Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Annexed big thing

Last week Catherine McNamara invited me to take part in The Next Big Thing. Catherine is a novelist and short story writer whose collection 'Pelt and Other Stories' is coming out with Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2013. Please take some time to peruse Cat's sites.

“The Next Big Thing is a great way to network with fellow writers and to find out a bit more about what they're working on. The idea is fairly simple. You, the writer, answer a standard(ish) set of 10 questions on your blog one week then ask up to five other authors (whose work you like and you think might be The Next Big Thing) to answer the same questions the next week.”

What is the title of your next book?
I’m currently working on a novel, but I’m too superstitious to talk about that before it’s completed, so I’m going to tell you about the collected short fiction I have out on submission: ‘Songs from a Room’.

Where did the idea for the book come from?
I had been putting together a different group of stories, pieces that had been listed in competitions such as the 'Sean O’ Faolain International Short Story Prize', or published individually, with a mind to submitting to the Scott Prize. Those were stories that had been written over a number of years and though some were linked, and all evidenced a continuation of the same themes, I felt I could write something much stronger, more like a novel in scope, but with the variety and intensity that only short stories can offer. I wanted to push the form. Reportage, social media, poetry, folk songs, and hymns evidence some other forms I wanted to play with. So I put all my ideas into a notebook, with mail shots and graphics and clippings and newspaper articles and all manner of things that were pushing me to write about them and had been pushing at me for a long time, and the collection took shape.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
An international ensemble is needed with lots of interesting ladies and gents of all ages. There are some stunts to take into consideration when casting, but I think Phoebe Tonkins would be ace as Psyche, and I’d love Dominic West to play the 'Man Who Talks to Books', and Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie would have to star too. Caroline Gage would play herself. A cameo from Leonard Cohen is definitely in order. Plus a few, as they say in Auckland, ‘unknowens’.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Listen with your eyes.

Will your book be self-published or published by an agency?
Ideally, ‘Songs from a Room’ will be published by the small press of my choice, renowned for producing beautiful and inspiring books, but I’m a creative thinker and anything’s possible. One idea I had was to hire actors to read the stories and sell the collection as an audio work.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Because I planned the whole collection out in advance, the first draft took about four months.
I took a gamble entering untried stories into a major first collection competition. That said, I knew these stories were better than any others I’d written; when push came to shove, I wasn’t prepared to patch-up old work and force links to pad out the few excellent pieces I had, or send sub-standard stories out to represent me. I wanted to create a piece of art. I think I have.

The title story has just been accepted for publication in the New Zealand journal Brief, along with another from the collection, and the second story, ‘The Angel of the Warmth’ made the shortlist of the Bristol Prize, earlier this year, so it looks like the gamble’s paying off in part at least.

What other books would you compare ‘Songs from a Room’ within the genres?
I’ve done my best to defy comparison on the whole. But just prior to writing this collection, I read and was impressed by the work of Te Awhina Arahanga, Nathan Englander, David Down, Eru J. Hart, Paula Morris, Peter Stamm, Phil Kawana, and I am a fan of Annie Proulx, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, Ma Jian, and Nadine Gordimer, and if I could inhabit a space somewhere between them, I’d be very happy indeed.

Who or what inspired you to write the book?
Moose. But mostly the idea that everyone has a soundtrack: the break-up song, the clubbing song, the funeral song, etc. Put together Jason Mraz’s ‘I’m Yours’, Cat Stevens’ ‘First Cut’, and McAlmont andButler’s ‘Yes’, and you have the story arc of a first relationship, but what interested me was what other kinds of music would make those life events just as memorable. 

I’ve always been obsessed by structure, so I borrowed the framework for the collection from Leonard Cohen’s brilliant music album of the same name. The songs in this album also inspired a number of the stories, and Mr Cohen was gracious enough to give me permission to incorporate some of his lyrics in those stories. Each story riffs off its sister, building to what I hope will be a collection as memorable as your favourite album.

What else about the book might pique a reader's interest?
People who love concept albums may also like this. Interest alert all criminology undergrads, I believe I have penned the first story depicting yarn bombing.

"Now it is time to pass the baton and introduce a few writer friends (and great bloggers) who will take part in The Next Big Thing on Wednesday 19th December."

Let me introduce:

Saturday, December 8, 2012