Wednesday, 19 January 2011
The Home Stretch
And so we reach the end of the MNW Round Robin. Sob. I’ll try to hold myself together for these final questions from Suroopa to me.
You are a fairly prolific and well published short story writer. Do you write them as and when a story idea strikes you or do you write many of them together with a common theme in mind? Are they linked to your novels? Do they remain a secondary form that nevertheless occupies a distinct imaginative landscape?
I get less and less short story ideas now. They all seem to get sucked into the novels, and that’s fine, but I do wish I could bash out a shortie once a week, as I used to. Quite often I don’t have an idea of what’s going to happen when I start writing a short story (or a novel, for that matter) so I wing it, and sometimes it works. I usually have a voice in mind, and that’s the only starting point. There’s never a theme or a planned collection.
The good thing about short stories is the amount of freedom they give me to make mistakes, and to write in other genres and styles. I can’t sustain anything very serious for too long, but I have written some literary short stories that I’m quite proud of. It’s also an excuse to push comedic elements to their limit, into slapstick sometimes, as with a piece like Spitting Wasps. And that story directly led to the character of Pru from Light Reading. But, you’re right, short stories are a secondary form to me, and they fit in around the novels, or not at all. And I have written a few short stories set in my seaside town of Allcombe but they never seem quite right. So yes, they must flow from a very different place, and that’s probably why I write them. They allow me to be a horror/sci-fi/slapstick,serious writer, which suits me very well. Talking of which…
Your novels do not seem to fit a distinct genre. Is that by choice? Does it work to your advantage? Do you write with sequels in mind?
It’s absolutely not by choice. I would love to fit, to be honest, because then I’d be more marketable. But the moment I try to write with a genre specifically in mind it all goes flat and boring for me. I think I’m constantly trying to entertain myself when I write. I aim to take myself, let alone the reader, by surprise. This is not conducive to how modern bookselling works. Publishers want a synopsis before you’ve begun writing, and they want you to fit on a certain shelf. I can understand that. I just can’t do it.
Here’s a snippet of a conversation I once had with a publisher:
Pub: I want you to go free! I see you as genreless! Just use that quirky, imaginative style of yours and don’t be concerned about where it leads, okay?
Me: So can my characters go into space, then?
This kind of sums up my writing career so far.
How do you relate to your characters? Do you visualise them in their entirety or do they take you by surprise? I find that you portray strong and rather intriguing women. You also have a strong sense of place. How instinctive are you as a writer? How do you research a place? What sort of readership do you want for the women you create?
For me it’s all about the characters, but they’re like real people in that no matter how well you think you know them, there’s always something new up their sleeves. And they are all products of place. I mainly research a place by living there. Luckily, I’ve lived in a lot of places so I have a few to choose from. They are never exactly the same in my imagination; you couldn’t draw a street map from my version and have a clue where you were standing if you took a day trip there. But I like the pretend and the real version to sit side by side. I don’t see why I have to be accurate.
I don’t tend to think about a certain type of person reading my books. Right now my offspring, the Munchie, is obsessed with what girls like to do and what boys like to do. I keep telling her that it’s perfectly okay to like Spiderman and fairies, but she’s not having it. I hope that anyone could enjoy my books, not just girls or boys. I’m not really a big fan of the whole ‘books for women by women’ thing. Or that only men should like Michael Moorcock or Iain M Banks. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, I didn’t write it with you in mind.
And finally, what is it about veggies that fascinates you?
I have to admit I don’t find vegetables that fascinating. I needed something to blog about, so I started listing the contents of my veggie box, and people seemed to enjoy it so I carried on doing it. Then, when Neil Ayres (ex-blog-buddy) redesigned our blog, he called it The Veggiebox. I felt I had to deliver more vegetable-based articles, so I started looking for vegetables in novels that I read, and I began to feel that all the novels I really liked had vegetables in them. And the ones that weren’t so good showed a distinct lack of veg. I don’t know why that is; maybe it’s indicative of a level of detail that I prefer in writing. I like to know what characters are eating and growing and placing in their fruit bowls and lunchboxes.
Vegetables (or fruit) make for a better novel. It’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.
Thanks Suroopa for the excellent questions, and thank you to everyone who took part or read along. Phew! And now we can slump back into our writerly slouches over our keyboards and get on with those novels. Chop chop everyone. There are onions out there to be sautéed, metaphorically speaking.