Below is the interview:
Can you tell us a little about the story please?
It’s about Simon, an English teacher who’s in the wrong job, who joins a writing group. He accidentally walks into the wrong room in a village hall where the writing group takes place and there he meets Darren, a sexy tracksuit-wearing man who’s at the village hall for a whole different reason. Simon can’t resist seeing Darren again and decides to tell a tiny lie – actually it’s a massive whopper of a lie – to continue seeing Darren.
Can you tell us about the main characters please?
Simon, I think, has a little bit of me in him. The story of him going to a village hall and walking into the wrong room actually happened to me when I went to my first local writers group. Read about it in Clare London’s blog in more detail. Simon is, probably one of my least likeable characters, not least because of the massive lie he has to tell to continue seeing Darren. I’m not going to make excuses for him, and to be honest, I know I wouldn’t be able to live with such a big lie, but for Simon, unhappy in his job, in his minor obsession with Darren, he thinks he has no choice, so he tells the lie. I’m not advocating writers lie to get experience things they can write about, because, at its basic level these are other human beings’ lives we’re talking about. However, a writer does always lurk with intent, making note of overheard conversations, watching life slightly from the sidelines, always wondering if any of it could make it into a book. Catherine Alliott, one of my favourite women’s popular fiction authors, gets most of her story ideas from people she meets at dinner parties.
Darren is a character with a very chequered past. He’s living with an addiction and trying to improve his life, to leave the addiction behind him. For this reason, his experience, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Darren is from a working class background and he’s quite conscious of this difference when compared against Simon’s solid middle class roots. After all, Simon has a ‘profession’ he’s a teacher, and Darren, in his mind, is only a handyman / plumber / plasterer.
Is this book more about writing than about romance?
I don’t think it’s a Romance with a capital R, so to speak – meaning the romance is the main theme in the story. I think the main theme in the story is Simon’s working out his place in the world, what he can do with himself, and that the romance comes from that is a lovely bonus for both men. It’s also about Darren’s journey from addiction and to accepting himself and his background for what he is, and not making excuses for it. And yes, it has a HEA, because, I always seem to write them, but, as with many of my other stories, it’s about the characters’ personal journeys, and the romance is part of that, rather than all of that.
Can you tell us about where the story is set?
It’s set, in a fictional village, on the edge of London, just outside where East London ends and Essex begins. This, for the avoidance of doubt, is where I live. (I don’t live in a fictional part, I live in a real town, but it’s in the same neck of the woods!) I like how this area has both the rural aspects of small villages and the type of characters you often find in those – Clara Bell is very unapologetic about her country, stuff and nonsense ways. Plus, the area’s also near enough to London to give the characters access to the gay scene and all that entails with a short hop on the London Underground. And the area itself, is an interesting mix of the London urban and the countryside rural, making it feel very suburban. Suburbia gets a bad reputation as a boring place that’s neither the vibrant city or the verdant countryside. Only in suburbia would you easily find access to both a village hall full of addicts AND a writing group (a real clash of worlds which appeals to me), plus a large secondary school of children with a general disdain for English literature, and the semi-urban sportswear clad men like Darren mixing with a teacher like Simon. Suburbia, in my view, has alll of life as we know it. And in my own little way I’ve tried to show this with a slice-of-life style in this story.
How do you feel about re-reading old favourite books?
I’d love to do this more often, but there are so many un-read books that I rarely re-read. I do, however keep my favourites and often refer to them for inspiration and comfort. If I’m stuck for an idea I read extracts of old favourites and simply enjoy the pleasure of reading once again, hoping it will fire something in my brain I can use in my WIP. And it usually does!
Do you read right to the end of a book even if it’s not working for you, or do you abandon ship early on?
I have piles and piles of books in my ‘study’ (it’s the spare bedroom but it has a small sofa bed, so we refer to it as a study because it’s where I write during the day) covering the floor, two deep on the shelves, so I’m afraid I don’t have time or patience to plough on if I’m not feeling it with a book.
If I can’t follow the story, I do persevere and maybe flip back to the character list, or re-read chunks before. If it’s boring me I may start to skim read, particularly if there are large chunks of description rather than dialogue which I find, tends to keep the pace zipping along. But the worst reason why I’d abandon a book is if I didn’t care about the characters. If they irritated me, that’s fine, because it’s engendering a reaction in me. If they irritate me, I’ll read on to see if they get their comeuppance. If I love the characters, then I can’t wait to get back to reading about them. However, if I read and find myself not really bothered about what happens to them – whether they live or die, whether they get together or don’t – that’s game over for me I’m afraid. I simply abandon the book. I usually give a book 50 pages or so. If I’m not loving it by then, I pull the rip cord and jump ship. Harsh? Maybe? It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad book, it just means it wasn’t for me. You’ve only to go to Good Reads and find your favourite book and read all thte 1 star reviews, and then go to a book that didn’t work for you and read all the 5 star reviews to know that it is, when all is said and done, very subjective.
Liam Livings xx
Here's Meredith's review:
When Simon, an English teacher and hopeful writer, enters an NA meeting instead of a writing group... and not only stays but pretends to be an ex addict to get information to write a story; I kind of became confused. Not in the plot but in the morals.
Personally I thought it was horribly deceiving and the respect I hoped to have for Simon dwindled. Now, on a creative level I thought it was clever to make this idea into a story.
Darren is a real recovering addict and when Simon starts to like him, he's plagued with what to do about the lies.
Here's where I ran into an issue. While I admire the author's creativity in the idea, the execution couldn't dissuade me from my personal thoughts about Simon's deceit. It weighed too heavily on me and the reader in me fought with the critic in me. I wanted to love this book but I just liked it. Simon, the character, just never became likeable to me and I couldn't forgive him.
Sometimes the personal feelings outrank the critical and this was such a case.