Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

Each Wednesday, selected authors answer ten set questions on their blog about their next book. They then tag other authors (preferably five) and then it will be their turn the following Wednesday. The idea is to make some sense of the blogosphere by drawing attention to good writing. I'll name my tagged writers at the end of this post.

But, firstly, special thanks to the talented novelist, poet and publisher, Adele Ward who tagged me. Adele’s blog, The Poet at the Bus Stop is at

1) What is the working title of your next book?

It's called Sharonville which is meant to be an ironic, self-referential nod to the fact that it's about a town in the Arizona desert which I've made up. When I travelled the U.S. in 2002, I was fascinated by the way the pioneer spirit lives on in the American West - you can buy land from the state really cheaply and they'll let you keep it if you improve if after a number of years. Hence when I returned and was once more dragging myself through a long three to four hour commute (each way!) to my lectureship, I started to stare out of train windows and dream of Sharonville and its quirky inhabitants.
The Arizona landscape which inspired Sharonville
It is loosely based on Kingman, Arizona though - a tiny tourist and truck stop en route from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon - so it was rather shocking to discover some years into the writing, when channel surfing at my dad's house, that some of the stranger elements of the novel - such as sightings of black triangles in the sky - actually had occurred in Kingman in recent years! Spooky!

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had never considered myself a writer before that first trip across the States. I was a published poet as a teenager and became an academic in my twenties, but I'd never thought I'd write fiction.

Yet when I was in Las Vegas - the people watcher's paradise! - I suddenly started 'hearing' all of these different characters' voices and the idea of having a fantasy place to unite them evolved. The desert between Nevada and Arizona had got to me too, on a long bus journey through purple dusk, so I knew exactly where these tales had to be set.

Vegas, baby - it made me a writer
I'd been reading a lot of Carver during my commutes to the university, so I thought I'd have a crack at imitating his style, just for fun - I was incredibly lucky in that my first story, 'Lobsters' (see my website), won the Writers Inc. competition, so I thought maybe I should keep going.

It wasn't until the following summer though - when I attended an intensive novel course at City Lit, run by Leone Ross - that I realised I didn't actually have a plot! Evidently, having a Ph.D. in English and knowing a lot of literary theory doesn't help with craft matters! So, after studying some Evan Marshall, I re-imagined Sharonville as a 'proper' novel - although there are still multiple viewpoints, the more minor players merely 'pass the baton' of the main plot concerning the lead character, Franco. In this new reworking, book then became more resolutely about his quest to wake Toni, the young professor he has raised, from a her coma and tell her the truth about her paternity.

That central idea came from the fact that both my mother and myself never had our real fathers around. My mother's tragically fruitless journey to find her biological dad and my own uncertain sense of identity due to having never met my blood father (though I know who he is) underpins the novel's explorations of such loss and lies at the heart of families. Fundamentally though, I'd like to think it's a book which looks at how you can heal and make peace with yourself, no matter what your past.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Contemporary literary fiction, though I feel it's pretty accessible in its style, despite being full of my unusual imagery (once a poet, always a poet - at heart at least!).

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

James Gandolfini would be a great Franco - whaddyagonnado?
Franco, my main character, is a binge-eating Italian restaurateur, originally from Brooklyn - as soon as I saw James Gandolfini in The Sopranos, I said to myself that he was exactly the image of my leading man. Not only does he have the right physique, but there's a depth of emotion and vulnerability in his acting which Franco needs to be played properly. Gandolfini compared himself to an overweight Woody Allen once and I thought that is exactly what my Franco needs! However, my friend, Anthony Forrest, who is a screenwriter and former Star Wars actor, told me that Russell Crowe could do well in the role and is much more 'bankable' - he also happens to be my friend's second cousin, so maybe I should ask!

As it's such a multi-viewpoint, multi-ethnic, multi-sexuality novel, I could go wild and say I also want Susan Sarandon, Michelle Yeoh, Jet Li, George Clooney, William H. Macy, Lucy Liu, Tobey Maguire, Rosemary Harris, Matt Damon, Pamela Anderson (yes, really!), John Turturro ... I struggle with casting the main female character, Toni, as she's got a certain dark Italian beauty, along with intellectuality, sassiness, spirituality and fragility - I adore Pauley Perrette as Abby in NCIS as she's got a real quirkiness and warmth - as well as the raven hair! - so maybe she could pull it off. As you can guess, this script would cost far much to cast - a Hollywood nightmare! But, hey, they made The Towering Inferno and The Cannonball Run!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Professor Toni Sorrento crashes her pick up in the desert in Arizona a few a weeks after 9/11, it brings to light long-buried secrets in her small home town of Sharonville and forces her guardian, Uncle Franco, to face the truth he's spent over thirty years trying to forget.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Beautiful Marilyn reading

It's currently at the last stages with a small publisher and am awaiting their response. If they don't take it, I'll go back to searching for an agent (I've had several near misses already and the novel was longlisted for the Mslexia novel award in 2011) and try other small publishers.

Writers have to be fighters really - or at least know how to grab onto the furniture and pull themselves back up from the floor following multiple rejections! Your passion needs to be immense, I think, to keep going at any creative career. As Marilyn Monroe said, “I don't want to make money, I just want to be wonderful.” You have to have that attitude or being any kind of artist is pointless and far too painful. (Though some money would be nice - or Marilyn's curls!)

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft was pretty quick - I wrote about 80,000 words in eight weeks during one summer vacation as an academic - but, as I said before, I'd had to scrub 55,000 before that when I realised I didn't have a plot, so it probably took two years, all in all.

The editing period has been much longer though, interspersing times of frantic activity with years when I kept it in a metaphorical drawer whilst I completed another novel (which I have decided to let 'rest' indefinitely). It wasn't until 2009, when I met my mentor, Jacqui Lofthouse, that I started really taking the book seriously again -although it wasn't until 2011 that I was happy enough with it to submit. That is, it one ever really can be satisfied! I'm sure more edits await, should it get accepted by a publisher.

So the simple answer is: draft, two years; something edible, more like seven! I have gone various massive life changes during this period too though, so I'm hoping the current project, which is called Emptiness - a literary thriller about female astronauts - goes more quickly! Although a publisher friend told me seven years is about the right time a book should be left to "brew."

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I'm very much influenced by contemporary American writing and this novel has been likened to Paul Auster's work and even described as a combination of Anne Tyler and Douglas Coupland, due to the combination of the domestic and quirky, I suppose.
Although I've got a more literary style, Billie Letts writes really warmly about small towns crammed with eccentric characters and her books, Where the Heart Is and The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, reminded me a little of Sharonville when I read them.

Raymond Carver, Amy Tan, Garrison Keillor and Armistead Maupin definitely shaped the book's multiple viewpoint structure - with Sharonville's various inhabitants playing their part in events - as I love the sense of community they create in their fiction.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I wouldn't have become a fiction writer at all if I hadn't gone to Vegas, baby, as I said above. Travelling across America at thirty changed the course of my life. I suddenly went from wanting to be an English professor to wanting time to write more than anything else. It's not been an easy road, but I am glad I found my calling - or finally listened to it. However, I will be using my Renaissance scholarship in my next novel which is already circling, eager to be written.

In terms of people who inspired me though, the book is partly dedicated to my English teacher, Bryan Ricketts, who encouraged my creative talents from the time I was teenager. Thanks to him, I became Shell Young Poet of the Year when I was seventeen, despite all my adolescent difficulties - or maybe because of them (poet and misery are a pretty good mix!). He was very proud of my academic achievements (sadly, he died just before I got my Ph.D.), but, during our long correspondence, he always told me I 'should' write - meaning literary stuff! - so I hope he's pleased with me, wherever he is. I'm sure he was meddling from on high!

The book is also dedicated to my grandmother, Grace, who was the world's best storyteller. She would constantly recount family tales from across the generations, including the most precise and lively dialogue. I didn't care that she told these tales over and over or that they changed each time and weren't the 'truth' - it was precisely because she gave new meaning to these events again and again which kept me fascinated. In fact, I'll tell you a secret ... a few of her stories made it into this novel! I just hope she doesn't mind me stealing or dishing a bit of dirt! I could never tell them as well as her though, so I'm sure she's shaking her head and saying, “Oh, Babbee,” Up Above in her West Country drawl.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

My family couldn't tell the difference between the living and the dead - it was quite normal for my granny to talk about how she'd discussed my exam results with my deceased grandfather. I also grew up surrounded by UFO sightings and a mother who wanted me to be a topless model (!), so readers should be get ready to see family, friendship and lost love through new eyes.

The book also features the Liberace Museum - surely spangled hot pants and sequin-splattered cars are enough to entice anyone? It's closing though which is a real tragedy!

The Next Next Big Things

Here are the three authors I’ve tagged. They have been great supporters of my work, so it's lovely to be able to return the favour. Enjoy these very talented, original writers.

Ashley Stokes was born in Carshalton, Surrey in 1970 and educated at St
Anne’s College, Oxford and the University of East Anglia. His fiction has
appeared in many journals and anthologies. His first novel, Touching the
Starfish was published by Unthank Books in 2010 and his first collection 
The Syllabus of Errors will appear in February 2013, also with Unthank. 
He lives in Norwich.

Nick Sweeney published Laikonik Express in 2011, with Unthank Books. The story of two Americans on a vodka-driven trek in search of a woman in snowbound Poland, it brings his interest in all things Eastern European out in a cross between a laugh and a belch. He may give it all up to play the guitar in a Balkan band. Until then, his published works and works-in-(slow)-progress can be seen at

Laura Wilkinson grew up in north Wales. She live sin Brighton with her husband and two ginger boys. After many years working on non-fiction, she writes fiction now. Her short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies, online and in print. She has been a finalist and shortlisted in a number of competitions including: the New Writer, Cinnamon Press, the Virginia Prize and Brit Writers’ Award 2010. Her  first novel, BloodMining, was published by Bridge House in 2011, and she is seeking an agent for her second novel while working on a third. 

No comments:

Post a Comment