Friday, 1 April 2016

A Conversation with Tasha Kavanagh

Tasha Kavanagh was born in 1969 and started writing at a young age. As a teenager she mainly wrote plays before starting an MA Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia where she was tutored by Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. Tasha then went into film editing, working on features including 12 Monkeys, Seven Years in Tibet and The Talented Mr Ripley.
She has published several children's books under her maiden name, Tasha Pym. 

Her first novel Things We Have in Common was released by Canongate in May 2015, to critical acclaim. It has been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2015, the Guardian Not the Booker Prize, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent 2016

Described by The Guardian as ‘A novel you read half covering your eyes.’ And by Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall, as 'Unsettling, deeply moving and very, very readable. I loved it'
Things We Have in Common is a creepy tale of loneliness and teenage obsession, described by its publisher as “Sue Townsend meets Zoë Heller”, with overtones of Emma Donoghue’s Room. Yasmin would give anything to have a friend… And do anything to keep one. The narrative shifts between creepy, poignant and darkly humourous which at times is overwhelming. Kavanagh has captured the voice of the teenage outsider, the misfit, one who is overweight and living with a stepfather whom she dislikes whilst all the time missing her father who died the year before.

Yasmin’s young voice is spot on, brilliantly realistic, whilst still being naive, optimistic and extremely fragile. The book is so well written that at times it is like prying into a young girls diary. It is a clever book and will keep the reader glued and guessing until the last page. 

Tasha lives in Hertfordshire with James, daughter Mackenzie and their three cats and is currently writing her second psychological thriller.

*Stop Press* Congratulations to Tasha. Things We Have in Common, has just been longlisted for the 2016 Desmond Elliott Prize

We thank Tasha for taking part in A Conversation... and wish her all the very best for her future writing.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

Like many writers, I knew at an early age (about 8) that I wanted to be a writer, but it took me a while to wholly immerse myself in that dream. I wrote a fair amount as a teenager – mainly plays, then at 21 was accepted onto the Creative Writing MA programme at UEA where I was lucky enough to be tutored by Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. After the MA, however, I veered off into film editing – an unplanned diversion which lasted around ten years. I worked exclusively on feature films, including Twelve Monkeys, Seven Years in Tibet and The Talented Mr Ripley. Between my last two films, I rediscovered Dr Seuss, had a huge desire to write children’s fiction, and was thrilled to have my first children’s book published. After this I became hooked on picture books and, having given up film work to look after my newly arrived daughter, went on to publish nine picture books for both the trade and the educational markets. During this time I also worked as a reader/editor for the literary agency, Cornerstones, specialising in picture books. Then I thought I’d try to write a novel. I joined a writing class at City Lit in London and began. That story, over the course of a year, turned into Things We Have in Common.

2. How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

What I like most about it is being able to create everything on your own. I’m a control freak, and though I loved working as part of a team on films, really wanted to be the director, actors, cameraman, lighting designer….the whole thing! I don’t really think of myself as having any role. I wrote Things We Have in Common without thinking about who might read it, or even if it would get published. I want to try to stay in that mind-set.

3. Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I think I’m asked this because my protagonist, Yasmin, is perhaps not so easy to like! She makes decisions that are selfish, naïve and alarmingly unwise. But she is profoundly lonely – a terrible thing to be, especially as a teenager - and so her actions are, I think, understandable. We all need to feel that we belong. Most of us are lucky enough to belong somewhere without trying too hard, but even so, we have probably all experienced loneliness at some point. I hope, then, that ultimately readers empathise with her despite her decisions.

4. Last October, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about characters of colour?

A writing friend - male, white and from a privileged background - recently asked me ‘Do you think I can get away with writing a novel narrated in first person by a young black woman living in the ghetto?’ I told him he could, of course, as long as he did it well! Being able to inhabit any skin is one of the wonderful things about writing. Only the writer can know if they feel right in that skin, though. In Things We Have in Common, there are two fairly central characters who aren’t white, but since they are seen through Yasmin’s eyes, her portrait of them is personal to her.

5. If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

The Cook Islands – remote, surrounded by vast ocean, with laid-back, happy people milling around and dotted (I imagine having never been there) with lazy beach bars! A friend of mine had a girlfriend who twenty or more years ago went to teach English there to school children and never came back. That always stuck me and has made me want to follow in her footsteps.

6. What is the one book you wish you had written?

That’s a hard question, and one that is always changing. Fifteen years ago I would have said any book by Dr Seuss, The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks or The Collector by John Fowles. Now… We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Schriver. I love the complexity of the mother/son relationship and the heart-wrenching questions it raises that can never be answered.

7. What advice do you have for would be novelists?

If you are a person that (like me) needs the support and camaraderie of other writers around you, seek out a writers’ workshop. Or find a writing crit buddy and commit to meet with them weekly. Then start writing, sharing and discussing. If you prefer to work alone, skip the workshop/buddy and just start writing! Read contemporary fiction. Take note of the publishing world – who is publishing what etc. Go to author talks. If you are unsure what it is that you want to write, look at writing styles instead and try different ones out. (I discovered Things We Have in Common this way – just by trying out a sentence in which the narrator was addressing ‘you’.) Re-read books that you loved as a teenager – these books will have emotionally impacted and moulded you and you may find, as I did, that the book you want to write is similar in feel and tone to those you read and loved back then.

8. What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I love psychological thrillers and am drawn to stories about people who are, for whatever reason, social misfits. The protagonist of my second novel, Nick Franks, is one such character. Unbearably lonely, he is caught between a paralysing fear of his desires and a yearning to express them. When he recognises his own suffering in a young boy, Nick knows he is the only one who can help. But his carefully constructed world is tearing at the seams, he is deeply deluded, and his actions threaten to destroy far more than just his sanity.

Things We Have in Common (2015) is published by Canongate
You can follow Tasha on Twitter: @KavanaghTasha

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