Last week, super-talented local writer Marianne Paget asked me if I would like to be tagged in her blog as part of ‘The Next Big Thing’. The idea is that a writer answers ten questions on their blog one week then passes the baton to five others (who they think might be The Next Big Thing) to answer the same questions the next week. And so it rolls on. I was delighted to be asked and have been having loads of fun tracing the network of links created and discovering some interesting new writers in the process.
Before I take the hot seat, I’d like to recommend the My Favourite Place anthology, in which Marianne’s story ‘Leith, 1974’ appears. Her story is a deliciously evocative tale of wild childhood freedom edged with a spine-tingling sense of danger and foreboding. You can find out more about the book at the Scottish Book Trust website. You can read Marianne’s Next Big Thing blog post here.
So, here we go…
1. What is the title of your new book?
Nothing is Heavy – the title comes from one of the main character’s a tattoos – Alis Grave Nil – which translates conventionally as ‘Nothing is heavy to those who have wings.’
2. Where did the idea for the book come from?
The book started off as a collection of scenes and character sketches partly inspired by my time working in a chippy and centred around where I lived during my twenties. I noticed that these fragments were overlapping and connecting and realised they could be part of a larger story bringing them all together.
3. What genre does you book fall under?
It doesn’t belong squarely in any particular genre, so I’d have to settle for the umbrella term ‘literary fiction’. It contains some crime, some romance and some thriller elements but none of them completely define the book. The humour in it is important so I could go for ‘black comedy’. I’m not a fan of pigeon-holing books into particular genres as I personally enjoy books that blur the boundaries.
4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The three main characters look a certain way in my mind and readers will have their own ideas which I wouldn’t want to mess with – you know that scenario when you see a film of a book and go ‘No! He/she doesn’t look anything like that!’ Argh! Still, it’s a lot of fun imagining the book being made into a movie, so here goes. Beth, the chip shop worker reminds another character of Patti Smith. A film version of Just Kids, her biography is currently in development – I’m really interested to see who they pick to play her because I cannot imagine who could. So, since this is a fantasy cast list, I’m sticking with Patti, circa ‘Horses’. Amber, the pole dancer, is flamboyant and forthright and has that in-your-face overtly sexualised look she needs for her work – Jessica Alba (in ‘Sin City’) looks about right. George spends a fair amount of time wearing a monkey mask so it’d have to be an actor who was up for that – Jake Gyllenhaal has that sort of diffident, tender look and can do dark comedy – love ‘Donnie Darko’!
5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Sex, death and chips.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The book is published by Linen Press Books. I’m in the slightly unusual situation of having a book out before securing an agent. That’s just the way it worked out. I have a habit of doing things the wrong way round so nothing new there. I’ll probably try to find one at some point in the future.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
All in all, from first scribblings, about two years. It was slow going in the initial stages and largely done during the wee hours, squeezed in around the edges of my office job and family. But I kept adding to it and piece by piece it eventually grew into a novel. The rewriting, editing and polishing took about another 10 months.
8. What other books would you compare this book to within your genre?
A couple of readers have mentioned early Kate Atkinson and I’d be more than happy to be in that company. One said ‘a genteel Irvine Welsh’ which is interesting, if improbable. Sophie Hannah, who was one of the judges on the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize in 2011 when my book was shortlisted, compared it to Edna O’Brien. That’s a pretty wide range but I’m happy about that. One book I read during the early stages of writing was Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost and I think it’s fair to say I was influenced by the way she dealt with intertwined stories. Although our books are very different, they might belong on the same shelf. Douglas Coupland’s novels were also a fantastically liberating influence in terms of what I ‘allowed’ myself to do with plot.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
No specific person or thing other than the book itself. It was a case of the characters and story evolving as I went along and insisting I finish what I’d started, or they’d haunt me forever!
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s a page-turner, and a fast read with plenty of plot going on but it also raises questions about how we live – with ourselves, our pasts, and each other. The Herald described it as ‘ultimately life-affirming’.
My recommendations for The Next Big Thing
It’s my great pleasure to introduce you to a diverse collection of writers and artist, each doing amazing things in their own fields. Their blogs will appear, as if by magic, around this time next week. Check them out…
I met Dickson Telfer recently at the Linlithgow Book Festival where we were both taking part in the open mic evening. I was mightily impressed with his performance of an extract from his collection of short stories, Killing a Spider.
EH Rea, otherwise known as Scribble Imp, is a ridiculously talented artist who, with his writing partner Genna Bard, will be talking about the fruits of their collaboration.
Bethany Anderson is an Edinburgh-based writer, book reviewer and trainee teacher – a very busy person who will nevertheless be taking the time to tell us about her current exciting writing project.
Stephanie Taylor, my stable-mate at Linen Press Books (publisher of her debut novel The Device, The Devil, & Me) is a writer and artist who crosses forms and genres all over the place. She’ll be talking about her new graphic novel for children.