Have been absurdly busy recently, not in a good way, more like a hamster which has accidentally nibbled some speed before jumping into its wheel. So I have been a tad hopeless about being part of a wonderful project called The Next Big Thing, which brings together writers to answer questions about their books. I was invited to take part by my lovely writer friend Susanna Jones.
Susanna is a brilliant author and her most recent novel 'When Nights Were Cold' is the gripping and atmospheric story of a group of women mountaineers in the early 20th century. Her writing is taut and spare, and full of tension. Susanna's work has already won a number of awards, including the CWA John Creasey Dagger, the Betty Trask Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. You can find out about Susanna and her work here.
Any road. This is my response to the Next Big Thing questions - and do watch this space for news about four fellow writers and their new books.
1. What is the working title of your next book?
It has two titles: 'Dark Aemilia' and . I'm a bit of a title junkie.
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was writing a historical novel for my MA at Brunel University, and it was actually meant to b be about Lady Macbeth. I had the vague idea that either she or Macbeth himself might be the Fourth Witch, so that was the title of that book. Then I started researching Shakespeare's play-world in sixteenth century London, and then I came across a necromancer called Simon Forman who wrote the first known review of Macbeth, and through him I found out about a woman called Aemilia Bassano (later Lanier).
It was basically love at first sight with Aemilia. She was Jewish, illegitimate and orphaned at 17, when she became the Lord Chamberlain's mistress. When she got pregnant he married her off to her feckless, recorder-playing cousin - but she still ended up being one of the first women in England to be a published poet. And she was - possibly - Shakespeare's mysterious and unfaithful lover, the notorious Dark Lady. I mean, what is not to like here? All my notes about eleventh century Scotland went into the bin.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
It's historical, but not a. bodice ripping or b. National Trust.
4. What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?
This is very easy for me. Rachel Weisz is Aemilia, and Daniel Craig is Shakespeare. I'd avoid Dames Judy or Helen for Queen Elizabeth, and would go for something more unusual. Maybe Rupert Everett or Gary Oldman. Kathy Burke IS Moll Cutpurse. (Please pass this on if you happen to see any of these people.)
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Lady Macbeth stalks the streets of sixteenth-century London, searching for the story that will unleash her warped, demonic power.
6. Is your book represented by an agency?
I'm represented by Greene & Heaton.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
8. What other books would you compare this to within your genre?
I'm not sure about 'genre' exactly, but the historical writers I most admire are Rose Tremain and (of course) Hilary Mantel. But Angela Carter, Virginia Woolf and Jeanette Winterson have also influenced me. There is a bit of magic in the book. It's sort of realist magicalism.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
10. What else about this book might pique the reader’s interest?
It's women's-eye Shakespeare, the play-world from the perspective of the mistress/mother/whore.
Now... off to find those four other writers.