Q&A

I like answering your questions, so please don’t be shy if there is something you wish to know.  However, do make sure I haven’t answered your query already; if the information you need isn’t here, or anywhere else on my website, ping me an email and I will do my best to respond.






Q

A        From this.

Q

A        I’ve dedicated a webpage to answering this very question; it’s right here.

Q

A        Well, I think it’s a novel, conceived as a single piece of work, made of seven components ― and that if you took one of those components away, it would be incomplete. Girl Reading has a narrative arc. It has specific, and general, threads running through it and (I hope) a page-turning quality. It is intended to be read in order.

I love novels which do unexpected things with structure (sometimes called ‘the form’). Readers of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas will, I think, understand. I’m a huge fan of The Hours by Michael Cunningham; The Waves by Virginia Woolf; The Night Watch by Sarah Waters; The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides; The Accidental by Ali Smith; and The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. These books, and numerous others, have made it acceptable for novelists to experiment. The novel’s structure is an important dramatic device, which contributes to mood and pace; it determines what the reader is shown, when and how. It is as important as editing in filmmaking.

Having said all that, if other people think Girl Reading is a book of short stories . . . that’s fine by me :-)

Q

A        This is something I get asked from time to time!

By no means am I the first author to write a novel without speech marks, but the one I personally read where I felt this device really enhanced the mood was If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things.

I wanted the voice of Girl Reading to be distinctive and true to the sometimes other-worldly and ambiguous themes. I also have an unpublished first novel which was much more conventional than Girl Reading, so I wanted my second attempt to take more risks. Lack of speech marks was something I experimented with right at the start. It added a stream of consciousness-like uncertainty, leaving the reader to decide what is spoken out loud and what is thought privately. I felt it was the right choice for this particular book.

I did so knowing it would annoy some readers – indeed it has. Incidentally, my favourite piece of feedback I get on the subject is when people say they ‘didn’t even notice’. I take this as a sign I’ve achieved what I wanted to (at least in some cases).

As to speech marks in future books, I will always make a judgement based on the kind of novel I’m writing at that time.

Q

A        Start by reading Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, which is as good an answer to this question as any.

In addition, I would say that writing (while also beautiful and mysterious and blah blah blah) is, essentially, work. It can be done well and it can be done badly; it can feel easy and it can feel like an enormous effort (and when it feels easy, that doesn’t mean it’s being done well). I’m afraid there is no magic spell or secret handshake that can turn you instantly into a writer; you have to do this yourself, by putting the hours in.

How well you write at any given time is often beyond your control; but you can control how often you write. By writing more, you learn more, gaining experience and improving over time. You can build up what some people call ‘the writing muscle’. This will give you more confidence so that whenever you sit down to write, the words will come.

If the question were, ‘Have you got any advice on how to become a concert pianist?’ the short answer would be, ‘Practice’. So it is with writing.

Q

A        Buy the current edition of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, which is packed with information and advice on the whole publishing process. Very sportingly, they also have a website, with lots of useful nuggets and a comprehensive list of contacts in the publishing industry (applicable to authors in the UK).

Also, get an agent . . . a good agent. This is easier said than done. The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook will give you some tips on how to go about this, but the main points I would stress are:

  • Do your research: make sure you are approaching the right agent in the right way; for example, by checking the agents’ website for submissions guidance.
  • Be professional: treat the process of finding an agent seriously, as you would if you were applying for a job in a very competitive industry.
  • Don’t be discouraged: rejection slips are a rite of passage for all would-be-published authors.

If you have done everything right, have exhausted every avenue open to you, and have a mountain of rejection slips from every viable agent in the country, then it could be time to ask yourself a difficult question: Is this book the one that will break through? The reality for many published authors, including myself, is that they weren’t published until they had written their second book.

My advice to you, in that event, is to keep writing. Write something else. Write something even better. Don’t give up.