Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing, for those who don't yet know, is a way to network with fellow writers and to find out a bit more about what they're working on. The idea is fairly simple. The writer answers a set of questions on his or her blog one week, and then invites five other authors to answer the same questions the following week. They in turn invite five more.

I was invited by Angela Topping  

What is the title of your new book?


How did you choose the title?

It’s rare that a book title comes to me easily, but this one was inevitable given the content of the novel.

Location: several key scenes take place at the Serpentine, the lake in Hyde Park, as well as at the Serpentine Gallery.

Furniture: antiques dealer John Stevenson loves the sinuous shapes of Hepplewhite period serpentine furniture.

Character and theme: the idea of the serpent, the wily snake that represents temptation.  

Where did the idea for the book come from?

I’m an artist as well as writer, and this book gave me the chance to explore both my passion for contemporary art practice and my love of story-telling. I always visit as many galleries as I can when I’m in London, so had the raw visual material at my disposal. All I had to do was put my enthusiasm into a fictional character’s voice. In Victoria, I invented a character who is a far better artist than me, so I could use artworks I’d already made and let her turn them into masterpieces. She couldn’t have it all her own way, however. I threw a cartload of catastrophes in her path, at least partly out of jealousy. How dare she be such a good artist! Once I’d invented Victoria, and she started making me angry, the book took off.

What genre does your book fall under?

I would call it literary fiction, though one reviewer described it as ‘romance with a brain’.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I love this sort of question. Unfortunately the perfect actors for the roles are either too old or dead. However, if I could resurrect and/or rejuvenate them, my perfect casting for the four central characters would be Victoria: Helena Bonham Carter (she needs to be dark and sassy and able to produce flashes of temper); Emma: Kate Winslett (think Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility and you get the idea. Utterly beautiful and prone to falling wildly in love with the wrong person); John: Ian McKellen (he’s got the right looks, and the role needs a hint of X-Men’s Magneto); Simon: I considered Rupert Penry Jones as the obvious choice, but he’s simply not gorgeous enough (sorry Rupert) so in the end it could only be Leslie Howard (think Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind with a bit of Percy Blakeney thrown in).

 Who has published your book?

Circaidy Gregory Press, a small independent publishing house based in Hastings, England. They also published my earlier novel Small Poisons and my poetry collection wormwood, earth and honey, and will be bringing out the as yet unnamed prequel to Serpentine next year.

What other books would you compare ‘Serpentine’ to, within the genre?

That’s impossible to answer, as it depends entirely on the reader’s response. All I can say is the writing has been influenced by everything from Jane Austen’s Persuasion to Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet; and from Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley to Stephen Donaldson’s Gap series – but it’s unlike any of them.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My first novel (now out of print) included two characters – Emma and John – who were in the throes of a tempestuous relationship, and I always wondered how that would work out after the end of the book. The idea stayed at the back of my mind for a long time, awaiting a catalyst. That finally arrived with the character of Victoria. Once I’d invented her, I realised I could make her an old friend of Emma’s from university days, and would therefore be able to re-introduce Emma and John and at last find out what became of them.

Having written Serpentine, I looked back at the old novel and realised the re-invented Emma and John were far more interesting than they’d been in the original novel, so I’m now engaged in a complete re-write of the first novel to give it the depth it needs. This will in effect be Serpentine’s prequel.

What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?

The art aspect of the novel has proved fascinating to both art practitioners and those who go to a contemporary art exhibition and can’t help thinking ‘my five year old could do that’. What IS contemporary art all about? This novel aims to show why some people are profoundly moved by the latest installation at Tate Modern, or the latest exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery as much as they are by the exquisite paintings by Watteau at the Wallace Collection (the novel is dedicated to Watteau).

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

I’m going to be lazy here and let Friedrich Nietzsche speak for me. The quote I use at the start of the book says it all: Art is the proper task of life.

The following writers are continuing the tour. Do visit their blogs in due course to see their responses to the questions:


Monday, 3 December 2012

The Unexpected Interview

Nobody told me they were going to interview me! There I was, minding my own business, sitting in the Poetry Cafe sipping tea prior to my book launch, when suddenly Alex Metslov of Gruntlers Theatre appeared and filmed an impromptu interview with me. I didn't even have time to brush my hair.

Here's the (very short) interview:

Monday, 12 November 2012

An Invitation to a Launch Party

I’m going to be launching my novel ‘Serpentine’ later this month in what looks certain to be a true party atmosphere. Why a party? Because the event is being hosted by Gruntlers Theatre and they’re going to be three years old and are, I’m sure, delighted to have an excuse for wine, cake, poetry and music. They’ve even invited people to wear outrageous costumes if they so desire. I have to admit, I’m not really an outrageous costume person, so along with my publisher Kay Green of Circaidy Gregory Press, I intend to turn up in my customary jeans – but don’t let that stop you if you want to dress up.

So, what’s going to happen? I’m not exactly sure, but having participated in Gruntlers events in the past, I know it’ll be lively and enjoyable and all will be made welcome. At the very least, Kay will say some nice words about me and I’ll read some of the book as well as signing copies. The rest is down to the Gruntlers – and if you’re wondering about the name ‘Gruntlers’, just think ‘disgruntled’ and then think the opposite.

The details:
The event kicks off at 7pm on Monday, 26th November, at the Poetry Cafe in Betterton Street, Covent Garden. You’ll find it listed on the Poetry Society’s events page here.

Tickets will be available on the door, but if you bring a really interesting cake to share, you’ll quite likely get in for nothing.

If you want to know more about ‘Serpentine’ the novel, check it out on my website here and the publisher’s website here

I look forward to seeing you there!

Friday, 15 June 2012

New publisher for SERPENTINE

My novel SERPENTINE is about to transfer to a new publisher. Circaidy Gregory Press are taking over the title and will produce it in all ebook formats shortly, with a paperback version to follow. Not only that, there will be a prequel in the new year. I love two book contracts!

I've spent the morning designing the new cover art, which will depict the Serpentine in Hyde Park, a key location for several scenes in the novel. I need to start thinking about the prequel's cover art too, and try to paint it in more or less the same style. I've a feeling it's going to feature the beach at Bamburgh, but I might change my mind about that. Could do Aydon Castle, or even Gibside Chapel. No rush at the moment.

The north-east launch of Serpentine will take place at Bishop Auckland Town Hall at 7:30pm on 11th July. This is a free event. All welcome. I'll be talking about the book, and the town hall staff will be handing out free wine. I kid you not. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Bourgeois and beyond

From Louise Bourgeois' 'Maman', to Doris Salcedo's 'Shibboleth'; from Maria Lassnig to Miroslaw Balka; from trilobites to cup and ring markings; from Nicolas Poussin to Antoine Watteau; from Tate Modern to the Wallace Collection; from Durham Cathedral to the sand dunes at Bamburgh; from the Cross Kings pub to the American Carwash -- yes, I've been proofreading 'Serpentine', and going on something of a rollercoaster journey. I love this book! Could've sworn there were no errors in it, but hey ho, that's what proof-reading's all about. Found dozens. Urrgghh! Hopefully the rest of the team at BeWrite Books will pick up any I've missed.

Monday, 27 February 2012


It's one thing to be offered a book deal - quite another to have the contract in your sticky little hands and be signing it and then taking it down the post office to post away the old-fashioned way. The relief!

The book in question is my latest novel, 'Serpentine'. The publisher is BeWrite Books. As to what the novel's about: Friedrich Nietzsche once said, 'Art is the proper task in life', and as an artist myself, I'm not about to disagree, but what happens when creativity becomes an obsession which threatens to derail everything else in a young artist's life, from her personal relationships to paying the electricity bill? What then?