Thursday, 2 December 2010

Round Robin: Eliza Graham

Thanks for the questions, Ryan. (And congratulations, by the way, on your wonderful success. It's good to 'meet' you on the blog.)

1. Each of your novels, unless I’m mistaken, is written from a first-person point of view, or else a combination of first and third -- what is it about first-person narration that appeals to you as a writer?

Generally, as you say, it happens to be first. In Restitution, however, a large part of the book was written in third. And I use third as well as first in all my novels.

I love the immersion in the fictional world first person provides. I remember sitting in a classroom when I was about fourteen with an English teacher reading us Jane Eyre. The 'I' of Jane was so gripping. I remember the thirty chatty, fidgety, girls sitting back in their seats and listening to every word. Each of us was Jane. Later on, when I read Great Expectations, I loved Pip's take on life.

But first person limits you to what that protagonist perceives or discovers. Sometimes I need to step round an object and see it from another person's perspective. So I switch to third. Restitution, as I said earlier, had one first person and two, possibly three, third-person points of view as it wasn't possible for the main protagonist, a girl of seventeen, to experience everything I needed her to. Technically it was a very hard novel to write, especially as there were jumps in time and location that had to work as well. When I'd finished writing it I reread Bleak House, which uses a first person narrative (Esther's) with multiple (numerous, in fact,) inter-woven third-person narratives. I can't imagine how anyone apart from Dickens could pull such a complex novel together.

I've recently read all Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels and was intrigued to see that Child writes some of the novels in first person (Jack) and others in third person, because there are things essential to the plot of a particular book that Jack wouldn't or shouldn't know.

The other three novels (I'm just finishing the fourth, The History Room) are simpler. Generally there are just two points of view: one first and one third. The third usually provides the historical context for the novel. The principal first person narrator hits upon a mystery and the third person narrator provides the clues. Hey, I've just worked out how my novels operate.

Which is all a very round-about way of saying that I use whichever POV seems appropriate for the book.

2. You’ve now written a couple books while under contract with Macmillan. Do you think that’s affected how you approach the writing process in any way? Or what stories you choose to tell?

Having a time frame to deliver certainly affects the writing process. On the whole I find it helpful to know when something is due. It seems to put me back into undergraduate mode and I switch on the kettle, brew up the tea, buy lots of chocolate and generally revert to being nineteen again, with an eye on the deadline date. On the other hand, writing a novel like Restitution that required years of research and drafting would be very, very hard on a fourteen-month deadline. The two books I've written under contract (Jubilee and The History Room) have been set locally, which saves a lot of time. Again, this has probably been positive as my surroundings are beautiful and historically rich, so it would be a shame to have overlooked them in favour of more distant locations.

I enjoyed answering these questions. I hope I can provide something for the next MNW author and near(ish) neighbour, Frances Garrood, to get her writer's teeth into.

Frances, your books have been praised (by Andrew Davies, no less) for their beautifully drawn and endearing characters. How do you go about creating your fictional people? And when you start a new book are the people the first thing to fill your imagination; or does the theme of the novel come first?


11 comments:

C. N. Nevets said...

Eliza, I will have to check out your books. My own writing is pretty entrenched in the first person, because it suits my voice and style, and because it creates the evocative experience I'm after -- but I have had to, on occasion, find creative ways to get other information or perspectives across. I'm interested to see how you did it with mixing 1st and 3rd.

Thanks talking about this!

Eliza Graham said...

Thanks for commenting!

Frances Garrood said...

Eliza - interesting replies, and I really admire the way you approach deadlines. Chocolate notwithstanding, I think I'd find it incredibly hard. For me, deadlines are - literally - the stuff of nightmares!

Doug Worgul said...

Thanks, Eliza. Nice to get the perspective of one of our own who's made it to the big time.

drw

Eliza Graham said...

Kind words, Doug, thank you, but I'm not really big time. Except in the dog's eyes.

Alis said...

Whenever I read about deadlines I'm always reminded of Douglas Adams' comment: 'I love deadlines. I love the sound they make as they go whooshing by.'
Glad you're a bit more disciplined!

Eliza Graham said...

Ha! Alis!

Tim Stretton said...

Very interesting, Eliza. I love those 19th century first person novels. They have an immersion and immediacy it's hard to match.

Restitution is my favourite of your novels, and it's a worrying commentary on the publishing industry that you might it find it difficult to write something that ambitious again, simply because of timetabling constraints. Can you see this influencing the writing choices you make in the future?

Frances Garrood said...

Alis - I just love that quote about deadlines. It's made me feel a whole lot better!

Eliza Graham said...

Tim, there's always a possibility of having more time if I don't find another publisher or persuade the existing one to take future novels at some point!

But yes, family circumstances also make big, research-heavy, novels harder to fit in.

Len Tyler said...

I agree that writing a research-heavy novel a year is tricky. Most of the writers I can think of who produce books every twelve months or so are either in a position to do the research for the whole series up front (so they stick to a particular period or location), or they don't need to do much research.