Sunday, 26 July 2015

One of those Ta-Daaa moments...

...and I’m so excited to be part of it.

"Part of what?" I hear you say.

"Why, the cover reveal for Marnie Riches new pulse-pounding thriller – The Girl Who Broke the Rules – of course!"

When the mutilated bodies of two sex-workers are found in Amsterdam, Chief Inspector van den Bergen must find a brutal murderer before the red-light-district erupts into panic.

Georgina McKenzie is conducting research into pornography among the UK’s most violent sex-offenders but once van den Bergen calls on her criminology expertise, she is only too happy to come running.

The rising death toll forces George and van den Bergen to navigate the labyrinthine worlds of Soho strip-club sleaze and trans-national human trafficking. And with the case growing ever more complicated, George must walk the halls of Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, seeking advice from the brilliant serial murderer, Dr. Silas Holm…

Available in August! 

Having read and loved Marnie’s last book – The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die – I cannot wait to read this one.



Monday, 13 July 2015

Writing for Adults and Children, by Colette Victor

What’s the difference between writing for adults and writing for children? This is a question that was put to me recently.

My first reaction would be to say there’s not that much difference in writing for these two audiences. You get into your character’s head, you listen to them and you tell the story like they’re experiencing it. 

This is true, of course it is, it’s the very basis of good storytelling, but there’s more to it than just that. I’m used to writing for adults. I’ve written seven novels, four of which never made it to publication, all of them for adults except one. 

What to do with lobsters
in a place like Klippiesfontein
(Cargo Publishing, 2015)
These are the aspects that, for me, typify writing for adults:
  • I can write about any subject matter; difficult social issues, sex, characters who might be morally dubious but interesting all the same…
  • My characters can speak any way they like. If they want to use a four-letter word, they can. If they are morally inclined towards blasphemy, that’s OK. They speak like they speak and I don’t stand in their way.
  • I know my end reader is a fully formed adult with a mind of his or her own that won’t easily be corrupted by the words I write. I can experiment with form or style because I know my readers are well read, have been exposed to all manner of stories told in the widest possible variety of ways. They are, in most cases, sophisticated readers and often expect things to be a little difficult and are stimulated by a challenge.
This translates into a lot of freedom for a writer of adult fiction but, at the same time, where there’s freedom there are also fewer rules and boundaries. And rules and boundaries, for all their restrictiveness, also offer certainty and a sense of knowing where you’re going.

And it’s precisely here that I often find myself stumbling. My biggest problem with adult fiction is plot. No matter how well I plan and structure my story at the start of a new project, my characters ignore my efforts and go off on tangents of their own. This inevitably leaves me with heaps and heaps of rewriting and restructuring in the end.

Head over heart
(Chicken House, 2014)
This, to an extent, is where writing for children is easier. I’ve worked with a lot of young people from all races, religions and creeds. There was a particular story idea that grew out of this experience and just wouldn’t let me go so, after a few years, I decided to simply write it. Being a complete novice at writing for young people, I bought myself the book How to write for children and get published by Louise Jordan (Paitkus 2010). In this book, Jordan likens the structure of a children’s book to a three-legged stool:
1.One leg is the beginning; What is this story about?
2. The next leg is the middle; What is the problem?
3. The last leg is the end; What happens?
Without all three its legs the stool will topple over.         

I know, I know, this structure can just as easily be applied to an adult novel and that would solve all my plotting problems, wouldn’t it?

Well, no. By strictly adhering to this structure with my YA novel I was able to write a good book in a relatively short space of time. But applying this to my next book, an adult novel I just completed, did not lead to the same satisfying result and I was left wrestling with my plot just like all my previous adult novels.

But then in writing for young people (in my case, young people between the ages of eleven and fifteen) I had a whole list of other pitfalls I had to watch out for:
  • Bad language and sexually explicit content are not acceptable.
  • Sensitive social issues must be dealt with in a safe or politically correct way (even my politically incorrect character had to be toned down despite the fact that the whole reason I created him was to highlight a politically incorrect viewpoint and challenge it.)
  • My scope for experimenting with style and form was more limited because my audience was younger. They are, by definition, less experienced readers who need to cultivate the sophistication that most adult readers have. My story had to be cleaner and more straight forward.
No matter how much I believed I was in touch with young people and their views, I had to remind myself I was an adult with no experience of being young in the world they’re living in today. I made sure I consulted them about sticky points along the way. I often sat down with these young girls (in my case, Muslim girls, because the book I was writing was about the hijab) and asked them how they saw the world. They were very generous with their time and flattered to be consulted by an adult.

So which do I prefer? I’m not sure. I suppose I’m in my comfort zone when I’m writing for adults but, at the same time, writing for young people was a challenge I really enjoyed - so much so actually, that the next book I’m doing will be YA too.

What, in your experience, is the essential difference between writing for adults and children?

For more from Colette, visit her website,
Blog, or Follow Colette on Twitter

Monday, 6 July 2015

Second Book Syndrome, by Emma Haughton

Emma Haughton
Two months on from the publication of my second YA thriller, Better left Buried, I thought it would be a good time to reflect back on my experience of bringing another book into the world. I remember wondering some time ago whether it would be as hard as the first time around. As manic. As nerve-wracking. As scary.

And the answer is… yes and no. Writing the damn thing wasn’t so bad. I managed to escape the infamous ‘second book syndrome’, at least initially. Many authors say coming up with another idea and bringing it to fruition is very difficult; tempting to think that having done it once before, you’re in for an easier ride. Sadly that’s rarely the case. Each book presents its own unique set of problems and challenges, and you have to find a different way through the forest with every story.

 However , I side-stepped the whole problem by selling the second book ready written. No cunning plan or anything, just the way it worked out. By the time I went out on submission with Now You See Me, I’d already written Better Left Buried. (Mind you, being on submission with two books rather than one has its own issues, but I’ll save that for another blog post.)

Once Usborne took me on, though, it wasn’t all plain sailing. The editing process for Better Left Buried was… err… hell. Three structural edits, then an extremely rigorous copy edit which left no stone unturned in terms of questioning plot points or character motivation.

Happily, I can confirm that publication was generally an easier experience this time round. Thank god. As I’ve written about on this blog before, I found the process of publishing my first book quite terrifying. The feeling of exposure to the wider world. Dealing with the verdicts.

Second time around it was still nerve-wracking – impossible to bring a new baby into the world without angsting about how it will be received – but I’d had my blooding. I’ve grown a thicker skin in the last year or so. Yes, bad reviews and ratings still sting, but with nothing like the ferocity of the first.

I’ve also grown used to the constant nagging worry about sales, publicity, awards and so on - all the usual stuff that fills a writer’s head on a daily basis. And I’ve learned the only cure is work. Immersing yourself in your next book is the best, indeed the only effective way of insulating yourself from worries about those already out there, making their way in the world.


And as I write this, I’ve also passed another landmark – yesterday, right on deadline *high-fives self* I pressed Send on my third book, propelling it into the inbox of my agent and editor. So begins another cycle. But at least now I’m reasonably confident I know the territory. Fingers crossed.  

Emma Haughton was a journalist working for national newspapers and magazines before settling down to write young adult fiction. Her first book, YA thriller NOW YOU SEE ME, was published by Usborne last year. Her second, BETTER LEFT BURIED, came out in May.

Or send Emma a tweet https://twitter.com/Emma_Haughton 


Monday, 1 June 2015

Good Grief

Is this what your next book
is telling you?
My latest book is out on submission. My next book is written but ‘needs work’ and I’m not ready to face it. It feels like I’ve just said goodbye to my grown up baby; I’m left with a sulky unruly teenager, and I don’t have the energy or discipline needed to whip it into shape.

It shouldn’t matter. You need time between projects. You need that space to let go of one thing before you nurture another. New projects need a fresh heart, clear mind, and renewed focus. But until you have all those things, you have to go through a kind of mini-grieving.

If you’ve ever lost anyone you love, you’ll know all about that process - the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally the acceptance... Losing a book isn’t quite as bad of course, but the route remains the same.

DENIAL – This was me a month ago – reluctant to let go. It’s the ‘just one more read through...one more tweak’ mentality. Everyone else is telling you it’s ready, but you can’t believe it, until there really isn’t anything else you can do... And when it’s gone – when it’s out there in Agenty Publishing Land, life becomes meaningless and overwhelming. You certainly can’t face that disorderly manuscript...

ANGER – Your book has gone... and it’s natural to feel deserted and abandoned but why doesn’t everyone else feel the same as you do about it? Why aren’t agents clamouring to their phones to offer you representation? Why aren’t publishers falling at your feet? Why do the wheels of this industry grind so slowly? Anger and pain go hand in hand. It hurts to be ignored... and disconnected. Anger is your anchor and at least it feels better than pain... 

BARGAINING – How about I rewrite the opening? What about the end? If I work on my character’s emotional journey, will you take me on? I could change it to first person present tense, if that would help? Or I could cut it – huge chunks – if you think brevity is best... Because I’ll do anything you ask. I don’t mind editing... in fact, I love editing. I’ll do whatever it takes... just give me another chance. Please?

DEPRESSION – And after bargaining, when it’s a couple of days or even a whole week later and the mail box is still empty... the depression sets in. You withdraw from life, withdraw from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram... and wallow in a fog of intense self-doubt and sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is anything to be gained from ever writing anything else? You know? Like, what’s the point?

Until suddenly, weeks later and out of the blue... ACCEPTANCE!!!

Out with the old...
This isn’t quite like the usual acceptance of grief – because this isn’t about your acceptance of loss; it’s about that discerning agent’s acceptance of you, the shrewd publisher’s acceptance of your book... your acceptance of yourself as a writer! You start to get dressed again in the mornings, you take all the empty wine bottles to the recycling dump, you call your friends... and finally you have the strength to tame that unruly teenager.

It’s grief. Except, hopefully, it’s good grief.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Reading fiction makes the world a better place

Reading about the lives of other people is enlightening and educational. When you read, you are using your imagination to climb into the minds, hearts and lives of others and take on their world and their emotions. Good writing  whatever your genre  should be able to make the reader feel, what the character feels; whoever they are, wherever they live, whatever they believe. 

I am talking about empathy here – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Empathy requires you to use your imagination. Reading fiction enhances the imagination, and increases your potential for empathy.  

In their 2006 study, Bookworms versus Nerds, Raymond Mar and Keith Oatley exposed participants to both fiction and non-fiction reading material, and found that 'comprehension of characters in narrative fiction appeared to parallel the comprehension of peers in the actual world, while the comprehension of expository non-fiction shares no such parallels.'  Furthermore, 'the tendency to become absorbed in a story also predicted empathy scores.' 

Their 2009 study, Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy, attempted to replicate these findings whilst ruling out the huge variable of individual personality. They found that 'fiction exposure still predicted performance on an empathy task,' And that 'exposure to fiction was positively correlated with social support. Exposure to nonfiction, in contrast, was associated with loneliness, and negatively related to social support.'

Subsequent studies have backed up Mar and Oatley’s research, with especial emphasis on reading literary fiction. 

"You never really understand a person  until you consider things from his point of view -
until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Harper Lee
Empathy is possibly one of the most important social skills we can master. It creates connections, and leads to a deeper understanding of people (why others think, feel and act as they do) as well as broadening our understanding of other cultures and societies. In turn, this increased understanding helps us have better relationships, and build stronger communities.

As if that wasn’t enough, empathy increases our emotional intelligence, our powers of perception, improves communication and develops the imagination. And the more we can relate to and imagine what the emotions and experiences of others actually feel like for them, the less likely we are to judge, which leads to greater sensitivity, more tolerance and more compassion. 

This clearly isn’t a comprehensive study on the subject, but as a writer of fiction, I must frequently put myself in the shoes of another and try to understand how they think and feel; I ask myself, "how would this person react, and why?" I’d like to think this makes me less critical of others, and more inclined to look beyond the behaviour and try to understand how and why people behave as they do.

And when Bring Me Sunshine was studied by students on the Working with Children, Young People and Families course at Cumbria University, I received dozens of letters of thanks (see here for a selection of their comments) for enlightening them about the feelings and experiences of young carers. When readers tell me they felt what my character was feeling, it means I’ve done my job properly. For those readers, perhaps it will also inform the way they go out about their lives… As one student kindly put it:

As our module explores the challenges young people, children and families face, this book is extremely helpful. Compared to other academics texts this book allows the reader to feel more connected and therefore take more from it. I feel as though I will be able to use this book to further my studies as it has given me a wider knowledge on the challenges (young carers) face in today’s society, and how they can be helped.”

Which brings me to my conclusion; you should read fiction not just because it's fun and absorbing and a perfectly blissful way to while away a few hours, but because developing more empathy and compassion will make the world a better place.


Thanks to all those students who gave me such valuable feedback on Bring Me Sunshine.

To read more about the benefits of empathy, take a look at The Culture of Empathy 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

A review of Better Left Buried, by Emma Haughton

I was supposed to finish a draft of my own YA novel before I read Better Left Buried, but I made the mistake of dipping inside and reading the prologue… A few hours later, I emerged, emotionally drained, and yet completely satisfied by this wonderfully gripping novel.

Sarah’s brother has died, her mum’s not coping and her dad’s working away from home. Even her best friend, Lizzie, seems a little remote. Sarah struggles to manage her grief alone, while caring for her mum and preparing for an important singing audition which could decide her future. We have every reason to feel for Sophie, an ordinary girl, in the middle of a family tragedy.

But right from page one we know this goes beyond ordinary and tragic. Danger lies ahead and yet, like Sarah, we’re not exactly sure where, why, or who to trust. There’s a mystery to be solved, and we’re with Sophie all the way, trying to make sense of strange happenings. She is followed by a stranger, her home is trashed, she is attacked in the street… and then she discovers that it’s all connected to her dead brother. He started something...and she has to finish it.

Sophie’s thoughts and feelings are entirely believable and her actions, although incredibly risky, flow naturally out of this very sinister plot.

I loved this book! And even though I was lucky enough to beta read Better Left Buried some time ago (and supposedly knew what was in store) there were still surprises. I was still on the edge of my seat. It’s a great read – for teens and adults – packed, from start to finish, with excitement, intrigue and tension. 

If you like thrillers, you’ll love this. Highly recommended. 




Thursday, 2 April 2015

Tough streets make tough women, by Marnie Riches


Today is the book birthday of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. Finally, after three years of trying to push this baby into the world - from writing the first sentence to publication - with the help of my extraordinarily hard-working agent and the wonderful team at Maze/HarperCollins, I’ve succeeded. And, as is the case with real childbirth, you forget the pain the minute your progeny puts in an appearance. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t have to labour bloody hard to get to that point.

It seems fitting, then, that George McKenzie, the heroine of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, should have had a tough start in life, as I did. The product of a crime-ridden council estate, hers has been a hard, violent upbringing – as is the case of the other young people around her. But just as I did, she has learned her way out of the ghetto, all the way to Cambridge, dragging that heavy chip on her shoulder up to the very top of those ivory towers.

Over the years, I have read crime thrillers, middle grade novels, young adult dystopian series, fantasy, literary fiction...you name it, I’ve read it! There have been some splendid heroines. Lisbeth Salander, Clarice Starling, Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Grainger... But what did I want in George McKenzie? Other authors’ heroines seemed too introvert, too gung-ho without the necessary vulnerability, too squeaky clean, too apologetic. So, I got to work in shaping my kickass leading lady...

When we meet her in book 1, George is an aspiring criminologist, working on her politics degree at Amsterdam University - an Erasmus year break from Cambridge. The studio flat where she lives, in the heart of Amsterdam’s red light district, is under the same steep, gabled roof as two prostitutes’ booths and a coffee shop. George loves the sleaze and grandeur. What a heady mix!

Over time, as I wrote, I realised that I wanted a debate about sexuality to feature heavily in my series. And it does. Without us realising, so much of our daily lives is shaped by the sexual chemistry – or lack of it – between people. Does the guy at the garage fancy you enough to give you a discount on your tyres? Will your tutor give you a hard time over your late paper because he knows you would never look twice at him? Would you treat a friend differently after a tacit rejection where they confess you’re great for a mate, but not for a date? These kinds of questions are centrally important to your life when you’re younger, and George is only twenty in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die.

In book 2, The Girl Who Broke the Rules – which I’m just putting the finishing touches to – George is studying for a criminology PhD on the subject of pornography use by serial violent sex offenders; still flitting between Amsterdam and Cambridge. By Book 3, she’s a qualified criminologist. Dr. McKenzie, no less! I wanted her to be brilliant, sophisticated, able to navigate the social and political labyrinths of academia successfully.

George isn’t just about the grey matter, however. We discover that The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die has all of the skills needed to go head-to-head with dangerous, violent criminals. Tough streets make tough women. She’s not afraid to take a punch and she’s not shy in dishing one out either. If she thinks you’re talking crap, she’ll tell you. If she wants to sleep with you, she’ll let you know alright - take it or leave it. She’ll not beg. George is proud and unashamed of her sexual powers as a woman and her intellectual prowess.

But she’s vulnerable too. Here is a girl who suffers from borderline OCD. Panicking at petty disorder in her life. If she can’t control her environment, she’s lost control. Too easy to blow up in temper, George has learned to keep a lid on it, though she often doesn’t succeed. Admittedly, I have regularly got into hot water because I’m a big gob. Of course, George was going to swear and say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. In her chest beats a strong heart. Her blood runs hot. George is, above all, a passionate woman who can crush a man between her thighs as easily as she can pleasure him!

My editor has billed me as a “home-grown Stieg Larsson”. When I wrote The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, and the first half of The Girl Who Broke the Rules, I had no idea that there would be a fourth book in Larsson’s Millennium series, penned by another author. So, admiring some of the wonderful qualities of Salander but wanting to inject some ghetto-fabulous street-smarts of my own into a leading lady, I wrote George to keep Salander fans going. She’s a character whose story I wanted to read. I hope that I live up to my editor’s expectations and I hope George McKenzie will resonate with readers all over the world who fancy a little bit more grit, a little bit more authenticity, a little bit more of a kick up the ass!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, by Marnie Riches

I have just bitten my nails all the way to the end of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, and I’m quietly blown away. Speechless. In awe. Wow!
Marnie Riches’ crime thriller is due out on Kindle on April 2nd. The blurb reads -
When a bomb explodes at the University of Amsterdam, aspiring criminologist Georgina McKenzie is asked by the police to help flush out the killer. But the bomb is part of a much bigger, more sinister plot that will have the entire city quaking in fear. And the killer has a very special part for George to play… A thrilling race against time with a heroine you’ll be rooting for, this book will keep you up all night!
Luckily for me, I was given a copy early. I always knew I would return this gift with a review, so as I read I made mental notes…
  • Mention the powerful voice, unmistakably Marnie, coarse, rich and bursting with personality…
  • Talk about the intrigue, the slow drip of plot, the build up of tension, the jigsaw structure you mentally piece together not only while you’re reading, but between times when you can’t read because life is getting in the way…
  • Refer to the multiple points of view, which play out like a film – giving readers a glimpse of each slice of action before moving on to the next compelling scene…
  • Mention the setting – Amsterdam, Cambridge, South East London; the vivid contrast between cloistered academia and gritty urban life…
  • And most importantly, say something about George McKenzie – the girl who wouldn’t die because of her tenacity, her strength of mind and ballsy determination; say something about the way she pulls you through, hooks you into her world, makes you feel when she refuses to...
These things were all in my mental note book; they were all going to be part of my review. But now I’ve finished reading The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, there’s another thing. I’m bursting to tell you what it is, but I don’t want to give it away. It’s hidden in amongst the multiple points of view, and sits there – an unsuspecting golden jigsaw piece – waiting for you to slot into place. The clues are all there, but Georgina McKenzie’s world is so totally absorbing you don’t even notice them until moments before the author’s reveal. And when you do finally see the whole picture, you wonder how you missed the signs. It’s clever, confident writing, and richly rewarding for the reader.
I absolutely loved The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and I cannot wait for the next George McKenzie thriller.

Photo by Phil Tragen
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is the first of three novels in the George McKenzie series by Marnie Riches, published by Harper Collins.

Website: Marnie Riches     
Twitter: @Marnie_Riches    

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Let's call it a detour...


Jane learned how to hook an agent,
on the bonnet of her Mini Cooper.

I have decided to head back down the long road to traditional publishing. I can hardly believe that it’s been two and a half years since I first took a detour through Indie Land – where did all that time go? I’ve learned a HUGE amount about the publishing industry, marketing and social media, sold a truckload of books (a small truck), won awards, been studied by University students, got a commission to write a book for a care leavers charity, and had lots of fun; all this on the back of my self-publishing endeavours. So I don’t regret it for a minute.

My reasons for going Indie were mainly to do with impatience and exasperation at the snails’ pace and umpteen hurdles of traditional publishing. At one point I thought I was there, supping tea and biscuits with my then-agent and the head honcho at a London publishing house. They loved Where Bluebird Fly; told me it was “a moving, gripping story, with a complex and sympathetic character … and the subtle, yet dramatic, and perfectly paced way you reveal Ruby's past is masterful.”

Despite this high praise, it was a dead end. (Those bastards in acquisitions … No, seriously – I completely understand.)
As it turned out, Margaret could only dream of the open highway.
My then-agent tried to place my other book, Bring MeSunshine, elsewhere – and I do believe she tried very hard. I had some excellent feedback from over thirty publishers, and yes, one or two of them didn’t love my voice enough, or feel the story was loud enough, but mostly the response was enthusiastic and positive. I could have worked on these things, but there was one common theme to their rejections over which I had no control.

“I’ve already got one...”
“It's too similar to a recent debut acquisition.”
“There’s too much overlap with ... our other author.”
“The writing style sits closely to another author we have on our list.”
“We have similar books for this age group.”
“This will clash with another project already in development.”
“It would fit in the same space on our list that ... occupies.”
“We have recently acquired a similar themed book.”

You get the message.

I prefer not to think these were stock replies, since most of said publishers also offered me the names of these ‘similar’ authors and their soon to be/recently published ‘similar’ works, and went into quite a lot of other detail about why they liked Bring Me Sunshine so much.

But given this almost universal response, and after trying for so long and coming so close, it’s not surprising I took a detour.

Two years down the road, two books independently published and two more in the editing stage, I find myself edging closer to that traditional highway again. I’ve enjoyed the journey immensely, but as much as it pains me to admit it, I am not meeting my audience. The child and young adult market is an especially tough road to travel solo on. It’s smaller than the adult market, e-books are less accessible to children who don’t carry bank cards and cannot order online independently, and large numbers of children access their reading material through schools and libraries, which means it is practically impossible for a stand alone author to reach these outlets in any significant numbers. 

I had hoped my detour wasn’t a detour; that it was a shorter route with prettier scenery and more immediate gains. As it turns out, it was all those things. But now it’s time to fasten my seat belt, pull out onto the main road and see if this time I can go all the way.

Wish me luck…


Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Psychoanalysis of an Aspiring Writer

Nan Bovington calls herself an aspiring writer, but if you’ve ever read her blog – The Essential Guide to Being Unpublished – you will know that nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s almost unbelievable that despite writing for three decades, launching herself into novels, radio plays and screenplays without a second thought, and sometimes almost ‘making it’, she still refers to herself as an aspiring writer.

It’s about time we changed this silly notion, and put her straight…


WENDY: So, Nan, when did you first ‘aspire’ to be a writer?

Proustian thoughts for Baby Nan
NAN: Thank you Wendy for asking. I think it was when I was sitting in my pram having a Proustian thought about the first time I tasted a Farex Rusk. It must have been a windy day, because at that moment a sheet of newspaper wrapped itself entirely around my head. Luckily it was the Sunday Times book review section. I was enthralled and then appalled. People get paid to write this stuff? I remember thinking, I could do that. By the time someone thought to remove the paper from my face, I had already set out on the road to authorship, fame and money. (Looking back on it now, I wish it had been a copy of The Racing Times and I had put ten bob on ’Lively Lass’ in the two-thirty at Haydock Park.)

WENDY: Have you always ignored good advice? (For clarity, readers might like to take a look at Nan’s earliest blog post ‘Never fail to ignore all advice from seasoned writers’ in which Nan reveals how Canadian literary legend W.O. Mitchell assured her she was a writer.)

NAN:  Yes, Wendy, it’s a matter of principle with me. That’s the kind of person I am – you know, principled.

Never mind the
bullocks.
WENDY: Did the hard-drinking, cigar-chewing, bullfighting and womanizing interfere with, or enhance your self-image?

NAN:  It definitely enhanced it, although I do now walk with a strange loping gait, have a rather alarming twitch and am compelled to wear lorgnettes. I attribute this to an arm wrestling contest with ‘Hem’ and the crew of a Panamanian fishing smack, (great guys) in an all-night tattoo parlour on Key West; although I still regret having that marlin tattooed across my chest. That’s why I think I may have to turn down a personal appearance at the Oxford Literary Festival – I don’t want to frighten Richard Dawkins.

WENDY: Have you ever been diagnosed with a psychological condition?

NAN: No comment - Who have you been talking too? If it’s Dr Otto Von Kraumsmeltzer....  I’m warning you, Otto; I’m suing!

WENDY: By your second blog post (Don’t wait for a plot - just write the novel) you have switched to the second person point of view. Was it a conscious decision or does this represent an underlying (and desperate) need to disassociate from pain and rejection?

NAN:  I have to confess you are right. What you have to understand is that I was frightened by Margaret Atwood at an early age; OK, I was thirty and she wasn’t a lot older than me. We were in Canada, on a creative writing course together. Technically she was the guest lecturer and I wasn’t, but you know.
Nan was reluctant to show
Margaret Atwood her tattoos.

Anyway in a mistaken attempt to get her to read my verse drama – A History of The Soviet Union from the Perspective of a Wheel-Tapper on the Siberian Railway – I offered to buy her a drink in the bar. She squinted at me warily and then said that she would have a ‘screwdriver.’ Well, I thought, scrap the drink; she has obviously got some kind of plumbing emergency. I imagined how I could ingratiate myself by sorting it out for her, so ran out of the bar to find the college maintenance department, borrowed a screwdriver and ran back to triumphantly present it (In retrospect, I shouldn’t have kneeled) to Margaret.

She looked at it, said, ‘Didn’t they have any vodka and orange juice?’ and squinted at me again; called me ‘a veritable literalist’ and laughed a good deal, (which I took as a HUGE compliment.) Sadly, I found out later that in Canada a vodka and orange juice is called a ‘Screwdriver’, and worse than all of that, Margaret Atwood would never read my verse drama. 

Until I recovered – many years later – I was temporarily incapable of referring to myself in the first person, and the twitch got worse.

Nuns with guns
WENDY: We are given a brief insight into the real Nan Bovington where you describe your early life and persecution by catholic nuns. How do you think this has affected your writing career?

NAN:  I wish you hadn’t brought this up Wendy. Look, I’ve never had any kind of romantic life because of the huge welts on my knees from the years of constant PRAYING. I have a flinch reaction whenever I see a ROSARY and am compelled to write everything to do with GOD or RELIGION or THE VIRGIN MARY in capital letters. I think this has put me at a certain disadvantage: and another reason why I can’t bump into Dawkins at the Oxford Literary Festival.

WENDY:  Do you have a well-defined guilt complex?

NAN:  Nothing about me is ‘well-defined’ as you well know Wendy!

WENDY: In your post Undone by the Comma, Drusilla Lockheart-Leary gives you a grammatical drubbing, and later ‘drags you through English grammar by your nose; administering irrigation to your colon and semi-colon, snipping your dangling participles, and ram-raiding the Oxford comma.’ How did this rather harsh lesson in punctuation affect your belief in your writing abilities?

NAN: I have made a careful and considered choice to abandon grammar. We never got on, we never will/shall/will.

WENDY: Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious… Your post, The Vestibule of Literary Hell has a very dreamlike quality to it. Did you write this post in your sleep?

NAN: No, I was drunk

WENDY: Your characters are a joy to behold. Let’s think about three of them in a little more depth. Clyde Darling, Bart Zeidegger, and legendary gangster Carlo (The Mouth) Carpacci – Snog, Marry or Avoid?

Dreamboats Clyde, Bart and Carlo.
NAN: Fascinating question Wendy! Well, obviously, anyone would want to snog Carlo (The Mouth) Carpaccio; know what I mean? You should see him dealing with an entire smoked salmon and caviar canapé chess board – it’s unashamedly erotic.

At first I thought obviously I would marry Clyde Darling, because he is a lit agent working for fab, super, cutting edge agency, Mallory Makepeace Associates AND HOW ELSE ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO GET A BLOODY AGENT? But then I thought no, repulsive as Bart Zeidegger is (and really, believe me, he is) at least he might help me get my novel pitch down from a paragraph to a sentence and then to just three utterly compelling words. So maybe I’d marry Bart and avoid Clyde…

You see, it’s quite likely that even Clyde, with all his connections, might have to overlook my lit genius. Economic pressures might insist that he drop me in favour of pushing a brilliant edgy idea like ‘Footballers Favourite Philosophers’ (Wayne Rooney riffs on Wittgenstein) or some Bake-off celeb’s debut novel which offers a searing insight into the socio-political ramifications of doughnuts in pre-war Europe. Thinking about it, Clyde probably wouldn’t or couldn’t, get me published! The bastard! I hate him! Why did I marry him?

WENDY: Which literary figures do you aspire to be like?

Sooty Bramblestoke
NAN: Mrs Euphemia Bramblestoke who wrote, the much overlooked and underrated, ‘Little Mitherings’ series. There were seventeen books in all, mostly about defecating cats and boundary disputes with neighbours, but compelling narratives written in such lucid prose with just the slightest wink of irony.  She died in poverty, obscurity and a large pool of gin, and was only found ten years later surrounded by her equally mummified cats.

SJ Perelman's
unorthodox
Heimlich Manoeuvre
AND S.J. Perelman - Master of the surreal pastiche, and sometime scriptwriter to the Marx Bros. I have a fantasy that I find myself sitting next to him on some flight, which is unlikely as he has been dead since 1979 and I have a phobia of flying. Nonetheless during this entirely imaginary flight, we strike up conversation and I tell him an amusing anecdote. He laughs and he offers me a pastrami and dill pickle sandwich while patting me on the back. This causes me to choke. Perelman then performs the Heimlich manoeuvre on me and we become instant writing buddies.

WENDY: Following your in-depth report from the Glossy-Smarte Literary Consultancy in May 2012, you took a step back from your own writing and choose to interview Tarquin Overbite (10 year-old literary superstar) and subsequently hand your blog over to Rip Lunge. Were you nursing wounds, or busy working on a rewrite of ‘The Indistinguishableness of Indistinguishability’?

NAN: That man Rip Lunge is frightening, I didn’t hand my blog over, he actually tied me up with electrical cable and shoved me into my own airing cupboard – quite relaxing really, after a while.

WENDY: In mid 2012 you embark on a series of blog-posts which tell the stories of Hideous Publishing Accidents, (beginning with The Keening of Lucretia Doonshafte) Were these posts unconscious vehicles for you to transfer your own feelings of disaster/failure/anger into a safe channel?

NAN: They were true Wendy, every single one them. People don’t understand how dangerous publishing is!

WENDY: Ah, denial…the perfect self-defence mechanism. Tell me, Nan, do you have trouble controlling your temper/feelings?

NAN: Why are you asking me all these questions? Why?!!

WENDY: For almost an entire year, you did not blog at all. Were you undergoing a series of hypnotherapeutic interventions to destabilise your feelings of inadequacy as a writer?

NAN: I was sitting in a lawn chair.

WENDY: Your returning post, in January of this year (I went missing for an entire year and absolutely no one noticed!) was a welcome relief for your fans. You followed in quick succession with two more posts … Where has this new burst of energy emerged from?

NAN: I don’t know if you are familiar with Dr Glockenspiel’s Invigorating Tonic for Depressed Bloggers? It came with a recommendation from Dorothy Wordsworth. She always kept a bottle tucked down her liberty bodice and frequently swigged from it as she raced about the fells feeling murderous, because William was ripping off everything in her notebook and bloody well making a name for himself; leaving her only to silently adore his genius and apple cores.  I can get you some at a very reasonable price. Just send cheque c/o Coleridge.

Nan, before and after Dr Glockenspiel’s Invigorating Tonic
WENDY: How do you feel about total strangers reading between the lines of your blog and making up their own theories about your writing abilities?

NAN: Actually I would actively encourage this, please, if there is anyone out there who has a theory about my writing ability and can explain it to me, please send it on a plain postcard to Essential Guide to Being Unpublished.

Nan's favourite
cake
WENDY: What is your favourite cake?

NAN:  The biggest.

WENDY: After 76 years on the slushpile, nonagenarian Gladys Meakin found success posthumously, but where do you see your writing career ending up?

NAN: Badly

WENDY: The dictionary definition of ASPIRE is – to direct one's hopes or ambitions towards achieving something. Given that your combined blog, twitter and Facebook following exceeds that of Beyoncé, would you not agree that you have already achieved that dream, and that you are indeed, a writer already?

Unhappy Nan,
with Will Self as a polar bear
NAN: I know you are trying to cheer me up Wendy, but really, until I either earn at least £1 from my life’s work, or am carried on a litter around the Frankfurt Book Fair hurling handfuls of small change at Will Self, I will never be happy.

Until then, I shall press on writing my novel, called ‘Last Best West’ which is set in Canada in 1906 and is the story a highly educated young woman who goes to the far North to become a gold prospector (you think I’m joking here, but I am deadly serious) It’s all huskies & aurora borealis and strange disjointed love! (Well, it’s bloody cold up there, you know.)

WENDY: I’m not trying to cheer you up. But then, you are clearly delusional. It says here, (in my Puffin Children’s Dictionary of Psychoanalysis) that “Delusional disorder is characterized by the presence of either bizarre or non-bizarre delusions which have persisted for at least one month.” Apparently there is no cure, but on the other hand, it makes for some very entertaining blog posts.

Thanks so much for agreeing to be analysed.

Read Nan’s Blog here.
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