Skip to content

Everyday Magic

img_1467I run workshops, as you’ll know from my blog, and it’s really good practice to take them, whether you run them or not!  Last week I treated myself to a whole day workshop with the fab Andrew Wille for Words Away, who run workshops and salons in South London.
Here’s a picture of the “writer’s shrine” he built for the day.  It made me want to come home and dust mine!
Here’s a link to his run-down of the day.  Do visit – and sign up for his emails, which are chock-full of good advice for writers.  It was a wonderful workshop, as you’ll see from his blog.  I must say, even a week later, I’m still fizzing with ideas.  Here’s to great writing workshops for all!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Advertisements

Writing Retreat at Seasalter

Hello!  If you were on yesterday’s writing retreat with the Kent Festival of Writing, here are the links I mentioned.  If not, feel free to read anyway – and join us on the next one!

PLANNING:  Our day began with a look at tools, as we all quickly identified that one of the things that can hold us back as writers is a lack of organisation, whether in structuring our days or our work.  Finding the right tools is essential for keeping track of our writing – and making the most of our limited time.
INDEX CARDS keep me organised.  I use them while I’m planning and while I’m writing.  I like that you can add cards easily – no software required – and shuffle them to change the order of scenes or elements.  After a first draft, I use them to get to grips with my structure and my story – to track what happens when, what the consequences of events are, and how they affect the characters.  This way of tracking plot and meaning with every scene comes from Lisa Cron’s “Story Genuis”:  if you like the idea of using index cards, give it a read.  And if you prefer your index cards to be digital, there are apps for that.  Try Cardflow – it’s free.
WHITE BOARD/CORK BOARD:  Some people like the freedom of a big board in their writing space – TV thrillers make us all want rooms full of cards and photos and string – but we might not all have the space.  If walls are at a premium, you can work with digital boards.  Stickyboard 2 is a giant white board with an endless supply of sticky notes, while Scapple is a programme for digital mind-mapping.  Apparently, the drawing and linking of words fires new synapses while we’re planning – and as it’s made by the fine people who designed Scrivener (more of that below), it also interfaces with that software.
Alice post-its 1 blogPOST-IT NOTES:  The Queen of Post-it Plotting is Julie Cohen – read about her method on her site.  She likes their portability, their flexibility, and how they stack together when multiple story strands meet in a scene.  (But I wish their glue was a little tougher!)
Picture2-580x773BUTCHER PAPER:  I first heard about planning on long rolls of paper from Shelley Harris from her fab blog post, Plan-O-Matic.  In the workshop, we looked about how the paper can roll down, from Scene 1 to The End, or how it can run sideways, along the narrative arc.  I use long rolls of paper for story planning – but I like the freedom of lines and squiggles, all drawn with my beloved Sharpies.  Wondering how to get to grips with a really complicated plot or series of strands?  Get drawing.  There is, of course, an app for this too, and it’s called Daedalus.  But a little Googling shows that this software no longer works with Dropbox, so if backing up is an issue for you – and it always should be – they suggest using Ulysses as an alternative.  Here’s what David Hewson has to say about it:
EXCEL:  It may be the dullest piece of software on our computers, but it can really help you keep track of vital information.  I use it to log dates:  characters birthdates, the beginnings and endings of wars, vital dates for inventions or key events, and specific bits of research.  Some use it to keep track of characteristics:  eye colour, hair colour, etc., so that characters aren’t repetitious.
SCRIVENER:  If you like the sound of one piece of software that can integrate all of the above, try Scrivener.  I wouldn’t write without it.  It’s a linear planning place, like a roll of butcher paper, that transforms into a cork board with the push of a button, and it provides flexibility with moving, finding, and sorting text that MS Word can only dream of.  And now that it interfaces with mobile defices, it is the perfect tool.

At yesterday’s writing workshop, we also talked about our “issues” as writers:  what’s holding us back, what’s making it hard?  I really enjoyed the chance to think about how to answer each concern – here’s what we all came up with:
MENTAL BLOCK:  What happens when we just can’t write something, when the words or the story has us stopped in our tracks?  Often, blocks are a sign that the road has run out – there’s something crucial we don’t know that keeps us from moving forward.  Do some planning and find out what it is that you don’t know before you try to write.  Find out the “what” of your story before you try to tell it.
HOW TO BEGIN:  Oh, the terror of the blank page!  Where to begin?  We talked about the value of prompts to get us going.  We did some free writing with a series of words, called out at random, and we responded to a series of images, either looking at them with our senses or making a story from what we saw:  who/what/where/when/how.  If you have trouble getting started, fill your toolbox with words, pictures, objects, and books that provide inspiration.  This is also a method for KEEPING IT FUN.
HOW TO PLOT:  Find our how you think and how you work.  Try out all the tools above – and make sure you’re clear about structure and plotting.  We talked about John Yorke’s Into the Woods as a great book for thinking about structure and storytelling.  Here’s him giving a talk about his book – he also regularly offers workshops.
HOW TO MANAGE TIME:  This is a big one!  We talked about setting limits, so that we use what time we have effectively, rather than frittering it away.  In bursts of writing, 30 minutes at a time, everyone seemed pleased and surprised with what they were able to achieve.  If you don’t have someone like me bellowing the time at you, you could try an egg timer or use the Pomodoro Technique.  And, when time is limited, working with a system like Index Cards will help you to focus on small moments or elements to work with, instead of being overwhelmed with how much there is to do every time you sit down.  Lastly, know when it is that you write the best – and defend those hours.  There is little point in setting time aside to write – when that time is not your best.
HOW TO FIND A COMMUNITY:  Writing is a lonely business and like-minded souls can cheer when the work gets hard.  Similarly, there’s no one like another writer to help you celebrate every time you reach a milestone:  finishing a draft, finishing an edit, getting an email from an agent.  One way to find a community of writers is to write with them – keep going to writing workshops to find your tribe.  Every year, I go on retreat with two writers I met at a workshop years and years ago – I trust them with my tender, early writing as well as my ups and my downs.  When it’s hard to find the time to retreat, you can find a community on Twitter, by following other writers and with #amwriting.  And why not try NaNoWriMo?  The National Novel Writing Month starts 1 November and will put you in touch with cheerleaders, prompt-makers, sprint-starters and tens of thousands of writers, all over the world.
HOW TO FINISH:  In our retreat, I asked you to jump straight into the hard part – the crisis, the climax, the thing you were afraid to write.  Many of you had real breakthroughs, jumping in and swimming hard.  However you begin, keep going!
And that is good advice for all of us!

Essential Listening for Writers

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 11.55.38‘The day is for the living, and the night is for the dead.’

So begins the first of this year’s Reith Lectures with Dame Hilary Mantel on BBC Radio 4. You will know Mantel from her astonishing Tudor series (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies) and any number of her other wonderful books.  In her lecture, she defends the role of the historical novelist and talks about her unique approach to writing from and about history.  Here’s a link to the BBC Radio 4 Player, as well as a transcript of the lecture, if you’re unable to listen.  I’m not a historical novelist, but I took so much away from this talk and am looking forward to the next one, next week:
UPDATE:  Here is a link to her second talk.

Keep Going…

This past weekend I was very pleased to be in conversation with Michele Roberts at WhitLit, Whitstable’s literary festival.  In a wind-blown marquee on Castle grounds, Michele shared her work and her writing process with good humour and a real generosity of spirit.  The interview wasn’t recorded, but here are a few things I’ve taken away with me:
IMG_2027LIVE WELL:  At 68, Michele Roberts is still doing what she loves:  writing, swimming, exploring London, drinking wine and going to parties.  Recently, she acquired a new agent, has a memoir for sale and has just started writing what will be her 14th novel.  I was impressed with her energy and vibrancy.  At any age, writers may worry they are falling behind.  (Am I on track?  Will there be time to tell all the stories I have in my head?)  Michele is only one example of a writer’s longevity.  (Think of Diana Athill, 99 and still publishing!)  Michele’s days are rich and varied; so is her work.  Writers may be as old as their backs, but we can remain as young as our ideas and our hope will let us.

WORK HARD:  Michele was very honest about her setbacks.  We might think any writer who has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (Daughters of the House) has “made it” – whatever “it” is.  When her newest novel, The Walworth Beauty, was initially rejected by her publishers, she didn’t let herself despair for long.  She said it took more than two years of rewriting, cutting hard and twining in new story lines, to get a book that both she and her editor were happy with.  That process, she said, forms her newest memoir, on how to write yourself out of “failure” and what you discover as you do.  Established writers don’t often speak publicly of the hard times, but Michele was very generous to remind us that every book can be a struggle, when you are trying to push both yourself and the form, but any writer can turn a bIMG_9152ook around, if she can find the strength and self-belief.  The process turned into two books and a new agent for her – which isn’t bad going at all for a bout of “failure”!
KEEP GOING:  When I asked her for one last bit of advice for us, she simply said to keep going, even when it feels like there is not enough support or encouragement, in the long slog of rewriting and the fear the book will never come together, or in the wake of an editor’s “no”.  At any age, we can down tools and decide the work is too hard – or we can pick ourselves up, strengthen our resolve, and just keep going.  The writers I most admire are all in it for the long haul.  How about you?

Beginnings

It’s a new month and a new season.  At last, it feels like spring.  There are chairs in the sun and grape hyacinths, as well as a new chewy pup called Louie here.  Maybe I’m not ready for beginning anything in my work – I am editing – but mornings like these make me dream of possibilities, of what could lie ahead.  If you are of a similar mind, here’s a pretty nifty list for beginning any creative endeavour from the ever-essential Brain Pickings:

diebenkorn_painting2.jpg

Here’s to a little chaos and careful perversion.

Kent Festival of Writing

Booking is open for the next Kent Festival of Writing.  Stella Duffy is the keynote speaker, with workshops from writers including Emma Darwin, Julie Cohen, Andy Miller – and me!  Why not join us for a great day of writing?
screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-15-31-30

On Reading Sylvia Plath

Today, Brain Pickings reminded me it was the death-a-versary of one of my favourite writers.  I’ve been thinking about Sylvia Plath a lot.  In a workshop last week, I played a recording of her reading “Daddy”.  It landed in the room like something foul, something rotten.  Faces were made, awkward shiftings in fold-down chairs in the lecture hall.  Not a one of the students liked it and I wondered why.  Perhaps there is something about her voice, arch and brittle, distinctly New England, that put them off?  Maybe they’d already had too much of her at A-level or maybe, I thought with horror, they couldn’t relate her anymore, that time had eroded her power or interest, that she was dated, passe’, irrelevant.  Could it be so – for them?
Sylvia Plath died before I was born and I cannot get enough of her.  We all have triggers, things that will make us pick up a book faster than seems humanly possible.  I tell myself I know everything there is to know about Sylvia Plath –  poetess and cuckold, doomed wife and mother, misunderstood teen-woman with her oven and her milk and cookies and her tragic rolls of tape – but she is my trigger.  Any reference to her on a jacket, in a blurb, and the book is at the till with my debit card out faster than you can say Lady Lazarus – but why?  Why does she have such a hold on me, still?
5971_groundbreaking_plath Ariel set me on the road to feminism.  A budding playwright, I was a Ted-hater way back, in emotional solidarity with those who repeatedly scratched the Hughes from her tombstone.  I have long since repented of this vandalism; I do adore Ted Hughes, though not nearly with the passion I reserve for Sylvia.  On a recent residency at Yaddo, whose bedroom did I need to see first?  Whose books did I search for at the library?  Reader, it was I.  At Yaddo, Plath wrote poems for The Colossos, for Ariel was still many dark winters ahead of her, and spent eleven weeks working alongside Hughes in what seems to be a happy time for both of them; she writes often of their stay in Letters Home, the collection of her correspondence from 1950 – 1963.  The knowledge that she had stood in the library, running her fingers along the spines, was thrilling.  Reading my work aloud in the room where I knew she had nearly undid me.
51piextgssl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Many come to Sylvia through The Bell Jar, which seems to have become a YA book since I was a young adult.  Were I one now, I might have found my way to Plath through Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar, where traumatised teens in a New England boarding school find peace and connection though Special Topics in English and a journal they must fill.  Of course, the journal affords them magical adventures of memory, time travel, and redemption, and I loved it.  There isn’t a huge amount of Plath in this Belzhar, but I think she’s there in that teenage passion, the wounds that cut and refuse to heal, memories that feel as if the world has ended, before we outgrow such wonderfully painful things.
Recently, I found a young Sylvia in Pain, Parties, WorkSylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953.  Elizabeth Winder painstakingly reconstructs four weeks in Plath’s life as a guest editor for the Mademoiselle magazine’s annual college issue, inspecting and illuminating events from her point of view, through her journals and letters, as well as interviewing fellow guest editors, some of whom would end up, often only slightly rewritten, in The Bell Jar.  There are wonderful photographs, sidebars on period culture and fashion, and kernels of the work to come, as well as a thorough examination of what seems to have been expected of women at the time and how Plath was already balking.
sylvia-plath-en-yorkshireOf course, there are a kabillion biographies of Sylvia Plath, and they’re all good, in their various ways, combing over the wealth of materials and journals and diaries that she produced.  Leaving those to one side, I admire works that are inspired by her, that strive to feel like her.  Kate Moses’ Wintering is a “novel of Sylvia Plath”, set during the last few  months of her life.  Chapters are arranged in the order of the Ariel poems as Plath intended, not in the order of the collection as Hughes saw fit to publish after her death.  You probably do have to be a hardcore Plath-fan to love Wintering, but there is much to admire.  It isn’t easy.  The terrain and the language are rich, dense, and evocative.  Here and there, Moses does slip under the poet’s skin, right where we want to be.
Often, Sylvia is only a ghost and no more so than in Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters, published just months prior to his death.  A collection of poems that he seems to have written over his long life, they show how he was haunted by her actions and his own.  They show him trying to pin her down, to understand what happened and how he was, and was not, responsible.  They are love letters and question marks, elegies to who she was and who he was.  In last week’s workshop, I also shared a few poem by Ted Hughes – Pike and The Thought Fox – and told them the story of their marriage and its demise, and I thought again, as the students finally sat up with interest, how dogged the two were, and always will be, by the drama of their lives.
41qhedtwial-_sx322_bo1204203200_A recent addition to the Hughes/Plath canon is the novella/essay/fable/miracle by editor and writer Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, wherein a black crow comes to rescue a man unhinged by the death of his wife and his two motherless boys.  Crow, Hughes’ talisman, is billed as “antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter”.  He arrives at the door like a dark-winged Mary Poppins and says he will stay until they don’t need him anymore.  Throughout the book, Crow teases, soothes, and torments them, inserts himself into poetry and history, and helps them remember how it feels to live.  Reading it, having recently lost my own mother, I sobbed like a kitten.  I can hardly bear to open the book now, but it went straight onto the shelf of favourite books in the Blue House and sits there now beside Mary Oliver and Louise Erdrich and my battered copy of Ariel, all flanking a faded, curling picture of me as a child, head bent, examining my thumb with pain and wonder – a first splinter or graze, I think, the moment where I seem to understanding something about the world and deciding whether or not I will cry.  There is something about pain and wonder in all of these books.  Is it any wonder I keep going back to them, sharing them with students, and holding them so close?

 

February.

Happy February.  For the whole of January I barely wrote.  No blog posts, no rewriting.  Not a single morning page. This, in particular, felt odd for me. If you follow this blog, you’ll know I am a great fan of morning pages, Dorothea Brande’s suggestion that writers seek to work in a way that is uncensored, barely conscious – to begin the writing before the critic in our brain is awake. It’s why I am a morning writer and why I reach for 750words.com of a morning, before almost anything (this does not include tea, I hasten to add).  But with the turning of a new year, I’d lost my mojo. I couldn’t find it anywhere.  I felt my words had all dried up. I felt stuck in the past of what had been, frankly, a year of misery, and anxious to turn the calendar page and start again. But how?
moby-dick-first-edition-cover-xlargeMy old ways weren’t working.  There was no comfort to be found in writing – or reading. I didn’t know how to find the resilence to begin again – again – nor any idea of how to quit. Salvation came in an email from The Pigeonhole. Could I read Moby-Dick for the month of January, one Stave at a time? (Why this email? Why then? Why anything that calls to a ragged heart and bids it answer?) I had never been particularly interested in the idea of reading Moby-Dick. I’m more a Hawthorne girl: among the Concord clan, I thought Melville had little enough to say to me, a pagan vegetarian from the West. What could he teach me of life when he only solely interested in men, harpoons, and sperm? (Spoiler: there’s rather a lot of sperm in Moby-Dick:  sperm oil, spermaceti, a good dollop of testosterone, and buckets of blood.)  But I was desperate.  I thought I’d dip my toe in the water and see how it felt.
Day 1, the Stave was rather dull. A preface, but easily enough digested with a bit of a day-after-night-champagne head. Day 2, with the introduction of “Call Me Ishmael” and his shameless love for the dashing cannibal, Queequeg, I was well and truly hooked.
Day by day, I succumbed to the pleasure of Melville’s language – a true delight. I could feel myself filling up with vocabulary – arcane, Nantucketian, whale-centric.  Somehow, I thrilled to their chases and dazzling escapes – because, of course, it is wonderful writing.  Playful, inventive, surprising – but also filled with great affection.  Having fallen head-over-heels for Queequeg, my heart made room for Daggoo and Tashtego, the laugh-out-loud Stubb and Flask, the noble Starbuck. I found myself caring every bit as much for troubled Ahab as I did his great white whale. It is a rare thing (for me, now) to want a book to never end.  (As a child, I wanted every book to be endless, and only recently have I felt this when reading The Crimson Petal and the White or Wolf Hall.) Nearing the end of Moby-Dick, I kept hoping Melville might continue to add chapters from the grave, so that his journey could go on and on. I would have kept on reading.
Laura_Schwamman_MobyDickIt didn’t, of course. It ended last night in its own watery grave, as did the month of January, a horrible month for so much of the world. One twelfth of a new year, done and drowned. But somehow, in the last week of January, I found myself able to return to a project that broke my heart. I know it will continue to break my heart a few more times before it’s done with me, but somehow, with the passing of time and the lifeblood of a leviathan, I feel able to get back on my boat, board my craft and try to sail it. (Too many metaphors? Too many parentheses? Blame Melville. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he pops up again for me, down the road, in another project that lies ahead, if I can get on the other side of the books I must write first. There is a quite a queue building.)  “For the third time my soul’s ship starts upon this voyage, Starbuck.” If Captain Ahab can give his whale three chases, I reckon I have another draft in me.
mobyfinalblueAfter all, this isn’t a battle of life and death. I have no boatload of whalers to defend. I have only this great white whale of a story, trying to run away from me, and the harpoon of my desire to catch it. If it doesn’t end well for Ahab – or the whale – I won’t dwell on that. In my mind, there is another life for the crew of the Pequod, Melville’s unwritten sequel. Of course, they escape defeat. Of course, they surface, once Ishmael has sailed away in his loneliness. Of course, Queequeg swims to a new island, bearing Stubb upon his back. Of course, Daggoo and Tashtego build the dug-out canoe that will take them all back to New England, where Ishmael awaits with a bowl of chowder. And Ahab? Of course, he will spend eternity circling his prize, which is as it should be, after all.

Essie Fox & The Last Days of Leda Grey

leda-greyI don’t often do author interviews on my blog, but here is a wonderful exception!  One of the best parts of being a writer is the opportunity to make friends with other writers whose work you love.  In honour of her upcoming appearance at Canterbury Christ Church, as part of the Writing Comes Alive series – please welcome, Essie Fox.
Essie Fox is the author of three gothic Victorian novels – The Somnambulist, Elijah’s Mermaid, and The Goddess and the Thief – rich, sensual, and dark tales of spiritualism, obsession, and madness.  With her fourth novel, The Last Days of Leda Grey, Essie Fox turns to the haunting world of silent cinema, a bewitching novel about an enigmatic film actress and the volatile love affair that left her a recluse for over half a century, in a story that spans the birth of British film to the long hot summer of 1976.  The Times describes the novel as  “luminous … with a sensuousness to the prose … Leda Grey’s world is utterly beguiling,” and recently selected The Last Days of Leda Grey as the newspaper’s October Book of the Month.
Want to know more?  Here’s a fantastically gothic book trailer for The Last Days of Leda Grey:  

Hi Essie!  I’m always intrigued to learn how a book begins.  What was the very first spark for you?   There were two separate sparks for this novel. The first was when I viewed a film that had been restored and digitized by the National Film Archives – Panoramic View of Morecambe Seafront: 1901. This film of everyday people taking their holiday promenade has such an astonishing clarity, and I felt myself drawn back in time – straight into that Edwardian Seaside town.  Please do view the film if you have a chance. If you do then I think you will understand how it was that I came to be entranced, even if I set my story in Brighton rather than Morecambe. It’s also quite a sobering thought that the joyful little boys we see running along as the camera moves, waving their hats and handerkerchiefs, would have been of an age to then grow up to fight in the trenches of WW1.
screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-13-22-03The second spark, really more of a jolt of electricity, was a poster I saw in a window front in a junk shop in the Brighton Lanes. This image of Theda Bara – a goddess and vamp of the silent screen – went on to inspire the seductive dark looks of my novel’s main character, Leda Grey: a young girl who grows up while dreaming of becoming a star of the silent screen.

The Last Days of Leda Grey seems a real love letter to cinema, though one tinged with grief, loss, tragedy.  What was it about cinema and its history that you hoped to capture? What did you know before you began – and what did you learn that pulled you in new directions?  I’ve always enjoyed a good old-fashioned film noir – especially the dramatic weepies in which Bette Davies starred which I often to used to watch with my mum, cuddled up on the sofa on wet weekends – and which, I’m very happy to say, I managed to reference in my book … just as I did some other films that have influenced me through the years.
5bf925b25a72e706c3f38deff64c8b07But, when writing my Victorian novels I also became very interested in the development of photography, and how that then led to moving film – the medium which has since gone on to have an enormous influence on so many aspects of our modern world. And yet, we know so little about the pioneers of early British film – and as Ed, who is a journalist who becomes obsessed with Leda Grey, says when he first hears of them: ‘Why don’t we know of this … I’d always assumed the silent films first started in America.’  Of course, Ed is speaking for me here. I’d imagined the Hollywood silents were all made in the 1920s, whereas the earliest moving films were Victorian and Edwardian – and they were made in England, in Europe, and other countries too – as well as in America.
On the whole these films were very short, lasting just a few minutes or more, which was due to the technical restraints of loading and editing the film. As well as dramatic features, there were lots of documentaries – the films called ‘actuals’ at the time, very much like Morecambe Seafront. The people filmed in these ‘actuals’ would then be given the chance to go and view themselves in theatres, or church halls, or even high street shops – anywhere that itinerant film makers could hire for setting up their screens, and then to charge admission fees when the general public flocked inside to view themselves with wonder – to see themselves flickering like ghosts – just as we can see them now. But now, those people all are dead.  I find that incredibly poignant.
georgemelies10-bigA great many early film makers were involved in the photographic trade, or had had theatrical careers. Magicians like George Melies grasped this exciting new medium to expand the tricks performed on stage. And what wonders were achieved on film – with double exposures or split screens allowing the most surprising effects. I found it quite fascinating myself, to exploit so many of these themes when imagining all the old noir ‘films’ that I write about in Leda Grey – films with which have the illusions of ghosts, or men who’ve had their heads chopped off which they then juggle round like balls. And, whether directors made comedies, or stories with eerier atmospheres, the early effects that they devised are often still employed in today. Cruder, yes. Of course they are. The technology has come so far. But, still, remarkable to see.

The Last Days of Leda Grey is particularly interested in time – years and eras and periods that endlessly telescope.  Chapter One begins with a young journalist hack becoming intrigued by the first glimpse of a silent film siren whose brother says she is “a fly in amber. In stasis. In inertia.”  While the book itself is fluid, with characters and settings that seem to exist in several times at once.   As alluded to in the answer above, I find it fascinating to see people who’ve been dead for years coming back to life through celluloid – and appearing so young and full of life in moving images on screens. It is magical. It is also sad to see those flickering shadowy lives and to know they are made of only light.  But, there’s something else that I explore, and that is iconic sexual appeal and how it can transcend the years; even if in real life it is transient. That’s the true glamour of film for me. The element of eternity; for as long as that film can be preserved – which is also a problem with old stock as the celluloid is so fragile, degrading and melting, and also – because of its flammability – a truly dangerous fire hazard.

Leda’s memories of her film career are filled with tricks and mysteries.  This has struck me in all your books, an interest in the mysterious, from the lure of Victorian spiritualism and the occult to the use of illusions, how easily believers can be duped, particularly in performance, whether onstage or in photography and film.  When Ed Peters announces, “I don’t believe that psychic stuff,” it made me wonder.  Where are you on the spectrum of believers and skeptics?  If you’d asked me twenty years ago, I’d probably say I believed in ghosts. I’ve certainly had some experiences that it’s very hard to rationalize. But, looking back, I wonder – was my mind seeing things in peculiar ways because of the grieving process, because I couldn’t bear to let my loved ones go away so soon?  This is something I was keen to explore in the character of Ed, who’s still grieving for someone dear to him when he first comes to meet with Leda Grey – perhaps too keen to transfer his need for love and affection onto a woman old enough to be his grandmother, and who – much to his confusion and shame – he is also sexually drawn towards when he sees her embodied in silent films.

As I grow older myself – as I lose those who are dear to me, I have been thinking more and more about how short our lives can be, aging and degrading just like that fragile celluloid. And how easily we forget the past; all those generations who came before whose knowledge and dreams and experiences can still enrich our lives today. I try to make some sense of this.  But it isn’t just general history, or the memories of friends and family that influenced my writing – it’s also the visual inspirations that made such an impact on my youth – with films like The Haunting, or Dead of Night which I saw when I was much too young; the terror of which has remained engrained and still chills me to this very day. There is also The Singing Ringing Tree, or The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe – East European and French Children’s TV Shows screened here in the 1960’s. They are both eccentric and gothic in tone, with a sense of darker other worlds. I was really quite obsessed with them, with their magic and their mystery. I’m sure they helped to ‘wire’ me, and to make the writer I am today.

img_0499What’s next for Essie Fox?  This is my fourth novel, with the first being published in 2011. To be honest, I think I need a break – a chance to get out in the world a bit more, to see the friends and family I’ve neglected over the past five years. My house also needs some attention if I want to stop it crumbling and ending up in the same state as White Cliff House in Leda Grey.  But having said that I already have at least three new ideas in mind. The question is can I resist the siren songs that are calling me?
One is a YA adventure with a contemporary character who finds himself flung backwards in time when he enters a sort of vortex.  The second is also contemporary – but will have another historical thread, with links to the local folklore from Herefordshire where I once lived.  The third is a political thriller, filled with sex and scandal. But I might need to consult a lawyer or two before I make a start on that!

The Last Days of Leda Grey was published by Orion Books on 3 November 2016 in the UK.  Essie Fox will be at the Sidney Cooper Gallery on Friday 8 December for Writing Comes Alive, for Canterbury Christ Church. Come on out and say hello!  For more information on Essie Fox, her first three Victorian thrillers, or to dive into the first chapter of The Last Days of Leda Grey, please visit her website:     

 

The Literary Sofa

sofa-argos-expand-feshwari-sofaYesterday, I was the special guest of The Literary Sofa host, Isabel Costello.  Somehow, my name got picked out of a hat and I won lunch!  And my, but it was wonderful. (I had the smoked swordfish carpaccio and a Tuscan bean & cavolo nero ribllita, since you ask, with tiramisu for pud.)  These, plus a very welcome glass of bubbles, were just the thing for a rainy day in London, though the highlight was, of course, a great few hours of book talk, where Isabel tried to add to my TBR stack and, admittedly, combat my reading funk.
The Literary Sofa is my favourite book blog.  Isabel is a perceptive and generous reader with her eye peeled to find the best new books – particularly those that arrive with less fanfare than others, and – much welcome – books in translation.  Her quarterly Sofa Spotlights are the place to go if you’re looking for book ideas.  Winter’s includes a new gothic tale by Essie Fox, debut novels by Fiona Melrose and Saleem Haddad, and books from Holland, Portugal and Korea.
41m5dwp-fl-_ux250_Isabel Costello is, of course, an author in her own right as well.  Her debut, Paris Mon Amour, has received a clutch of fantastic reviews, such as this one from Essie Fox’s blog.  Paris Mon Amour is digital-only from Canelo.  Click here to have a look and a download.  I, for one, can’t wait to read it.  Soon as my reading funk passes, I’ll be there like a shot!   (Here’s Isabel on a very smart sofa.  Sorry not to have a picture of the two of us to hand – too busy stuffing aforementioned carpaccio into gob, apparently…)
Thank you very much, Isabel – for lunch, great book chat & the marvellous Literary Sofa.  Cheers!

%d bloggers like this: