Thursday, 19 February 2015

Debut Spotlight: Antonia Honeywell

Under the debut spotlight today is Antonia Honeywell whose debut novel The Ship is published today, congratulations Antonia x 

Antonia Honeywell studied English at Manchester University and worked at the Natural History and Victoria and Albert Museums in London, running creative writing workshops and education programmes for children, before training as a teacher. During her ten years teaching English, drama and film studies, she wrote a musical, and a play which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival. Antonia was one of the stars of Curtis Brown's inaugural creative writing course. She has four young children and lives in Buckinghamshire. THE SHIP is her first novel.




Oxford Street burned for three weeks. The British Museum is occupied by ragtag survivors. The Regent's Park camps have been bombed. The Nazareth Act has come into force. If you can't produce your identity card, you don't exist. 

Lalla, sixteen, has grown up sheltered from the new reality by her visionary father, Michael Paul. But now the chaos has reached their doorstep. Michael has promised to save them. His escape route is a ship big enough to save five hundred people. But only the worthy will be chosen. 

Once on board, as day follows identical day, Lalla's unease grows. Where are they going? What does her father really want? 


Can you give us a hint as to what your debut novel The Ship is about? 
The Ship is about a young girl named Lalla who is born into a collapsing world. Her parents are determined to protect her from the reality of the danger and desperation outside their London flat and realise that this can only be done by taking her away. They buy a ship – a huge luxury cruise ship – and they select five hundred people to populate it. They want Lalla to experience an environment in which she can read, listen to music, make friends, learn, fall in love – and as the world can no longer provide this, they determine that they will.

Where did the inspiration come from to write about a young girl living on a ship with 500 others?  
Strangely enough, the inspiration came when I got married. My childhood was fractured and as I grew up, I found happiness in independence. I loved my work; until my publication deal came through, my proudest moment was when I’d saved enough to put a deposit on a flat. I remember moving in, sliding my key into the lock of my new home and knowing that, at last, I had a haven. It was a surprise to find myself in love, still more of one to find I wanted children. The idea for The Ship was born from an intense feeling of wanting to keep my family safe – and the knowledge that it’s impossible.

How do you go about researching a novel that is futuristic?
The Ship is only futuristic in that it’s a slightly exaggerated version of where we are now. My research happened every time I opened a newspaper, and even now, with all the edits done and publication imminent, I see the world of The Ship around me every day. The rich are getting steadily richer, the poor are becoming disenfranchised – this is such common knowledge that it’s barely news. A world in which one man is rich enough to seal his family away from the realities of the world he helped create doesn’t seem much of a stretch. Mansion tax on the one hand – bedroom tax on the other.

What is it about the dystopian genre that appeals to you? 
A good dystopia creates great freedom in which a writer can explore the now. In Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell was putting the world of 1948 under his writerly microscope. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood was looking at the place of women in contemporary society – Atwood went to all her readings and publicity events for The Handmaid’s Tale with a file full of newspaper clippings, to demonstrate that the horrors in that novel were actually happening, all around the world. The Ship is slightly different, in that it doesn’t set out to examine the collapsed world itself, but the desire to separate from it. That came from my sense that the world’s moved on since those brilliant novels. I’m not writing to convince anyone of the disastrous effects of climate change, or over consumption, or inequality – they’re already known. But I do want to ask where those with the power to change things stand in relation to the world they – and we – live in.

I've read that you have four young children, how do you manage to find a balance between writing and family/work life? 
I don’t. Every day is a frantic jigsaw; some days I don’t get to write at all. But some days I get to write more. The only writing mothers I know who haven’t torn out all their hair yet are ones with excellent live-in nannies! I do have an au pair, a decision we made as a family to try and get me a little more time. But then (long story) the children ended up at different schools in completely opposite directions, the au pair and I are both running around. But when you really want to do something, it’s amazing how much use you can make of tiny gaps. I write in the car while I’m waiting outside my daughter’s dance class. I write in the school car park after I’ve dropped off the boys. I write on trains. I write while the children are watching films. And when I do get some quiet writing time, I use it. It’s often horribly frustrating, but I think the two demands on my time – the family and the writing – complement each other. They’re both the most important things in my life, and so they keep each other in perspective.

What was the best writing advice you have ever received?  
That’s a good question, and a very hard one to answer. I’ve done a lot of writing courses – mostly because ‘That’s the evening I go to my course’ is easier for other people to understand than ‘I’m writing that evening.’ So I’ve been lucky enough to hear many published writers give their advice. And it all really boils down to this: to be a writer, you have to write. Even when there are a million and one reasons why it’s impossible. And the best advice I can give for making that happen – the thing that worked best for me – is to make a writing friend who shares your ambition, and to make each other accountable. Set each other deadlines; agree to exchange 5,000 words a week (or 2,000, or 500 – whatever works for you); read each other’s work and feed back. 

What does a typical writing day look like for you?
There’s no such thing for me, although I am hoping that this might change now that my youngest is starting Reception. Mornings are a mad dash to get the children to school; on a good day I’ll be sitting at the kitchen table by 9:30 – and on a really good day I might still be sitting there at 2:30. In an ideal world, the house would maintain itself, James and the children would never need anything done during the day, meals would cook themselves and the fridge would always be full of food. But I’m working on protecting those four hours. I do the baking and cooking when the children are around, I prepare ahead, I say no to school coffee mornings – and internet supermarket shopping is a life saver. 

How did you celebrate when you found out your debut book was going to be published?
Oh goodness – I didn’t, really. It was a Friday and Fridays in our house are a bit mad. I spent the evening supervising piano lessons, roasting a chicken and dreaming. In fact, I was meant to pick up a vital prescription that afternoon and made life very difficult for myself trying to chase it up on Saturday, when the pharmacy was closed and the drug unobtainable by the emergency surgery. But we did treat ourselves to a wonderful weekend away for our wedding anniversary, and took time out to toast The Ship then. 

Are you going to treat yourself to something nice for publishing your first book?
I’m having a lovely launch party – but the best present I could ever have is seeing The Ship in the hands of readers. And I’m very grateful to you for having me on your blog to talk about it. Thank you so much. 

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