Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone invited me to take part in the ‘Writing Process Blog Tour’, a journey through writers’ websites via questions about their work. I was particularly pleased that she thought of me, since Rebekah and I share a similar philosophy on literary mentorship and I admire her for making her role as a reader central to her work. You can read her responses here and follow back through the tour.
1. What am I working on?
The Waifs and Strays of Sea View Lodge is a novel about an old lady embittered by spinsterhood, whose life is thrown into disarray when a long-lost friend shows up at her seaside guesthouse.
2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I like to think of The Waifs and Strays of Sea View Lodge as the literary equivalent of Last Tango in Halifax since my novel also offers an elderly woman one last chance at love. Early readers have compared my book to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,and I certainly aspire to that kind of warmth.
But mine differs in terms of theme. The real love story at the heart of my novel is that between the heroine and her autistic twin. Perhaps foolhardy, I was inspired by the ambition of The Sound and the Fury to write partly from the perspective of someone with severe learning disabilities. And a rather different type of novel inspired me too: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. I wanted to do for Britain what she had done for America, surveying the history of care to ask complex questions about what it really takes to love and be loved.
As for Something Rhymed, it combines feminism (which is no longer such a dirty word thanks to the likes of Caroline Criado-Perez and Laura Bates) with a celebration of female friendship – the topic at the centre of both the HBO series, Girls and Emily Gould’s new novel. But in terms of voice, we’re more inspired by Rebecca Solnitt, whose literary non-fiction moves beautifully between memoir, biography, history, and politics.
3. Why do I write what I do?
To the outside world, my sister Lou might well look broken: her cerebral palsy was detected in 1983 and a name put to her autism far later. The doctor who initially diagnosed her told my parents to focus their love on her twin, Sarah, and on their eldest daughter, me; put her in an institution; forget there’d ever been three.
If only that doctor could see us now: Lou leading her way onto the dance floor, throwing back her head in laughter, singing along to the lyrics; Sarah and me following in her wake.
So I wanted to write a novel that asks which of us is really broken: someone like Lou, who elbows her way between couples, getting the men to dance with her; or someone like me, who looks on, half in apology, half in admiration?
Something Rhymed was also inspired by an important relationship of a kind that had too often been misrepresented. Since Emily and I became friends, we’ve shared every one of the uphill struggles and celebratory moments of each other’s creative journeys. So it struck us as strange that we knew almost nothing about the relationships between our literary heroines. We felt convinced that there were hidden stories out there waiting to be unearthed.
4. How does my writing process work?
I tend to write in intense bursts – by hand first and then redrafting as I type. In between these periods, I often feel frustrated that I am less productive. But, deep down, I know that the reading and thinking during these lulls allows the writing itself to happen.
Next week I’m passing the blog tour on to my friend Emily Midorikawa, who is a half-English, half-Japanese writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction. Her work has been published in the likes of Aesthetica, Mslexia, the Daily Telegraph, The Times and the Independent on Sunday. Her first novel A Tiny Speck of Black and then Nothing was a runner-up in the SI Leeds Literary Prize and in the Yeovil Literary Prize.