Dark, witty and painful, Gavin Extence's follow up to the word-of-mouth hit, THE UNIVERSE VERSUS ALEX WOODS, will stir up strong emotions as readers follow its heroine as she spirals into depression.
The perfect follow up to THE UNIVERSE VERSUS ALEX WOODS, this is a sensitive and astonishingly witty account of a woman's descent into mental illness. The protagonist, Abby, is a very different but equally likely and endearing hero as Alex Woods.
1. If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?
That’s a difficult question! I’m not sure I’d find it easy to collaborate with another writer, mostly because I’d be really neurotic. So maybe I’d have to pick someone like Woody Allen, and we could both be anxious and neurotic together. I do think that I’d prefer to work with a screenwriter rather than another novelist, just because film is inherently collaborative, and novels, usually, aren’t. But if I can pick any writer alive or dead, I’d probably go for Kurt Vonnegut. He was a hero of mine, and I think he’d be a lot of fun to work with.
2. What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?
It’s changing all the time. For my debut, I pretty much wrote nine to five, six days a week. I barely left my flat for eighteen months! But since my children were born, I’ve had to be a lot more flexible about when and where I write. The second half of Melody Black was written almost exclusively between the hours of five and eight a.m. I was looking after my daughter full-time every day. Luckily, I’m a morning person!
3. What is the hardest part of the writing for you?
I still find it really hard to re-read my work, just before I start on a second draft. You have to be quite brutal with yourself when you’re editing. Your focus has to be on everything that’s wrong with your writing, so you’re forced to look at yourself through an ultra-critical lens. I find the best trick to detach myself a little and try to view it as if it’s someone else’s work. Easier said than done!
4. When and why did you first start writing?
I started writing when I was about four. I really loved writing stories as a child, and at that age, there is no why – it just feels like a fun thing to do, like drawing or climbing trees. But it was when I was about ten or eleven that I started to think that I wanted to write books. Then the shock of adolescence came along, and something that had once felt easy and natural suddenly felt difficult and embarrassing. The desire to write never left me, but it was only when I was twenty-six that I started writing again. It still felt difficult and embarrassing at that point, but the more I did it, the more my confidence grew. I always hoped to make a career out of it, but my main motivation hasn’t really changed that much since I was four. There still aren’t many things that I find as fun and fulfilling as writing.
5. How did you come up with the idea for your book?
The book’s about mental illness, which I have first-hand experience of. But I didn’t know the exact direction the story was going to take when I started writing it. Originally, I just had the first chapter – a woman goes over to her neighbour’s flat to borrow some tomatoes and finds him dead in a chair (which was also based on something that happened to me, in a roundabout way). Her very strange reaction to these circumstances then became a catalyst for the plot and themes of the rest of the book.
6. Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?
Yes – or I used to be! It’s another thing that becomes much harder when you have young children. Ninety percent of the reading I do now is with them – my daughter once made me read to her for three hours straight, and I can now recite most of Julia Donaldson by heart. For myself, I’m generally lucky if I get half an hour a day to read, so I have to pick my books wisely. I’m currently reading Slade House by David Mitchell.
7. Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
Writing is like learning to play a musical instrument: it helps if you have some natural ability to begin with, but that will only take you so far. You have to put the hours in. Do the equivalent of spending several hours every day practising your scales. To fall back on a cliché, I’d say novel writing is about ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. And don’t be put off by rejection – it’s something every writer has to go through at some point. Behind every success story, there are drawers full of failed manuscripts.