Year of Indie Debuts: The Weightless World

Delighted to welcome Anthony Trevelyan onto the blog today for the Year of Indie Debuts series. His novel, The Weightless World, was published by Galley Beggar Press earlier this year. It came highly recommended to me from lots of people when I put a call out on Twitter for some new author recommendations, and I can see why. It’s the story of two men on a mission in India to purchase an anti-gravity machine, if they can just find it again.

Anthony, the theme of the feeling of weightlessness applies to more than the anti-gravity machine your characters are chasing and reflects what is happening in their careers and personal lives too and, for me, also the modern world we’re living in and how we are all more connected than ever before but at the same time completely disconnected from nature and the majority of our fellow human beings. Were these conscious themes that you were writing into the book or did they appear to you after?

When I started writing the book, I had some general ideas about how weightlessness could work on more than one level, but a lot of it came as I was working through the drafts and discovering how weightlessness was a factor in the life of each of the characters.

Part of it came from my memory of being in my twenties. I know an awful lot of people do amazing and inspiring stuff during that period, but I really didn’t. I wrote the book at the end of my thirties, looking back on myself at the end of my twenties, and weightlessness pervades my sense of myself at that time: being detached from life, belonging neither to the world of childhood nor the masquerade of an adult existence I felt I was putting on… Personally, I couldn’t be happier to be in my forties, and have all that behind me.

What inspired you to write this story and whose work would you say has influenced you as a writer?

I suppose the book’s main inspiration was – in a word – work. As I mentioned, I was thinking about myself in my twenties, and the most important thing in my life then was work. As I imagine is the case with many people, after university I had to move to another part of the country to find a job, which meant I was separated from family and friends and the only people I saw on a regular basis were colleagues. In the book I explore how work relationships in a situation like that can get, well, pretty intense.

The writer I love best is Saul Bellow, though I’m not sure he stands out as an influence on this particular book. In a completely perverse way, I see in it more of JM Coetzee’s later, jollier stuff, which I was reading at the time, and which is concerned entirely with old age.

This is your debut novel but is it the first one you have ever written?

No. The Weightless World is the fifth novel I wrote properly. As I teenager I wrote a ton of novels improperly – one draft then you reckon it’s good to go – but there were four others before this one that I wrote and rewrote pretty painstakingly, devoting a period of years to each.

I had a couple of near misses. The first book I wrote got some encouraging feedback, and the second secured me an agent for a while, though didn’t find a publisher. Fortunately I now have an amazing agent, Emma Herdman at Curtis Brown, who fought valiantly to find The Weightless World a publisher.

Looking back, I’m quietly relieved that my first two books were never published – I’m not sure I’d want to stand by them now. But the two after that I’m still quietly proud of, and I would be pleased to see something happen with them eventually.

Why did you choose to go with indie publisher, Galley Beggar Press, and how has the experience of being published by them been?

It’s been a fantastic experience. When Emma first told me that Galley Beggars might be interested in the book, I was delighted, though nervous. After all, these are the guys who publish Eimear McBride and Paul Ewen – bona fide literary superstars. And they still release only two new titles a year. How likely was it that they would take my novel? But after a nail-biting couple of days Emma called again to say Galley Beggars had made an offer on the book, and I was absolutely frenzied with excitement.

Since then the directors of Galley Beggars, Sam Jordison and Eloise Millar, have given me a huge amount of support and attention, from meticulous editorial through the production of a gorgeous edition to swanky launch parties in London and Manchester. With an indie like Galley Beggars, I’ve found, passion is everything. I’m immensely grateful and couldn’t have asked for better publishers.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a new novel, though it’s still at that early stage when a puff of the wrong sort of air could snuff it out entirely. It’s odd to think I am finally writing a second novel. Over about ten years, I wrote five first novels. Now, for the first time, whatever I write next is at least a second book: something that builds on, reacts to, or in some other way addresses the fact I already have a first novel in the world. I find that weirdly interesting, and I’m already seeing ways in which the new book is entering into conversation with the first.

In some ways, then, I’m looking more deeply, or with a different perspective, into things I found interesting while I was writing The Weightless World: the effects of technology, the experience of the contemporary, the queasy sense that it’s all a con or scam.

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Thanks so much for coming along, Anthony. I love that final line there and I often find myself pondering on the reality, or unreality, of things and if you stop to think you can see how surreal (mad?) the world we’re living in really is. Whatever comes next from you, I look forward to reading more of your work.

You can get a copy of The Weightless World here and connect with Anthony on Twitter to find out more about his writing.

Next week, Dean Lilleyman is here talking about his novel, Billy and the Devil.

Year of Indie Debuts: Beauty, Love and Justice

This week’s Year of Indie Debuts spotlight falls on Alcina Faraday, whose debut novel, Beauty, Love and Justice, was published by Urbane Publications earlier this year. It’s the first in a trilogy and poses some very interesting questions about physical and emotional beauty, love and getting old. Not all of which are answered in this book so I’m now hankering to get my hands on the second one!

 

Alcina, by writing the book from the point of view of two gay men you really took the advice given to new writers about writing what you know and showed that it doesn’t have to be that way. Why did you decide to write in these characters’ voices and what inspired this story?

I think that fiction should enable readers and writers to explore lives beyond their own. That said, if my characters work, it’s because in writing about the big stuff – like love, lust, ambition, virtue, loss, deception, regret – I’m hoping to find new things to say about human experiences and emotions that translate across all genders, sexualities and cultures.

To be slightly more mysterious, my inspiration for the “Spiral Wound” trilogy is the black and white photograph I saw in the local graveyard when I lived in a remote village in southern Portugal.

This is the first in a trilogy and it poses some really interesting questions about desire, lust, love and ageing – are these themes going to continue throughout the next two books and why are they important to you as the writer and to your characters?

Very much so. Extra-terrestrials would be totally baffled by the mess that humans get into in pursuit of sex, love, intimacy and companionship – and astonished at our personal vanity. From a writer’s perspective, love and sex scenes provide a great snapshot of the relationship between two characters – and are terrific fun to write. As for getting old – well, it’s a drag. The way beautiful people respond to ageing – usually with denial – fascinates me. I suspect that truly happy people spend less time looking in mirrors – and more time looking at the people they love – as they get older.

Which authors would you say have had the biggest influence on you as a writer?

In true geeky Tiago style I’ve created a “writers’ block” on my web site, which summarises the writers whose work I most admire in chronological order. They’re a pretty eclectic bunch, but Anthony Trollope, Emile Zola, Thomas Hardy, EF Benson, William Saroyan, John Wyndham and Armistead Maupin are probably the authors I most frequently re-read. I also re-read a lot of plays by Elizabethan, Jacobean and Restoration dramatists, and I’m a huge fan of poetry; I nearly always have a book of Ovid, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Donne, Keats, Eliot or Auden on the go.

If there is one book you wish you’d written which would it be and why?

Persuasion by Jane Austen. I love all of it; the inexorable rise of Anne Elliott, the degeneration of her useless family, the great pacing of the plot, and the elegant and understated denouement. I love stories in which letters power the plot – I’ve tried it a bit in “Beauty” but look out for something more ingenious in the third book in my Spiral Wound Trilogy, “The Commodity Fetish.”

Can you tell us why you chose to publish this trilogy with Urbane, a very new indie publisher?

Two reasons really. Firstly, I work full time in business and have always valued the help provided by true experts who know their stuff and have a passion for what they do – I’d say that’s not a bad sketch of Matthew. His advice, editing skills, and simple enthusiasm for beautiful words, have been invaluable. Secondly, my plots are beautifully-crafted, dark, naughty, mid-brow literary romcoms with a sci-fi twist – I simply don’t have the time to persuade the big six to take the risk of publishing them.

When will the next one in the series be released and what can we expect from it?

In “These Modern Girls”, which will come out in late 2016, Sophia Blake, a spiritually washed-up English engineer with a lucrative ex-pat job and a run down flat in Lisbon, meets Ines Pereira, a hedonistic young communist doctor working in a Lisbon emergency ward. Ines is the cousin of Tiago da Silva – they share the same hero grandfather, Avo Joao – and as the story wraps around the events in “Beauty”, and pulls in echoes from Tiago and Ines’ family history, there’s a strong sense of continuity between the two books. In the second half of “Girls”, which takes place after the events of “Beauty”, I’m really pleased with the way that Raphael steps up and plays a pivotal role. We finally see the depth of character, courage and loyalty that counterbalance the darkness in the first book, and he becomes a whole person.

The third part in the trilogy, “The Commodity Fetish”, which rolls out the story of the Lux plot that Tiago and Raphael hatch in “Beauty”, will come out in 2018. It’s more or less the same cast as “Beauty” – but someone important leaves the stage early on.

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Well, that’s certainly an intriguing note to end the interview on! Many thanks for your time, Alcina, and I look forward to the next installments.

You can get a copy of Beauty, Love and Justice here and connect with Alcina on Twitter to keep up with her writing news.

Next up in the Year of Indie Debuts is Anthony Trevelyan and The Weightless World. Get in touch if you’d like to feature in the series. 

Year of Indie Debuts: Smart Yellow

This week’s indie debut is SmartYellowTM by J.A. Christy, published by Elsewhen Press. This speculative novel feels all too real and made me contemplate once again about how our society judges and segregates people, but perhaps most scarily of all how easily we could all end up like the main character, Katrina, does when her life takes an unexpected turn.

Most people think of speculative fiction as being a future that could happen but SmartYellow for me is very close to a present that we are already living in. Can you tell us what inspired this story and when you started writing it?
I was inspired initially by a TV program starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, just by one line that mentioned living and surviving. I live in Manchester and there had been rioting on the streets while I was writing SmartYellow in 2011 and it made me think how some people were not really living a life, for various reasons, and were just surviving. I’ve always been interested in thought experiments such as Schrodinger’s Cat and the question of decoherence in physics, and these both appear in SmartYellow in unexpected ways.

In terms of speculative fiction, I think SmartYellow is only perhaps one step removed from the world we live in today. There are elements of science fiction in the smart technology and and a speculative take on social order, but it wouldn’t take too much imagination to work out how close the residents of Hill Farm are to people who, in real life, find themselves with very few options in life. The novel takes this another step towards an Orwellian world of social control.

The main character Katrina is well educated, smart and comes from a relatively well-off background but has ended up in a ghetto – how do you feel that at the time your novel is coming out there are similar situations happening all over the UK due to serious housing issues, austerity measures and media-engendered fear and animosity towards people that actually need help rather than condemnation?
Thank you for asking this question because it gets right down to the premise of the novel. Kat suffers because she has unintentionally strayed from the prescribed path her parents chose for her, finding herself on a tough social housing estate with people she is afraid of. Initially it seems like the people she is living around are not helping themselves, but as the story progresses Kat realises that there are complex issues at play and the residents of Hill Farm are not all there voluntarily but are marked out by their ‘social status’ – and this is irreversible.

A smaller role is played by two academics who, initially with good intentions, design a program to help those who are deemed ‘problem cases’, but this is passed to a right wing government and twisted into a tool to dominate the very people the academics were trying to help.

I feel very strongly about social justice and I hope that SmartYellow provides an only slightly speculative metaphor for the reality for people who, for whatever reason, find themselves forced into poverty so that they can only just survive. Kat’s journey mirrors the journey of many people in Britain today, and her gradual realisation that the people she fears are in turn afraid leads her to the key to what is actually happening not only on Hill Farm, but all over the UK. In SmartYellow world, of course – or is it?

The situation in the UK has worsened since I began to write SmartYellow with more political movement towards austerity and the consequent suffering. I can’t help but think that some of the hard-hitting measures, presented as cruel-to-be-kind social programs to improve lives, simply do not take into account the vicious circle of complex social problems people find themselves in, through no fault of their own and with no way out.

Which writers have influenced your work?
My work is heavily influenced by Margaret Atwood and Scarlett Thomas. I read across many genres and have taken elements from crime as well as speculative fiction for SmartYellow. I enjoyed Jeff Noon’s novels very much, and his gritty urban style, along with many novels with a hard crime edge. There is a definite speculative strand running through my reading, starting with Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen through Tolkien, Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman and many other authors in between.

What are you reading now?
I’ve just read Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, which I thought was excellent, and I’m currently reading All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Teows and I’m enjoying it very much as well as Scarlet Thomas’ The Seed Collectors.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a crime novel, which I am now working on with my agent, and I’m about to start a second speculative fiction novel, a follow up to SmartYellow. I’m also working on developing a crime story screenplay as I recently completed screenwriting training.

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Thanks to Jacqui for telling us about her way into this story. It really is a great read and very excited to hear there will be a follow-up! It’s been released as an ebook this month and the paperback comes out in November 2015. You can connect with Jacqui on Twitter to keep up-to-date with more of her writing news.

Tell us below what you think of the ideas raised in the novel and how you think they reflect the world we’re already living in; and which other good speculative novels you’ve read lately.

And keep an eye out for the next book in the indie debuts series – Alcina Faraday’s Beauty, Love and Justice. The author interview will be on the blog next week.

Year of Indie Debuts: How You See Me

This week in the Year of Indie Debuts spotlight we have SE Craythorne whose creepy and disturbing novel, How You See Me, is out next week; and her story, Pet,  also appeared in the Retreat West 2013 anthology of competition winners. How You See Me is an epistolary novel, which has bypassed the modern email age to reveal much about the narrator and I thought the gradual sense of menace was very well done.

The tone of this book and the main character, Daniel, made me think of John Fowles’ The Collector – is he an inspiration for your work?

That’s a very interesting – and flattering – comparison. I read and enjoyed The Collector many years ago, but it is one of those books that haunts. It’s an incredibly clever, sinister novel, but I think it would be Fowles’ inspiration for The Collector that had the biggest influence on How You See Me. Namely, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

I have a passion for unreliable narrators, of which The Collector provides an excellent example. I invariably write in the first person, and the joy for me as writer comes from showing how my narrators misjudge and misinterpret events, whether they be the actions of other characters or even their own. I love the same things as reader too.

The tricky part, and one that Fowles and Nabokov balance marvellously, is in creating a flawed narrator whom the reader can maintain a level of sympathy and understanding with. No matter how repellant their behaviour, you want the reader to read on and finish the book.

What was it that made you write this story?

I don’t think I could have answered this question until I had completed How You See Me. I don’t know whether this is symptomatic of writing a first novel, or whether I’ll have a better idea with my approach to my second, but my motives and inspirations definitely shifted as I wrote.

How You See Me started as a fairly straight-forward novel about a young man drawn back to his childhood home to take care of his father; writing to those he cared for about his experience there. The twists and turns of Daniel’s character – which form the real meat and gristle of the book – evolved with the book. They were as much a surprise to me, as – I hope – they will be to the reader.

But, I am a dreadful magpie of my own life and the lives of those around me. Although How You See Me is pure fiction, its inspirations all came from experience, even if that be highly augmented experience.

Which writers would you say have had the biggest influence on you and your work?

I read fiction, primarily, and I read a lot of it. As a bookseller (at The Book Hive in Norwich) I have access to a wide-range of wonderful stories, and am always being recommended something new by customers and staff. I am not – I hope – a book snob, but, particularly since having children, I have little patience with novels that don’t grab me or do their job well when it comes to storytelling.

I think that all the books I have read have had their influence on my work in one way or another. I read crime for plot. (I can only do mannered murders, I frighten easily!) Edmund Crispin, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh have taught me a lot about plotting and keeping the page turning. I think the best literary fiction should do this too: Paul Auster, Lionel Shriver and William Boyd are masters at it. For novels written with such beauty I can only sit back with awe there is Elizabeth Cook, Sarah Perry and Samatha Harvey. And, of course, the classics. And, of course, the hundreds more.

What has the experience of working with Myriad Editions to publish your debut novel been like?

I came to publication through a rather unorthodox route. I entered Myriad Edition’s First Drafts competition before How You See Me was finished. I was shortlisted, but didn’t win. However, Myriad were interested in the novel and asked to read it when it was completed. They then decided to publish it!

I don’t have a literary agent, but Myriad are wonderful at doing all the work an agent would do. They handle my foreign rights, and have recently sold the audio rights to Audible.

It’s been such a positive experience. I think that I, like many first time novelists, was terribly naïve about the amount of work still to do when that first draft is completed. My marvelous editor, Holly Ainley, made the process an exciting one, and the book is so much the better for her input.

The wonderful thing about being published by an independent press is the personal level of communication. Everyone in the office – everyone involved – has read the book and is behind you working so hard to make it a success. It has been nothing but a positive experience.

You’ve got Arts Council funding for your second novel – can you tell us how you came to get funding, what the novel is about, and when it’s going to be published?

I had great support from Writers Centre Norwich and Myriad Editions when making my funding application, as well as help from fellow writers who had been through the process before me. It’s an arduous form, but well worth it!

My second novel is based on the Suffolk folk tale of the green children of Woolpit. This tells of a boy and a girl who were found in a wolf-pit just outside the village. They could not speak, would not eat and were green in colouring. The boy soon died, but the girl survived. She learnt to speak English and was said to be flighty in her ways, but married a local man and became part of the community. She gave differing accounts of where the two had come from.

I want to give a voice to the green girl. I’ve set the story in the modern day and am busy researching and playing with the original story. It’s still in early stages, but progressing quickly.

If you had to choose your favourite novel ever (and I’m making you do it now!) what would it be and why?

Oh, so difficult! There are so many books I love and can’t bare to part with – hence, the state of my bookshelves! I have a different favourite every day. But probably my favourite novel would have to be Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. There are so many stories enclosed in its covers. It is so beautifully written. I could quite happily re-read it anytime and anyplace. I love it and think it perfect. If only I could write like that…

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Thanks so much to Sally for telling us about her writing – the green girl story has definitely got me intrigued. If you’d like to read How You See Me while we wait for the next novel then you can buy it here – or you could always pop into The Hive and buy it from the author herself!

And tell us which would be your favourite novel if you just had to choose one. I’m still thinking about mine…

Year of Indie Debuts: The Single Feather

Delighted to have author, Ruth Hunt, as the first guest in the Year of Indie Debuts blog series, which is celebrating the fantastic work coming from small presses. Her novel, The Single Feather, was published this year by Pilrig Press and tells the story of Rachel – a young woman who is a paraplegic and is trying to get her life back on track after moving to a new town.

Ruth, can you tell me about your novel and what inspired you to write this story?

The Single Feather is about a woman called Rachel, who’s a seriously disabled amateur artist. With the help of a family member she’s escaped from an abusive, traumatic period with the ‘Guards’. To add to her problems, she’s feeling increasingly isolated. All she wants is to feel accepted in her new town, Carthom, so decides to ‘reinvent’ herself hiding large chunks of her past. When she joins an art group, she’s not aware of the fragility of some of her fellow group members or the secrets they are keeping. As arguments start up – the tension rises and the group splits into factions. With the ever-present possibility of being returned to her former life, Rachel along with some of the art club members realise to move forward means confronting the past, but with all what’s happened are any of them in the mood to forgive?

Even though I have spinal cord injuries I’d made a conscious decision over the years to avoid writing about disability issues but I couldn’t help but notice how few novels for adults had a seriously physically disabled protagonist. Then in 2010 onwards there was a significant shift in people’s attitudes to those with disabilities, mainly caused by a combination of the government and right-wing press demonising those with disabilities, which has now filtered down to members of the public. This led to an increase in hate crime, as well as suicides and much more. So, I thought if I was going to write a book with a character with disabilities this was the perfect time to do it.

How long did it take you to write it and what did you learn in the process about writing novels and yourself?

In all it took me two years to write, plus an additional period of time rewriting and getting it ready for publication. I learnt so much about writing, and this was helped by my decision to pay for a developmental editor to work with me, while I was writing it. When she returned chapters, it was like a mini creative writing class on each page. I also used beta readers who all gave me valuable and detailed advice.

In terms of myself, I learnt how a sustained period of creative work could be beneficial in terms of my disability, providing routine and distraction. Furthermore, without moving from in front of my laptop, I felt a deep sense of freedom, something I’d not experienced for a long time.

Have you always written stories and if not, when did you start?

When I was a little girl, I wrote a story with characters called The Doo’s, all shaped like a capital ‘D’. As far as I can remember the story was rather uneventful with the family of Doo’s travelling on a train. I illustrated it, and my mum and dad cut it up and stapled together to make it look like a book and sent it off to the publishers – Hamlyn. When the reply came, I was so excited at simply having an envelope addressed to me. It didn’t bother me this was my first rejection letter. I carried on writing, all the way through school and had my first article published in a newspaper when I was 17.

Then, in a matter of minutes, my life changed forever when I was involved in a major accident. Writing was pushed to the back of my mind in an attempt to simply survive. However, when I had to resign from my job, when I was thirty, due to my disabilities deteriorating, I had long periods of time on my own at home. It was a distressing time, and I turned to writing, initially as a form of support, which turned into more constructive, and publishable writing by the end of that decade.

You chose to publish your debut novel with publisher, Pilrig Press, can you tell me how you reached this decision and what it was like to work with a small press?

I knew as a debut novelist getting published by one of the big five publishers was going to be a uphill task and could take years. So, I decided to include independent smaller presses, when I was submitting. Pilrig Press asked to read the full manuscript and after I made a few changes they suggested, gave me the final yes while I was on holiday. I did this all without an agent.

Working with a small press, you feel part of a team. You get a lot more control over aspects such as the cover, but you don’t have a huge marketing campaign so you need to be prepared to do some of this yourself. I think it’s a less pressured environment, and a perfect way to ease a new author into the publishing world.

What is the best book you’re read this year so far and why?

You can’t limit me to just one! There are three books that have really stood out for me this year: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; All Involved by Ryan Gattis; and The Weightless World by Anthony Trevelyan All three gave me unforgettable characters who remained with me long after I finished the last page.

What are you working on now?

I’m revising for an exam as part of my degree with the Open University and finishing off some other outstanding work. Then in September, I begin book two. I have journals stuffed with notes, character profiles and chapter plans, all for an idea I’m really excited about.

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Many thanks to Ruth for her insights into her inspiration and writing life. I’d like to read the Doos! If you’d like to read The Single Feather, then you can buy it here. And you can connect with Ruth through her website and on Twitter.

Next up in the Year of Indie Debuts series is SE Craythorne, talking about her novel, How You See Me, which is out from Myriad Editions on August 19th. And the author of one of Ruth’s best books this year, Anthony Trevelyan, is here in September talking about The Weightless World.