more the weight of his little boy, Henry, as he cradled him that one and only morning. The child was already dead at that time, his poor blood crisping at the jag in his head that the instrument had made.

Be that as it may, Imogen is skilful at building up moments which then deliver unusual openness as the above depiction would testify. Her stitches might occasionally be imperfect, but they will hold together. More importantly, the book is far from a saga of a young mermaid giddy in love and chasing her immortal prince at all cost. After all, a happy ever after isn’t what the book has intended.  

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is published by Harvill Secker, we'd like to thank them for the review copy.

Follow Imogen on Twitter: @girlhermes

Monday, 1 January 2018

Greenacre Writers Round-up of 2017

Greenacre Writers has had another busy year, in April Ingrid Jendrzejewski, ran a flash fiction workshop ‘Writing the Iceburgs Tops’. The course covered how we can craft floes of compressed prose that may look tiny on the page but still have the power to sink ships.

Josie Pearse, of Pearse & Black, ran a Sex Scenes Workshop which proved very popular. We looked at what makes sex scenes work or not; sex as an aspect of relationship between your novel’s characters; and sex as plot development - including the implications of writing about non-consensual sex. There were giggles and double-entendres and lots of fun.

Our members have been busy with their writing and we are always pleased when they achieve success.

Lindsay Bamfield, joint founder of GW, has had quite a few writing successes this year including, the Great British Write Off (flash fiction) longlisting in Reflex Fiction (flash), winning Senior Travel Writing competition, winning Hysteria 2017 short story comp, and inclusion in Stories for Homes 2. She says: “[It’s] my best writing year yet. Though I haven't actually done much writing this year!”

Anna Meryt was joint editor for Highgate Poets 28th anthology Naming the Clouds and organised a launch evening of music and poetry at The Big Green Bookshop in April. To mark the Highgate Poet's 40th Birthday in November, Anna organised an evening of poetry and music. In December, her new book Memoir Writing. How to tell a story from your life, was published.

Rosie Canning was 
longlisted in two competitions, Reflex Fiction and The Casket of Fictional Delights. One of her short stories was included in a podcast. She also received various awards, one for a flash fiction conference and others for her research into care leavers.

Some of us had fun at Halloween when a friend of ours, Richard Reeve asked us to do some ghostly readings for at his new Micro Pub The Little Green Dragon in Palmers Green. Anna read a lovely poem about a Spriggan, inspired by a Greenacre Walk along the disused railway to Finsbury Park.

2017 was a year when Allen Ashley focused on poetry, flash fiction, micro fiction (anything below 100 words) and songs. He had published a whole range of the above in places like “Speculative 66”, “The Fenland Reed”, “BFS Horizons”, “101 Fiction”, “Dime Show Review” and the many Christopher Fielden writing challenges on his website. In terms of songs, Roger Tichborne and Allen, brought three new songs “Her Question”, “Old Bones” and “Espresso Soho” into The False Dots live repertoire. Their debut album is scheduled for February 2018 release.

Mr Greenacres and Rosie Canning organised six Greenacre Walks many of which had a railway theme starting with A Branch Line Walk in February, Highgate to Highbury Railway Walk in April, Disused Railway from Mill Hill to Edgware in June, Walk the Nicky Line in July, Walk the Alban Way in October and the Judges Walk in November. Mr Greenacres also organised a walk for the UTA. If you’d like to be added to his list of walkers, email:

Our regular groups continue to grow and blossom. Helen Barbour, a member of some years left the group and moved to Derby to be near her parents who both have dementia. We wish her well. And also sending our good wishes to James Connelly who found that with work now sending him around the UK, he could not make the meetings regularly. We welcomed new members: Deborah Freeman, Emma Levin, Vasundra Tailor and Tricia Atkin.

Finish That Novel2
FTN 2 meets the third Monday of every month
This group is for writers aiming for publication and working on a novel, memoir or autobiography. (Full)

Writing Workshop
Writers Workshop meets every six weeks on a Tuesday
This group is for writers working on short stories, novels, and autobiography or memoir. (1 vacancy)

Writers Meet-up
Meets the first Saturday of every month in Finchley
10.15-Midday, Write for 40mins, have tea, write for 40 mins.
Email for the address. (All welcome)

Allen Ashley continues to run six successful creative writing groups – Novel Focus Group; fiction and poetry groups in Barnet, Enfield and Alexandra Park; a Distance (email) group; and the advanced science fiction and fantasy group Clockhouse London Writers. Anyone interested in joining / attending one of these groups should contact Allen directly on:

Finally we had some wonderful conversations with writers including Claire Fuller, Allan Jenkins, Jane Rogers, Sarah Hilary, Stephanie Butland, Jason Hewitt, Imogen Hermes Gowar, Leone Ross, Sheena Kamal, Ruth Hogan, and Dreda Say Mitchell to mention just a few.

We look forward to more achievements next year -

Wishing all our followers a peaceful and joyous 2018

Follow us on Twitter: @GreenacreWriter

Thursday, 30 November 2017

When Rainbows Cry by Rae Stoltenkamp

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

This is a sequel to Rae Stoltenkamp’s science fiction novel Where Rainbows Hide. Set in the domed world of the future, the story time-travels through the centuries, taking the reader on a fascinating journey full of imagination.
Communication Officer Marco Zeppo arrives home to find his beloved wife missing, leaving a letter which Marco mysteriously incinerates. Surprisingly, he does not show any concern. He simply packed a bag and booked a one-way trip to Mars.
The main protagonist is teenager Petra Sucker. She is passionate about all things “retro” and regularly slips away to the History Museum where she can see, feel and touch life as it used to be long before they all lived inside the Dome.
Ever since she was very little Petra had always looked on the building as a friend as it housed so many things dear to her heart and interests.
There she finds herself entangled in a mystery that involves past and future lives. Despite all the trouble she gets into, she allows herself to step into this secret and tantalising world. Marco and his missing wife are central to this mystery which needs to be solved. 
The world in the future has many exciting technological advances such as superfood which can be downed in a shot, pinapple protein which can incinerate someone’s gel-tab, banana leaf shaped hands with flexible digits, and robo-guard sensor patrols.
Young readers will enjoy descriptions of hi-tech gadgets and telepathic links to one another’s thoughts. The language of the future is also captivating with words such as vid-calls, holos, and Mars blue. The dialogue is extremely good with current and future words inter-twined to make the speech very realistic.
What the dome’s going on here?
There are also many elements that will fire the imagination of adult readers too, such as the regular alerts that are flashed via official news channels and also the Pirate news.
Bing bong bing: Keep your regulation respirator to hand at all times.
Pirate news: 40 seconds of the truth on the hour every hour.
This is a book that will arouse your curiosity because it takes you into a future with exciting possibilities. It is written in clear and simple language. Each chapter ends with a tantalising hook that will ensure you read on. This is an enjoyable, futuristic sci-fi mystery that you will want to solve with the charming and delightful characters in the book.

Thank you to Rae for the review copy.
Follow Rae on Twitter: @raedenewrites

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A Conversation with Rosie Fiore

Rosie Fiore was born and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She studied drama at the University of the Witwatersrand and has worked as a writer for theatre, television, magazines, advertising, comedy and the corporate market. She has lived in London since 2000.

Rosie has published several novels to critical acclaim: This Year's Black (Struik 2004), Lame Angel (Struik 2006), Babies in Waiting (Quercus 2012) and Wonder Women (Quercus 2013).  Isabella was published in August 2016 by Allen & Unwin.

What She Left was also published by Allen & Unwin in August 2017. 

Helen Cooper has a charmed life. She's beautiful, accomplished, organised - the star parent at the school. Until she disappears.

But Helen wasn't abducted or murdered. She's chosen to walk away, abandoning her family, husband Sam, and her home.

Where has Helen gone, and why? What has driven her from her seemingly perfect life? What is she looking for? Sam is tormented by these questions, and gradually begins to lose his grip on work and his family life.

He sees Helen everywhere in the faces of strangers. He's losing control.

But then one day, it really is Helen's face he sees...

We thank Rosie for taking part in our Conversation and wish her lots of success with What She Left and also with her forthcoming novel, The After Wife, written as Cass Hunter which is due for release in March 2018.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I’ve worked as a jobbing writer, first in theatre, then in TV and as a copywriter and journalist, for more than 25 years. I’ve been plugging away, writing novels in my ‘spare’ (ha ha) time for many years. I am definitely not one of those shiny, ‘snapped up and turned into a bestselling celebrity’ stories… I was lucky to get a small publishing deal in my native South Africa for my first book, This Year’s Black in 2003, but it took another four years to get an agent, and nine years and four books to get a UK publishing deal. It’s taken me fifteen years and nine books to be able to give up my day job (I work in marketing in a university), and become a full-time novelist. I start in January!

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

There is simply no greater joy. Imagine the pleasure and anticipation you feel when you’re reading a ripping, thrilling story. You pause and wonder, “What will happen next?” and your brain fills with ideas and questions. Being a writer is like this, but infinitely better, because you get to decide, and answer the questions. It feels like the ultimate freedom, with the biggest canvas in the world.

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

Sam Cooper, the main male character in What She Left was a difficult and complicated man to write. He’s a widower with two small children, and now his ex-wife has disappeared. Very quickly, we find she’s gone willingly. I wanted readers to feel sympathy for Sam (as they should, he’s had an awful time of it), but also to show the diverse and subtle ways in which people can be ‘takers’, using other people for their own needs. He’s appealing on the surface, but I wanted readers to develop a creeping sense of unease about him. Responses to him have been very varied… some people like him, some wanted to stop reading they hated him so much. I’m on the fence… he is very handsome, after all…

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I live in London, and that’s where my books are set, by and large. I love this city with all my heart… the enormous diversity in every neighbourhood, tube carriage and high street delights me. Londoners, mostly leave each other alone or absorb and enjoy the diverse cultures around them. I hope that my books reflect some of that… a place of acceptance and openness.

I feel a responsibility to tell stories that express the things that are most important to me. I am a feminist, and so I always try to write female characters who are as complex, competent and diverse as the women I know. I also resist writing cardboard cut-out male characters (you know the romantic fiction trope of ‘this is the bad one she learns from, this is the good one she ends up with). I make a real effort to include more women as minor characters: it seems a small thing, but in a sequence in my most recent book, the main character’s mother ends up in hospital, and he encounters the emergency services. The paramedic, the police officer and the doctor he encountered were all female, which, in the real world, is as likely as the opposite. However it’s easy to default thoughtlessly to the male in writing.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Oooh, that’s a hard one. From my teenage years, Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. The book spoke to me so powerfully when I was 16 – his dry, thoughtful assessment of those around him still stay with me. All these years later, I still remember the wonderful quote about his old teacher:

“After I shut the door and started back to the living room, he yelled something at me, but I couldn't exactly hear him. I'm pretty sure he yelled "Good luck!" at me, I hope to hell not. I'd never yell "Good luck!" at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it.

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

On this grey November day, I think I might go for a five-star hotel in the Maldives! In all seriousness though, many years ago I spent Christmas in a beautiful cottage in Mousehole in Cornwall. The kitchen window looked out over the sea, with St Michael’s Mount in the distance. I have always dreamed of being able to sit at that kitchen table, looking out over the changing sea and writing.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

My new author crush is Elizabeth Strout. I am working my way through her books, but her first novel, Amy & Isabelle, is one of the most complex and finely-wrought pictures of a mother-and-daughter relationship I’ve ever seen. Also, pretty much anything by Margaret Atwood, obviously!

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

Creative writing professor and novelist Colum McCann wrote a simply brilliant article in the Guardian about writing. Nothing I say will equal his salty and practical advice.

“You have to put in the time. If you are not there, the words will not appear. Simple as that.

A writer is not someone who thinks obsessively about writing, or talks about it, or plans it, or dissects it, or even reveres it: a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.

Good writing will knock the living daylights out of you. Very few people talk about it, but writers have to have the stamina of world-class athletes. The exhaustion of sitting in the one place. The errors. The retrieval. The mental taxation. The dropping of the bucket down into the near-empty well over and over again. …."

“Just keep your arse in the chair. Arse in the chair. Arse in the chair.

Stare the blank page down.”

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

What She Left came out this year, and it’s getting some good reviews and causing some debate, which was my hope!

March next year sees the release of The After Wife, which I have written under a pseudonym, as Cass Hunter, for Trapeze. This promises to be my biggest commercial book yet, and we have sold rights in seven countries across the world, along with an option for a film in China. It tells the story of Rachel, a brilliant robotics scientist, who dies suddenly. It transpires that she has spent the last few years building a humanoid robot, which is her double. It is her final wish that the robot goes to live with her bereaved husband and daughter.

I absolutely loved writing this book – the research into robotics and human-robot interaction was fascinating, but ultimately it’s a love story – it’s about coming to terms with bereavement, and about what makes us human. I am working on a couple of near-future speculative fiction ideas as follow-ups to The After Wife, as well as a play. Now I am going to write full-time I hope to write two books and a play a year. 

You can follow Rosie on Twitter: @rosiefiore

Thursday, 16 November 2017

A Conversation With Leone Ross

Leone Ross is a novelist, short story writer, editor, journalist and academic. She was born in England and grew up in Jamaica. Her first novel, All The Blood Is Red was long-listed for the Orange Prize, her second novel, Orange Laughter was chosen as a BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour Watershed Fiction favourite. In 2015, Leone was one of three judges for the Manchester Prize for Fiction. She is presently judging the 2017 Spread The Word London Short Story Prize.

Come Let Us Sing Anyway is Ross’s new short story collection. From headless schoolgirls, to talking food and threesomes, pretty much anything can happen in these witty, weird and wonderful short stories by Leone Ross.

The finely controlled pacing yields an emotional clout as chilling as the times it evokes. Literate and accomplished.” - Publishers Weekly

Ranging from flash fiction to intense psychological drama, magical realism, horror and erotica, these strange, clever, frank and sometimes very funny stories have a serious side too. Carefully crafted over 15 years, they explore unbounded sexualities, a vision of the fluidity of the person, and politics – from the deaths of black people at the hands of the police, to the deep shifts that signal the subtle changes in the nature of capitalism and much more. These stories may sometimes tickle, sometimes shock; but will always engage both the intellect and the heart.

Tell us of your journey as a writer.

In my twenties when I published my first novel, All The Blood Is Red, I felt an unsurprising duty to write realism: a passionate need to speak of race, injustice and gender dynamics. These days, I express myself in a rather more abstract, mischievous, rebellious ways via magic realism, erotica and horror. I’ll never stop being a political animal - this is just another tradition of illuminating complex emotions and social inequality.

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

My role is to write good sentences, one by one. I like to make people feel. I think of my approach as liquid: I write literally and figuratively about blood, sweat, tears and cum. 

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

I love them all, especially when they misbehave. I call it the ‘Shrink, Sadist, Parent, God’ approach to characterisation: I work to understand them (for substance) I get them into trouble (for narrative tension), I forgive them (because I have known them since they were small) and I try not to let them run out of control (because I have the overview on the whole work). 

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I'm not sure what this means. I think black and female and disabled and LGBT characters should just be 'characters' and they are mine. Perhaps I should ‘diversify’ by writing more white straight men. 

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

A certain poolside in Jamaica. There's an almond tree there that knows me. 

What is the one book you wish you had written?

The next one. A writer might resist writing, but she always wants to ‘have written’. Barring that, Geek Love by Katharine Dunn.

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

Read —and master grammar and punctuation, you lazy sods. I mean that gently but firmly. Writing is communication, not masturbation. Grammar helps you be clear. This isn’t elitism or snobbery — slang and patois have grammar too. I get really impatient with wannabes who think they can get away from this requirement.

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

A novel, next, after this year’s very well received collection of short stories, Come Let Us Sing Anyway. I've been working on this damned third novel for 12 years and it's time for it to be born. This One Sky Day tells the tale of a single day, of a man and a woman crossing an island. He's fighting an addiction to hallucinogenic moths. She is hunting for her husband's pregnant mistress. You can actually read the first two chapters in the Winter issue of Wasafiri magazine.
There are two other books working their way through me as well: a second collection of short stories based on my online dating life and a futuristic novel with a premise I can't yet reveal. 

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

It's nonfiction, but I'd go for Gerald Durrell in all his My Family And Other Animals series of books set in the Greek islands. I once wanted to be a vet and his life of sunning himself, looking at small creatures and dealing with island eccentricity felt very familiar when I was a kid.

Come Let Us Sing Anyway is Published by Peepal Tree Press

Follow Leone on Twitter: @leoneross

Saturday, 28 October 2017

A Conversation with Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson is the highly acclaimed author of biographies of Patricia Highsmith, Sylvia Plath and Alexander McQueen. His first novel, The Lying Tongue, was published in 2007. His journalism has appeared in the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Observer, the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail and the Washington Post

His latest novel A Talent for Murder, is inspired by the mystery of the Agatha Christie disappearance. 

‘I wouldn't scream if I were you. Unless you want the whole world to learn about your husband and his mistress.’

Agatha Christie, in London to visit her literary agent, boards a train, preoccupied and flustered in the knowledge that her husband Archie is having an affair. She feels a light touch on her back, causing her to lose her balance, then a sense of someone pulling her to safety from the rush of the incoming train. 

Wilson not only knows his subject but he deftly moves the tale away from mere literary ventriloquism and into darker territory. Great fun, too. Observer

So begins a terrifying sequence of events. Her rescuer is no guardian angel; rather, he is a blackmailer of the most insidious, manipulative kind. Agatha must use every ounce of her cleverness and resourcefulness to thwart an adversary determined to exploit her genius for murder to kill on his behalf... 

It's an absolute pleasure to welcome Andrew for a conversation and wish him much success with his new novel.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a child. I studied English at King’s College, London and then did a year-long journalism course at City, after which I worked as a features writer for most of the UK nationals. When I was in my late 20s I wanted to write something more substantial than a 2,000 word interview and, at the same time, I had been reading the novels of Patricia Highsmith. I wondered whether there had been a biography of the famously private author and when I realised there wasn’t, I thought about writing one myself.  I was lucky that the first agent I went to with the idea took me on.  

After the publication of Beautiful Shadow, the first biography of Highsmith, I wrote a novel, a literary thriller called The Lying Tongue, as well as a number of works of non-fiction, including biographies of Sylvia Plath, Harold Robbins, and Alexander McQueen, as well as a book about the survivors of the Titanic. I’ve always been driven by my curiosity, writing about subjects that interest me.

Then, a few years ago, I had this idea about Agatha Christie as detective. I’d always been a Christie fan - she inspired my first piece of extended fiction, The German Mystery, which I wrote when I was 12 (luckily it remains unpublished!). I was fascinated by the writer’s real-life disappearance in December 1926, when her abandoned car was found in Surrey and she went missing for 11 days, before she was discovered at a hotel in Harrogate. She rarely talked about the mysterious disappearance and there have been various theories about her motivation over the years. I used the facts of what really happened - taken from witness statements, police reports and newspapers - and into the gap of what we didn’t know I injected a crime story. What if someone was trying to blackmail her? What if someone wanted her to commit a murder on their behalf? And so the seed of the novel A Talent For Murder was born. 

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

It depends what I am working on. If I am writing a biography then it’s my job to tell the story of a person’s life with respect and a certain amount of empathy. My subjects have all been ‘difficult’ people, but I wanted to try to get under the surface of their tricky personalities to see what shaped their life decisions. 

If I’m working on a novel the prime consideration is writing a compelling and gripping story that will keep a reader turning the pages. 

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

I suppose in terms of my non-fiction, it has to be Patricia Highsmith.  She found many social situations very difficult, and often seemed full of hate and bile, but she was incredibly vulnerable and sensitive too. The challenge was to write a book in which all the different - and contradictory - aspects of her personality were reflected. 

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters? 

I approach each book with a fresh eye, as if it were my first book. The challenge in writing about Agatha Christie was to try and get her tone of voice right. Of course, she is a character, but I write about her in the first person. So I wanted to capture the particular way in which she saw the world. Luckily, I had always read her novels - she was my first introduction into the world of ‘adult’ literature. I also listened to lots of audio books, so that the flow and structure of her sentences seeped into my unconscious. 

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

Any house by the sea — I always find the changing nature of the ocean good for writing. Luckily, I live about a 20 minute walk from the sea in Devon, so I try to get down there as often as I can.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

It has to be Bleak House by Dickens - a crime story, a love story, a story of identity, a story of society. Epic in its sweep, but gripping from page one, right until the very end. 

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

It’s probably the same advice that many people give. Don’t give up. Write as much as you can. Read as much as you can.  Tell a good story. Just try and get the words down. You can always edit later. 

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

The second in my series of novels featuring Agatha Christie is out in May in the UK next year - March in the US. It’s called A Different Kind of Evil and is set in Tenerife. Here’s a bit more information about the book.

In January 1927 – and still recovering from the harrowing circumstances surrounding her disappearance a month earlier – Agatha Christie sets sail on an ocean liner bound for the Canary Islands. 

She has been sent there by the British Secret Intelligence Service to investigate the death of one of its agents, whose partly mummified body has been found in a cave.

Early one morning, on the passage to Tenerife, Agatha witnesses a woman throw herself from the ship into the sea. At first, nobody connects the murder of the young man on Tenerife with the suicide of a mentally unstable heiress. Yet, soon after she checks into the glamorous Taoro Hotel situated in the lush Orotava Valley, Agatha uncovers a series of dark secrets.

The famous writer has to use her novelist’s talent for plotting to outwit an enemy who possesses a very different kind of evil. 

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I think it has to be Miss Marple. I loved the fact that she is kind and gentle, like my grandmothers, but also that she is incredibly observant, nosy and has this core of steel. 

A Talent For Murder is published by Simon & Schuster

Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewwilsonaw

Saturday, 14 October 2017

A Conversation With Imogen Hermes Gowar

Imogen Hermes Gowar studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History at UEA’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts before going on to work in museums. She began to write small pieces of fiction inspired by the artefacts she worked with and around, and in 2013 won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing at UEA.

She won the Curtis Brown Prize for her dissertation, which grew into a novel titled The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. An early draft was a finalist in the MsLexia First Novel Competition 2015, and it was also one of three entries shortlisted for the inaugural Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers’ Award.

Imogen lives, works, and walks around south-east London – an area whose history she takes a keen interest in – and her first novel, The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock, will be published 25th January, 2018. You can read an extract here.

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.

Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

[A] beautifully written debut. By turns bawdy, witty and moving, this is a glorious romp through Georgian London. - The Bookseller

In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

Absolutely delighted to welcome debut novelist Imogen to Greenacre Writers and wish her well with the novel which is already causing a storm months before it is published.

Tell us of your journey as a writer.

It’s a cliche, but, I’ve always written. When I was eight or nine I got wise to the fact that publishers put their address in the front of their books, so I secretly sent Walker Books a story I had written. I got a lovely personal rejection letter describing my work as ‘very sweet’, which disgruntled me greatly.

I was aware quite young that writing wasn’t a ‘job’, and put it on the back burner until my mid-twenties, when I signed up for a creative writing evening class. I’d graduated into the credit crunch in 2009 - I was really lucky to get waged work in the museum sector, but it was a slog. Allowing myself to take writing seriously was really a form of self-care: I desperately needed intellectual stimulation and a sense of accomplishment, which I wasn’t getting at work. My tutor, Katy Darby, encouraged me to apply to the Prose Creative Writing MA at UEA, and with her reference I won a scholarship to go in 2013. I started writing The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock for my dissertation there, and something about it felt so different from the other novels I’d struggled with. It wasn’t all plain sailing - I sometimes found it a huge struggle to keep writing, and there were a lot of rejections - but eventually the manuscript was a finalist for both the MsLexia First Novel Award and the Deborah Rogers Award. I got my agent around May 2016, and the novel sold to Harvill Secker soon after that.

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

I think it’s a lot about being observant and sensitive. Reading, watching, listening, before parsing what you’ve gleaned into your own words. My favourite part is the sense of other worlds opening up around me, whether in the research or the writing stage.

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

Absolutely - this is one of the primary reasons I write. Creating characters and making them move convincingly through their world is always an exercise in empathy (at least in my own practice): the more flawed they are the better, for me. There is one character in The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock who is almost objectively dislikeable, but the longer I wrote her the more respect and affection I had for her, and when I finished the book she was the character I found it hardest to let go of.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I think it’s important to acknowledge that eighteenth century London was not entirely populated by straight white men, and in my writing I want to place value on all sorts of people’s lives. On the other hand, there are stories I don’t think I have a right to tell. There are many people better equipped than I to give voice to a great host of experiences: I stick to what feels right to me.

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

A very remote and well-insulated cottage in North Yorkshire, somewhere like Malham, with no space for anybody to visit me. I’d have a woodburning stove and a big desk, and write while the wind screeched outside. I spent my childhood on a North Yorkshire hillside, and my heart is still there.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

The Giant O’Brien by Hilary Mantel. I’m sure everyone names Mantel, but I admire this novel particularly because it is so brief, so pungent, so moving.

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

Only to keep going. Even if you only get to write for an hour a week. Even if it looks like a dead loss. Give yourself permission to be a writer, and when you get knocked down, get back up.

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

My next novel is set in a completely different era from The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, but I think it twins with it in some odd ways. I’ll let my readers be the judge of that though!

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Asterix! I was very interested in history and desperate for anything that made it alive and textured and funny.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is published by Harvill Secker.

Follow Imogen on Twitter: @girlhermes