A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
1 ) How did you get into writing? What made you want to write? What keeps you writing? Technically three questions, but feel free to answer them in one long paragraph! ;-)
I started writing during a bout of depression in my early & mid twenties – mainly bad poetry, as it was the only way I could express what was going on. I used to come home from my terrible London job, sit at the table of my Chatham house with a whisky in my hand, do a bit of crying and write. It really upset my tenants for sure. Poetry got me through a very difficult time. Eventually, I weaned myself of the whisky and the weeping (or as near as darn it), and kept the writing going. I joined a poetry writing class, which was great and very supportive indeed. Some of my work even got published in small magazines, which was a great astonishment really.
After a few years, I had something of a block in the Millennium year due to various personal circumstances that were happening, and got very twitchy about not being able to write poems any more. My mother got rather cross with my constant complaining and told me that if I couldn’t do rhyme any more (not that I ever did rhyme, but I knew what she meant), then I should just try writing fiction instead. So I did. I was rather surprised with how much I enjoyed it, so when the poetry came back I kept on with the fiction too.
The things that keep me writing are the need to get the worlds in my head out of my head and onto the page. I also need to know how the beginnings of stories I make up or dream about actually end, and writing them down is the only way of finding out – otherwise I don’t have a clue. I suppose in some ways it’s like an obsession, but healthier than the whisky and the weeping, I think. I hope! When it’s going well, writing is certainly one of the most exciting things ever.
2 ) Could you tell us a bit about your books? I loved A Dangerous Man, and would urge everyone to read it. What shall I read of yours next?
I’m so glad you enjoyed A Dangerous Man. It’s the book I was swept up inside most (if that makes any sense at all) when I wrote it. In my fiction, I like taking things a little bit further than I think I should go – I like taking risks, which is something I never do in my everyday life! So I tend to write on the dark “off-the-wall” side of the market, which probably explains why I’m so difficult to place. Even in my comic novels, people say there are dark undercurrents. If you liked A Dangerous Man, I would recommend the two books that are coming out in 2008: Thorn in the Flesh is a psychological thriller about a woman attacked in her home, who must then journey into her past in order to safeguard her own life. It’s due from Goldenford Publishers on 25 February. Later in the year, PD Publishing in the States will be bringing out my gay crime novel, Maloney’s Law. This is about a London PI who takes on a case for an ex-lover and rapidly finds himself involved in international crime, and way out of his depth.
For the lighter side of the equation, I’d recommend Pink Champagne and Apple Juice (Goldenford Publishers), which is a romantic comedy about a young woman who runs away from her rural home and finds herself working in her uncle’s transvestite night club in the big city. I’d probably stay away from my first novel, The Hit List (another comedy, this time about a young man who decides to kill his father in order to further his career plans) – it’s very much a first novel and, if I had the time, I’d change it quite considerably now, I think. I’ve just never had the time – or the courage!
3 ) Tell us about your plotting – how do you manage to keep such incredible tension in your work?
Plotting. Ah, um. I must admit that I don’t do much plotting beforehand. This is probably why there’s a lot of tension in my books – I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen next either! Really, I wing it, and just deal with the ideas and twists as I’m writing. Sometimes that means I do have to write myself out of a rather serious corner, and there’s a lot of going back to the beginning and changing stuff in order to fit in with what I’ve done later on. Still, that’s part of the fun of it!
4 ) You say “I like taking things a little bit further than I think I should go – I like taking risks, which is something I never do in my everyday life!’ and I really relate to that, but where do you get your inspiration from? For instance, you write so convincingly as a male prostitute in A Dangerous Man. How did you get into Michael’s head? I suppose the other part of this question is ‘And what do your friends and family make of it?!’
I think the inspiration comes from within – the voice of Michael, and indeed other of my male protagonists, has been in my head for a long, long time. When I finally had the courage to write him as he was meant to be, it felt very much like coming home. All his anger, frustration, resentments, desires and needs are in essence my own, but it’s hard to express them as a 40-plus straight UK female, at least in my non-writing life. Writing Michael is a way of being me, but at a deeper level. And, yes, this does mean that the main voice in my head is male and gay – but that’s the way it’s always been. When I dream, I’m rarely a woman. So I think it’s more a question of Michael already being in my head, rather than me getting into his. Weirdly I still talk to him sometimes, and occasionally he answers back.
My husband has always been totally supportive of the type of fiction I write, and is astonishingly proud. He loved A Dangerous Man, though he did think it was scary and slightly bizarre. But, with me, he’s probably used to that by now! My mother also loved the book and makes a great deal of having a writer in the family, but the rest of my relatives have found it more difficult to accept. I think my aunt and cousins find it rather upsetting and don’t know how to react, to be honest. It does make things awkward on occasion.
5 ) Right, so next up I’d like to ask your opinion of the publishing industry. On Vulpes Libris we’re trying to interview as many publishers as we can, so that we can get more of a clue as to how different publishers work. Amongst writers there are some horror stories – I must admit I have a few of my own. What have your experiences been like?
I find dealing with publishers quite difficult on the whole. No large, mainstream publisher will touch me (which I understand, but which is very frustrating). Flame Books were very brave to take on A Dangerous Man and I’m extremely grateful that they did, as they were the last publisher in the UK I approached about it. Everyone else had turned it down. But obviously they’re very small and it’s a hard market, so I sell very few. But reviews have been good – which is a real boost both to Flame and to me. My experiences so far with PD Publishing have been lovely – they’re very easy to communicate with, in spite of being in the US, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Maloney’s Law does, later in the year. For the rest of my work, I rely on Goldenford, which is a small publishing company I help run with three other writers, for those books we can’t persuade the mainstream world to take on. That would be most of them then! I do think that the publishing world is moving towards a more fluid approach to self- and commercial publishing. A lot of good writers can’t get any commercial publishing company to take a chance on them, and as a result self-publishing is becoming the only way to get good if off-beat books to market. I’m all for flexibility – as long as the book is good, there’s space for all.
6 ) Any advice for aspiring writers?
Write what you want to write and not what other people tell you to – writing is, more than anything, about finding your own voice and trusting it. Enjoy the process and keep on learning – it can be very helpful to join a writers’ group and attend writers’ conferences or workshop weekends. Do go through the routes of looking for an agent/mainstream publisher, but don’t be despondent if that doesn’t work. Self-publishing is perfectly viable and a good way to begin to gain a readership – and it’s fun! Whatever happens, do get your novel edited professionally and do your best to make it the best it can be. And when you’ve finished it, have fun starting the new one!
7 ) What’s your writing routine? When, where, how?
I tend to write where there’s space in the day – even 20 minutes can be enough to start a poem or a paragraph. I work part-time from Mondays to Wednesdays, and try to do as much writing as possible during the remainder of the week. Usually at home in the spare room – where the most comfortable computer is (sadly we also have a kitchen computer, but it’s more cramped). If I have a clear day, I like to write about 1000 words – it used to be 2000, but the pressure was driving me insane so I stopped! I tend to write fiction straight to screen and poetry longhand first before transferring it to the computer – but that’s flexible too. A significant part of The Gifting (the fantasy novel I’m currently struggling with – and I mean struggling!) was written long-hand first, but then my main character is a scribe, so I suppose it made sense.
8 ) Which books have you read and enjoyed this year?
I love dark, quirky books and crime writing with great characters. I gobbled up the latest Reginald Hill – The Death of Dalziel, which was great. Well, the plots confuse me but I love the people. I also loved Engleby by Sebastian Faulkes – a complete departure from his usual stuff, with a very dark anti-hero. Just my sort of thing really. I also have to admit to being a Jodi Picoult fan. And of course there’s Prince Rupert’s Teardrop by the lovely Lisa Glass (am I allowed to say that?) – an extremely dark and gripping novel which plays beautifully with the concept of reality and story. In terms of poetry, I’m currently reading Keith Please’s Firestrikes from Tall Lighthouse Press – a wonderful mix of passion and intellect – and I’ve recently finished Philip Gross’s The Egg of Zero and Helen Farish’s Intimates. Both of these are punchy collections about relationships, death and how to be human. I loved them!
Huge thanks to Anne Brooke for the interview, which I did spring on her at extremely short notice. Vulpes Libris salutes you, Anne.
For more details about Anne Brooke and her books, click here.
Vulpes Libris review of A Dangerous Man here.
After three weeks’ serious exploration of alternative publishing models, we’re back to our usual this week; which, of course, means anything BUT usual. Sit back and wallow in three enthralling, complex narratives.
On Monday, Hilary is very happy to meet Rebecca Mead on The Road To Middlemarch.
On Wednesday, Moira is delighted to have her expectations confounded by Liz Fenwick’s Under a Cornish Sky.
And on Friday, Kirsty D reads the Folio Prize-winning novel Family Life by Akhil Sharma.