Show 033: August 2010
NewsI’m working on two major projects next year which are continuations of work I have been doing for some time. All freelancers have the same worry about how much work comes in so to have some guaranteed work to return to, and to know about, is brilliant.
Obviously we are all worried about cuts to frontline services such as health and education, but I do believe that the loss of arts activities would be a great loss to people who take part in and get nourishment from them.
I spent a recent Sunday at Hebden Bridge Library where well known and established writers [amongst them celebrated children’s author Melvin Burgess] got together for a series of talks and workshops with local writers. Amongst the speakers was Clair Malcolm from New Writing North talking about how new writing can be supported, even in these difficult times. The day ended with a conversation between Anne Caldwell and me about the effect of environmental issues on nature poetry. Anne read several of her wonderful poems from her latest collection
Also in July I performed at the Theatre in the Mill in Bradford and gave a talk at a writers’ week in Caerleon in South Wales
Book reviewThe Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
What I hadn’t remembered was how funny Tey’s writing is, and I look forward to going back and reading more of her Golden Age novels in the future.
I have been writing since I was at school, short stories and poems. I was brought up on Conan Doyle and PG Wodehouse. and I had a burning desire to write stories in the style of these two, and my prose was very purple. I’d always had a book on the go, but never finished anything.
I started writing seriously when I was working in the City. I used to have a shed to disappear into, after seeing my family after work. I wrote a black comedy about life in the City. It was a form of escapism. I gave up my job eventually with the idea of a career in writing and did an MA in creative writing in Sheffield, under novelist Lesley Glaister I have been writing full-time since 1995, but not published until 2000.
One of the reasons I turned to writing crime was because I came across American writers like George Pelecanos, Dennis LeHane and James Ellroy. I loved their grittiness. I set my books in London because I could write about the best bits about the city I love while looking at fields of sheep, because by this time we were living in the Peak District in Derbyshire.
I worked on the character of Staffe for three years. The first book in a series is incredibly important, because you have to establish a template in which the character is potentially deep enough to support a whole series. Staffe occupies two thirds of each page of the book.
I’ve signed up for three books with Faber, having just delivered the third to them. There are going to be another two at least. The more books I write the more loose endings I create. It’s rather like the long-ranging, story-boarding of a soap. You want to give your readers as big a pay-off as possible; it’s almost like going from level to level in a computer game.
I’m simply not happy unless I’m writing. My university work co-incides with what I do as a writer. Part of my function is to contribute to the University’s research output. The novel-writing and research counts towards. It. I write very quickly and my University work kind of slows me down. I’m writing a book a year, and I’ve established a rhythm. My writing shed is now my little flat in Liverpool, so I get up at 5,30 and the first two hours of every day sitting in bed writing on my laptop.
Reading is very important to me. I like putting myself in other people’s heads. I mimic styles in my writing so have to be careful what I’m reading. I try to read around my subject area, Fred Vargos, the Swedish crime-writers and I love the language of American crime.
The most pleasurable reading experience I’ve ever had was reading Billy Liar – for me it’s the peak of what every writer hopes to achieve. I can’t ever imagine writing anything which had so much effect on my readers.
Poem of the MonthThis month’s poem of the month is an angry poem: Notes from a Persecutor’s Handbook.
Show 032: July 2010
NewsThe literary event of the month was probably the awarding of Orange Prize to American novelist Barbara Kingsolver for her novel ‘Lacuna’. Many of you will have read ‘The Poisonwood Bible’. She had written many other novels, gull of humour and humanity, and often with an environmental theme. They are well worth reading
I have two collections of poetry at hand, both of which I edited. The first, ‘Reflections from Holme’ contains wonderful poetry from the Holmfirth Writers’ Group, along with brilliant photographs. The second ‘Capturing Words’ is the poetry of six high schools in West Yorkshire which I presented to the young poets at a recent ceremony at the University of Leeds. I have a few spare copies of this anthology which I can offer to any interested poetry lover for the cost of postage. Let me know via email if you would like a copy.
I’m judging a National Association of Writing Group’s poetry competition. This is a fascinating experience, devoting a day to gorging on other people’s poetry and coming up with a list of winning entries.
I have had a bit more time for reading these last few weeks, and I’ve been reading many books by people I know, have interviewed for my podcast or met at literary events. So I’ve been reading Gentleman’s Relish by Patrick Gale, The Perfect Proposal by Katie Fforde, A Summer Fling By Milly Johnson, and Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido. I’ve also, prompted by last month’s podcast interview with Nicola Upson ,who features the real-life crime-writer Josephine Tey in her novels , re-read some of the original novels, including Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair.
And from a conversation in the street with an ex-student of mine have taken on board her enthusiasm for Scott Fitzgerald novels, and am totally fired up to look at some of the novels I last read forty years ago.
This is a delicious, dark collection of stories and full of agricultural references. Short stories are under-rated; they give you a reading experience of perhaps twenty minutes which can be very powerful. One particular story Obedience made me laugh out loud in a railway carriage and had people looking at me with suspicion and alarm, as if reading and involuntary laughter were tantamount to a kind of terrorism. A perfect holiday read, if you like your humour day and slightly wicked.
I remember Whitby as a special, magical place. There are all sorts of literary texts attached to the place.. I was asked by Radio 4 to look at out of copyright characters, and I thought about The Bride of Frankenstein. It was later in 2005 that I thought I wanted to write a series about this Bride of Frankenstein with a collection of ghoulish friends.
I was doing a reading at Whitby to do a reading at the library and my Mam came, and she said afterwards, ‘Brenda’s your Nanna’. And then is something in that. There’s a lot of my Nanna in Brenda. The friendships Brenda has are very like the relationships my big Nanna had.
The domestic life of these characters has to be cosy; the reader has to be there with them and enjoying their adventures. I’ve often found Brenda fans have done an impromptu tour of Whitby looking for Cod Almighty, the Christmas Hotel etc. In the same way I’ve given many library reading group talks and I’ve come across lots of women who have never read fantasy or sci-fi but who seemed to have fallen in love with the characters of Brenda and Effie, and love the fact that it’s an ongoing series. My next Brenda book is coming out in autumn, The Bride that Time Forgot.
‘Strange Boy’ was a book I wished that had been written for me when I was ten. It was about possibility of being different, whatever that might be. ‘The Diary of A Dr Who Addict’ is a spiritual continuation of that. It’s the book where I’ve written the most about teaching myself to write.
There are lots of books I can mention that influenced me, I read ‘Carries’s War by Nina Bawden in my first year at high school, and Dracula in my first days at college, when other folk were in the bar.