Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Well, I've been tagged by the one and only Maya Chowdhry in something called The Next Big Thing by which I'm required to answer questions about a recent or forthcoming book. Ever the proactive author (though my actual writing has kept me from attending to this blog over-much lately!) I have chosen a book that, should you not have read it but like the sound of it, you can get hold of without waiting, and which anyway may be quite new to my more recent readers: my short novel Too Many Magpies. Plus, I've never answered some of these questions about it before.

But first, a word about Maya. She's an innovative and gloriously subversive writer whom I first met properly when she co-edited Bitch Lit (Crocus), an anthology of stories about bad women for which my story, 'The Way to Behave', was commissioned. Bitch Lit was great fun: we did a reading tour, each dressed as our protagonist, and Maya, who also contributed to the book, was dressed most exotically as a fairy goth. I won't ever forget the sight of my mum, who came to the Sheffield reading, sitting chatting to a fairy with wings as if she did that every day of the year. (You can read my posts about the Bitch Lit anthology and tour here.) The book Maya answered TNBT questions about is her poetry collection, The Seamstress and the Global Garment.

So, the questions about Too Many Magpies:

What genre does your book fall under?
It's not a genre book, though it definitely has elements of the psychological thriller: the female protagonist meets a charismatic man who seems like her saviour, but becomes ever more scary... As for the form, I tend to call it a novella but I once read that a novella is 32,000 words or less and actually Too Many Magpies is 38,000. Goodness only knows (or cares!). Suffice it to say that according to the Reading Matters blog, it's 'smartly plotted and with not a word wasted... an appealing, bewitching read, one that feels slightly dangerous and a little bit thrilling.'

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

That's a difficult one: Maxine Peake or Shirley Henderson could capture wonderfully the neurotic vulnerability the situation produces in my (nameless) protagonist - a state akin to madness, though you never really know how sane or otherwise she is - but Kate Winslet has the kind of looks that fit my picture of her - wholesome nice-girl looks that attract her sinister suitor and belie the chaos in her psyche that she's suppressing with her tidy bourgeois life. And of course, Kate Winslet could do that brilliantly, too, as she did in the film of Revolutionary Road. Kevin Spacey would be great as the charming, even cheeky, yet sinister older stranger...

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A young mother married to a scientist fears for her children’s safety as the natural world around her becomes ever more uncertain - until, that is, she meets a charismatic stranger who seems to offer a different kind of power…

Who publishes your book?
Who but the wonderful Salt, who have also published two others of my books, the short story collection Balancing on the Edge of the World, and another short novel, The Birth Machine.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Not long at all. I wrote the whole thing in eight weeks, first and second drafts included. This is why I think of it as a novella rather than a novel - it has a kind of holistic shape that I associate with short stories, as opposed to the more rambling feel of novels, and as a result somehow it needed to be written quickly, just to get it all down while it was in my head.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I've always been interested in the divide between science and art, and between rational and magical thinking. My father was an engineer and my mother was literary and artistic, and as I was growing up I felt caught between different world views. Both were fascinating, and attractive, to me, but what was fascinating to me also was the way those supposedly different ways of thinking could become blurred - my artistic mother was by far the more rational of the two, and my 'scientific' father was a great believer in ghosts and magic. Then I married a doctor and came up against some real 'magical' and non-rational thinking on the part of some medical so-called scientists, and I began badly to want to write a story based around these ideas. (So I suppose you could say that one of the reasons the book tumbled out so quickly was that it had been gestating for some time.) The autobiographical bit of the book concerns the protagonist's small son, who falls ill with a life-threatening condition: that happened to my own small son, and the uncertainty of it fed into the novel and fitted the themes.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
There are spells and sinister nursery rhymes, there are spooky birds, there's a day when the protagonist wakes and just knows there's someone out there watching in the hissing rain...

The five writers I've tagged are Charles Lambert, A J Ashworth, Zoe Lambert, Ailsa Cox and Sarah Salway - all writers I very much admire.

You can buy Too Many Magpies direct from Salt or from Amazon or The Book Depository.


Group 8 said...

And I can affirm that it's a wonderful book :)

Elizabeth Baines said...

Thank you, Nuala!