What I am working on.
I am currently coming to the end of a three week writing break, so if I’ve been working on anything its normal life: surfing in Cornwall, seeing friends, even cooking; it all comes up fresh and shiny after a year in a room with a laptop.
I am also working with the Michael Joseph team at Penguin UK to promote my debut novel, “Daughter,” out August 28th.
Just short of three weeks ago I submitted the manuscript for book two; (working title Stolen,) to my editor at Michael Joseph, Penguin; she is currently editing this, soon I will have it back and that whole different process will start. Maxine spent a day here the day before we left for Cornwall; cold white wine was drunk, we had family lunch with my sons, home from university. The dog was walked, much useful talking done, there’s much to do. This was a book I wrote in less than a year and the process wasn’t organic. I went to the edge of the Kalahari for two weeks last November where the book is partly set. I needed to meet the people, especially the traditional doctors, I wanted to experience the country side, and take in the early morning smell of the bush, to see the kind of roofs that were on rural houses and what was on the roadside verges. (Dead donkeys, broken glass.)
I’ve also just sent out the synopsis of Book three; I’ll tell you more when I know.
So in this unreal moment of freedom, I know there will be three things to carry forwards at the same time: publicity, (Book one editing(Book two) and new writing. (Book three) I’m looking forward to it, the imaginary space has trumped real life, I feel homesick.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Psychological suspense, (thriller/drama) is the nearest that I can get to placing the book, not a very meaningful label as so many books within this capacious scope are completely different from each other. My background is medical, I’m an ex- GP, my husband is a neurosurgeon. It was helpful to use this known world to create the back drop to both books, and some issues from that world become important. In Daughter: the dangers of labelling, of short cuts, doctors playing God. But Daughter isn’t a medical drama; it’s a story about a missing girl and the themes of grief, loss, harmful secrets, betrayal and fear do resonate with others in this genre.
Why do I write what I do?
I began Daughter initially as a way of exploring loss and grief, something I was familiar with from work. No one it seemed, was unscathed. Survival of loss particularly interested me, the question of the day after day after day. The challenge lay in making a quiet space where the reader could look at grief (at the grieving, unravelling family, the silent toll suffering extracts, the way it changes lives ) while simultaneously crafting the tension to keep the pages turning. I did this by splitting the time frame, to intersperse elements of the abduction with chapters of the mother’s life a year on, alone, having lost her child, her family, her marriage, her career. How her life reconnects with the past and the secrets everyone had been keeping, and how then the trail of her missing daughter comes back to life, became what kept the tension tight.
Book 2 also has a family at its heart. How can a family not be interesting? All that love, hate, joy, jealousy, grief, work, and play. The tolling bells of birth, growing, ageing, death. A prism through which to refract any theme. The themes that came up in this second book have to do with power games in a marriage and their toxic legacy, and a family gap year in Africa that ends with a devastating loss. Underlying this was an exploration of the way beliefs and truths clash and confuse across cultures.
I start by writing what interests me and what I know about; then it’s about what I create imaginatively as I sit here. Usually after effortful thinking and many, many re-writes, though sometimes(rarely) it arrives like a gift.
How does my writing process work?
Doing the Bath Spa Creative writing M.A was a turning point( meeting a group of people equally passionate and determined, great authors to tutor, permission and structure…) By the time it ended I had most of a novel laid out. After, I had to step up a gear to do it on my own but I had learnt about sitting here by then, grinding out the words, make something to shape later. Doing the job of writing.
One of our tutors told us a little story about a peanut- butter- jar stacker and how unimpressed the store manager would be if he came across the peanut- butter -jar stacker sitting mid-aisle on an upturned cardboard box, waiting for the inspiration to continue. So write, she told us, it’s a job. Write for a minimum of two hours even if your house catches fire and the flames are licking around the legs of your desk.
At the beginning of the last novel, I sat there with clenched teeth, waiting out the two hours, writing a few hundred words a day; that was when it paid to be part of a writing group. I’m part of a small group of friends from the M.A; we meet once a month in each other’s houses ,flats or canal barge, having sent out work ahead for critiquing and feedback. The meetings have a chairman and a structure but we also eat, drink wine, chat and cheer each other on. Sometimes I write simply to have something to give to my friends. As time goes on and editorial deadlines approach, I can find I’m still in pyjamas in the afternoon, working a solid eight to ten hour shift or more, not noticing time. That sense of involvement is the best part of this whole thing and the reason this is the best job.