Wednesday 27 April 2016

A Conversation with AJ Waines

AJ Waines was born in 1959. Before becoming a full time novelist she worked as a Psychotherapist for fifteen years – spending some time working with ex-offenders from high security institutions. The experiences she gained in this work have given her a comprehensive understanding of criminal and abnormal psychology.
AJ’s interest in this area of the human mind led her to publish her first novel, The Evil Beneath -  a successful psychological thriller whose protagonist is a psychotherapist called Juliet Grey. Her second novel Girl on a Train sold over 60,000 copies worldwide.  In July 2015 A Dark Place to Hide was published and now AJ’s fourth thriller, No Longer Safe, has sold 30,000 copies in the first month, in ten countries worldwide. She has publishing deals in France, Germany (Random House) and USA (audiobooks).
AJ Waines currently lives in Southampton with her husband and as well as writing fiction she has published The Self-Esteem Journal (as Alison Waines).

No Longer Safe is a psychological thriller about four friends who meet, after no contact for six years, in a remote cottage for a winter reunion. The dynamics of the friendships have changed from their time at university and as secrets and lies unravel events quickly turn sour.

A full review can be seen here

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I’ve had a colourful career from professional musician through to psychotherapist, which I enjoyed for 15 years, then writer. I’ve always loved words, images and metaphors and in psychotherapy, these are the means by which we navigate our inner emotional worlds. I pay a lot of attention to how we explore and express what we feel. By 2008, however, I felt quite burnt out with others’ emotional upheavals and started my first piece of fiction. I always thought novelists were superhuman, so I started with a short story – then somehow just kept going until it was a novel! That book got me a top London agent and from then on, I was completely hooked and have never looked back.

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

I see my role mostly to transport and entertain. I love that feeling, as a reader, of having a gripping book to come back to and if I can deliver that same kind of escapism, I’m delighted. I can categorically say that writing novels has taken over my life! Being both traditionally and independently published, writing has become my ‘business’ and I love co-ordinating the entire book producing process, from start to finish. I’ve learnt a huge amount and it’s been the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done. The best bit, if I had to choose, would be the writing itself – I completely lose track of time and relish the escape into the scenes of my story. To quote Gloria Steinem: ‘Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else’.

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

I’ve written plenty of characters with flaws or psychological disturbances, but I hope I portray them in a way that allows the reader to see why they act as they do. My most unpleasant character is probably Mark, in No Longer Safe. He’s moody and a control freak, with very few saving graces – but I loved writing about him! I think central characters need to be complex and compelling and as a former therapist I’m always drawn to the dark side.

GW recently organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about characters of colour? 

It would be inauthentic to set a novel in London (Girl on a Train has scenes in Stockwell and Brixton), without including characters from diverse ethnic backgrounds. I used to live in the centre of Brixton and two of the characters in that book have Afro-Caribbean origins. There is also a character who is blind. It felt important to bring those distinctive personalities to the story.

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

Ideally, I’d like to be on a veranda overlooking a river. I love The Thames and several of my books include scenes there. In The Evil Beneath, I wanted to capture the two aspects of the River Thames; one as a beautiful and majestic presence winding through the city, the other as a sinister force harbouring unexpected offerings. I love writing about the changing seasons, so even though I hate the cold, it would have to be the UK. A balcony in Hammersmith, Mortlake or Richmond would be perfect!

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. It’s a very intense slow-burn about obsession, jealousy and betrayal, from the viewpoint of a lonely spinster who finds out her fellow teacher at the school - the young, vivacious woman she’s fixated on - is having an affair with a pupil. It’s a superb psychological thriller.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Don’t worry too much about how ‘good’ it sounds – just get the story down. No one need see those early drafts and you can go back and fill things out, cut them, mend them, improve them at the next stage. This takes the pressure off that first draft straight away.

Set writing goals. I set myself writing targets every day and keep records of how much I’ve written. Then I can see a steady progress and get a sense of achievement.

Never leave your writing at the end of a scene or chapter. I always sketch notes for what is to happen next, so that I can step straight into the feel of the story the next day. A blank page is hard to work with.

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

I have a Trilogy – a series of three psychological thrillers coming out next. They all feature an intrepid (fictional) Clinical Psychologist, Samantha Willerby, who is based at a hospital in London. She faces extraordinary crimes hidden inside chilling mysteries that test her to the limit. The first book is called Inside the Whispers (due out Autumn 2016) and is about several passengers who recount scenes from the same Tube disaster - an incident, Sam discovers, that they were never involved in. I’m also halfway through writing a first draft of another one!
Thank you for having me!

You can follow AJ on Twitter: @AJWaines

Friday 22 April 2016

World Book Night 2016

World Book Night is celebrated on 23 April and run by The Reading Agency.
Because everything changes when we read.
Today!!! Saturday 23 April, UNESCO International Day of the Book, Shakespeare’s birthday and also the 400th anniversary of his death, 187,500 copies of 15 specially printed World Book Night titles will be given by a network of volunteer reading enthusiasts and institutions around the UK focussing on reaching the 36% of the UK population who don’t read for pleasure. 

This is the sixth World Book Night and my fifth year of volunteering. I work at the North Middlesex University Hospital in the medical library and decided to get them involved last year as an 'institution giver' as well as my usual homeless organisation in Finchley. Plus I'm an advocate of fiction in amongst all those very helpful but occasionally gruesome medical books. 

2016’s list of titles sees a sensational line up designed to bring reading and books into people’s lives. It covers a range of genres including crime, poetry, non-fiction, Quick Reads, historical and contemporary fiction, fantasy and memoir. Appearing on the list are bestselling favourites from the leading lights of the literary scene, designed to reach a wide audience including adults and young people dealing with mental health issues. Books this year include Holly Bourne’s Am I Normal Yet?, Love Poems by Carol Ann Duffy, Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive, The Rotters’ Club by Jonathan Coe, Treachery by SJ Parris and Ann CleevesToo Good To Be True.
When you become a volunteer you are asked to choose three books with the proviso you may not get any of them. I got my first choice The Rotters Club, by Jonathan Coe

The Rotter's Club is set in the 1970s against a distant backdrop of strikes, terrorist attacks and growing racial tension. A group of young friends inherit the editorship of their school magazine and begin to put their own distinctive spin onto events in the wider world. A zestful comedy of personal and social upheaval, The Rotters’ Club captures a fateful moment in British politics – the collapse of ‘Old Labour’ – and imagines its impact on the topsy-turvy world of the bemused teenager: a world in which a lost pair of swimming trunks can be just as devastating as an IRA bomb.
Jonathan Coesays:
I’m delighted to be part of World Book Night 2016. Reading is the best possible way to foster imagination, empathy and mutual understanding, and never have those qualities been more needed than at the present time.
I personally like to choose Quick Reads because if you're homeless, in all likelihood you won't have access to many books and quite likely will find it difficult to read because concentration levels, due to the trauma of not having a home, are quite simply all over the place. I feel that a Quick Reads book is a perfect way to reintroduce anyone to the wonderful art of reading.
Quick Reads sets out to show that books and reading can be for everyone. Each year they commission big name authors to write short books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. They are the same as mainstream books in every respect but are simply shorter and easier to tackle. The books are then sold through major retailers, online booksellers and are loaned from libraries. They celebrated their 10th anniversary this year, read more about that here.

Since the inaugural World Book Night in 2011, an extraordinary group of 56,000 volunteers has been created, giving books away to over 2.25 million people.
This year’s World Book Night impact report is the first to measure the impact on end-users, the recipients of the books. It reveals that the event prompts recipients to do more than simply read the book they receive: in many cases they go on to re-evaluate their relationship with books. Delight at receiving a book translates into action, especially for those who were previously not frequent readers:
  • 80% of recipients who said they previously never read or read less than once a month said that they have read more since World Book Night
  • 85% of infrequent readers have talked to others about books more since taking part
  • 47% of this group report that they have already bought more books since World Book Night, and 32% have borrowed more from the library
Many recipients said that World Book Night prompted them to re-engage with books and helped them discover new, relevant texts; this in turn gave them increased self-confidence as a reader and increased their awareness of the reading material available to them.
2000 institutions nationwide will be taking part in this year’s World Book Night mass giveaway, including libraries, hospitals, prisons, colleges, schools and homeless shelters.

In a new initiative for 2016 publishers will also giving out copies of their own stock on Friday 22 April within their neighbourhoods. This will increase the number of books being given away as part of the celebrations and highlights the unique opportunity World Book Night presents for givers to become better connected with their local communities.
Penguin Random House UK is donating a copy of Ali Smith’s Public Library and Other Stories to every library in the UK to tie in with World Book Night. In a letter to librarians Ali Smith says:
“This year on 23 April we celebrate World Book Night, an occasion that marks the transformative power of books: to inspire, transport and comfort, to unlock the mind, to nourish the soul. In honour of this moment, please find enclosed a copy of my short story collection Public library and other stories, which I am sending as a gift to every library in the UK.”
As well as the World Book Night volunteers, people are encouraged to give their favourite book to someone in their community and special events are taking place at libraries, community centres, prisons, hospitals and schools around the UK on 23rd April, in this mass celebration of books and reading. So, why not choose a book from your bookshelves and give it away. Read more here about events taking place all over the UK. And it's not too late to buy tickets to the flagship World Book Night event at the British Library.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

A Conversation with Radhika Swarup

Radhika Swarup was born in India and spent her childhood in different locations around the world, including Italy, Romania and Qatar. Her nomadic background has provided her with an abundance of experiences to draw upon while writing.

After reading Economics at Cambridge University Radhika spent some years in investment banking until she realised that it was not a career that she enjoyed. Her lifelong interest in writing was renewed and she began writing more seriously.

Radhika has published articles for some of the Indian broadsheets and currently writes for the Huffington Post. Her short stories have appeared in magazines such as the Edinburgh Review.

Where the River Parts is Radhika’s first novel. As a third generation migrant from Pakistan she has personal knowledge of the complex backgrounds of both the Pakistani and Indian cultures.

The novel tells the story of Asha and Firoze, two young lovers caught up in the Partition of Pakistan and India in 1947. Asha is Hindu and Firoze is Muslim. Their families were neighbours and friends, living side by side, until the Partition forces Asha and her family to flee to Delhi leaving her lover behind.

It is a moving story of the pain and suffering endured by those who had to escape from their homeland and make a new life in unfamiliar territory. It is a story of love and separation which still has impact some fifty years later, both for Asha and Firoze and for the following generations.

Full review here.

We thank Radhika for her wonderful answers and wish her every success with Where the River Parts.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I didn’t ‘train’ to be a writer.  I read Economics at Cambridge University, after which I began to work in Investment Banking.  Cue 16-20 hour work days looking at endless computer screens.  It seemed as if writing, or indeed reading for pleasure, was a thing of the past. 

And then at a private equity conference in Frankfurt, I found myself surrounded by industry veterans crowing over the latest Financial Times article to call them vultures.  I realised I hated finance.  It was my 26th birthday, and a moment I remember with absolute clarity. 

I began to write that very evening, and eventually gave up my job to devote myself to writing.  It has taken a few years to write Where the River Parts and get it to a place where I’m happy with it.  To be honest, my journey might have been easier had I enrolled at a creative writing course, as it would have forced me to write regularly, and would have given me valuable access to feedback, but these things are always clearer with hindsight. 
How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

A writer tells the truth.  That truth can take many forms – fantasy, irony, comedy or tragedy – and the truth itself can be contested, but to me the purpose of writing is to convey the world as it is or as it could be. 

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

That’s a good question.  To a large extent I feel proprietorial towards my characters, and even when they behave in a way I wouldn’t personally condone, I find myself understanding how they have arrived at their choices. 

GW recently organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about characters of colour? 

All the characters in Where the River Parts are people of colour.  The vast majority of the book is set in India and Pakistan, but I feel the characters display traits – passion, anger, betrayal, loyalty, tyranny – that are common around the world. 

I have also written about people from other cultural backgrounds in other works, and here too, the same traits assert themselves. 

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

Rome.  I spent a large portion of my childhood in the city, and there is something about the sun, the light, the unhurried way of life, and about the Roman relationship with art and beauty that never fails to inspire me. 

What is the one book you wish you had written?

There’s not one book I wish I could have written.  Partly because I’m still relatively new to writing, and I can feel my writing develop with everything I write.  Partly because there are many books and many writers I admire greatly.  And partly because my writing – or rewriting – a book would no doubt end up changing it indelibly. 

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

We’ve all heard this before.  Read and write, but it really is true.  The more you read, the more you learn to perfect your own writing.  And it is invaluable to get yourself a support group.  Join a course, a writer’s group, write with friends.  An online group, even.  Anything that allows you to read other people’s writing and to get feedback on your own. 

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

I’m working on my next novel, which examines a woman’s response when the world she knows changes forever.  It’s in the early stages of planning, but I’m really looking forward to delving into her world. 

Where the River Parts is published by Sandstone Press

You can follow Radhika on Twitter@rdswarup

Thursday 14 April 2016

Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker

Captain Tom Barnes, BA5799, is commanding British soldiers in a war zone and the story begins with Captain Barnes being airlifted out in a helicopter after stepping on an IED. The location of the war zone is not identified but we learn that it is hot and dusty.

The account of events preceding and following Captain Barnes’ catastrophic injuries is told from the perspective of inanimate objects giving this war story a very original feel. The first chapter is told from the view of BA5799’s tourniquet that had resided in the darkness of a pocket until being called into action.

I was placed on BA5799. I was turned. I tightened. I closed around his leg until his pulse pushed up against me. And he grimaced and whimpered through gritted teeth. I was wound tighter, gripping his thigh; stopping him bleed into the dust.”

Those first few pages of Anatomy of a Soldier set the scene for the novel; of the devastation that is the nature of war. The following chapter, narrated by a bag of fertiliser, introduces Latif – an insurgent and enemy of the British soldiers – and his childhood friend Faridun. The two meet at a checkpoint and Latif informs his fellow insurgents that Faridun’s father is working for the infidels causing Faridun to be assaulted. The two friends have different views of the conflict and this is another casualty of war. Although they are supposedly on the same side, different opinions divide families and friends.

Tom Barnes is a captain who leads his troops in a dedicated and stoical manner and we see him struggle for survival while doctors fight to save his life. We follow his long and slow recovery and the distress and anguish experienced by family and friends as they try to help him through this traumatic period of his life.

Although the story is told from the view of objects, Harry Parker has succeeded brilliantly in giving the characters their own defining personalities. The objects succeed in conveying depth of feeling and emotion through these characters.  The bed listens as Tom explains to his mother, both of whom are sitting on the bed, that he wouldn’t change a thing that has happened to him.  He knows his life has changed irrevocably but has accepted who he is. It is both moving and inspiring.

It is a story that follows both the troops and insurgents and shows how war shatters both sides of the conflict. Death, destruction and suffering leaves nobody untouched. Despite fighting a war the enemy are still seen as human. Their suffering and that of their families is never undermined. Anatomy of a Soldier is a beautifully written book with extremely vivid imagery. One chapter is written from the view of the infection spreading through Barnes’ leg.

I was inside your leg, deep among flesh that was torn and churned…I spread out into the hypoxic and devitalised tissue of your leg. I made you feverish and feasted unseen on your insides, defeating you. I made you wish you’d never survived.”

Another original feature of the novel is that the chapters do not run in chronological order and this fractured structure reflects the chaotic and fragmented experiences that accompany such a harrowing event as that experienced by Tom Barnes.

Harry has written a poignant and moving novel which makes for compelling reading. It is of course tragic because of the nature of the story but it is also inspiring and uplifting as we follow Captain Barnes’ journey from devastating injury to acceptance of his new way of living. 

We wish Harry lots of luck for the future and hope to see another novel from him sometime soon. His style of writing and use of language makes for fantastic reading.

You can follow Harry Parker on Twitter:  @harrybparker

You can read more about Harry in Conversation with Greenacre Writers

Anatomy of a Soldier is published by: Faber and Faber and we would like to thank them for the review copy.

Monday 11 April 2016

A Conversation with Kit de Waal

Kit De Waal spent fifteen years in criminal and family law before becoming a writer. She writes short stories, flash fiction, and longer form prose. She is published in various anthologies and works as an editor of non-fiction. Her writing has received numerous awards including the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize 2014 and 2015 and the SI Leeds Literary Reader's Choice Prize 2014. BBC Radio 4 broadcast her story ‘Adrift at the Athena’, which was commissioned for the anthology, A Midlands Odyssey by Nine Arches Press.

In December, 2014, after a six way bidding auction, Viking secured rights to publish her debut novel, My Name Is Leon, Venetia Butterfield, Publishing Director of Viking, said ‘My Name is Leon is a truly extraordinary novel; heart-wrenching and powerful, its characters leap off the page. I’m thrilled to be publishing a major new talent.’

After securing the book deal with Penguin, de Waal used some of her advance to set up a creative writing scholarship to try to improve working-class representation in the arts. The award is designed to help some of the most marginalised people in society gain access to creative writing opportunities. 

Kit was born in Birmingham to an Irish mother, who was a foster carer, and an African-Caribbean father. Her personal and professional experience of foster care and the adoption system helped to shape, My Name is Leon. “I was brought up like that, I’m mixed race, I have adopted children, I’ve trained social workers. In 1981 I was living in Handsworth in Birmingham, where the riots were happening at the end of my road,” she says.

Set during the race riots of the 1980s, My Name is Leon tells the story of Leon, a half-black nine year-old boy who struggles to make sense of his changing world. After his mother suffers a mental breakdown, Leon and his baby brother, Jake, are sent into foster care. Jake—who is white—is soon adopted, and Leon is left wondering why his home life has fallen apart. Meanwhile, at the local allotments racial tensions spark between the gardeners. When life at his new home becomes too much for Leon to bear, he sets out to find Jake and his mother but comes face-to-face with the ugly realities of inequality and injustice instead. Amid the chaos, Leon and those around him learn that love and tolerance can often be found in the most unlikely places.

‘Beautiful and heartbreaking – I cried buckets of tears for Leon and his family’ (Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of The Last Act of Love.)

My Name is Leon is Kit’s first novel. She lives in Leamington Spa with her two children.

A full review can be read here.

We’d like to thank Kit for taking part in A Conversation… and wish her all the very best with the forthcoming novel which we are sure will be a huge hit.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

When I was fifteen I wrote for my Careers Essay that I wanted to be a journalist. I was quickly told that I should play it safe and be a secretary so I put away any idea of writing for a very long time. I can’t honestly say it bothered me, not writing. I was getting married, divorced, doing an interesting job, having children, living my life. But around 45 the desire to write came back with a vengeance and I began to take it seriously. I blame Gustave Flaubert or more specifically Madame Bovary. It was the first book that made me want to ‘do that thing’ where you get under someone’s skin. Why I thought I could be like Flaubert I don’t know but anyway, I wrote a couple of thrillers, did an MA in Creative Writing and then wrote My Name is Leon. All in about 10 years.

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

My role as a writer is primarily, I think, to entertain. If you ask someone to sit down with your book for maybe five or 6 hours, you have an obligation to not bore or disgust them. You are taking their money, they deserve to be entertained and/or moved, informed, educated, amused – you get the picture. I don’t think writers should be self-indulgent unless they are writing for themselves and never intend to sell a book. After the entertainment bit, I believe a writer should tell the truth; that is be true to their vision, the characters and if you are writing about a group of people of any vulnerability make sure you represent them compassionately, honestly and with integrity.

What I like most about writing is the sheer scope and scale of the world or worlds we can inhabit. With two sentences I can be in a field in Ireland in 1965 or on Mars in 2075. Creation, I suppose is what I like, having a job that has no bounds other than one’s own talent.

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

My goodness, yes, all the time although dislike is probably not the right word. I have created several characters who are seriously flawed and who do bad things. I think you have to find the love in your character. Most people, and our characters are people, are loved by their mother, by a partner or brother and sister. What is it that those people love about a villain or a gangster or a murderer? Find that thing and it is difficult to truly hate one of your own creations.

Last year, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

It would be extremely difficult for me NOT to write what is termed ‘diverse’ characters. My own background is one of difference; Irish mother, Caribbean father, born in the 60’s when mixed marriages were unheard of. I was brought up in straightened circumstances, a Jehovah’s Witness and one of five children. I have two adopted children of a different heritage to my own and I come from inner city Birmingham. So my writing reflects who I am and not any attempt to incorporate ‘diversity’ into my world. For My Name is Leon I did absolutely no research although there are many characters in the book from different backgrounds and some of the issues people would call ‘marginal.’ I call it real.

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

I would write by the sea. I honestly don’t mind which sea as long as there was an expanse of it, black or blue or grey, wild or tame but wide and breathing. I would like a modernist home, built into the rock of a cliff with floor to ceiling windows, underfloor heating AND a woodburning stove (preferably Danish), a desk facing the ocean/sea/body of water, no curtains and an endless supply of tea. Cake every other day to avoid greed and tight jeans. I would like to walk down on to the beach in the morning wrapped up in a beautiful cashmere duffle coat and a scarf and hat, leather boots that lace to mid-calf and calf-skin gloves. I would walk and think and return home full of ideas and whole sentences that have written themselves by the water.

Why? No idea. I was born in Birmingham about as far from the sea as is possible in England. Maybe that’s the answer.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I wish I had written The Remains of the Day because it’s perfect.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

For every hour that you write, spend two hours reading. There is so much good stuff out there. There is always something to learn. Find a book you love, even one you have read a few times and unpick it. Take it apart and find out how the writer did the thing that moves you. Break it down chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence. Find the mechanisms and devices – they will be there – and see if you can imitate them or write your own versions. Those things are the stuff of craft and every artist has to know their craft. Every artist, carpenter, painter, chef, practices and practices as an apprentice, learning from the master and then one day they start on their own creations wielding the tools of the craft.

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

My novel My Name is Leon will be published on June 2nd and I’m currently working on my second novel which I should finish in the next few months. Exciting times!

My Name is Leon, is published by Viking, and due for release 2nd June 2016.
You can follow Kit on Twitter: @KitdeWaal

Sunday 3 April 2016

Words of Colour present Yvvette Edwards

Words of Colour Productions, in association with Waterstones Piccadilly, hosted an evening of conversation with award-winning author Yvvette Edwards at the pre-launch of her second book The Mother, a whole week before it’s official release date. Joy Francis, journalist and executive director of Words of Colour, introduced Yvvette, to a packed audience.

Joy asked Yvvette about her reading influences when she was growing up.

Yvvette spoke of how she first started writing as a child after the death of Elvis. "I did my first big piece of work in 1976 when I was ten years old. It was an autobiography of the life of Elvis Presley after he had died. My mother and relatives wailed as if a family member had died so it was a way of working through my grief and trauma."

She then went on to talk about Rosa Guy's The Friends (1995), and how she was so excited that the text had a black protagonist and that Guy was a black author. She devoured the book and looked for more but couldn't find anything.

She also read Stephen King, though the stress of horror means she doesn't read him nowadays. If she comes across a writer she enjoys, she tends to read everything by that author. Toni Morrison is her star writer and she is always thrilled by the beautiful, lyrical and groundbreaking writing.

In her 40s, Yvvette began thinking about her own mortality and began writing about things that aren't written about. Stories from voices you don't hear very often. Women of colour are often presented as caricatures and stereotypes. Yvvette wants to create 3-D characters.

The inspiration for A Cupboard Full of Coats (2011), was a real life scenario. A friend who had got rid of a violent partner. Some years later, she showed Yvvette a newspaper report. The ex partner had been convicted for murder of his then girlfriend.

Yvvette kept thinking about the what ifs, what if the friend had stayed with him. She found herself troubled by the report and wanted to explore different types of love, possessive love that can result in death. Though she was quick to point out, "It is funny in places too!"

It was her agent that pointed out there were no white characters in the novel. And while the agent was speaking about this, Yvvette was doing a silent inventory in her head, thinking "there must be one somewhere".

Joy asked Yvvette how it wasn't until she was 40 that she decided she was a writer even though she had been writing most of her life.

Yvvette spoke about how for her writing is cathartic, a kind of therapy writing, she was always writing, writing. And then one day, thought, I'll send it to the BBC (un-edited).

They sent it back with suggestions. "I thought that's it, I won't be sending them anything more". She did lots of jobs with "no real ambition". Then when she got to 40, she dragged herself up by the lapels and "gave myself a talking to". She reduced her hours at work and began editing.

Yvvette then read an excerpt from A Cupboard Full of Coats.

How would you describe your writing? Asked Joy.

"That's not really my job," laughed Yvvette. And went on to say "...a strong dose of realism, uncompromising, not especially graphic". She enjoyed Silence of the Lambs - found it terrifying even you don't see anything graphic happen. "I try to make that happen with my writing". She went on to say, she had difficulty defining herself and had a resistance to being pigeonholed.

Joy discussed Yvvette's latest novel, The Mother due to be published 7th April, and how it came to be written, whilst observing that she seems to be obsessed with violence and death. But, in a way to convey the humanity of it, and writing about violence in particular.

Yvvette replied she was interested in the "ripple-effect of trauma". A number of things happened that led to the writing of the novel. She saw another stabbing on the news and a friend said, you've got to write about this. And then Yvette's stepson was stabbed. He went out with his friends to Nandos and was stabbed by a random person. He survived but because of his injuries there was the possibility he would have a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.

Yvvette was in shock and couldn't understand how a young boy could go for something to eat with his friends and come back with a colostomy bag. His life changed forever. This traumatic psychological event left her dwelling on stabbings in the UK and led her to question, like many others, "What's going on with young people in this country? Why are they turning to crime?"

Through a series of events, Yvvette found herself interested and listening to experts. And the seeds of The Mother were sewn.

However, there was a novel before The Mother. A second novel that suffered with Second Book Syndrome. When a writing friend had mentioned this, Yvvette dismissed it. But went on to discover the protagonist was too much like Jinx in A Cupboard Full of Coats, and the writing just wasn't happening. She eventually had to admit her writing friend was absolutely right.

But she felt she had worked through some angst in that discarded second novel, so that when she came to write The Mother, it simply flowed.

© Joy Francis
Yvvette then read an excerpt from The Mother, which had the whole audience enthralled. I had been umming and ahhing about reading the book because, I find young boys being stabbed so heartbreaking and thought I wouldn't be able to read it. At the end of the evening there were questions from the audience and I found myself thinking about how writers sometimes write from a place of trauma, when somebody asked:

Had Yvvette experienced a change within herself by the end of each piece of writing?

She had changed since writing The Mother, that even though she was empathic, she had become more so and she understood so much more about the youth of today. As well as the reading that was so engaging, so well-written, this answer intrigued me. Would I be changed after reading it? I found myself buying a copy. In fact I was first in line. I began reading it on the way home and was so engrossed, I didn't realise I had got on the wrong branch of the Northern Line until I found myself in Hampstead. I live in Finchley.

It was an interesting and inspiring evening and I'm pleased to add that Yvvette will be joining us for this year's Finchley Literary Festival 24th-26th June. Readers and writers are in for an absolute treat.

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