Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Kimberly Menozzi: Writer, Interrupted

Did you miss Kimberly's monthly feature in April? I know I did. Here, all the way from the States, is a new piece by one of our favourite writers, who's remembered about us even when she has more important matters to think about! Please join me in thanking her and wishing her mother well.


For many writers, one of the hardest things to manage is time. Finding the time to write is one of the first obstacles presented to anyone who fancies the notion of being a working writer. Different writers go about this in different ways - some write during any free moment they find throughout the day, others write early in the morning before their families wake up, still others wait and write late at night. A handful of writers like myself are very fortunate and are able to write throughout the day. I work part time for a language school and have an office in my flat in my home in Italy. The computer is primarily for my use - my husband has his own laptop for his computer needs - and in that respect, I have what seems like complete freedom. No kids, few outside work demands and a cat who sleeps most of the day mean I'm free to research and write when I like.

Except when I can't.

My current project, 27 Stages, has been interrupted twice. That doesn't sound like much, I know, but those interruptions have brought work on this novel to a near-standstill both times.

The first time work stopped was November of 2009: I was writing well, words were flowing freely and I had gotten nearly two-thirds of the way through the projected work on it. The morning after returning from London (where I'd managed to do more work in spite of touristing about and attending a launch party for a friend), I received a call from my mother. My stepfather had passed away unexpectedly during the night. Needless to say, my writing was set aside for a while. I took a printout of my first chapters with me to work on during the flights from Italy to Tennessee, but I couldn't focus well enough to get anything done. I didn't resume work on the novel until March, and then it was half-hearted at best.

Not long after that came revisions and edits on Ask Me if I'm Happy, to prepare for publication in 2010. I continued to work on 27 Stages throughout, but it was undoubtedly relegated to a secondary position as the work on Ask Me... was on a deadline. Once I'd gotten those revisions done, other work kept me preoccupied - lessons at the school, promotional efforts and the like - and so my beloved cycling novel was again relegated to the 'When I get around to it' file.

It wasn't until mid-2011 that I was able to really focus again on 27 Stages. With Ask Me if I'm Happy in re-release and Alternate Rialto having debuted the previous spring, I found the time to get back into Federico and Abby's world. After a few false starts, the writing began to flow again, and I completed the first draft of the novel in early 2012. I forced myself to take a short break, planning on edits and revisions in March and April, then to submit the first three chapters to a number of agents while I polished the whole novel in the meantime. When I left for the US in May, I thought, I'd have the whole thing completed.

It didn't happen. I started a new course at my language school in February which took up more time than I'd expected, and then, on April 13th, I called home to talk to my mother and got some more unwelcome news. I knew she'd had macular degeneration in her left eye for quite some time, so that was nothing new. I was stunned to learn that she had awoken that morning to find she'd lost the vision in her right eye as well. When I called, she was about to go to her doctor, and was hoping desperately that this event was not macular degeneration too.

But it was. I shifted my plans around and went home a month early, and set 27 Stages' edits aside for a while. Now my time is used helping my mother out by driving her to her doctor appointments, shopping for her and doing other chores she can't do because of her impaired vision. There is hope that the next surgery will clear her vision enough for her to be able to read better, but there are no guarantees.

When she's seeing her doctors, I edit printed pages of my novel while I wait for her. While she watches TV (sitting up close to a 55" TV enables her to make out much of the program even if she can't see the center of the screen), I edit and revise. When her friends visit, I make the changes to the manuscript file on the computer while they chat in another room.

It's not what either of us planned, but what can we do? Sometimes, Life just gets in the way.

We'll just have to find a way to work around it.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

In conversation with... Gill Paul

Hello Gill! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the recent publication of your latest book, Women and Children First. Can you please tell us what it is about?

A: It begins on the Titanic, where I describe events through the eyes of Reg, a steward in the first-class dining saloon, Juliette, an English lady, and Annie, an Irishwoman in third class who is travelling to New York with her four children. They each have very traumatic experiences as the ship sinks and I then follow the ones who survive through the next three months as they try to come to terms with all that’s happened to them. The sinking of the Titanic is, of course, a well-known story but I’ve tried to explore some less well-known angles, such as the experiences of the crew and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress that many survivors suffered.

You previously published Titanic Love Stories, a non-fiction book focusing on thirteen couples aboard the doomed passenger liner. Where did your interest in the sinking of the Titanic stem from?

A: Both my grandfathers worked in shipbuilding but it was when I watched the film A Night to Remember as a teenager that I caught the bug, and I’ve been reading about the Titanic ever since.

How much of Women and Children First is fiction? Writing Titanic Love Stories must have involved a lot of research. Were you able to draw on that while writing your new book or did you have to dig some more in historical records?

A: Great question. I had to do MUCH more research for Women and Children First than Titanic Love Stories. Although my three main characters are invented, their experiences are based on things that actually happened on the ship and I wanted every detail to be authentic because my goal was to imagine what it must have been like for the people who were there. The whole section about the sinking follows eyewitness accounts, minute by minute. Once they are in New York, I made sure that the food, the buildings, the transport system, everything is described as it was in 1912. Writing non-fiction about the Titanic was much easier – but nothing is as rewarding to write as fiction.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: It’s set in the 1960s and has a Mad Men vibe. It’s about fame and the early days of the paparazzi and that’s all I can say for now, under publishers’ orders, but it’s due for publication in May 1913.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I absolutely love Twitter. It’s great that readers can contact me directly to tell me what they think of my novel while they’re reading it, and I always reply. I try to restrict myself to going on first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon, unless I have direct messages to answer, but sometimes temptation strikes and I have a quick peep to see what’s going on. My publisher asked me to write a weekly blog and I managed it for ten weeks but haven’t had time recently as I’ve been doing the publicity rounds. Now, Facebook I’m not good at. I have a page where people can contact me but I don’t update it as much as I should. Must try harder! But none of this disrupts my writing schedule as much as the telephone.

How did your first book deal come about and what one fundamental piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: I was lucky enough to find a very supportive, inspiring creative writing group who helped my confidence a lot. Once the novel was finished, I sent it out to half a dozen agents even though I knew it wasn’t quite working. Vivien Green from Sheil Land called and asked me in for a meeting and she immediately put her finger on the problem with the novel and made a very neat suggestion about how it could be solved, so I had no hesitation in signing up with her – especially when I heard she also represents Rose Tremain, who is one of my favourite authors of all time. I did the revisions, Vivien sent it out to publishers, and when I heard that Hodder had made an offer I had to lie on the carpet for half an hour to calm down. Really, I was incredibly lucky.

My advice for aspiring writers is very basic – just write. Set yourself word count targets and don’t stop till you reach them. Keep writing even when you think it’s not working. Don’t be too critical of your first draft – save that for the second, third and subsequent ones. Just keep putting words down until you reach the end. I have no great advice on getting published but am full of admiration for the people who manage to self-publish and self-market their own books. I’d be terrible at that.

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A: I mentor a few young writers (under the age of twelve) who send me their work for advice, and it’s incredibly rewarding. I love their intrinsic understanding of the way stories work and their incredible imaginations. I just hope it’s still possible to earn a living as an author when they grow up. The way the industry is going doesn’t look terribly promising, but I’m optimistic that new publishing models will emerge that will guide readers to the best novels (blogs like this will become ever-more important in that respect) and allow writers to keep themselves in Pinot Grigio.

Thanks for your time!

A: Thank you! Love the site.

To win a copy of Women and Children First, please fill out this form. The competition will end on the 11th June.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Green Books: Book-Art

What do you do with your books when they're obsolete? I don't mean just that you've read them and no longer want them – in that case you give them to a friend or a charity shop, a hospital or a B&B. No I mean the books that you know no-one will want – out of date textbooks for example.

One answer is to make them into art!

Altered Books are quite popular and there's a good introduction to them on the Karen's Whimsy website. The idea is to use old books and to paint over them, make collages, cut pages and hide items in them. There are all kinds of creative things you can do and blogs devoted to how to do it!

The French Canadian artist Guy Laramee goes a stage further and makes amazingly complex 3D sculptures out of old vintage books. I first came across his work via this article on Treehugger.
Book art recently hit the headlines in Edinburgh, where I live, when an unknown artist left a series of intricate book carvings at literary venues across the city. You can read more about the mystery sculptures in this article in the Guardian newspaper.

I've even had a go myself! As an experiment I used an out of date Italian comprehension book as the basis for a journal for an Italian holiday. You can see a sample page here, on my Crafty Green Poet blog.

I don't know though. I have to admire the crafting and artistry of the best altered books and book art, but I'm not always convinced the books are actually obsolete. Wouldn't someone out there have wanted to actually read those articles from 1970s Italian newspapers?

Then I see a truck outside a local charity shop being filled up with books to be taken to the landfill and I know that making art is certainly better than throwing away.

So make art with your unwanted books, but do first check whether there's anywhere you can donate them!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Books through my lens #20

The ARK BOOKTOWER designed by Rintala Eggertsson Architects for the V&A Summer Exhibition 2010, called 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces. You can imagine how fast I started to walk when I glimpsed the wooden structure through one of the museum's arches!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Erinna Mettler: Tales from Brighton

A Bit of Spoon Throwing On a Chilly Spring Night

A few weeks ago I went to a Victorian Séance Experience at Brighton’s Preston Manor. For those of you who don’t know, Preston Manor is a gloriously mismatched manor house on the edge of Preston Park, right in the heart of the city. The original house dates from the early 1700 but there was a religious small-holding there in Saxon times and the Manor is mentioned in the Doomsday Book as belonging to the Bishops of Chichester. The foundations are still visible in the basement, and this is where you first get that spine tingle that comes with knowing a place has such a long history. The temperature suddenly drops and you fancy you hear footsteps on the stairs along the corridor or feel the brush of a breeze, though there are no windows at hand and no-one else has joined the tour.

The rest of the house was added by degrees and refurbishments over the centuries, the house was substantially renovated in 1905 by the last private owners the Stanford family. Lady Ellen Thomas-Stanford commissioned society architect Charles Stanley Peach to design a veranda, guest rooms, servant’s quarters, an enlarged entrance hall and dining rooms to enable her to entertain the great and the good. And this is what remains today, along with a beautiful Italian garden and a scrubby little graveyard beyond. An empty Manor House with its own graveyard? Perfect for ghosts, don’t you think? The most haunted house in Sussex – so says the brochure. Preston Manor has been subjected to many spooky encounters over the years, including a famous episode of LiVINGTV’s Most Haunted in which the crew supposedly made contact with the White Lady, a solid manifestation claimed to be responsible for many of the weird happenings in the Manor.

I’m not sure I believe in ghosts. I mean, I think there could be some sort of energy floating around, but dead people? Nah. Once you’re gone, you’re gone. I do think there are unexplained phenomena though, and as a writer I’m always up for visiting places with unusual atmospheres. The first time I visited Preston Manor out of hours was to attend a workshop on the uncanny. I took my friend Gill for her birthday, safety in numbers!

We were shown into a room and discussed Freud’s famous essay and looked at photographs which backed up his claims. We were asked to tell the group about any paranormal activity we had experienced. One man said nothing like it had ever happened to him and he was just there because his wife wanted the company. ‘It’ll be you then,’ said my friend. And sure enough in the dining room, as our guide was telling us how a noise like the rolling of a barrel is often heard outside the window with no explanation, the man pointed to a painting of a lion and said ‘that’s freaking me out a bit.’ The painting was swinging from side to side on its frame, quite vigorously. We all stared and made comments like ‘someone must have knocked it’ and ‘maybe there’s a draught’ but after a while it didn’t seem frightening anymore, it was just there. We all sidled past wondering what the lion was trying to tell us.

I went back to Preston Manor more recently, this time at night, for the Séance experience. The original séance was held on Nov 11th 1896 by the Stanford family in an attempt to find out about the White Lady and the other strange happenings in the house. They employed the famous medium Ada Goodrich-Greer to make contact and the transcript is held in the Museum Archives. November 11th is also the date of Ellen Stanford’s death several years later and it is my birthday. I had high hopes for the evening.

As my companion and I walked up to the door it creaked open, as if they knew we were coming. The giggles started then. Expecting Lurch, we were greeted instead by a smiling man who showed us into the drawing room and poured us a sherry. The room smelled of polish and sawdust and Mr Stanford’s clocks ticked in the background as if waiting for his return. There were a couple of moth-eaten stuffed cats on the antique tables, posed in hissing mode. Taking in the antiques and the quiet we quickly realised that being in such a place after dark made you want to laugh. The room filled with other victims, gratefully accepting the sherry and trying not to bump into the furniture.

The event itself was held in the dining Room. As we sat around the table I glanced at the painting of the lion half expecting it to see it fly off its mount and crash to the floor. It didn’t move. The table was laid out as it would have been for the original séance with tarot cards, divining rods, candles and an Ouija board. We looked at some examples of Victorian spirit photography and an expert from Sussex University talked about mediums, memento mori (pictures of dead people kept by their relatives) and portmanteau (objects thrown by an unseen presence). Then archivist Penny Balchin took over, the lights were dimmed as she explained what happened at the séance, she told us we might feel cold, hot, and sick, want to laugh or cry, chatter or run away. A Victorian séance was a noisy night’s entertainment apparently and it wasn’t just the ghosts. I could see why. As the lights were turned out completely and we were left in total darkness I just wanted to laugh out loud and found myself giggling silently as Penny explained how the original séance had uncovered the unsettled spirit of a nun, Sister Agnes, wrongfully excommunicated and mysteriously murdered. At this point there was a loud clatter beside the fireplace and everyone screamed and jumped in their seats. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the end of the show. We’d run out of time and the sudden lights blasted any spirits who might have been with us back into the shadows.

Did anyone feel anyone behind them? I can honestly say I did because there weren’t enough seats at the table so one lady was sitting on her own just behind me. My friend told me she was tempted to pinch me and pretend she hadn’t. I could imagine this happening during Victorian séances. The whole thing seemed to makes us all a little hysterical, laughing at poor jokes with fixed smiles and wide eyes.

The clattering was a teaspoon taken from the closed draw in the corner of the room and thrown by an angry spirit onto the tiles. We all looked at the spoon and I couldn’t help wondering why, possibly the least expensive item from the Stanford collection, was the thing the spirit had chosen to make itself heard? Why not a china plate or a priceless glass? My suspicions lie with the woman who turned out the lights. I left with a feeling of disappointment that Sister Agnes hadn’t materialised on the table spewing ectoplasm but then maybe she knows I’m a sceptic. One thing is for sure – I’m going back.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Event review: Book Slam

The people behind Book Slam describe it as “London’s first/ best/ only literary nightclub”. Luckily for Brightonians, this event moved to the seaside for one night only. Luckily for me, I was among the audience, who enjoyed two and a half hours of top literature and fine music seated at round tables dotted with candles and glasses of wine.

The hostess for the evening was Malaysia-born poet Francesca Beard, whose bubbly enthusiasm put everybody at ease within minutes and who read one of her poems, The Poem That Was Really a List, setting the bar high for the guests of the night.

Funny and thought-provoking, you can watch her recite the same poem at the Norwich Arts Centre in June 2009.

The three guests of Book Slam, courtesy of Brighton Festival 2012, were Jackie Kay, Jon McGregor and Sapphire, who made two appearances each: a format that worked very well to keep the evening interesting and varied.

First up on stage was Jackie Kay. The Scottish poet and novelist was there to promote her latest collection of short stories, Reality, Reality, and read two of these: Mini Me and Bread Bin. Nothing had prepared me for the hurricane of laughter that Jackie Kay brought with her! Her banter was unstoppable and incredibly funny. She couldn’t even stop chatting while reading her two short stories and interrupted herself with giggly comments! I loved and highly recommend her work.

Next up was Jon McGregor, also promoting his latest collection of short stories, This Isn't The Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You. I didn’t know anything about his work before attending Book Slam and what I heard made me definitely want to correct this mistake. Britain's second-best short story writer, as he proudly describes himself, read a short story called Wires, whose final twist no-one could foresee, and then made up (or recycled from a previous event!) another using a dictionary and as many words beginning with ‘V’ as possible. Smart and witty.

Last but not least, it was the turn of American poet and author Sapphire. She began by reading three of her poems, although I should say that she sang more than read them. Quieter and more serious than her two predecessors, she was mesmerizing to watch and listen to. She also read a few extracts from The Kid, her latest novel and the sequel to Push, that was made into the film Precious. Her work deals with subjects – like abuse and AIDS - that are not for the faint-hearted but Sapphire has the ability to reach out with dignity and hope, which is not an easy balance to maintain.

After the first performance of each author, a short break was followed with live music by Ninja Tune singer/songwriter Andreya Triana. I had been to one of her concerts before and knew what a treat was in store for the audience. As soon as she started singing, the whole room fell silent in admiration. Andreya sang three songs from her forthcoming second album; her first ever single, Lost Where I Belong; and finished with a cover of Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody. Soft yet powerful, her voice, accompanied only by guitar, was the perfect introduction to the second part of the evening.

Book Slam, please return to Brighton!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

In conversation with... Madeline Miller

Hello Madeline! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Song of Achilles. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you! And thank you very much for inviting me onto your blog.

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the myths surrounding the Greek hero Achilles, from the point of
view of his best friend and lover, Patroclus. It follows the two men from boyhood all the way to the Trojan War taking Homer’s Iliad as its inspiration.

Where did your interest in Greek history and mythology stem from? What made you choose Achilles as your protagonist?

A: I have loved Greek myths since I was a little girl. My mother used to read them to me at bedtime, and as soon as I could read myself, I devoured every book on the subject that I could find. There was something about the world that was, and is, incredibly compelling to me. I think some of it is the alluring darkness of the world—the gods are terrifying and unfair, the heroes are flawed and the monsters vicious. Even with all of the fantastic elements the stories always felt very real to me: there are no simple, or safe happy endings.

Because of this, I had always been particularly drawn to the myths of the Trojan War, which contain some of the most human and most flawed heroes. And also the most moving: Achilles is a young man, who knows he’ll never return home again, and who finds the only two things he cares about in the world, his reputation and his beloved Patroclus, threatened. Then a friend of mine asked me to co-direct a production of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare’s play about the Trojan War myths. It was so much fun creating the characters on stage—especially Achilles and Patroclus—that when the production was over I didn’t want to stop. I sat down at my laptop and Patroclus’ voice came out.

How much research did you carry out? Did you complete all of it in advance so that you could then dive into the writing process undisturbed or was it more a research-as-you-go sort of process?

A: I was very fortunate that, as a Classics student, I had already done a lot of the research—though at the time I didn’t know it was going to go into a book! I had actually thought, at one point, about writing my honours thesis on interpretations of Achilles, and in preparation read everything I could find. I ended up writing about something else, but all that research was still there in my mind.

The downside to this is that there were some scenes I knew quite well from the Iliad—nearly word for word—and those were some of the toughest to turn into fiction, because I couldn’t get the original out of my head. So in that case, it was a matter of tuning out the research and trying to really listen to the characters I had created. I probably went through twenty drafts of the confrontation between Achilles and Agamemnon before I found my version of it.

The Song of Achilles is your debut novel. How did your book deal come about and how did you feel to finally see your first novel in print?

A: It is absolutely amazing. Especially because the book took such a long time gestating (ten years), to see it now in finished form is beyond thrilling. I keep expecting to wake up!

Once I was satisfied with my final draft, I began researching agents and sending them query letters. I heard back from the wonderful Julie Barer, who was enthusiastic about the manuscript, and we started working together. She gave me some incredibly helpful notes, and the book went through one more draft. Then she began submitting it to publishers, and the book went to auction in the US, where it was purchased by Ecco, followed by Bloomsbury’s pre-emptive bid in the UK. That part all happened very quickly (within a couple of weeks), and I was completely speechless through most of it with excitement and disbelief.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: Like everything, social media has parts about it that are wonderful, and parts that are more challenging. In the wonderful category, I completely love interacting with readers; it is always one of the highlights of my day. In the challenging category was figuring out how everything worked (I was a total neophyte when it came to Twitter, blogging, websites) as well as learning to manage my time so that I wasn’t overwhelmed by all the possibilities. It helped to realize that, at heart, social media is really about expanding one’s world, which I think is always positive. Twitter especially is a very strong and welcoming community.

All that said, sometimes there are days when I need to shut it all off and just focus on my writing!

Are you already working on your next writing project? If so, could you please tell us anything about it?

A: I am just starting to work on something new which is inspired by the Odyssey, much as the last book was inspired by the Iliad. I had such a good time writing about Odysseus that I wanted to finish telling his story. I am also intrigued by the many strong female characters in the Odyssey, from Penelope, to Athena, to Circe, the witch who turns Odysseus’ men into pigs. It’s this last that I find myself particularly drawn to. We will see how it all evolves!

What one fundamental piece of advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?

A: Writing takes time. I know that there are people out there who can whip up a draft very quickly, and I am in awe of them. But for most of us, I think it’s really important to give yourself the space to work on a piece, then let it sit for a while, and come back to it with fresh eyes. That process gives me perspective that is completely indispensable.

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A: Thank you so much for having me on your blog, and for asking me such thoughtful questions!

Thank you for your time!

To win a copy of The Song of Achilles, please fill out this form. The competition will end on the 28th May.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Books through my lens #19

I am partial to some tidy lines... and books! Blackwell's Bookshop, Broad Street, Oxford. March 2012.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

In conversation with... Jane Rusbridge

Hello Jane! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of your latest novel, The Devil’s Music. Can you please tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you, Silvia, and hello!

The Devil’s Music explores what happens to a family faced with the dilemma of what to do when the youngest child, Elaine, is born in the late 50s with severe disabilities, which means she is destined to remain mute and as helpless as a baby. For me, the novel is about family secrets, the way they influence the dynamics of family life and the psychological development of a child. It’s also about post traumatic stress disorder, the shifting unreliability of memory, mothers who leave their children...

The book opens with a glossary of knots and these – together with the antics of Harry Houdini – are a focal point of the novel. Are you an expert of knot tying? What did you want them to represent?

A: I’m definitely not an expert. A Reef Knot is about my limit, but I do have a copy of The Clifford Ashley Book of Knots, well-thumbed and filled with post-it notes from all the hours I spent researching for TDM.

The knots were central to the novel’s content right from the beginning, when I came across the case study of a little boy while in the library looking for something else. The study was written by child psychologist D.W. Winnicott, who describes the boy as having a ‘preoccupation’ with knots which could become a ‘perversion’. After reading the case study I kept seeing, in my mind’s eye, a little boy sitting with a ball of string on his lap in a room where he has tied everything together – cushions and chair legs, the door handle, coal shovel, lamp stand. This boy haunted me. I needed to find out why knots might hold enormous significance for a child, and decided it could be related to both a desire to escape (hence the Houdini connection) and a desire for security.

Trying to find the best fit between form and content was important to me as well, which is why the novel is structured like rope, with narrative strands separating and coming together, occasionally even entangling on a page, as do the characters’ relationships. The knots heading up the chapters in place of the characters’ names were chosen to suggest something of the personality, or story, of the character they represent.

The Devil’s Music is an intriguing title. Did it come before or after the novel? Or perhaps it changed while the novel itself took form?

A: For a long time the novel was called Left Over Right and Under, which I was quite happy with but, just before I was about to send it out to agents, two or three people whose views I respected said the title didn’t work for them. I had a major rethink. Something I often suggest to students stuck for a title for their short stories is to go through and underline any words or associated phrases which leap out, so I did the same, taking just the pivotal scene of the novel – the scene where Andy is left in charge of his baby sister Elaine on the beach. It was clear to me almost immediately that ‘the Devil’s music’ – which is whistling, in this case – was the phrase to use.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing or did it develop before your eyes as the characters grew on the page and did something that you were not expecting?

A: Though I plot carefully at various stages of redrafting, I rarely know where the story is going to take me when I start out. For me, one of the great pleasures of the writing process is the flowering of narrative from what seems to be chaos. Michele Roberts talks of her first draft being like ‘writing into the darkness’ and that’s how it is for me. Frightening, but also exhilarating. With TDM, I began with ‘What if?’ questions and wrote random scenes, to try to uncover the boy’s story. The plot came in bits and pieces, and finally fell into place once I realised Elaine, Andy’s baby sister, was the key to everything that happened.

The Devil’s Music is your debut novel. How did your book deal come about and how did you feel to finally see your first novel in print and being nominated for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award?

A: My agent, Hannah Westland of Rogers, Coleridge and White, sent the novel out to editors at three (I think!) publishers, and Bloomsbury were interested early on. My editor at Bloomsbury, Helen Garnons Williams, made suggestions and I made several quite significant changes, especially to the beginning of the novel. When Bloomsbury offered me a two book deal, even though I had no idea at that stage what my second novel was going to be, I was ecstatic. And I cried when I first held the beautiful hardback of The Devil’s Music in my hands, from the overwhelming joy of seeing the book itself after living with words on a computer screen and A4 manuscripts for years.

The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is a pretty big deal for authors, because the prize is €100,000. Titles are chosen on the basis of 'high literary merit', and what I especially like is the unique way the process works, with nominations made by libraries in more than 50 capital and major cities throughout the world. TDM was nominated by a library in Finland. It was amazing to be on the longlist beside authors such as J.M Coetzee, Hilary Mantel, Caryl Phillips, Anne Michaels and William Trevor – even if it did mean TDM had little chance of getting to the short list, let alone winning!

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: My second novel, Rook, is out in August and is one of nine launch titles from Bloomsbury’s exciting new literary imprint, Bloomsbury Circus. It’s set in Bosham, the village where Cnut is said to have proved he could not turn back the tide. Rook is about the mystery surrounding Harold II’s burial place, the hidden histories of the Bayeux Tapestry and the connections forged through three women’s secrets, past and present.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: Someone (more eloquent than me) once said, ‘Twitter counteracts the loneliness of the long distance novelist’ – there’s a lot of truth in that! For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of social networking is being able to chat with readers and receive encouraging feedback. A lovely comment from a reader easily makes my day! When you’re passionate about books and writing, it’s also fun to have the chance to connect with other writers for conversations about interesting book links, or blog posts on writing. I do take regular breaks – a week, a month or more sometimes – when I need to write intensely. That’s important. Using twitter and FB, my brain hops from one thing to another, skimming along the surface at speed, whereas writing requires long periods of focussed concentration. I find the two states of mind don’t always mix well.

What one fundamental piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Revel in the magic of the writing process, and persevere.

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A: I could witter on about writing forever, but I’d better stop for now. Instead, I’ll say a big thank you, Silvia, for inviting me for an interview, and add that anyone who wants to chat further is more than welcome to contact me via my website,

Thank you for your time!

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