What was I Still Miss Someone…

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Once I had a wonderful agent, and the agent sent out my earlier novel The Dangerous Edge of Things, or, as it was known then, I Still Miss Someone. Here’s the email she sent out with the book, and some of the responses:

Dear Y (various publishers),

As promised, I am delighted to send you  I Still Miss Someone, James Ferron Anderson’s powerful first novel.
I Still Miss Someone is about Turlough Barr, a young Protestant man growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, who escapes to England where he finds that the fear and violence of his past pursue him still.
I Still Miss Someone is a novel that has a great deal to say about the effects of growing up in a world filled with terrorism in all its forms – hatred, bigotry, ignorance, fear and violence – but it is also a story about the need and search for love, and the enduring effects of having experienced it at least for a little while, as Turlough Barr does with his loving but ineffectual Uncle Billy.
I am enormously impressed by James’s writing, and I think his first novel is full of a generous understanding of our flawed humanity. I hope you will want to be his UK publisher. Rights on offer are UK and Commonwealth (excluding Canada). This is a multiple submission and I look forward to hearing from you no later than Wednesday the 11th of July.

The agent got back:

Dear X (my agent),

Thank you for this. This is beautifully written as you say – and I loved the idiomatic dialogue — but I’m afraid I didn’t fall for the book as a whole. I’m sorry.

Clara Farmer, Editorial Director,

Chatto & Windus, The Random House Group Ltd

20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London  SW1V 2SA

 

And again: Dear X,

Many thanks for this. I thought it a highly thoughtful and powerful novel and was impressed by it as a debut, but I also had a number of reservations about it – about the actual writing, sometimes the dialogue and the way in which the book tends so much to be told from outside Turlough/John Lee’s head – and on balance, after some indecision, I have, I’m afraid, decided to pass.
I am sorry not to feel able to respond more positively.
All best.
Ravi Mirchandani, Grove Atlantic

And again: Dear X,

I wanted to get back to you about your great young Irish hope, James Anderson.

I found his writing was incredibly memorable and intense. The dialogue was an especial treat and reminded me at times of Maria Hyland’s Eire-set Carry Me Down. What I liked less about it was the confusion as to where the narrative present was. The disjointedness is perhaps one if its charms but I must admit that I wasn’t completely swept away by the story, and on that basis I think it is not one for us to try and acquire.

As ever, such a matter of personal taste. Ain’t it always!

I was so pleased to see this come in and I love reading this sort of brave new voice. Thanks for sending and good luck finding the right editor.

All best,

Francis Bickmore, Senior Editor, Fiction, Canongate Books

I can’t remember whose feedback was: “Unrelentingly depressing.” But there was plenty in that vein.

It’s been more than renamed. It’s been rewritten. And, I’d guess, I hope, still unrelentingly depressing. You can buy it on Amazon. Go break a leg.

James Ferron Anderson

 

 

Blog Tour

My Writing Process …. Blog Tour:

Today is Blog Tour Day. Yip, rolled around again. I’m glad to be back with this update of my previous My Writing Process Blog. My thanks to Amanda Addison for inviting me. Amanda’s current work in progress, Picasso, Cream Horns and Tulips for Alice, is a bitter sweet tale of first love tied up with the life-changing experience of finding your own creative identity, “through being an artist…being someone who notices things,” Grayson Perry, Reith Lecture 2013. This is acted out through the interweaving stories of the two main characters, Mathew Andersen, an 18 year old art student, and his mother, the forty-something Sam who is drawn back into her artistic past. The backdrop is Great Yarmouth, the North Sea, Brighton and Amsterdam.

amanda A

Find more about Amanda (in whom writing and sewing truly meet, believe me) and her other work in progress here:

http://www.amandaaddison.com/

Here are my answers to the Writing Process questions.

1/ What am I working on?

I have now finished my second novel, Terminal City. I’ve had feedback from my keen team of first readers, and I am in their debt.

Terminal City is a crime and relationship story set in Vancouver in 1939 and 1959. The 1930s and 40s were the same noir period for Vancouver as they were for LA and San Francisco, the other great West Coast cities of North American. But these cities have been written about from James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler on. Vancouver hasn’t. It’s a period of bank robberies, murders, town hall, police and business corruption, and of campaigns by the ‘right-thinking’ to establish order and conformity. What if I united the criminality of the pre-war years with the white bread and complacency of the late fifties? What if a fading Hollywood star returned to where he had begun, a dying and wealthy man’s desire for vengeance was re-ignited, and a death long forgotten resurfaced? What if lives around them were disrupted? What might all be hiding from the wilder days of their youth?

I’m also, along with Amanda and others, judging the current Rethink New Novels Competition 2014. We met recently to eat Japanese food and make decisions about who will be published. The judging process has been one big informative spell for me and I’m glad to have been a part of it. As a previous winner myself I know what a difference it will make. I’m happy to know that two currently unsuspecting writers will soon be hearing good news, and, severe critic as I am, sad that so many others will have to be disappointed. So much work, such dedication.

Vancouver ChinatownEast Hastings Street, Vancouver in 1959, the scene of some of the most important action in Terminal City.

2/ How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Terminal City is a crime story, but at its heart, and at the heart of my previous book, The River and The Sea, as in just about anything I’ve ever written, lies a desire to tell a story of how people need each other, hate each other, love each other and dispense with each other. I see this as the one great theme of literature, presented a few million different ways. It would be this emphasis on the very personal relationships of the protagonists that would make my concept of a crime story different to others of its genre. In Terminal City there is the potential crime of a death twenty years before. There is also the crime of a love betrayed and the lover used. If someone willing allows him or herself to be taken advantage of… have they been betrayed at all? 

3/ Why do I write what I do?The River and The Sea

This feels very much linked to the next question: how does my writing process work. I’m interested in that old banal subject that all of us, we human social animals, are interested in: people, and especially other people. But I need to see them, and show them, in context. My interest in that necessitates them speaking a language I understand, and them living lives I can relate to. I can’t do gladiators or sword and sandal of any kind, ancient Egyptians, Anglo-Saxons, hobbits, magical schoolboys or any of the many imagined entities of superstition: they are all too far removed from my own limited experience for me to have empathy. I just don’t care. Others clearly can. I can’t. A period and location not my own but one with which I can have some understanding, and people whose ambitions, beliefs, hopes, desires, failings I can relate to is what I’m after.

Finn2a

Not really a deviation: I have a wire fox terrier called Finn. Finn has no interest in chasing balls. He won’t swim. He just wants to relate to people and other dogs. I’m a little like Finn. Less dogs, more people, maybe. Here’s a recent photo of Finn. He’s handsomer than I am. Younger. More hair. He’s got it all.

As I say it’s all really about people. Other writers I’ve been influenced by, those I remember and the myriad I’ve forgotten, are writers of the dilemmas and conflicts of flawed, recognizable, believable human beings.

Writing immerses me in a world that is related to, yet different to, my own, with interesting people doing interesting and sometimes dangerous things. Occasionally physically dangerous (a firing squad, shot or blown up in WWI, cold and hunger in The River and The Sea; alcohol and drugs and syphilis, a blow on the head in Terminal City ), but also dangerous in their relationships with those they care about, and/or who care about them. Psychologically I’m involved enough for it to matter, but ultimately I’m safe. Disaster may affect the protagonists but not me. I can even, cowardly, chuck it in and walk away. What’s not to like?

The photograph without which The River and The Sea would not exist.

4/ How does my writing process work? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The process so far has been to get excited about some discovery I’ve just made, and find I want to dwell in that place more and more. With The River and The Sea it was when I found the road sign on the Kamloops – Ashcroft highway describing the town of Walhachin that for a brief pre-Great War period had bloomed there, to vanish at the outbreak of that war. I re-peopled it with its real former inhabitants as best I could from on-line research, reading what little was available, and visiting the site. I wanted to take it further, and added characters of my own creation who would… yes, of course… need each other, hate each other, love each other and dispense with each other.

errol

Errol Flynn, the original of Terminal City’s Rory Devlin, on board the Zaca, the boat he came to Vancouver to sell when he was ruined and dying.

With Terminal City it was reading of the death of Errol Flynn in Vancouver, a city whose history I was already studying. He had come there in October 1959 with his 17 year old blonde girlfriend to sell his last possession of any value, his much-loved yacht, the Zaca. What clinched the desire to write something set around this incident was reading that Beverly Aadland, the blonde supposed bimbo, never sold her story, maintained her dignity, and seems to have truly mourned the fading roué that was Errol Flynn. It was an opportunity to spend time in that pre-skyscraper city in which I was already involved, see its first tall buildings go up, ride in its cars, feel the tram tracks on its streets, hear its music and its people speak. 

Errol Flynn Pictured With Beverley Aadland (beverley Adland) At The Lido Nightclub Swallow Street London. (lido Club). The Couple Starred In The Film Cuban Rebel Girls And Had A Highly Publicised Relationship For The Last Two Years Of Flynn's Life.Errol Flynn and Beverly Aadland, 5th May 1959. Errol Flynn was purportedly to have said: ‘I like my whiskey old, and my women young.’

So it’s excitement about some real location and/or event, followed by a need to see the people involved as best I can. During this research characters fitting the location and period develop, begin to take on desires, hopes, failings. They make decisions: some pan out, some don’t, but the characters, if it works out how I want, are off and running, growing into what I hope will eventually by a coherent novel-length narrative.

These initial stages are happy and free. Then comes the harder work of putting these scenes, already existing in notes, written sketches or just inside my head, down in the most original, involving form I can come up with. It has to have a destination, which I know before I begin this stage. That could be five or six months work, but of course the thing has been floating around somewhere in my head for a couple of years by then. Once that draft is in place then pleasure returns: the polishing, honing, paring, the re-writing, aiming this time round, maybe, for something a little neo-noir, a little Dennis Lehane, a little Gone, Baby, Gone meets Gone Girl? Basta! Basta!

 FlynnWelcometoVancouver

Flynn and Beverly, Vancouver Airport, October 1959. Nearing the end.

 

 

My Writing Process …. Blog Tour

Today is Blog Tour Day. Here writers answer questions about their writing process. My thanks to Jill Marsh for inviting me on this blog tour. An inspiration, her website is an example of how these things should be done. Engaging and informative, there’s enough in there for hours of good reading. And she has been kind to me, a first time blog tourer (tourist?).

Find Jill here: http://jjmarsh.wordpress.com/

Here are my answers to the Writing Process questions.

1/ What am I working on?

I’m working on what will be my second novel, Terminal City. This is a crime and relationship story set in Vancouver in 1939 and 1959. The 1930s and 40s were the same noir period for Vancouver as they were for LA and San Francisco, the other great West Coast cities of North American. But they have been written about from James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler on. Vancouver hasn’t. It’s a period of bank robberies, murders, town hall, police and business corruption, and of campaigns by the ‘right-thinking’ to establish order and conformity. What if I united the criminality of the pre-war years with the white bread and complacency of the late fifties? What if a fading Hollywood star returned to where he had begun, found an old girlfriend, disrupted lives? What if a death long forgotten was to resurface, a dying and wealthy man’s desire for vengeance re-ignited? What might all be hiding from the wilder days of their youth?

Vancouver Chinatown

East Hastings Street, Vancouver in 1959

2/ How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Terminal City is a crime story, but at its heart, and at the heart of my previous book, The River and The Sea, as in just about anything I’ve ever written, lies a desire to tell a story of how people need each other, hate each other, love each other and dispense with each other. I see this as the one great theme of literature, presented a few million different ways. It would be this emphasis on the very personal relationships of the protagonists that would make my concept of a crime story different to others of its genre. At the same time the crime element can’t be just some Hitchcockian McGuffin to hang a relationship story on. I loved the personal relationship aspect of the best-selling Gone Girl for instance: the crime element I felt was less believable, less successful.

 3/ Why do I write what I do?

This feels very much linked to the next question: how does my writing process work. I’m interested in that old banal subject that all of us, we human social animals, are interested in: people, and especially other people. But we cannot live by people alone. The contexts of people interest me. Or they do as long as they speak a language I understand and live a life I can relate to. I can’t do gladiators or sword and sandal of any kind, ancient Egyptians, Anglo-Saxons, hobbits, magical schoolboys or any of the many imagined entities of superstition: they are all too far removed from my own limited experience for me to have empathy. I just don’t care. Others clearly can. I can’t. A period and location not my own but one with which I can have some understanding, and people whose ambitions, beliefs, hopes, desires, failings I can relate to is what I’m after. It’s all really about people.

Writing immerses me in a world that is related to, yet different to, my own, with interesting people doing interesting and sometimes dangerous things. Occasionally physically dangerous (a firing squad, shot or blown up in WWI, cold and hunger in The River and The Sea; alcohol and drugs and syphilis, a blow on the head in Terminal City ), but also dangerous in their relationships with those they care about, and/or who care about them. Psychologically I’m involved enough for it to matter, but ultimately I’m safe. Disaster will affect the protagonists but not me. I can even, cowardly, chuck it in and walk away. What’s not to like?

4/ How does my writing process work?

Ghost of Walhachin The photograph that started a novel.

The process so far has been to get excited about some discovery I’ve just made, and find I want to dwell in that place more and more. With The River and The Sea it was when I found the road sign on the Kamloops – Ashcroft highway describing the town of Walhachin that for a brief pre-Great War period had bloomed there, to vanish at the outbreak of that war. I re-peopled it with its real former inhabitants as best I could from on-line research, reading what little was available, and visiting the site. I wanted to take it further, and added characters of my own creation who would… yes, of course… need each other, hate each other, love each other and dispense with each other.

errol

Errol Flynn, the original of Terminal City’s Rory Devlin, on board the Zaca, the boat he came to Vancouver to sell when he was ruined and dying.

With Terminal City it was reading of the death of Errol Flynn in Vancouver, a city whose history I was already studying. He had come there in October 1959 with his 17 year old blonde girlfriend to sell his last possession of any value, his much-loved yacht, the Zaca. What clinched the desire to write something set around this incident was reading that Beverly Aadland, the blonde supposed bimbo, never sold her story, maintained her dignity, and seems to have truly mourned the fading roué that was Errol Flynn. It was an opportunity to spend time in that pre-skyscraper city in which I was already involved, see its first tall buildings go up, ride in its cars, feel the tram tracks on its streets, hear its music and its people speak.

So it’s excitement about some real location and/or event, followed by a need to see the people involved as best I can. During this research characters fitting the location and period develop, begin to take on desires, hopes, failings. They make decisions: some pan out, some don’t, but the characters, if it works out how I want, are off and running, growing into what I hope will eventually by a coherent novel-length narrative.

These initial stages are happy and free. Then comes the comparative slog of putting these scenes, already existing in notes, written sketches or just inside my head, down in the most original, involving form I can come up with. It has to have a destination, which I know before I begin this stage, and it has to get there. That could be five or six months work, but of course the thing has been floating around somewhere in my head for a couple of years by then. Once that draft is in place then joy begins once more: the polishing, honing, paring, the re-writing that can, and I feel should, go on and on and on and on…

Thank you for having me.The next authors on this blog tour are:

Keri Beevis

Keri was my fellow Rethink New Novels Award winner with her well-crafted crime novel Dead Letter Day, published in early 2013. Her next novel is Dead Write, due to hit the shelves and on-line soon.

Find Keri here: http://keribeevis.com/  or on Facebook

Ruth Dugdall

Continuing the blog tour, fellow Escaltor-winner and award winning crime author Ruth Dugdall. Her blog can be found via ruthdugdall.com or on her blog page, ruthdugdall.blogspot

Looking forward to reading these!

The River and The Sea

Extra Added Value?

images

On February 5th in a blog called Added Value? I wrote about putting extra into the text, things that even as I write them I know will not be noticed, or will be noticed by very few. My examples at that time were the descriptions of Harry Garrard that follow his mention of the Wendigo in Chapter Two, page 17.
In that blog I wrote:
In The River and The Sea Harry Garrard, the supposed expert on the North, outlines his ludicrous plans for providing food, then turns away and says: ‘Have I told you the tales I heard at Fort Laird about the Wendigo?’ He’s doing no more than announcing the subject closed. There is no other mention of the Wendigo in the book. But, and who knows this but myself, and who ever will, except you, dear reader, that every description of the weakening and dying Harry from then on is taken from descriptions of the Wendigo, and specifically those in Margaret Atwood’s Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature (1995), a collection of Oxford lectures?
I want to add a further example to take the point a little further. This perhaps, from Chapter Ten, page 165 of The River and The Sea:
She began to hum something as she walked. Her voice rose and fell and her chin rose with the higher notes. She looked round at me and saw me watching her and smiled and kept on humming. Suddenly she took my arm and started to run, but I didn’t go with her. She let go and ran a few steps and looked back at me with her eyes wide, and stopped humming and laughed. She was panting, not from exertion, but alive and happy.
I held up a finger. ‘Old Dog Trey?’
‘Puccini.’ She punched my arm. ‘It was Pu…’ punch ‘cci…’ punch ‘ni,’ punch.
‘You look very pretty when you’re punching me.’
‘Are you a man or what, to let me?’
By now the reader will know Jack well enough to at least suspect that while he may be heartbroken over Sarah he will be capable of acting in social situations as he thinks suits him best. In other words he’s making a joke. As he says in Chapter Eleven, page 177, walking into Sarah’s house for the first time since the return of her husband and his rejection, and husband, wife and their visitor waiting for him:
I would speak first. I could always speak, and smile, and act, the useless, passable things.
‘Good evening. Thank you so much for having me.’
Old Dog Trey… or sometimes Tray, is a song by Stephen Foster, written in 1853. But, and here is my little, concealed until now, dear reader, extra:
Puccini’s opera, The Girl of the Golden West, premiered in 1910, contains a song sung by the travelling minstrel Jake Wallace, Che faranno i vecchi miei. Many people have thought that the tune is lifted directly from Stephen Foster’s earlier song. So it’s reasonable to think that what she is humming might be Old Dog Trey, while she considers it to be something from Puccini. It is, in fact, both.
My idea to use this for ridicule is not totally original.
In the film Tombstone, Billy Clanton (played by Thomas Hayden Church) tries to bait Doc Holiday (Val Kilmer), who is playing a Chopin nocturne on the piano, by saying “Is that ‘Old Dog Tray?’ That sounds like ‘Old Dog Tray’ to me.” When the goad fails, Clanton asks whether Doc knows any other songs, like “‘Camptown Races?’ ‘Oh Susanna?’ “You know, Stephen stinkin’ Foster?!?”
Yip, there is little new under the sun.

Added Value?

fraser-river-53635_640[1]

The Fraser River, British Columbia: as strong and as brown a god as any.

Long years ago I sat through seminars at UEA and heard people pick allusions out of Eliot’s The Four Quartets as if claiming brownie points. In The Dry Salvages for example I would read:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river

Is a strong brown god…

The river is within us, the sea is all about us…

Then the suggestion would come from someone who had dug into a reference book: ‘This is an echo of the relationship of timeless reality to the true self within as explained by Krishna to Arjuna.’

Really? Had I missed out by not digging into the same reference book? I never felt I had. I knew for example that All shall be well and/All manner of thing shall be well was a quote from Dame Julian of Norwich. But did knowing that bring anything to my appreciation of The Four Quartets? I would have argued it brought nothing except that I’d look better in class. That knowledge, coming (for me, not for Eliot) from outside the poem, generated no images, thoughts, emotions or sensations. Those (for me) came from the words on the page via the internal triggers already in place before the reading of the poem, not the external, arriving later. Additional information might well be and often was interesting. I wasn’t arguing that ignorance was better than knowledge, but that that was a whole other category, different to adding to the appreciation of the poem. Reading snippets about allusion didn’t help me find any more beauty or significance in the words and lines and stanzas. It might well do for others, but it didn’t work as such for me.

So why then do I do the same in my own writing? In The River and The Sea Harry Garrard, the supposed expert on the North, outlines his ludicrous plans for providing food, then turns away and says: ‘Have I told you the tales I heard at Fort Laird about the Wendigo?’ He’s doing no more than announcing the subject closed. There is no other mention of the Wendigo in the book. But, and who knows this but myself, and who ever will, except you, dear reader, that every description of the weakening and dying Harry from then on is taken from descriptions of the Wendigo, and specifically those in Margaret Atwood’s Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature (1995), a collection of Oxford lectures?

Harry eats raw blood found in the snow. He is sunken-faced, with red-rimmed and increasingly staring eyes. His lips acquire a chewed and blackened look around his toothless mouth. His tongue starts to dart out. And tellingly, ‘There was no out-reasoning Harry if he would not converse with you.’ Edward even says at one point: ‘Harry is not a man, but something more.’ After Harry’s death Jack is unable to force closed his red-rimmed eyes.

And one of the reasons for Jack’s survival is his refusal to take orders from Harry. Edward does take orders from him, to his detriment. In Atwood’s description of the Wendigo to obey this Other is to absolve oneself from responsibility, for example from errors in judgement or, specifically in relation to the Wendigo, for cannibalism. This is the option left to Jack, the lone survivor, an option Jack is able to refuse long enough for the caribou to finally return.

But every description of the weakening state of Harry has to work independently of any knowledge of anything about the Wendigo, much less Margaret Atwood’s writing on the myth. Why then do it?

1/ It amused me.

2/ It was knowledge that I was finding a use for, that I had had since reading The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood in a little battered second-hand volume dated from 1934, if in such an oblique way that no-one would ever pick up on it.

3/ Someone might, one day, pick up on it and so feel rewarded for their careful reading.

I wanted, and what writer doesn’t want, careful readers, appreciating the effort of composition. Nabokov put hidden nuggets, much cleverer, more urbane, in his work, concealed for that one reader in a hundred who would notice them. What were his reasons? Did it amuse him? I would suspect it did. Was it knowledge he was finding a use for that had no place otherwise? Did it allow him to flatter himself in some way?

Do you, as a writer, ever put in what you suspect, even as you write it, will never be found? Are we all, in our very different ways, with our very different abilities, offering some form of added value? And if you do, why?