Every blogger on The Writing Process Blog Tour is going to make an attempt to answer these questions.
What are you working on at the moment?
My main project is the production of two linked novellas focusing on two girls from different families in small-town Pennsylvania – or, to be completely accurate, somewhere like Pennsylvania. I’ve only been to the States once, and not for that long, but the geography of the story dictates that it couldn’t be set in Britain. I did make a try, but it didn’t work out. So it’s a virtual America in my novellas, virtual towns in a virtual Pennsylvania.
The first novella is called The Fortune Teller’s Factotum. Ashley Hyde is from a family at the uncool end of showbiz, her dad being a daytime TV producer and her stepmother being the host of an inane breakfast show. She lives in a town where everybody knows her business, and where she can’t get away from the fact that she has been very publicly dumped out of the only romance of her life, and where her car has been wrecked in a moment of malice. The whole town seems to be conspiring to humiliate her. But she is on a college course that will allow her to get away to study medicine in New York, so the future seems bright, as long as she can get to it in one piece. Her life is underscored by a feeling of unease, the face she sees in the mirror always seems to be screaming, and she is fixated on the lacks in her life, of friends, of a lover, of a mother.
Ashley’s mother is one of America’s disappeared; she went out one day and didn’t come home, and this event makes itself felt deep in Ashley’s mind every day. Where did her mom go? And is Ashley going to join her? Could a fortune teller help? Certainly not, says stoic, scientific Ashley, and yet she finds herself facing one anyway.
The disappeared, their stories thumbnailed onto milk cartons and posters, and in documentaries that titillate rather than help, are very much a part of both of these novellas, as are serial killers and the faded fortunes of a family who made their money in arms dealing. Extracts from The Fortune Teller’s Factotum and its companion novella The Firemont Dorns are here on the site.
I’m also working on short stories, and at the moment I have one lined up for publication in Ian Chung’s wonderful Eunoia Review for next August. It’s called Andabatae – they were the most hopeless gladiators of ancient Rome, criminals forced to fight to the death with their eyes covered – and is about a group of friends in modern-day Rome whose lives are unravelling.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I always find this a bit difficult to answer. I don’t write anything that can be classed within a genre, apart from the rather ambiguous one of so-called literary fiction. Some genres are clearly defined – detective, romance, horror, whatever – and often with good reason, as booksellers have to set out their stalls somehow. Literary fiction can be anything from books perceived to be ‘highbrow’ and yet which seem like genre fiction – Sebastian Faulks, for example, with his war stories – to unreadable rambling avant-garde rants. Literary fiction is often (snobbily) described as ‘genre fiction but well-written’ – very patronising! And my work? How does it stand out from other literary fiction? I don’t know, really. I don’t really know. I really don’t know. Sorry.
Why do you write what you do?
Again, a difficult question. A part of me would like to do a nine-to-five day writing a series of detective stories that would sell well enough to guarantee me enough to pay the mortgage and have a week by the sea every summer. My novel Laikonik Express (Unthank Books, 2011) was set in the Poland in which I lived and travelled during the 1990s, and featured characters that were partly based on people I knew, and incidents that actually happened… and yet it’s not ‘about’ these things, as such; a reader has to have a story, so the story is ostensibly about a man in search of a way to fill the lacks in his life… or in fact, two men… or three… or about a woman who wants to end her life being remembered in a certain way… But then why did I write that story and not a different one? Only I can know, and I don’t, really. Telling that story was what grabbed me and obsessed me at the time. Maybe I write what I do because I just can’t write that series of detective stories. I usually describe my work (in the kind of short author biographies required in publications) as ‘reflecting my interest in Eastern Europe’, and some of it does, but inevitably that isn’t the whole story. In no particular order, I am interested in people’s motives for doing the irrational things they do, in language and in languages (there is a distinction, of course) and how both affect the ‘message’ people put out, in architecture and how it affects people’s environments, in people in flux, whether as individuals or en masse, such as migrants, in music, in history, and in a lot of other things, all of which find their way into my work. There is a range of my short stories on my website.
How does your writing process work?
It’s chaos. It only looks like a process in retrospect. I think about what will go into my writing all the time, and I write anywhere and everywhere, and at any time. Accordingly, I use notebooks and pens a lot, as well as computers and tablets. I still like notebooks, though; you can scribble and doodle in them, or conjugate irregular German verbs on the spur of the moment, do shopping lists, write reminders. I feel slightly envious when I read ‘My Writing Day’ features and writers say they get up at 6.30, walk the dog, make porridge, write from 7.30 till 12, have lunch, then write from 1.30 till 5, and then lead regular lives. My life is kind of irregular. My writing is irregular. I am easily distracted, by my other life as a husband, by yet another as a musician, by cycling, driving, shopping, drinking coffee, by TV sport, by the things around me and outside. It’s chaos, but if I could do it another way, I’m not sure if I would.