Cole is another thoroughbred from the Caroline Natzler writing class stable. We both attended a writing group at The Royal Festival Hall and collaborated on Chasing The Hypotenuse. In a 45 minute chat over chai and a slice of victoria sponge we talked about old and new projects.
As you know, I’ve been working on this novel on and off for the last six years, but there’s been some movement lately. A fellow writer, Alice Hiller, read the manuscript and said, “It’s basically a captivity narrative – have you thought about first person?” My main character, Gen, is institutionalised to ‘cure’ her homosexuality. At first I thought, oh no, do I really want to do this? But I found it reads much better in first person than even a close third.
When you’ve been working on a book for so long, you can edit it to death and lose heart. That’s what happened. I got up to chapter 12 and stopped. Then fate lent a hand. An agent I met at the Festival of Writing in York last November asked for the full manuscript. It couldn’t have come at a worse time: I was swamped with my day job (corporate writing), fitting in 50 hours of work in 35 hours of availability. But give a busy woman something to do and she will get it done. I’ve sent it off and am waiting to hear.
TRUE PATH TO AN AGENT
I recently got an email from Juliet Mushens, an agent I met in November. I sent her the first three chapters and now she's asked for the full manuscript! She’s the agent for The Miniaturist, which has done incredibly well. It's been on Radio 4 as Book of the Week – narrated by Emilia Fox. Voice like honey. It's sold in 20+ countries. So fingers crossed.
So yes, I've started a second novel after swearing I would never do another. Its current title is Presumed Dead. I was bored with editing True Path, losing enthusiasm. And I love the deadline driven nature of Naniwrimo – for one month you just put everything else aside and push for wordcount. It’s how I finished True Path in the first place. So last November I dedicated to the new book and wrote about 30,000 words.
The premise for the story has been kicking around for a while. Years ago I saw a newspaper article about a body found at the bottom of the lake 60 years after the person disappeared. So many questions hit me at once: what secrets would the body reveal? Would the murderer be unmasked? What kind of life had they led in the intervening years? I thought it would be really fascinating to write about.
The Plot & The Structure
I use the basic plot of the newspaper story: the body of a 16 year old girl who died in the 1940s is discovered 70 years after she disappeared. It’s set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I grew up. The setting is very much a character as well: the landscape, its unforgiving winters, the immigrant communities.
I’m writing it in a very anarchic way at the moment, from multiple points of view, across multiple generations. It’s everything I avoided in True Path because they say it’s a classic problem with first time writers: too many characters, too many points of view, first person... But now I figure I’ve earned the right to experiment and have fun.
WORK LIFE BALANCE
Right now I'm struggling – there is no balance. I'm working about 50 hours a week, which means cutting into family time. I don’t have 50 hours a week. I've got the girls from 3.30pm every day and try very hard to stop working and be there with them, rather than shut away in an office. So it's lots of late nights at the moment. I've just given up on March. April we're on holiday and then I can have a more reasonable lifestyle.