I am working on several creative works at the moment and I have just completed the re-drafting of a novel I wrote years ago, Moving Out. I am planning to enter some more short story and novel competitions and I want to finish two new short stories that have been gestating for some time. I am also clutter clearing my studio in preparation for my writing and some still life painting. I am reading Margaret Foster’s Keeping the World Away, which follows the journey of Gwen John’s painting of a corner of her attic room in Paris; painted when she was lovelorn and waiting for Rodin, who had unfortunately found another muse. It is a haunting and beautiful painting that I have always loved.
An agent has shown interest in my most recent novel, Casting Shadows, and has suggested that publishers will want a stronger hook at the beginning. Last week when I plucked the top five reads from a shelf in Waitrose I discovered that each one has a prologue. It seems the prologue is back in vogue, I might consider using one myself.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
This immediately begs the question what is my genre? And I have difficulty with that. My writing has changed over the years and my writing mentor, the author Jill Dawson, once described our writing as literary. For many readers ‘literary’ has connotations of dense, clever, hard to read fiction written (mainly) by luminary men, and my work is never that. Gene Genie, my first published novel is issue led, dealing as it does with sperm donation, politics and scientific intervention in the process of procreation, but it is also a good read and really quite funny. Quite funny doesn't seem to win any prizes and it isn't literary. My writing is also dark, so darkly comic? although that doesn't quite define it either. In Casting Shadows which I began writing on my MA, we follow the artistic practice of Sally Kettlestone, whose artwork reveals the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Jardine family in 1963 and whose exploration of her own family’s dark secret explains her mother’s chilling behaviour towards her. Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of young Sally, a mischievous and unforgettable child. I have made adult Sally’s artwork, and the objects and images contained in her artwork are additional clues in this unfolding mystery. This is a marked departure from any other novel, although William Boyd’s Nat Tate comes to mind. Sally is as real to me as any friend. No one warns you when you take up writing how deep the attachment is to ones characters; I miss Sally and actually burst into tears when I finished the novel, we were that close. Perhaps that is the reason for sequels, a longing for the author to renew his or her acquaintance with their main character.
Why do I write what I do?
I write about moral dilemmas that my characters find themselves in and secrets; the hidden interests me. There are some genres that aren't for me, such as historical fiction or romance. I do have an idea for a rather unusual detective series. I am curious about the psychology of my protagonists and this is a strong element in all my fiction; people are fascinating. There will always be a strong visual component to my writing, so watch out for textiles, my first career was as a textile designer, so you will find uncut-moquette and crepe de chine often put in an appearance; I sometimes have to limit my desire for lavish descriptions of the textiles.
How does my writing process work?
Usually a kernel of an idea irritates some small area at the back of my brain. Sometimes it’s an image, a thought, a character or someone has revealed to me a minor incident and I spark it to life. Rather like Frankenstein, a bolt of metaphorical electricity stimulates some synapse and off I go. Once it was music, I was driving and had to stop the car, an entire opening paragraph had come to me and needed committing to paper at once; although this is rare. I have ideas all the time. For a long time, years in fact, I thought that everyone had creative ideas, I now realise that they don’t, or they only have one or two. I have a plethora; this bounty is hard to keep up with. I currently have another three novels that I want to write, a myriad of short stories and then there is the artwork. In terms of the everyday process of writing, it is simply a question of discipline. I just get on with it, to an extent it is a job of work and just like work it is regular, daily, with long hours and it is tiring. Unlike normal work it doesn't have a pay cheque, holiday or sick pay and it most certainly doesn’t have a pension. It doesn’t often have recognition either, so you have to love it with a passion, which I do. I am grateful to have been born with this capacity for invention; writing is addictive and has its own rewards. Writing gives me another place to be and an invented world can be a welcome respite from what passes for normal in the real world.