Earlier today, in part one of Wendy Perriam‘s interview, the author discussed her average writing day, her journey into publishing and just where her ideas come from. In part two, she compares writing short stories to novels and looks ahead to the digital age and future plans.
Is it more difficult to write short stories or novels?
The received wisdom is that short stories are more difficult, but I have never found them so. Novel-writing is definitely more laborious, involving more advance-planning and in-depth research – a marathon, in contrast to a hundred-metre sprint. And, even when I’ve completed a novel, it’s much harder to assess three-hundred pages than a mere half-dozen or so, which can be read at one sitting, without getting sidetracked or losing the thread.
On the other hand, writing short stories is certainly a challenge, in that the essence of the short-story form is concision. That means cutting out extraneous detail and paring down the prose. It’s a bit like making stock: you boil down the bones to extract the goodness, remove the debris and reduce and reduce until you’re left with the pure meaty essence.
Do you have a particular favourite character from any of your books?
I tend to prefer the bad girls to the good ones. Some of my female protagonists are dutiful and “normal”, such as Morna in The Stillness The Dancing, or Jennifer in Born of Woman. Others are wild and whacky, like Carole in Sin City, who loses all her money in Las Vegas and ends up working in a brothel, or Thea in After Purple, who masturbates on trains and shoots the Pope. My sympathies are with these ‘naughty girls’, perhaps because I was born one myself, but had no chance to go wild in my strict Catholic home and cloistered boarding-school. One of the advantages of being a writer is that your characters can live alternative lives for you!
As for my male characters, I’m attracted to the overbearing, dominant ones, such as Christopher, the haughty stained-glass artist in Bird Inside, or Caldos de Roche, the protagonist of Absinthe for Elevenses – snobbish, selfish, but also flamboyantly sensual; a man who makes love to church music, because only that, he claims, has the power and passion of sex itself.
Yet I’m fond of the wimps, as well – Bryan, for instance, in my blackly comic novel, Fifty-Minute Hour, who takes his toy snake to bed and longs to parcel up his mother and post her off to a far-flung destination, with no ‘if undelivered, return-to-sender’ address. And I also have a soft spot for Eric, in Broken Places, who feels he’s a coward and a loser, yet wrestles heroically with his fears and ultimately achieves success, despite his unhappy start in life.
To tell the truth, I’m fond of all my characters. As their creator, how could I dislike or disown them, whatever their frailties and follies?
With the digital age upon us, do you still believe in traditional publishing or are you an e-convert?
Forget the digital age – I don’t even own a television or a mobile phone! With my passion for the radio and my dislike of computers, I suspect I’m stuck in a 1950s time-warp. For me, books are companionable friends, each with its own individual character. I’m currently reading four different novels and all four are quite distinctive: one slim and spare and spanking-new; one chunky and well-worn; one with a vibrantly coloured jacket; one stark and grey and severe. I don’t want them reduced to anonymous downloads; shorn of their interesting covers and their heterogeneity. Books as physical objects also furnish a room, and my flat is crammed with them. I still have my childhood favourites – tattered but treasured copies of Parliacoot, Thunderhead and Milly-Molly-Mandy.
On the other hand, many of my own titles are already issued as ebooks, or in the process of being converted, so, in some ways, I welcome ebook readers. And, with my deteriorating eyesight, I’m certainly attracted by their facility to increase the size of the type. My 800-page paperback of Our Mutual Friend – one of the four mentioned above – is certainly causing me eye-strain!
Have you ever been tempted to write about someone you know (including the ability to adjust their fate accordingly…)?
No. Two of my fellow authors, once extremely close, now no longer speak to each other because one depicted the other in a novel – surely a dire warning to all novelists. Anyway, the role of the fiction-writer is to invent characters, in contrast to the biographer – although even biographers run the risk of ructions and libel-cases.
The most I might do is ‘steal’ certain aspects of someone I know and use them for a character who’s totally unlike them in every other way. For example, Charles, in my novel, Cuckoo, has my dad’s love of order and efficiency, but his job, background and general demeanour are a far cry from my father’s. And for my novel, Michael Michael, my friend Mary Edwardes allowed me to use her own experience of being married to a Michael Edwardes, whilst also knowing two other, unrelated Michael Edwardes. I also drew on her work as a psychotherapist, but the character I eventually created was nothing like Mary in outlook and personality.
What’s next for you…?
The total rewrite of my seventeenth novel, which I’ve just completed in its first draft. Although I made constant daily revisions throughout the writing process, I now need to don my editor’s hat and read the whole thing through with a highly critical eye. I’ll be looking out for any saggy passages; any repeats of ideas or phrases, and also trying to assess its general feel and structure. Is it too long? Does the beginning drag? Are there any characters who fail to convince or need greater delineation? Do any scenes need more drama, especially sex-scenes?
I also have to choose a title. I have two in mind, but neither is quite right. I remember a really hairy time, some years ago, when my new novel was due to go into production but I’d still failed to come up with a title. My frantic publisher summoned me and some of his colleagues to a brainstorming session and the six of us eventually hit on an idea – although I have so say it’s the least favourite of all my book-titles.
Although the editing process is hard work, I find it the most enjoyable and least stressful stage of writing a novel. All the words are already on paper; the whole plot is worked out, and a suitable ending in place. The research is done and most of the hassles are over – I hope! I may find on my re-read that my new baby isn’t as strong or healthy as I thought, and needs not just a bit of TLC, but weeks of Intensive Care. Well, my Peter Rabbit mug is standing by, prepared for a long slog!
Check out Wendy Perriam‘s website at http://www.wendyperriam.com/