Today I'm joined by author Lissa Evans as part of the blog tour for her latest novel Crooked Heart which Janine will be reviewing shortly.
When Noel Bostock – aged ten, no family - is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he ends up living in St Albans with Vera Sedge - thirty-six and drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it.
Noel’s mourning his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. Brought up to share her disdain for authority and eclectic approach to education, he has little in common with other children and even less with Vee, who hurtles impulsively from one self-made crisis to the next. The war’s thrown up new opportunities for making money but what Vee needs (and what she’s never had) is a cool head and the ability to make a plan.
On her own, she’s a disaster. With Noel, she’s a team.
Together they cook up an idea. Criss-crossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to make a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life.
But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn’t actually safe at all…
Can you tell us a little bit about your Crooked Heart?
It’s the story of Noel, an eccentric, unhappy boy, who is evacuated from London during the Blitz and billeted on Vee, a thirty-six year old widow who is drowning in debts and dependents and perpetually scrabbling around for money. She’s unscrupulous about how she gets it, and she draws Noel into her plans, finding in his cool cleverness the perfect foil for her desperation and greed. They make an unstoppable team, until they find someone even less scrupulous than themselves, forcing Vee to work out where her loyalties really lie…
Which character was your favourite to create, Noel or Vera?
To be honest, I love them both.
Your previous adult books were also set during the Second World War, what is it about that era that appeals to you?
When I was thirteen, I read a book by Norman Longmate called ‘How we Lived Then’; it’s the story of the home front during the second world war, taken from the diaries and recollections of civilians. I re-read it many times, fascinated by the details - by the every day difficulties and challenges of the era. What fired my imagination was the idea of ordinary people, trying to live ordinary lives in extraordinary times. Life was tiring, tough, and makeshift, and people had to adapt to the most enormous changes, almost on a day-to-day basis. It still fascinates me.
What was the hardest part of writing Crooked Heart?
The plot. I had a rough idea of the ending, but getting there took me a long, long time. I always start with the characters, and the story arises out of the relationships and conjunctions between them; doing it that way means (I hope) that the plot develops naturally, rather than being imposed on the book. The down-side is that it takes me ages.
Are you currently working on a new book? If so, are you able to tell us anything about it?
I’m writing a children’s book, but I’m also researching the sequel to ‘Crooked Heart.’
Can you tell us two things about yourself that you readers don't know?
I used to be a doctor. I’m the voice of the sticky-tape dispenser in the episode of ‘Father Ted’ set on an aeroplane.
Do you set yourself writing targets?
Yes, but I generally fail to meet them.
Do you have a designated writing room/space?
I don’t tend to work at home – too many distractions (kids, husband, dog, washing, bills, tidying, taking stuff to dump, doing something about the garden which looks like a bloody jungle etc etc etc) I usually go to The London Library, which is beautiful and peaceful, but I also use the British Library, the BFI library, and a café round the corner from where I live.
Which phase do your find the hardest during the writing/publishing process?
The whole middle section of the book, after the joy of writing the first couple of chapters has faded. Suddenly there’s a whole lot of plot to think of, and a long, long way to go….
Which writers inspire you?
I always think of George Orwell, who said that good prose should be like a window-pane; that sort of vivid clarity is what I’m always aiming for
If you could do a writing colloboration with anyone, who would it be and why?
I think I’d find it easier to collaborate with an illustrator - Quentin Blake, ideally (although he writes marvellous books as well). His drawings peopled my childhood and shaped my whole view of comedy.
What's the best writing advice anyone has ever given you?
You can’t re-write a blank page.
Have you ever thought of trying to write in a different genre? If so, what?
I’ve written two children’s books: Small Change for Stuart and Big Change for Stuart, about a boy who moves to a dull town and stumbles upon a magical trail that leads him to a lost magician’s workshop. Both books were published in the USA as well as the UK, but the American titles are ‘Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms’ and ‘Horten’s Incredible Illusions’ which I find pleasingly steam-punkish.
Where would your perfect writing retreat be?
An English country house in perpetual early summer, with someone else doing the housework.