My dear pal helenajust recently asked me to answer the questions I usually foist on my guests. So here they are:
What inspired you to start writing?
Ooh heck. I’ve always had times I’ve scribbled down stories, most of them pretty naff. (As a teenager I wrote what I guess would be called slashy fanfic these days.) As I’ve matured, so has my ability with a tale; about ten years ago I started to try my hand at age of sail fanfiction proper, which was a great place to cut my teeth. That gave me the confidence to try my hand at creating my own characters and it’s been full steam ahead since then.
What did/does it feel like watching your first book fledge and leave the nest?
A mixture of pride and fear: pride that you’ve produced something you think is wonderful and fear that others won’t share your opinion. I always compare the process of publishing a book to childbirth—lots of pain en route—and there is the same concern that people will say your baby is ugly.
And that’s why I find it hard to answer the question, “What’s your favourite among the books you’ve written?” It’s like picking a favourite child – an impossible task.
Are you character or plot driven? What do you do if one of your characters starts developing at a tangent?
Character, all the time. My idea of a well developed, extensive plot plan would be “Two blokes, Cornwall” or something similar. I just write and see who comes along and where we get. It sometimes feels like watching (or listening to) a series on television or radio, and discovering the story as it goes along.
That means of course, that characters develop at a tangent, I tend to go with them and see what transpires. I only rein them in if they throw the story too far out of kilter. Sometimes they make the story far more interesting than it was going to be!
If you were in a tight corner and had to rely on one of your characters to save you, which would it be and why?
Ruddy Norah – I’m not sure I’d trust any of them! Certainly not Dr. Panesar, who’s a running secondary character in the Cambridge Fellows books. He’d be bound to make things worse by blowing us up or something. Ariadne Peters, from the same books, is a repository of common sense and Jonty Stewart would certainly keep us all amused no matter how deep the clart we found ourselves in. Perhaps I’d have to plump for Jonty’s father, who gives the impression of being capable of dealing with any problem, intellectual or moral. With Campbell, the Newfoundland dog from the Lindenshaw books to provide the muscular back up.
If you had no constraints of time and a guarantee of publication, what book would you write?
Can I borrow other people’s characters too, please? I want to write a story where real and fictional characters living in the same area meet and work together to make the world a better place. Imagine the fun if Wilfred Owen and Brother Cadfael teamed up!
Is there a classic book you started and simply couldn’t finish?
How long have we got? A couple of Jane Austen’s have left me cold (including Sense and Sensibility) although I love Pride and Prejudice. I tried several times to read Shardik with no success, and the same with Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire novels. There are a number of books, such as Becky Sharp, which I’ve only got to the end of because I had to for exams, and wouldn’t have bothered had it been for pleasure alone.
What’s your favourite gay fiction book? And why?
The Charioteer. The writing is wonderful; Mary Renault has an economy of language that every author could learn from – she says more with a simple word like “quite” than most people could in a whole page. I re-read it all the way through at least once a year and dip in and out of it, reading a few pages or scenes, on an almost monthly basis. “Charlie, you’re a sad woman,” you cry, and I might have to agree with you, but it’s like listening to a favourite piece of music. You listen again and again so why not read a particularly pleasing piece of prose as many times as you still find it pleasing?
The main characters are classic, especially the wonderfully drawn Laurie and Ralph, but her minor characters are fascinating, too. You could write another full novel just about Alex and Sandy or Ralph and Bunny. Ms Renault is almost extravagant (like my beloved Patrick O’Brian) in giving us wonderful players on her stage, but using them in bit parts.
I’ve recently been listening to the abridged version, read by Anton Lesser, which has been the Radio 4 book at bedtime. It’s been a bit frustrating at times, its abbreviated nature meaning that some of my favourite scenes were cut, but overall it was a revelation. How could I find so many fresh nuances in a work I thought I knew so well? But that’s like hearing Shakespeare given life by an excellent actor – you re-interpret all sorts of things.
One last thing: I’d like to know what happened next. Happy ever after for Ralph and Laurie or only happy for now? And what becomes of Andrew? I have my own theory as to where the story goes after the last page is turned but I’ll keep my powder dry on it for now or I’ll never get this interview finished.
What’s your next project?
I’m taking part in the Riptide Porthkennack project, http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/universe/porthkennack with a contemporary and a historical. One’s finished and in the editing queue and the other’s almost done. Then I think I need to get another Lindenshaw story on the go!