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Friday, 28 May 2010

An interview with Eliza Graham

Eliza's new book, Jubilee, published by Pan, has the same publication date as mine. What's more Eliza started her writing career with Macmillan New Writing, so it seemed like a good chance to congratulate her on her new book and find out a bit more about her writing process, now she has three books already under her belt.

It's the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and Rachel and her aunt Evie are celebrating with the crowds on the village green. The scene is tranquil, but Rachel and her aunt can never forget what happened exactly twenty-five years ago. On that day, Evie’s young daughter Jessamy vanished. She hasn’t been seen since.

Soon after, news comes of Evie’s sudden death, and Rachel must return to the village to deal with her aunt’s estate. The extraordinary story she uncovers there will change everything. It is a story of departure and return, of atrocity and betrayal, of unrequited love and the dreadful legacy of war.

Hello Eliza. Tell us a little bit about the process of writing Jubilee. How did the process differ from the writing of your other books, and how was it the same?

Jubilee's gestation occurred over a shorter period of time than that of the other two books: in part because I had a contract with set delivery dates this time round. So it felt more intense and pressurised, which was hard at times, but that's how it has to be to fit a book into a publisher's schedule. I'd been mulling over the theme of a lost child for some years, though, so I had ideas to draw on. And we'd actually helped organise the Golden Jubilee party in our own village, which helped with detail. This time round I didn't need to go anywhere else to research settings: it was literally on my doorstep, as my location. the Berkshire Downs, is also my home.

Every writer thinks their work is unique. Have you ever been compared to another writer and if so, who and why? What is the book you most wish you had written?

People have sometimes said my writing reminds them a little of Elizabeth Jane Howard's, which I find thrilling and flattering because I adore her books. I'm not sure what it is in my writing they see that's the same: it's hard to assess your own novels objectively! I'd love to have written any of her books. Or any of Anita Brookner's. Or, perhaps surprisingly, any of John le Carre's Smiley novels. In yer dreams, Graham!

Your book features two jubilee celebrations. What made you want to write about them and how important do you think these sort of celebrations are to English life?

I remember the Silver Jubilee party from childhood. Mainly because I won a prize in a bicycle race! When we helped organise a Golden Jubilee party it was quite a revelation: people came along and offered help whom we'd never met before, even though where we live is a small community. The party drew people out. I found that moving. Certainly celebrations like Jubilee parties work very well in bringing people together. You don't have to be a fervent Royalist to see that the continuity of the Queen's life is very reassuring to many people. It was so interesting hearing older people talking about watching the Coronation: it came at a point when they were still recovering from some very tough years and represented such a lot of hope. I'm fascinated by the tension between continuity and change in people's lives, and that's probably one of the common themes of my three novels.

What inspires you to write? Is it an idea, a character, a theme, or something else?

Usually it's a strong emotion: fear or loss or isolation. Then I 'see' the story cinematically. I try and let the emotions and images build a head of steam before I attempt to write about them. I write best when I feel that I'm going to burst unless I try and express myself.

Thanks very much Eliza, wishing you every success with Jubilee.

Monday, 24 May 2010

My book is on my shelf!

The moment all writers hope for - my book is actually on my own bookshelf, alongside all the others I am currently reading. I am on the same shelf as Ruth Padel, Philip Pullman and Ian Mortimer! Of course I could have placed it next to something like "Plato's Republic" or "War and Peace" but unfortunately I don't own either.

And I have to say Macmillan's designers have done an absolutely gorgeous job inside and out and I couldn't be happier with the look and feel of it.

What is really strange is the burning desire to actually read it - even though I have already read it until my eyes hurt. But that will have to wait whilst I get the sparkling wine out to celebrate. To say I am chuffed would be an understatement.

Historical Belles and Beaus

I have joined other historical fiction writers from around the world in blogging at the new Historical Belles and Beaus. The most recent blogs are on  why write historical romance, how to write medieval fiction, and a post entitiled "Who Dunnit, I Dunno?" about Jack the Ripper, but there is plenty of other interesting stuff in their recent back catalogue.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Lady's Slipper gets Police Protection.

Just had to share this, in today's Daily Mail Online!

Writers Rituals

More about writer's rituals on the psychlogy website - here

Over on Gemma Noon's blog here you can find interviews with writers from Macmillan New Writing, along with an interview with our editor Will Atkins. All of us were debut writers until MNW "discovered" us, all of us have now embarked on that vigil with the pen or computer. I am sure we all have our different ways of getting the words out onto paper.

Personally, I write in the mornings before my verve has a chance to "dry up". I cannot function until I have had two cups of tea.The morning sitting is punctuated by a dose of email checking and a quick round up of other people's interesting blogs.

I drag myself away to take a deep breath and submerge myself again, until sitting over a computer threatens to give me a crick in the neck. It is like plunging into another world. For three hours I inhabit the seventeenth century, albeit with my fingers on a keyboard.

Afternoons and evenings are for my other jobs, and the time I do most of my research. I like to research from books not the internet, and there are always open books littering the front room. Best thinking time? - swimming up and down our local pool, or walking in the hills.

Below are some quotations from other writers about their rituals, Dan Brown's as you might expect, is not one I will be following.

"People think that you have these things called ideas and that writing is a matter of imposing them on the subject material, whereas it's only in the writing that I discover what it is that I think. I do have one very brutal writing ritual. If I'm working in the morning, I don't allow myself a cup of tea until I've written two paragraphs. It's harsh." Antony Lane (Feature writer, The Telegraph)

"How narrative is structured is similar to how ritual is structured. Writers are the shamans of our society; working in a direct line with people who led us to meet the gods. Similar to the essential components of rituals of passage." Michael Eaton (Screenwriter)

"Wherever he was in the world he would follow the same carefully crafted writing ritual. Each day he would rise, walk the dog, make coffee and then read The New York Times. He would then sit down to write all morning, using a pad and pencil, before taking a break at noon. After lunch, he would resume work until the early evening. At the end of the day he would rip out pages from his pad that he drafted over the previous few days and then rework them. He worked like this, seven days a week, "for many years", according to Morrison. Even on holiday he would never be without pencil and pad." (The Times, about Robert Ludlum, novelist)

‘Oh, I’m very strict with myself... During the summer months I have fun and think about books and I find myself looking forward to the time of year when nights draw in and the weather turns bad... I write nine to five, every day during the darker winter months, and often into the night also. I write directly into an AppleMac. Listening to Radio 1, usually, though I always have a CD cued up and ready to go also. I enjoy music very much.’ (Iain Banks, novelist)

"I write best in the morning, and have a lot of trouble staying focused in the afternoons. However, I have one ritual which almost always serves as the perfect cure for writers’ block or afternoon writer’s fatigue: a twenty minute nap. When you wake up it’s like starting the day over again!" (Anne Applebaum, novelist.)

"I do write exceptionally early in the morning. If I'm not at my desk by 4:00 A.M., I feel like I'm missing my most productive hours. In addition to starting early, I keep an antique hour glass on my desk and every hour break briefly to do pushups, sit-ups, and some quick stretches. I find this helps keep the blood (and ideas) flowing. I'm also a big fan of gravity boots. Hanging upside down seems to help me solve plot challenges by shifting my entire perspective. Okay, I guess all this does sound a little strange." (Dan Brown, novelist)

"I don’t really have a writing routine or ritual, although – unless it’s early in the day – I usually have a glass of red wine beside me.Too much wine makes for loose writing and an irritated read the next morning, but a little is freeing and encourages one to take
risks." (Matthew Sweeney, Poet)

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Being my own Reader

I have just printed off my work in progress and have begun to read it as if I am a reader and have never seen it before in my life. This is a difficult task as from the outset I need to cast away all my knowledge of Restoration London, and imagine I know nothing about it except what I will find in these 300 or so pages.

In order to do this I have been treating the last few books I have read as if they were examples of my own work - to train the muscle into working - a warm-up if you like. In other writer's work I have been examining length of sentence, length of paragraph, amount of imagery, when and how the dialogue is integrated with the text etc. I am doing this to see whether it has an effect on the rhythm and feeling of the book, and whether the choices other writers make might work for me, or at least stimulate me into making more informed and better choices about my own writing.

For example in "Instruments of Darkness" the writer has decided not to start each chapter on a new page, but to let the chapters flow with only line breaks. The book is divided into six parts, so  the sections are headed with a Roman part number and a chapter number, such as III.4, III.5 etc. This has a particular effect in organising the book in a way it can be easily assimilated. At the same time the flow of narrative never stops, it hauls you along at a cracking pace, only allowing you to pause for breath at the section breaks.

So at the moment I am looking at structure and form in my book. My book also seems to fall naturally into sections, so likely it will have to be divided. But how the chapters might fall within that framework - well - there is an interesting question. Do I actually need chapters? What purpose are they serving? How long should they be?

picture credit
At the moment the book is written in a conventional way with forty chapters simply numbered, mostly ending with the end of one viewpoint and the beginning of another. But there are so many more possibilities! By the end of the week I might have sorted out a structure that actually reflects the book, not just arbitrary divisions. Meanwhile, I'd be interested to hear how and when other people structure their novel, or interesting examples of unconventional novel structures.