Writer of the Month
July – Graham Joyce
Graham Joyce quit his executive job in 1988 and decamped to the Greek island of Lesbos, to live in a beach shack and concentrate on writing. He sold his first novel while still in Greece and since then has published 20 novels and numerous short stories. He is a winner of the O. Henry Award; The World Fantasy Award for best novel; and is five-time winner of the British Fantasy Award for best novel. His work has been translated into over twenty languages. Both his most recent novels The Silent Land and Some kind Of Fairy tale are in development in Hollywood. His website is grahamjoyce.co.uk.
Writing East Midlands caught up with Graham to find out more about his latest project:
Your new novel “Some Kind of Fairytale”? is launched on Thursday (5th July). Can you tell us a little more about it?
It’s set in the area of Charnwood Forest. A sixteen year old girl goes missing in the bluebell woods. She is feared abducted and killed. Twenty years later she suddenly re-appears. She has an outlandish story to tell about where she’s been all this time, but no-one believes her. However, she appears not have aged much during those twenty years.
“Some Kind of Fairytale”? has been optioned by a Hollywood Studio. Could you tell us how this came about?
Hollywood likes to buy books that have already been a roaring success, because a ready audience is assumed to be in place. Some books are tricky to turn into films but if one has a clear film potential you can sometimes sell an option on a book before it has been published. In this case it was sold on the basis of an early draft by my agent in New York. It is a very visual story; or at least parts of it are very visual. Plus it has an interesting landscape setting. Often they change the setting for a US audience but I’m hoping that if it gets made it will keep its location in Charnwood.
I notice you have a fantasy theme running through your writing. What draws you into exploring fantasy? And what interests you about myth and the unreal?
Angela Carter once said something about feeling limited by “safe literary realism”?. For me realism is a somewhat restricted canvas. I’ve never believed that there is a rational basis for our emotional life, so my only way of trying to understand the world is by trying to see what happens just under the layer of consciousness. This leads me into myth and dreaming and other fractured ways of knowing; but I’m interested in the intersect, so I don’t write sealed fantasy either. I like to play the shuttle between fantasy and realism.
Your last novel “The Silent Land”? was set in the French Pyrenees and follows a couple on a skiing holiday that are caught up in the throes of an avalanche. Your use of landscape is very central to the story, what inspired you to explore this setting?
The silence of snow in a big landscape is inspirational and it can engender awe almost to the point of panic. Actually I was in Finland when I got the idea but the French Pyrenees were more suited the story I wanted to write. I went dog-sledging at dawn in Finland, on a frozen lake several kilometres across. In the middle of the lake I stopped the dogs and the sun was coming up pink. Things seem very simple in such a landscape. There is life and there is death. I felt overwhelmed by the weight of the snow.
You openly use quotes from other writers in you work. What writers and books have most inspired your own writing and why?
I find this so hard to answer! I’m an eclectic reader. So I don’t know whether to cite the Dr Strange comics I read in my youth, or films, or whether to bang on about Shakespeare and Dickens. I’m a fan of all of these. I love high-end, canonical literature and I love popular fiction just as much. (Though I admit to feeling alienated from much Booker-type fiction: there is junk ‘literary’ fiction just as much as there is junk popular fiction). I’m a narrative fiend. If the narrative is weak I can’t be bothered, even if it’s written in the tongue of angels. But to name a just a few inspirations I would say Robert Louis Stevenson, George Orwell, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Graham Green, Anthony Burgess , Angela Carter.
You teach Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University. Do you find teaching Creative Writing informs/ inspires your writing?
It certainly makes you aware of your many faults as a writer. Working with other writers in the workshops – the students – is fascinating because the issues are always new. You can see solutions but there is never a blueprint – you have to work it out according to each new work. It also confirms for me that writing is all about rewriting. Great things can happen in a writing workshop if you can be open and not defensive and very often I get to see brand new ways of doing things.
Can you tell us about your writing process? Do you plan out your work in detail or lose yourself in an idea?
I have no idea where my writing will take me from one day to another. I start out with what I think is an interesting situation and try to tell a story which explains how my characters got into that situation and how they get out of it. I know some writers who plan everything out before they write but if I try to do that the process goes flat on me. I don’t know why. If it’s all figured out I lose the motivation to write it. Plus I’m exploring a subject rather than reporting on it. There is a big difference between those two things.
What advice can you give to writers that are looking to make a career out of their writing?
From a career point of view things are changing even as I write this. The old model was one of seeking an advance from a publisher and that enabled you to write the next book. Success in the writing game was based on keeping that going year after year. The advance will still be there in future but it surely won’t be enough. Writers should think about diversifying what they do and look to micro-streams of income rather than from a single advance. This might mean combining an advance with e-publishing; teaching; talks; performances; becoming competent in different genres; multi-media and so on. I don’t think you can be “one sort of writer”? any more.
To view an extract from Graham’s new novel “Some Kind of Fairy Tale” click here
To view Graham’s profile on Writing East Midlands, please see here