Q and A with Colette McBeth - author of The Life I Left Behind and Precious Thing.
Today's blog post comes courtesy of bookbridgr. I feel very privileged to be hosting a Q and A with Colette McBeth, author of 'Precious Thing' and 'the Life I Left Behind' as part of the Life I Left Behind blog tour. You can read my review of the novel here.
You used to work in television, what made you change your career path or was being an author something you'd always aspired to?
I always wanted to write. I remember announcing to my class, aged seven, that I was going home to write a book and thinking it would be the easiest thing in the world. I wrote a page before I realized I how wrong I was! But the love of words, writing and reading them was a constant throughout my teenage years and I chose journalism precisely because it would allow me to write. It turned out I actually loved the buzz of news and live TV but even by that time I was already thinking about the book that would become Precious Thing. There came a point when the story started to burst out of my head and demanded to be written. That’s when I threw everything at it, I thought it’s now or never.
Do you have a favourite author?
Not really in the sense that I read widely and I’m more drawn to individual books than the whole works of one author. But if you pushed me I’d say Gabriel Garcia Marquez because his writing is poetic, his imagination is wild and his work always managed to combine humour with social commentary.
If you could have written any novel what would it be?
One Hundred Years of Solitude for all of the above reasons. That novel is a work of art.
Do you have any peculiar writing habits or quirks?
I have to have a coffee in hand when I start work, that’s the first thing. I like to do exercise beforehand if I can so you’ll find me doing press-ups and burpees on a muddy field first thing in the morning with my boot camp class. Also, I get really cold when I write for some unknown reason, so I often look like I’m wearing all my clothes at once.
Was it a conscious decision to have a dead character "brought to life" in your latest novel or something that just happened?
The idea for The Life I Left Behind came when I was watching a news story about the discovery of a woman’s body in a farmer’s field. She’d been there for some years but it was weeks before she was identified and in the absence of a name she was simply referred to as a body or a victim. It occurred to me (and I know this is obvious) that murder victims never get to tell their own story, it’s left to everyone else to piece together their last days and hours. Because of that we rarely get a sense of who they were and what has been lost. In many ways I wanted to give the victim back some dignity.
I imagined a scenario where the she could speak, helped solve her own murder by what she had left behind. So the character of Eve was there right at the start. It wasn’t a question of throwing in a dead narrator as a gimmick. Having said that I worked really hard not to make her ethereal or ghostlike. She had to be larger than life. I wanted people to read her story and think she was the kind of person they’d like to have as a friend. Some of the most satisfying comments from reviewers have been those that said how much they loved Eve and how real she was.
Is there a third novel on the cards? If so can you give anything away yet?
Not too much because I’m still working it out! It’s a book about a group of university friends who have committed a terrible crime and hidden it for years. The novel spans two decades and takes in snapshots of their lives, so we see how the secret impacts on them and their relationships, a bit like One Day meets The Secret History – if it was half as good as either of those books I’d be very happy.
Lots of us book bloggers are harbouring a secret desire to be authors. Can you give us any advice?
It might sound obvious but you need to work out what story you are writing. By that I mean pin it down to its essence, not a summary of the plot or a synopsis but a line that encapsulates what you are trying to do. Once you have that, draw up an outline, have a beginning middle and end and break it down into thirty or so acts of drama that build towards the conclusion. Then write!
Have you read anything that made you think differently about how you write?
You have to write the book you want to write. You are the person who carries the novel around in your head for a year or eighteen months. You are the one who burns your children’s dinner because you’re contemplating how to make a plot twist work. You can’t write by committee or worry about what people will say about it. But…I do read reviews and the feedback, when it’s constructive and fair, can be helpful especially if the comments touch upon issues you’ve wrestled with in the writing process. I think that with each book you want to correct the mistakes of the past one and sometimes reading those reviews can be instructive.
Do you prefer an E-book or a physical book?
A proper book every time. I don’t have to charge it for starters and chargers always seem to go missing in our house. I like to turn a page, know where I am in the book (a percentage doesn’t do it for me.) I do have a Kindle however and there are positives. If I fancy reading something it can be downloaded within seconds.
The Life I Left Behind is available to buy now from Headline and all good book shops.