What’s my next big thing after Red Ink, you ask? Well, RM Ivory and my Hot Key Books stablemate Lydia Syson have asked, to be precise, in a chain-letter style blog that gets writers talking about their next exciting project.
Here’s mine below. And after you’ve read this..? I’m passing the baton to three writer friends whose works-in-progress I’d like to know more about.
They are: emerging playwright (and my theatre buddy) Katie McCullough, the hardest-working novelist I know (and excellent hunkerer-downer-with) Sarra Manning and short story king (and fellow VWC member) Jon Pinnock.
So my next big thing…
• 1) What is the working title of your next book?
• 2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
It evolved in a strange way. Originally I wanted to write something about a company of female actors at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’ve worked at the festival several times as an actress. It can be a thrilling – and emotionally fraught. The book was going to be funny and told in three voices but, as I started writing, one of the voices was clearly stronger – a very serious Russian girl called Darya. Her back story started to dominate and I knew I had to focus on this and push the rest to the side. So what was originally going to be a pithy comedy about female group dynamics is now a very dark piece about loss and escaping your past. A little bit of Edinburgh is still in there though, and those other two voices are supporting characters, so nothing is wasted.
• 3) What genre does your book fall under?
I’m not sure. My first book Red Ink is being published by a YA publisher (Hot Key), but is likely to have adult readers too. Though the narrator of Mother Tongue is a teenager, the themes are very adult… It’s hard to judge. I don’t usually write with a target audience in mind, I write what I want to write (and read) then work out where it sits later.
• 4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Someone unknown. I find it distracting when I’m watching a film and a character is played by someone I know too well from the pages of a magazine. I often watch TV and think, ‘there are so many amazing actors out there, why have you chosen her/him again?’
• 5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Set in Moscow, London and Edinburgh, Mother Tongue is a powerful, first person account of what happens after the very worst thing has happened.
• 6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It’s represented by Louise Lamont at AP Watt.
• 7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I’ve not finished yet! I’m 65,000 words in and that’s taken me two years already. It is a beast of a book. But a challenge. I’m also not a focused writer. I will work on the book for a bit, then nip off to write a radio drama, or a stage play. I also direct a cabaret night of short stories called The Berko Speakeasy, which takes some time to plan. But I do find I come back to the book fresher and inspired after each diversion.
• 8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
There is some of the starkness of Andrey Kurkov’s stories in there and the first person involvement that you get from a Jane Harris book. If you like the dark underbelly of Maria McCann’s books, then Mother Tongue might appeal… But it feels very big-headed putting my name next to theirs.
• 9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Being a mother and (aside from the obvious joys) the fears and responsibilities that come with that. I took a lot of initial inspiration from Chekhov’s play Three Sisters. I’m finding sparks in the work of Russian poets like Anna Akhmatova and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Language is a really important theme in the book, so I’ve been become quite obsessed with Russian sayings and idioms. I make a Spotify playlist for every writing project I embark on so this book is driven by the music of Myaskovsky, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Scala & Kolacny Brothers and Gucci Vump. Quite a mixture. I was also accepted onto the Arvon/Jerwood Mentoring Scheme on the strength of my early chapters, so owe a great deal to novelist Maria McCann who was my mentor through much of the writing of the book so far. She has urged me to write the things that it is frightening to say – which is, well, frightening.
• 10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I’ve drawn on my own experience of working in hotels for one section of the book – delivering room service late at night and the characters I encountered. My protagonist is not as, well, conscientious as I was. You’ll see what I mean by that when you read the book. I hope.
Over to you, Katie, Sarra and Jon…