I was recently contacted by my friend, the writer Felicity Hayes-McCoy, to introduce me to a concept called a ‘Blog Hop’. This particular one is called ‘THE NEXT BIG THING’ in which writers answer ten questions on their work in progress and tag other writers to do the same.
My own “next big thing” is still in its very early stages, far too early to actually want to talk about it. I always tell my writing students, “don’t talk about it, write it,” so I am going to take my own advice. However, I have relatively recently finished a short story collection so I will use that as a basis for this Blog. Here are my responses to the ten questions.
1) What is the title of your next book?
The title for the next one is still undecided but the one most recently finished is called “Personal Islands” and it is a collection of short stories around a common theme.
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’ve always been interested in writing about people who are alone without necessarily being lonely. Many of my plays have been about the one person in step while the other 99 are not. One of my favourite quotes comes from Thoreau: “If a man is out of step with his companions, maybe he is marching to the beat of a different drum.”
3) What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a short story collection with each story set on an island of some kind, perhaps a real one such as Shetland or the Isle of Wight, or maybe an unreal one such as an Aisle in a supermarket or The Isle of Avalon. Each story in some way is about isolation, chosen or unchosen, wanted or not wanted.
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
This is fantasy time really, isn’t it? And an impossible question to answer when dealing with a short story collection. I have always – with only couple of exceptions – been happy with the way my plays have been cast. For “Personal Islands” it is impossible to pick actors for all the characters but that seems rather feeble so I will go for Juliet Stevenson to play the central part in a story called “Because His Mother Can’t” which deals with a woman’s journey to The Falkland Islands to look for the grave of her step-son who was killed there while serving with the British forces who re-took the islands from Argentina in 1982. I was lucky enough to be able to accompany my wife, Dee Palmer, the BBC World Service Producer/Presenter, when she went to the islands in 2002 and I found much of the experience very moving.
5) What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
How different people deal with different concepts of isolation.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am currently discussing this story collection with my agent, Diana Tyler of the MBA Literary Agency. We will try for a print publication but, although the short story market has improved enormously with the advent of digital printing, it is still a difficult market to crack. We have not ruled out a Kindle publication.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
This varied from story to story. Some flowed off the fingers, some were more a struggle as I worked out exactly what I wanted to say and how to say it. One story, “Nothing To Fear”, deals with a woman who discovers she has a growth in her pancreas – specifically an excessive growth of the Islets of Langerhans inside her pancreas – and how she dealt with the choices this forced on her. This story required me to have a lot of conversations with a surgeon about the pancreas and the way such problems are treated. It was hard to find the structure to tell this story and even harder to work out how it was going to end.
8) What other books would you compare yours to?
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
- The Falklands – Argentinian cemetary at Darwin
The visit to the Falklands was one obvious inspiration. Another was the concept that battles never end but people might tire of them and step aside to let others continue – this resulted in the story “A Separate Peace”. A newspaper report on the number of people who die alone and unknown inspired “Farewell My Lonely” and my own mother’s dementia was the starting point for “That’s A Funny Looking Cloud”. When I realised that deep down all these ideas had a common theme I went hunting in my head for other stories to make up the collection.
10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Whoever knows what sparks someone’s interest? The style of the writing? The subject matter? Identification with the characters? As a writer I don’t even try to second guess my audience or readers. I write what I want to write, what I need to write in some cases, and I always try and tell a good story. Storytelling is as old as time and those of us who can spin a yarn, tell a story, entertain the rest of our tribe, have a responsibility to use our talent (if that is what it is) for the benefit of others. As one of my much-missed BBC drama producer colleagues once said: “Imagination is the only exact science.”
So that’s it. If you’ve enjoyed reading about me as a writer, why not browse the Crimson Cats Audio Books web site www.crimsoncats.co.uk and see what I’ve done as a producer. I’m grateful to Felicity for introducing me to this Blog Hop concept. Next week on THE NEXT BIG THING are three writers – very different writers – whose work I enjoy. Two of them, Catherine and Danny, I have known since my BBC days. Christopher I only met recently but, as I hope he would agree, it was instant friendship and respect. Many thanks to them all for accepting my invitation to blog hop.
Catherine Czerkawska is a Scottish based novelist and playwright. She has written many plays for the stage and for BBC Radio 4 and has published numerous novels and short stories. Wormwood – her play about the Chernobyl disaster – was produced at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre to critical acclaim in 1997, while her novel The Curiosity Cabinet, was shortlisted for the Dundee Book Prize in 2005 and subsequently published by Polygon. Her most recent novel, The Physic Garden, has been described as ‘heart-breaking’ and a ‘beautiful, elegant exploration of betrayal’. It is currently available on Amazon’s Kindle Store, with a paperback edition planned for later this year. She blogs at: http://wordarts.blogspot.co.uk/
Danny Greenstone has been part of entertainment history since portraying the king in St. Mary’s Parochial School’s production of ‘Old King Cole.’ Professionally, he has written, produced and directed for radio, television and theatre and his work has been seen and heard worldwide. For their media spotlight he coached Sebastian Coe, David Blunkett MP and Charly Boorman and he has successfully run development workshops in Indonesia, Singapore, the US, Germany, Denmark and, of course, the UK. Danny possesses boundless enthusiasm, limitless optimism, attractive ideas, a sharp intellect, an uncanny wit and a good memory. If he has a fault (which he hasn’t) it’s modesty. He blogs at: http://www.huzzahmedia.co.uk/page30/index.html
Christopher James was born in Scotland in 1975 and educated at Newcastle and UEA, where he graduated with an MA in Creative Writing. He won the 2008 National Poetry Competition for his poem ‘Farewell to the Earth’ as well the Bridport Prize in 2002 and the Ledbury Poetry Prize in both 2003 and 2006. His collection The Invention of Butterfly (Ragged Raven 2006) was listed by The Independent as one of its top ten poetry books. The recipient of an Eric Gregory award from the Society of Authors, Christopher’s poems have appeared in The Rialto, Smiths Knoll, London Magazine, Iota, Magma, The Spectator, and many other magazines. He has read at the Cheltenham, Ledbury Poetry Festival Aldeburgh Festival, hosted poetry workshops and has been commissioned by the Tate. His other books include: Farewell to the Earth (2011) The Manly Art of Knitting (Templar 2011) and England Underwater (Templar 2012). He now lives in Suffolk with his wife and three young children. He blogs at: http://christopherjamespoet.wordpress.com/