June 1st, 2011
As some of you know, I launched Ink Drop Interviews last Wednesday by conducting a wonderful interview with author John R. Lindermuth. The response to that interview was better than I had anticipated, making me that much more eager for this Wednesday to come along. I appreciate the feedback, comments and truly inspiring mail I have received and without wasting any more time, I’d like to introduce you to… Bobbie Darbyshire.
Bobbie lives in London UK and knew at a very young age that she was born to be a writer. That’s not to say that writing hasn’t taken a backseat to life a time or two. As with many writers, Bobbie has had an array of jobs, such as barmaid, mushroom picker, math coach, film extra and a government minister’s private secretary, in order to pay the bills while she honed her craft. But, the creative forces that live within a writer were always there. Now, Bobbie is a novelist with two commercially published novels, each by respected independent presses. She was also the winner of the 2008 fiction prize at the (UK) National Academy of Writing and the (US) New Delta Review Creative Non-Fiction Prize 2010.
And now, I’d like to share with you what Bobbie had to say…
IDI – Bobbie, first, tell us a little about your novels.
BD – ‘Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones’ is a comedy of errors. Three troubled individuals dash off to the Scottish Highlands to find their destinies mysteriously entwined around a reading group in the Inverness public library. Twists and surprises, very funny, also with some dark, serious threads, it keeps you guessing all the way through.
‘Truth Games’ is completely different. We’re in 1970’s London, the blazing hot drought summers of ’75 & ’76, and a group of friends are getting way out of their depth in infidelity. Thought-provoking, amusing, and with guaranteed naughty bits.
IDI – Thought-provoking, amusing and naughty bits… Each one a descriptor that would catch my interest! What are you working on now? Can we get a peek?
BD – The working title is ‘Oz’. The first draft is nearly complete; now it needs revising and polishing. Meanwhile, here’s a clue. We’re in Battersea, south London, in dreary November 2008, with the world economy in crisis. A conflicted young man is having marital problems. His mother dies suddenly; he moves into her house to escape his pressures and begins to uncover secrets that will launch him on a quest down under…
IDI – Something every writer is asked repeatedly, where do you get your ideas?
BD – The concept for ‘Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones’ came to me during a writing workshop. In 3 hours we were told we would plan a novel using a pack of cards, a kitchen timer and a piece of string. Thirty of us turned up and started brainstorming. Cards drawn from the pack suggested characters and motives, the timer pinged for us to report back our ideas, and the string showed us the shape of the narrative. And it worked!
IDI – Does that mean there are 29 other novels out there with the same story?
BD – Absolutely not. We had wildly different ideas and angles. My eureka moment came too late to mention to anyone. I thought: ‘Wow, the narrator can be the romantic novelist who is running the workshop in the Inverness library, who is showing them how to invent a novel using a pack of cards, a piece of string…
IDI – And the idea for Truth Games?
BD – Well, when I mention that it’s about bad behavior in 70’s London, people often ask, ‘Is it autobiographical?’ and I tell them, ‘Well, let’s just say I did some research!’
IDI – How did you know you were born to be a writer?
BD – I’ve known since about the age of 3, but I was derailed for a while! I wrote stories and plays as a child, then was dismayed when my high school teachers wanted no fiction: just parsed sentences and essays about other people’s books. Beyond school there was my living to earn, so what with one thing and another I didn’t start writing in earnest until I quit full-time work. The day after my last 9 to 5 job, I sat down and began to bash out a novel. When I finished 12 weeks later, I felt exhilarated. I remember sitting on top of a bus that day, flying along through the sunshine and thinking, I’m a novelist, I’ve written a novel! I soon realized that one was utter rubbish, but it taught me a whole lot about writing the next one.
IDI – Many writers write in part to unleash the voices in their heads. I know that for me, there are whole characters running around in there, not just voices. When I’m writing one of them, I feel what they feel, see what they see, think what they think. What are your thoughts?
BD – Writing ‘Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones’ is the nearest I’ve come to being possessed. I loved letting Henry, Peter and Elena tell their surreal tale. I seemed to be able to slip between them, seeing only what they saw, each one’s partial view of events. When I shared early chapters with a few readers, I discovered other people liked them too. Some pulled faces at Peter’s craziness and bad language, but others couldn’t get enough of him and protested the book would be flat without him. I’ve a soft spot for Peter myself – he’s far too silly to shock me, and I guess there must be a Peter inside of me somewhere – angry and explosive – it was fun letting him out! Many identified with Henry and became protective of him, while others were most anxious for Elena.
IDI – So, you let people read your work in progress?
BD – Always. Not seeking praise, though that’s good to hear, but hungry to know where the draft still needs work. Criticism rarely disheartens me; it has me thinking of new angles. For me it’s all about good storytelling, and that requires a reader’s response. Readers are never wrong: I don’t write by committee, but each response is valid and helps me see how I can make the story work better. What had me excited from the first chapters of ‘Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones’ was that people kept nagging me for the next installment, which was a great incentive to provide it.
IDI – Did you share ‘Truth Games’ in draft too?
BD – Absolutely. It went through several versions and there are sixty names on the acknowledgements page. There’s so much challenge and enjoyment in learning this craft. Stephen King likens it to acquiring a whole lot of different tools in a toolbox and practicing how to use and choose among then. I’ve made many friends through writing, and I like nothing better than a good chinwag about books. It’s great to be published, but the pleasure and adventure has been about much more than that.
IDI – Online cafe’s or writer’s groups (aside from social networking). Do you belong to any and if so, do you feel they help or harm?
BD – Definitely a help. I’ve been a member of a serious, face to face writers’ group for 16 years now. At the present count, 3 of the 6 of us have had novels commercially published. Once a fortnight, we divide time into half-hour spots so that up to five can read and hear comments from each listener in turn. We don’t pull our punches; we say what we think, but we frame our feedback constructively, trying to pinpoint where the work doesn’t match the intention. Both of my books owe much to this feedback, and so does the new novel I’m writing.
IDI – Where would you like to see your writing take you? What’s your dream?
BD – Readers often tell me that they can easily imagine my books adapted for the small screen. I would SO love that! I’ve written a pilot for a TV series version of ‘Truth Games’. When I’ve polished ‘Oz’ and the economy has bounced back a bit, I will put it out to agents, hoping for a bite on the line…
IDI – What advice would you give to new/unpublished writers?
BD – The important thing is to tell a good story. You may have a great idea, or even an intricate plot worked out, but that’s not enough. You need to keep readers wanting the next chapter, the next page; to hook and startle them without lapsing into cliché or things they just don’t believe. Writing ‘Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones’ showed me how back-story can be a source of suspense, mystery and surprise, but that’s only one answer. Anyone struggling with plot problems would do well to read books on screenwriting. Their analysis of what makes ‘story’ work was a revelation to me.
Other advice would be: empathise with your villains and don’t make your heroes too goody-goody. Also, never stop reading, good books and bad; notice how they are put together, what makes them work or not work. Enjoy learning the craft, improving and adding to your skills, sharing with fellow writers. Being published is a great goal to have, but the pleasure is the writing itself.
IDI – What was the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?
BD – He was a tutor at a week’s residential writing course in Yorkshire, UK, nearly twenty years ago. He told me, ‘That’s a good character study, but it isn’t yet a story. You need to read some books about plotting.’
IDI – Everyone has their own style/voice, but what author would you say your work most resembles?
BD – People say I’m similar in style and weight to David Nicholls, and that’s a really nice compliment; I enjoy David’s books and have connected with him on Facebook. My ambition? I’d give my right arm to write like Anne Tyler; that’s the writer I’m aiming to bear comparison with, especially with the new novel in progress. Wish me luck!
IDI – Something tells me that you have all you need to accomplish your goals, even without the luck. I’m a firm believer that hard work pays off. Granted, being in the right place at the right time, or having the next person you hand your novel to be ‘the right’ hands accounts for some of it, but in the end, it’s hard work. As you said earlier, tell a good story, first and foremost.
As a writer, what is the one thing you would most like people to know about you?
BD – That I have single-handedly marketed my novels, achieving more than 2000 personal sales in an ongoing tour of branches of Waterstone’s (the main UK bookseller chain). Total sales far exceed that, and both books have been reprinted, ‘Truth Games’ twice. I get lovely emails from readers, who often invite me along to their book groups, and I’ve talked about writing in several literary festivals.
It means more than sales to me, though. Here’s an exchange I had recently.
Writing Group Organizer: The students were really struck by your honesty and the way you approach all aspects of your work, from the discipline of writing every day to ‘accosting’ people in bookshops. In the pub, one of the students said, ‘She’s not afraid of anything, is she?’
My reply: Wow, thanks! For too much of my life I was self-conscious and shy, and as one of your students said, this new career has trained up a different side of me that I didn’t know was there. If only for that reason (though there are countless others) the writer’s journey has been the best one I ever set out on.
IDI – In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception new authors have about the publishing industry?
BD – That books sell themselves. The author has to get out there and bring them to readers’ attention. No one is going to do the legwork, telephoning and emailing for you. Don’t worry, the initial fear passes and accosting strangers becomes not only easy but great fun, a source of real pleasure.
Good luck to you writers, and I hope I can tempt some of you readers out there to give my books a try.
I have to admit, I was enamoured with the title, ‘Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones’, but after conducting the interview and hearing Bobbie’s thoughts and insights, I know that I for one will be reading her in the very near future!
I would like to thank Bobbie for her willingness to participate in my newly launched blog and I hope you will all agree, she gave a tremendous interview.
Next week I will talk with Arthur Levine, but until then, please check out Bobbie’s work:
Beads on a String – http://is.gd/b1Ejf5
Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones – http://is.gd/jT8HzO
Truth Games – http://is.gd/gAg3ZZ
To connect with Bobbie:
Twitter – @bobbiedar
Interviews are conducted by Kathy Reinhart, author of 3 novels, most recently, ‘Lily White Lies’, due out later this month. Follow me on Twitter @kathyreinhart or Facebook www.facebook.com/KathyReinhart.Novelist
If interested in participating in my author promotion blog at Ink Drop Interviews, please contact me at ladybuggerly@hotmail
Feedback, comments and ratings are appreciated!