Here … Or There?

Posted on July 6, 2007 in Uncategorized

Ex-editor of InPrint, Rebecca Strong, is having her first novel, Here or There, published this year by Legend Press. She took some time out to speak to InPrint Online and answer some questions about the novel, Legend Press and her favourite authors.
The launch party for the book will be at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, on July 25th. Be there.



GM: How did the novel originate?

RS: It originated at a moment I can’t pinpoint, somewhere in the back of my mind between a short story I wrote ages ago and the intangible belief that I might, one day, be able to write a novel.

GM: Did you send it to various publishers, an agent?

RS: Fortunately, I got to know Tom Chalmers, MD of Legend Press, whilst I was Editor of the SYP’s magazine, InPrint, and a few months later I spoke to him about my interest in writing. I showed him a couple of short stories I’d written and we discussed the idea of me writing a novel within a year. It’s something I’d always liked the idea of doing, and Tom’s interest gave me the incentive to put the time and effort in. It was an intense process, given that I was also in a full-time job, but I knew it was a worthwhile challenge.

GM: How does it feel to be a novelist? Do you feel changed by the experience?

RS: It feels great to be a novelist, but it also feels like the start of a learning curve. I have always enjoyed literature and dabbled in writing, but now I know it’s definitely something I want to do more of in the future. When I think back to being little and writing random stories on my DOS computer just for fun, it now feels like maybe there was a purpose to all that. So I don’t feel changed as such, but it does feel like a lot has clicked into place.

GM: What influenced the novel most? A person? A writer? A movement? A book?

RS: I can’t say it was influenced by one thing or person, but I’m sure all the literature I have read and enjoyed in the past has subconsciously influenced how I write now. I know what I enjoy in a book, and bear that in mind when I’m writing. I wrote Here or There from the perspective of different characters because I really wanted to challenge myself and not just write from my own point of view. To a certain extent, you can only write from the foundation of your own knowledge, but I believe you should always push your imagination when you write. Several people have asked me if any of the characters in the book are based on real people, and I’ve said no – personally, I would have felt lazy as a fiction writer if I had done that. I didn’t want Here or There to be hugely influenced by anything else, because I wanted it to be original; it’s a bit like a new musician releasing a cover of an old song as their first single – it’s disappointing because you don’t know who they are as an artist.

GM: How do you feel about Legend Press – how would you describe it?

RS: Legend Press is fantastic and, as I’ve known Tom for a while now, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it rapidly grow and achieve a lot. Being a small publisher, they really believe in every book they publish, and put great time and effort into each one. They are approachable and innovative, and very supportive of new writers, which is great. There is so much financial pressure on the publishing industry these days that the focus is shifting away from the intellectual value of books. Legend Press, like any other publisher, is a business, but they continue to promote the art of writing and the pleasure of reading; I feel fortunate to be published by them.

GM: What do you hope to achieve as a writer? Do you have another book in you? What do you think that writers *can* achieve, if anything?

RS: I’ve got the writing ‘bug’ now – I have ideas for my next novel but don’t want to start writing it until Here or There has been published, as I want to concentrate on that for now. I think there are three levels of achievement for a writer: the first is the writing itself (as in, even if your work is not published it’s still an achievement to write a novel), the second is your writing being published, and the third is other people enjoying your writing. I’ve achieved the first two, but the third remains to be seen – it’s the most nerve-wracking part. How you grade your own achievement probably depends on which stage is most important to you – the writing, having it published, or other people liking it. For me, all three are important, but I imagine that the more you have published, the more impetus becomes placed on the third stage, which is understandable. It’s a bit like the “tree falling in the forest” question: if you write a brilliant work and hide it away without anyone ever reading it, is it still a brilliant work? Is it the reading of the work that validates it? Or is the unread work worthy in itself?

GM: Briefly describe your novel, Here or There.

RS: Here or There is set around the lives of several seemingly unconnected characters who are struggling with the consequences of decisions they’ve made in life and the actions of those around them. It’s about the constant quest for satisfaction in life, and the uncertainty faced when it comes to making choices. It’s about appreciating what you have before it’s too late, whilst battling the human instinct to search for more.

GM: Why should people read it, when there is so much to read out there, and so much of is free at the point of access?

RS: It’s a personal decision people will make; I read free newspapers, blogs, extracts, articles and reviews, but none of them give me as much pleasure as buying and reading a good book. I wanted to write a novel that everyone could relate to in some way, no matter who they are. Here or There deals with emotions common to all of us, so I think it will have a wide appeal. I wanted to drop my voice and take up those of my characters; just as in any fiction we enjoy – TV, film, literature etc – the characters should come alive for both writer and reader, albeit temporarily. Ultimately, I hope it’s a good book with a plot everyone will enjoy, and I believe there’s something unique about it.

GM: Who is your favourite contemporary author? Are they worse or better than authors in the past?

RS: I can’t name one author, because I like to read a variety, but there are definitely writers I admire – Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood and Bret Easton Ellis being examples. I used to read a lot of Stephen King as a teenager – he’s often dismissed as popular fiction, but the thing I admire about all these writers, King included, is the way they develop their characters and relationships, and the intense psychology of their writing. I suppose I’ve fallen into the voyeuristic trap set by our society; although many of the classics are timeless, perhaps they don’t appeal to me as much because I can’t relate as easily to the characters. I do prefer to read contemporary fiction, but I can’t claim that the writing is better now than in the past, because it changes with the times. Attention spans are diminishing in all areas of life, and readers want instant gratification. Great works continue to be created, and that’s what keeps literature alive.

GM: Is the novel a dying format?

RS: I don’t believe so, no. Short stories and novellas are becoming popular again because people are so pressed for time, but I can’t see novels fading away.

GM: What do you see the potted history of the novel as – is it a hybrid form? An omnivorous form? Has it just taken whatever it needed from the epic, from pastoral, from poetry, from theatre and from playwrights, and become amorphous and flabby? What do you think?

RS: The novel, like writing, has to constantly change and adapt to suit the times. The structure of today’s novel has surely taken from many formats over the years and been tailored to suit today’s reader. I don’t think it’s amorphous because you pretty much know when you walk into a bookshop what to expect when you pick up a novel. Perhaps it’s like metred vs. unmetred poetry: a writer may find convention either helpful or restrictive; similarly, the reader will find it either comforting or predictable.

GM: Who is your least favourite contemporary writer? Why?

RS: I’m not a big fan of chick-lit, though it has its own merit and can be very entertaining. I can’t name one particular writer though – I’d never want to completely rule out reading someone’s work, because I might learn something from it.

GM: Does Rushdie deserve his knighthood? Is the knighthood an outdated concept?

RS: I have read a little of Rushdie’s writing, though I’m not a fan. To be honest, I’ve never really understood how knighthoods work and what people have to do in order to merit one; I’m kind of indifferent to them. I suppose it gives you some sort of national recognition, though I imagine there are plenty of non-famous people who would be deserving of one.

GM: Are you a religious writer, with you having a faith that you keep and uphold?

RS: I am a practising Christian and it’s one of the most important things in my life, but I haven’t thus far married it to my writing. Religion in general interests me, and it’s something I may explore through writing in the future.

GM: Does your authorial personality differ from Rebecca Strong the person? Did you invent an idealised author for the reader to adopt?

RS: I don’t think I’m a different person as a writer, but I definitely feel more exposed. Even when you are writing complete fiction, you are injecting part of yourself into the novel. Those who know me well won’t be surprised, but perhaps those who don’t know me so well will now see a different side of me as an author. I can only be myself – I don’t think the ‘idealised’ author exists – and I would rather focus on the appeal of my writing than on myself as an author.

GM: Sell the book, in five words.

RS: Here or There – you choose.

GM: Sell your next book, in ten words.

RS: A fantastic follow-up by the author of Here or There.