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…
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…