This is the anxiety dream I had on the morning of launching The Dark Poet.
In Real Life, I want to wake at 6.30am and do some last minute preparation.
In My Dream, I wake late, at 7.30. I am worried about having slept in. I will be late and ill-prepared. Then I realise I slept in my boots. I take them off and find my feet smell. (You shouldn’t sleep in boots) I have to shower but the shower is on the other side of town (?) and it will take time and I will be late and ill-prepared for the book launch. But I have to shower so off I go across town in what turns out to be a see-through dressing gown. I can’t find the showers. I am close to panic. Time is ticking.
Then, In A Lucid Dream, I am so annoyed I look around and say, this is not a real place. Just wake up and see what time it REALLY is. Turns out it is 5.52am and I can sleep a little longer.
Nerves are a real thing, especially for introverts like me! My launch strategy is to have my friend and fellow writer Flo Bridger interview me. Her questions were so good I am going to share them and my answers (annotated) here
Q.What inspired you to write the book?
A. This is a collection of short stories. One of the challenges writing a collection of short stories is the constant need to find inspiration. For instance, one of the stories is inspired by my chicken who insisted on sitting on unfertilized eggs, another is inspired by guilt, and another by a lie someone once told to protect someone they loved.
Q.The structure of linked short stories is a method in fiction we’ve seen quite a lot of in recent years, examples being Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad which both won the Pulitzer Prize, and some of Scottish writer Ali Smith’s work (all women writers, funnily enough). Could you tell us how you hit on writing The Dark Poet in this way? Did you start out with the intention of writing it like that, or did it organically grow that way?
A. I was absolutely inspired by Olive Kitteridge. I was halfway through this book when I realised each chapter was a perfect short story. I soon as I finished it I had to start reading again to figure out how she had done this thing. The stories in The Dark Poet are linked by the character Paul. You get to know him in a way as you do a person in real life. Bit by bit, through other people’s eyes and not in the linear way that you get to know most book characters.
Q. You include among your characters in The Dark Poet Cassie from your first published book, Cassandra. I certainly got a kick out of seeing her again here. Did you find it hard to let go of Cassie as a character after finishing Cassandra and feel compelled to continue her story in writing her into The Dark Poet, although as a minor character?
A. The first drafts of Cassandra had a different ending – she was much older. After working with my ASA mentor Judith Lukin Amundsen, I changed the ending. So, I always knew where Cassandra was going to end up and it was enticing to imagine what would happen if she met Paul.
Q. Paul is the character who, whether as a central character or through just a brief reference, is the link between all the parts of the book. Pete comes across as not a very likeable person, from my take on the book. What is it about Pete that drew you to him as a character and how did you invent him (if that’s not revealing too many trade secrets)?
A. Paul is inspired by those people with charisma who are entirely self-centred. They go through their lives obliviously causing harm but are often deeply broken.
Q. The Fat Man or the Storyteller is one of my favourite parts and characters in the book. I love how he takes snippets of his observations of other people he encounters in his day and melds them into a story that he tells his followers – his disciples, even – the same night. How did you come up with the idea of the Storyteller?
A. The Storyteller is absolutely the hero of the book. He was inspired by a quote by Reynolds Price, which paraphrased says after food, people need stories.
Q. I hope to see the Storyteller in future works – Do you think you’ll write more of him or is this all we are going to get?
A. I don’t know where he came from, how he came by his gift, so there is more to explore and I expect he will turn up again.
Q.Your first book, Cassandra, incorporated a strong element of magical realism or fantasy. Do you see that playing a major role in The Dark Poet?
There are a couple of stories that are magical but these stories are more on in the realist camp.
Q. Do you object to the book being categorised according to some hard and fast rules, or do you keep an open mind about genre?
A. I got some good advice when I started writing – choose a genre and stick to it. I did not know this was good advice and I ignored it. Genres are useful for bookshops to know which shelf to put a book on and for readers who love a particular genre. I read many genres and write in many genres. I am genre fluid!
Q. There are some gritty or some readers might say rather confronting aspects of the book – things like drug use and addiction, mental health issues, welfare dependence, elder abuse, homelessness. You seem to suspend judgement of the characters in the book. Was that your intention – to depict a variety of life situations and expose readers to how other people live without being preachy about people’s circumstances or life choices?
A. I did not set out with the intention of writing about people who are disadvantaged and marginalised. I was surprised when it was pointed out by my publisher. I hope that I have respected people in my writing. I believe I am lucky to have been born with the advantages I have. People don’t always have the same choices.
Q. Is there a key message you aim to convey, or is that something you think each reader needs to decide on reading the book?
A. This is the most difficult question to answer. Perhaps I want people to realise everyone is a little broken.
The Dark Poet is available at your favourite bookstore – click here to choose.