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|
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.)