Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On being an author...at last

Eva Dolan

First off I have to say what a pleasure it is to be joining the fine folks at Do Some Damage and thank-you to Steve for inviting me over here to witter away.  Since this is my first post I guess I should say a bit about what I'm up to right now...

It's a pretty exciting time for me writing wise.  My debut novel Long Way Home is due out on January 2nd - a sentence I never get bored typing - the proofs are being finalised as we speak and the serious business of promotion is starting.  Suddenly it's all getting real and I'm beginning to consider what it means to be an author rather than a writer, a distinction I wouldn't have fully appreciated a year ago when the book was still a rough manuscript being fired off to my agent.

Old Swan Hotel Harrogate
The turning point came a couple of weeks ago at the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival in Harrogate, the industry's unofficial UK AGM, when my publishers Harvill Secker suggested a brief, on-camera interview to be used closer to release.  Just a small thing, nothing to worry about.  But I did worry, of course, I'm a writer, an observer, one of those oddballs who eavesdrop in pubs and cafes, trying to figure out people's stories from the way they turn a spoon between their fingers as their companion talks without drawing breath.

But it's part of the business of writing and I knew I'd better get used to it.  So I had a few drinks, trying to achieve a suitably relaxed state without tipping over into the one where I'd totally lose control of my sweary mouth.  (Not one c-bomb dropped.)  And then before I knew it I was being taken up to a little room in The Old Swan Hotel, with a big camera and a single, vulnerable looking chair parked in front of it.  I sat down and one lovely gent powdered my face before another fixed my microphone, while I considered what an idiot I was not to have prepared for this. 

I knew what the questions were going to be, I knew I was supposed to say clever things, but at that point I was still too close to the book to consider it's context or themes or why anyone should want to read it more than the one next to it on the shelf.  I was going to make a complete fool of myself.

The problem was that I never discussed my work while I was an aspiring author, partly because I'm really superstitious but more because I figured most people weren't interested and if they were it would only lead to a lot of difficult questions about why I wasn't published yet.  I didn't have beta readers, didn't join groups, I didn't even produce a synopsis for Long Way Home.  Reducing those three hundred and sixty carefully crafted pages to a couple of neat sound bites was simply not in my repertoire.

A weird thing happened though.  Once the camera started rolling my nerves melted away, my hands stopped trembling and some part of my brain I didn't know existed took over; I heard myself talking about the book clearly and sensibly.  I sounded like a proper author, damn it.

When I went back down to the bar afterwards I knew that the scariest thing I'd have to do to promote Long Way Home was behind me and nothing that the next few months had in store would faze me.  Okay, that might have been the rum talking, just a little bit, but I feel completely different about the whole promotion thing now.  Actually, I think I'm going to enjoy talking about the book. 

In fact, I'm going to say a little bit right here...

Long Way Home grew out of a conversation I overheard in pub, two men discussing the practices of a local gangmaster.  There was no disgust for how he exploited his workers, no sympathy for what brought those people to a point where they were prepared to graft for terrible money in uncertain circumstances.  The violence used to maintain 'order' was treated like a joke and the people on the receiving end regarded as scum.  It was a conversation which stayed with me, festering away in the back of my mind.

I channelled my fury into a short story, but the form didn't feel big enough to explore the issue, and eventually I realised this was a subject I wanted to get on my soapbox about.  So I scrapped the book I was writing and started a new one.

Long Way Home opens with the murder of a migrant worker, burned alive in a suburban garden shed where he's sleeping rough.  The householders come under immediate suspicion but as the investigation proceeds it becomes clear that the man has made plenty of enemies who would like to see him dead, and the hunt for his killer leads into the murky world of gangmasters, slum landlords and right wing extremists.

I wanted to write a compelling crime novel, and only time will tell if I have, but the real driving force behind the book was a desire to explore a world which most people live very close to without actually experiencing.  It's a frequently harsh world, plagued by corruption and exploitation, where human life is cheap and fortunes rise in line with a person's capacity for brutality, and even though some cities, like Peterborough where the book's set, have dedicated Hate Crime units, the racism these communities fall victim to is often ignored.

There's no denying that Long Way Home is a grim book in many ways, but the story is based in truth and I think it does throw some light on a situation which is just beginning to enter the public consciousness, and because of that I'm actually pretty proud of it.

 (Image stolen from Mel Sherratt. Sorry Mel.)


Al Tucher said...

Congratulations on the book, Eva.

Artists have found objects; writers have overheard conversations. They're priceless.

Dana King said...

Congratulations, and welcome to DSD.

Never worry about being able to talk about your book. You know it better than anyone else ever will. Talk about what made it worth spending a year or more of your life to write and you'll be fine.

Scott D. Parker said...

Glad to have you in the fold, Eva, and welcome. Not sure your book has any relation to it, but, upon reading the brief synopsis, I was reminded of a couple of episodes of Prime Suspect, one with the immigrants and the other with the gangs. And I'll join in the congratulations on the debut novel.

Unknown said...

Top post, Eva.

It was a pleasure to meet you at Harrogate, and well done on holding yourself together for that interview. I look forward to reading what sounds like a brilliant novel.



Steve Weddle said...

Great to hear all this. Looking forward to it.
Also looking forward to being able to pre-order the darned thing over here.

And welcome aboard.

PS I wonder how many novels came from an overheard pub conversation.

Jay Stringer said...

Welcome to DSD, looking forward to reading your posts.

And the book, but you already knew that.

eva dolan said...

Thanks for the warm welcome and the kind words.

Al - I always feel kind of guilty for eavesdropping, but if people are going to be so damn fascinating what do they expect? Sure one day I'll get a slap but until then...

Dana - thank-you, am finally getting used to. Soon you won't be able to shut me up about it!

Scott - Prime Suspect is a shameful gap in my crime viewing. Big fan of Helen Mirren though so should catch up on it. Immigration is starting to come through way more - Anya Lipska & Stav Sherez have both done great books on it, and Jay Stringer of course.

Col - thanks matey, was lovely meeting you too! Already looking forward to next year.

Cheers Steve - am definitely going to be upping my pub time in hope of overhearing something useful for the next book.

Jay - ta matey. Hope you like it, when it's finally there. Dying to read your next one.