Show 024: October 2009
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I can be panicked sometimes if I look in my diary at this time of the year at how busy I am. I always look forward, of course, to the Ilkley Literature Festival where I interview many writers who have new books out, and hear fascinating stories of their writing lives. The 8th October is National Poetry Day and this year I’m to be found at Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton, Leeds hosting a night of poetry and an open mic session for the charity Village-to-Village who put much needed resources into small African communities.
You may remember that I ran a poetry competition several months ago for my Poem of the Month spot which was won by Leeds-based author Adam Lowe. He has a new book out called Troglodyte Rose launched at Borders in Leeds on 6th November at 6pm; Troglodyte Rose is a fascinating fantasy and you can find out more about it on troglodyterose.com
This month’s book is An Education by journalist Lynn Barber. I’m interviewing Lynn at Ilkley this month about her new book, where she makes a departure from her usual interviews with famous people in collections such as Demon Barber and Mostly Men and writes about herself. She tells us about her relationship with her parents, her education, her growing up and hwr early years as a journalist. She tells us also about her long marriage. It’s funny, honest and true, and very touching.
The Third Person came out in 2003. It was my first novel to be published but not the first novel I wrote. Most writers have loads of trunk novels sitting around. When I first started writing I was working at Leeds University as a secretary, and wrote my first three books while I was working full time. Then my book The 50/50 Killer took off in Europe, and when I was later made redundant, I became a writer full time.
The house I was grew up in was full of books and I had parents who encouraged me to read and write stories. When I was eleven I knew I wanted to be a writer; it’s all I ever wanted to be. I read all the children’s classics, but when I hit my teenage years I loved horror and fantasy. I started trying to emulate those writers.
The Third Person didn’t really fit any one genre, but it was promoted as crime, and once you’re published in a certain genre the publisher expects you to continue in the same vein. Once you start shaving the weirder edges off and becoming more commercial it’s harder to get them back.
I write stand alones. At the end of my books there’s no one left alive for a series. I often start with a theme or an idea, and then build a book around that. I’ve never had a police detective figure with all the quirks.
I really don’t know where the violence in my books comes from. My books have a disturbing edge to them. The crime genre is commercial and popular, but if you’re reading crime it should leave you disturbed and unsettled. It’s nice to get under people’s skin.
My writing just happens, Each of the books has been written in a different way. The hardest thing is getting stated. I start off with about 40,000 words of notes, getting characters, times etc. together. It builds up to a point and you’re ready to start.
I go to the Harrogate Crime Festival every year to meet people and hang out as a punter, lots of panels and interesting people; it’s an insular life just sitting in and writing, it’s good to get out and remind yourself that real life exists.
The best thing about my life is what it is; you’re being paid for doing something you really enjoy. I’m free to do what I want, and structure my life how I want. I feel loath about giving advice; I still feel like an amateur. Just get in front of the computer and get going. Keep going and keep ploughing through. You need to serve an apprenticeship, and then you need to get a publisher and an agent and get it read by them. All the things you find hard about writing now will still be the same after you get published.
It takes a few months for an idea to percolate and grow. I usually have one idea at the time that I’m working on. I feel envious of writers who say they have ideas coming in all the whole time.
I’m not one of the writers who gets it right first time; I probably don’t figure out what I’m writing until I’m done, and then I have to start again. Writing is very much an iterative process, and you might get it right next time - it’s like a picture coming into focus.
Poem of the Month
This month’s poem is an untitled sonnet on the theme [which poets come back to again and again] of autumn. I have a statue of the god Pan in my garden, half hidden in the shrubbery, and he’s just started emerging as the leaves have started falling.
Read October's Poem of the Month