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:


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