Foyles’ interview

I was interviewed by Foyles on the origins of my debut novel Snake Ropes. The full interview and a short story can be read on the author page on the Foyles website at www.foyles.co.uk along with extracts from the book.

Snake Ropes started as a writing exercise after an evening class, one night over a faded yellow kitchen table. It goes like this – someone asks you questions, and you answer as a character. Close your eyes and imagine someone: what they look like and how they sound. Do you have a problem, what’s your earliest memory, what do you keep in your pockets?

This is how Mary arrived, with her mouth full of secrets. She was carrying keys in her pockets and wouldn’t show me them. Her dialect was strange and her mother was dead. There was something saddening her, but I couldn’t guess what it was, and she wouldn’t speak of it. She wore no watch and liked pink thrift flowers. She lived on an island and had never seen a map. She said that the tall men came every month and took her ‘broideries’ away. She told me everyone said the tall men had ‘took’ her little brother Barney, the person she loved the most, but she knew they hadn’t.

Mary’s voice is hers, the way it’s written is mine. It took time to make the language accessible enough and yet write her as she sounded. The short story I believed I was writing, grew. I had to keep writing till Mary told me what had happened to her brother. After 200,000 words, I found out. And realised that I’d written a very rough first draft of a novel.

That was the easy part. There was much that needed to be edited out and woven in. There was the history and folklore of the island to explore, unruly dark tales to be told, and 100,000 words to axe. The structure of Snake Ropes became a rope – it has many strands and stories woven all the way through. The re-writing process was much like untangling hair, starting with a strand at the beginning, making sure it held firm. Then going back to the beginning and working though the next strand and the next….

Snake Ropes is a book that wanted to be written. It is full of many stories, but the tale which runs though the core of all the strands is Mary’s. She’s given it to me because she has no real voice of her own. Through writing her voice, I’ve found mine.

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