The Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged by two writers, Emily Midorikawa and Alison Taft, to take part in the blog meme, ‘The Next Big Thing’ – a sort of virtual chain mail interview passed from author to author, in which they give an insight into their works in progress.  I thought I’d buck the trend and talk about my radio play, rather than my next novel, because it’s the thing that’s preoccupying me most at the moment.

So, big thanks to both for asking me to take part.  You might remember Alison, author of the brilliant Our Father Who Art Out There…Somewhere from the interview I did with her on the site a few months ago.  Emily is a talented writer – a graduate of the MA at the University of East Anglia, represented by Ariella Feiner at United Agents and a creative writing tutor at various institutions, including City University and New York University in London.  I’m sure we’ll see her novel The Light on the Marshes in print very soon.  You can read Emily’s responses to these same questions here.

What is the working title of your next book?

It’s a play, rather than a book – my first drama commission for Radio 4: The Cloistered Soul.



Where did the idea come from? It started off as one thing and – as ideas sometimes do – developed into something else. Initially, I was inspired by a real-life story (which hit the press several years ago) of a mute musician who was found wandering, confused, on a beach.  He couldn’t speak but played the piano brilliantly, so everyone assumed he was a professional musician.  I was fascinated by the enigma of who he was but, more than that, how those around him projected his identity onto him.  In my fictional version, I had a very clear picture of the musician being discovered by a nun and smuggled into a convent.  And that was really the start of the story.
The thing about writing for radio is that your story goes through so many iterations before it’s accepted – initially with your producer, and then with the Commissioner.  When I pitched the idea, the Commissioner wasn’t convinced that a silent musician would work for radio (I see where he was coming from, though I did my best to persuade him otherwise).  However, he loved the idea of the convent, so I reworked the idea.  At the heart of the story, there’s still a stranger whose arrival unsettles things – so the heart of the story is still about how our own desires construct the identity of others.

What genre does your book fall under? 

Radio drama.  It will be broadcast on Radio 4 in the weekday afternoon play slot early in 2014. 

Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I doubt it would be made into a film, but I’m thrilled at the prospect of hearing my words performed.  As a writer for radio, you’re consulted as to which actors you’d like (though it all depends on budget – you might not necessarily get your first choice).  I love Maxine Peake’s work – both for TV and for radio – and would love it if she could play one of the characters (in fact I can hear her voice when I write).  Somehow I doubt it’ll come off though!230246599670146139_wQ7Q28DD_c

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? 

When a mysterious postulant is admitted inside a convent’s enclosure, the community is forced to confront the truth about its faith, and about its past.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? 

The convent setting seemed to come from nowhere, and quite surprised me.  I was brought up a Catholic, but haven’t practised that faith for a long time.  I think – as in my novel Sisterwives – I’m interested in the idea of community, and what part that plays in daily spiritual practice.  And also by the discipline it takes to commit to a religious way of life, or be an ascetic.  I’m fascinated by medieval female mystics, like Julian of Norwich, for example.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

Since it’s for radio, it doesn’t apply in this case.  I aspire one day to have an agent for my fiction though! (I still don’t have one.)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 

Aside from a few sample scenes, I haven’t really started writing it yet!  The process in radio is quite different from that of fiction, in that you pitch the idea first, get the commission and are then given a deadline.  I’m just about to get going on it.  It should take me a couple of months to write the first draft.  After that, it’ll undergo many, many revisions!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 

It provides a glimpse behind the doors of a world we very rarely see.  Although The Cloistered Soul explores the intensity and the emotional and psychological complexities of living in a community, I think its themes are universal.  It’s about truth and courage and belonging.


I’m passing on the ‘Next Big Thing’ baton to novelist Linda Green.  With three bestselling novels under her belt, she’s about to publish her next, The Mummyfesto, with Quercus in February.  Linda will be talking about her ‘Next Big Thing’ here on my website next Wednesday 16 January.


Photo credits: Gretchen Mellberg


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