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Waterstones’ New Voices 2009 – Interview Six – Matthew Plampin

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Matthew Plampins novel The Street Philosopher

The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin

Debut novelist Matthew Plampin brings us to number six in our series of interviews with the Waterstones’ ones to watch 2009. Matthew grew up in Essex and went to university in Birmingham, studying English and History of Art. He then went to complete his PHD at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Now lecturing in Nineteenth century art and architecture he also found time to complete his first novel The Street Philosopher.

Set in the violent back drop of the Crimean War The Street Philosopher tells the story Thomas Kitson a promising art critic who gives it all up to become a war reporter. Following in Kitson’s footsteps are his boss, a drink obsessed Irish reporter, and a sensitive young illustrator who was commissioned to follow the British Army into war. Jumping between scenes during the war and Manchester a year after the war which sees Thomas Kitson becomes the street philosopher reporting on the daily gossip. Struggling to come to terms with his war time past may scupper a budding relationship with the widowed daughter of a corrupt factory owner.

Critics celebrated Plampin’s excellent research skills brining the horrors of the Crimean war to life, drawing on his own experiences dealing with raw historical text has allowed Matthew Plampin to give the reader a realistic insight into the Crimean war whilst dealing with the ever-present issue of returning back to normality.

Matthew speaks to The Scribbler about his own influences, what inspires him and what it means to be included on the Waterstones ones to watch list 2009.

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The Scribbler: What is different about your writing that helps it stand out from other new writers at the moment?

Matthew Plampin: I don’t know if that’s really for me to say. I hope that it takes a vivid and cinematic approach to historical fiction.

TS: As a ‘New Voice of 2009’ you must be inspired by some very contemporary authors. Which writers do you enjoy reading and draw inspiration from?

MP: I’m a big fan of Peter Carey, particularly ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’, and will also read anything by Kate Grenville, Sarah Waters or Beryl Bainbridge. I really like modern graphic novels as well, especially those by Chris Ware or Daniel Clowes.

TS: Our readers will be very interested in how you approach a writing project. Where do you lift your ideas from?

MP: All sorts of places. I read a lot of history, but also take care to utilise primary sources – Victorian newspapers, diaries, guidebooks and so on – in an effort to create an authentic feel and get the details right. Visual imagery is also very important to me. One of the first things I do is get a good map of the places I’m writing about, as well as any paintings, engravings or photographs that I come to hand. I find Victorian photography completely engrossing. The Crimean War was one of the very first to photographed, and I regularly consulted the many ghostly images taken by Roger Fenton whilst writing ‘The Street Philosopher’. This has led me to a broader interest – I’m particularly fascinated right now by the photographs taken by Lady Clementina Hawarden in the late 1850s, some of which have an eerily contemporary feel to them. I’m also frequently inspired by TV and film. Recent favourites have included ‘Deadwood’, ‘The Wire’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’.

TS:  When you first began writing how easy was it to find and sign to publisher? Can you talk us through that

MP: Not very! I actually wrote an entire novel before ‘The Street Philosopher’ that sunk without trace, which was disheartening to say the least, but it meant that I was a little more thick-skinned later on. Basically, I circulated passages of the first proper draft as widely as I could and eventually, through a friend in publishing, it found its way to my agent – who happened to be looking for new authors at the time. We then worked on a new draft of the novel together and he managed to get me a deal with HarperCollins. It took a lot of perseverance and a fair bit of serendipity.

TS: What obstacles have you come across in your writing and how did you overcome them?

MP: The main challenges of ‘The Street Philosopher’ were making the novel’s two chronological strands equally engaging; balancing grand-scale historical events such as royal ceremonies and major battles with the characters’ personal trials, triumphs and tragedies; and explaining often quite complicated history in a way that was interesting and didn’t slow down the narrative. The only way to overcome them was through hard work and extensive redrafts.

TS: We often hear that artists have trouble dealing with their own pieces (i.e. musicians not able to listen to their albums etc.) How do you feel about your own work? Are you comfortable with it?

MP: Mostly. There is a slight nervousness there – bits that gave me trouble that still sometimes flag up in my mind even though the issues are long since resolved. But for every wince I can usually find a few passages that I’m pretty pleased with.

TS: Have you already started work on your next book? Is it difficult to leave one piece behind and start new one?

MP: I’m actually within a couple of months of finishing the first draft of my second novel – it should be out in early 2010. Leaving ‘The Street Philosopher’ behind was hard as I’d worked on it for over four years, but starting something completely new has been exhilarating. It’s a story of intricate conspiracies and bloody betrayal set around a gun factory in 1850s Pimlico, owned and overseen by the legendary American revolver-maker Colonel Samuel Colt, and I’m enjoying writing it a lot.

TS:  What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and advice would you give to our budding readers today?

MP: Redraft repeatedly; everything can be improved. Consider advice carefully, but don’t allow it to overwhelm or redirect what you set out to do. And get something down – a very basic point but a vital one. I’ve learned that a flawed draft you can go back to is a lot better than nothing.

TS: In your opinion what is The Street Philosopher about?

MP: In my opinion (broadly speaking and in no particular order): trauma and injustice, then redemption and revenge; different, even conflicting conceptions of duty and friendship; the complex role of the war correspondent; the corruption wrought by power – in all its forms.

TS: What books inspired you to pick up the pen and start writing?

MP: ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ by Peter Carey; ‘The Stones of Venice’ by John Ruskin; ‘Moby-Dick’ by Herman Melville; ‘Bleak House’ by Charles Dickens; ‘Romola’ by George Eliot; ‘The Golden Legend’ by Jacobus de Voraigne; ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ by Iain Pears; ‘Mason and Dixon’ by Thomas Pynchon. And too many others to list here.

TS: What is your learning background?, and do you feel it helped you in writing your novel?

MP: I did a PhD in Victorian cultural history at the Courtauld Institute of Art, which not only exposed me to a lot of the raw historical material that inspired the novel, but also accustomed me to solitude, the planning and researching of large writing projects, and long, long hours – all of which has proved essential.

TS: What does it mean to you to be named as one of the New Voices of 2009 by Waterstones?

MP: A great deal – it’s massively encouraging to be selected as one of twelve from such an enormous pool of entrants, and seeing the book on display in the window of the Piccadilly branch has definitely been one of the high points of the whole experience so far.

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Bellow is a video of the man himself talking to Waterstones about his book The Street Philosopher

Discussion:
So has anyone been reading The Street Philosopher? What’s your verdict? Leave your comments below

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Waterstones’ New Voices 2009 – Interview Five – Mari Strachan

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Mari Strachans debut novel The Earth Hums In B Flat

Mari Strachans debut novel The Earth Hums In B Flat

Mari Strachan brings us half way in our series of interviews with the authors included on the Waterstone’s ones to watch list 2009. The ex librarian whose mother tongue is in fact welsh has surprised many with her debut novel The Earth Hums In B Flat. The Independent newspaper has described her as an unlikely literary star proving that words do matter, when considered that many publishing houses want there debut novelists to resemble junior celebrities, this welsh librarian has somewhat broken the mould.

Her debut novel The Earth Hums In B Flat tells the tale of a young 11 year old girl investigating a disappearance in a small welsh town during the 1950s Managing to capture the bold yet naive voice of adolescence her young protagonist Gwenni Morgan has a keen eye for detective stories and is determined to get to the bottom of a villagers mysterious disappearance.

Mari has taken time out to talk to The Scribbler about her own influences, where she gets her ideas from and what it means to be included on the Waterstones ones to watch list.

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The Scribbler: What is different about your writing that helps it stand out from other new writers at the moment?

Mari Strachan: I guess it’s the voice that singles out one author from among others, whatever kind of book that author is writing. It’s difficult for me to judge whether that’s true for me, but I hope that it is.

TS: As a ‘New Voice of 2009’ you must be inspired by some very contemporary authors. Which writers do you enjoy reading and draw inspiration from?

MS: I enjoy reading poetry – Carol Ann Duffy (and hurray that she is the new Poet Laureate) and Gillian Clarke in English, Gwyneth Lewis in English and Welsh, and Menna Elfyn in Welsh. I love the way they use language.
I tend to draw inspiration from single novels from a variety of authors – novels like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, Barry Unsworth’s Morality Play, Andrea Levy’s Small Island – all novels with strong main character voices, and a vivid sense of time and/or place, as well as a good story to tell.

TS: Our readers will be very interested in how you approach a writing project. Where do you lift your ideas from?

MS: Ideas sneak in from all over the place in a very haphazard way – some of them are a real surprise at the moment of writing and some have been with me for a long while and re-surface when the time is right for them. My approach to a writing project is to read, think, make notes, think some more, read some more, in fact I could make that stage last forever, but at some point I actually have to start doing some proper writing, which is the point at which it becomes very hard. I’ve found that the best way for me to advance then is to write my (usually dreadful) first draft right through to the end so I have something to shape into a novel.

TS: When you first began writing how easy was it to find and sign to a publisher? Can you talk us through that process?

MS: Very few publishers seem to accept manuscripts directly from an author, and the first step was to find an agent to act as my go-between. I did this the way most people do – trawling the internet and trawling through the authors’ handbooks that I usually managed to get as Christmas presents. I did a lot of homework in that way to see who might like and take on my novel and I was lucky to find an agent quite soon. It was then up to the agent to send the ms out to the publishers she thought might want the novel. Two publishers were interested and I chose Canongate because I liked what Jamie Byng and Anya Serota had to say about my book.

TS: What obstacles have you come across in your writing and how did you overcome them?

MS: Getting started at all is hard – I think what stops me must be the idea of committing my words and ideas to paper where they suddenly change from these wonderful imaginings to trite words and phrases that don’t do what I want them to. The only thing to do is persevere, get through that first draft, and then begin the real work of making it into a living, breathing piece of fiction. The other obstacle I’ve always had is a lack of confidence in my writing and taking a Masters degree course in Creative Writing helped me to overcome that sufficiently to carry on writing to the point of publication.

TS: We often hear that artists have trouble dealing with their own pieces (i.e. musicians not able to listen to their albums etc.). How do you feel about your own work? Are you comfortable with it?

Mari Strachan

Mari Strachan

MS: I still feel ambivalent about my own work – sometimes I think it works really well and at other times I feel I’ve failed miserably to achieve what I wanted with it.

TS: Have you already started work on your next book? Is it difficult to leave one piece behind and start a new one?

MS: I have started work on my second novel. I have no difficulty with leaving the finished work behind. And the difficulty with starting new work is the same as I always experience of committing words to paper.

TS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and what advice would you give to our budding readers today?

MS: I don’t think I’ve ever been given advice about writing. But I would say that the best advice is to just do it – I ought to take that advice myself!

TS: In your opinion what is The Earth Hums about?

MS: The Earth Hums is about Gwenni’s journey from childhood into dreaded adulthood.

TS: What books inspired you to pick up the pen and start writing?

MS: I’ve read and written since I can remember, and I think all the books I’ve ever read have influenced me in one way or another.

TS: What is your learning background and do you feel it helped you in writing your novel?

MS: My first degree was in English and History, and I’ve always retained that fascination with the past, and the lessons it can teach us today if we’re willing to learn from them. I took a post graduate qualification in librarianship which kept me in the world of books most of my working life. And I recently gained a Masters degree in Creative Writing which was instrumental in giving me enough confidence in my work to seek publication, as well as giving me a good grounding in the techniques of writing fiction.

TS: What does it mean to you to be named as one of the New Voices of 2009 by Waterstone’s?

MS: Of all the accolades a writer can have, this is one of the best – prizes are nice to have, of course, but most are judged by a handful of people, whereas the New Voices are chosen by lots of Waterstone’s booksellers, people who know about books and who know what their customers like to read.

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Promote or rant about Mari Strachan or any of your favourite new writers for 2009 in the comment box below. Expect more Q&As with the novelists on the Waterstones ones to watch list 2009 in the near future.

Words: Seamus Swords

Waterstones’ New Voices 2009 – Interview Four – Jenn Ashworth

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Jenn Asworths debute novel A Kind Of Intimacy

Jenn Asworth's debute novel A Kind Of Intimacy

Author Jenn Ashworth is the fourth writer to be interviewed by The Scribbler about being included in Waterstones’ New Voices 2009.

Her debut novel, A Kind Of Intimacy, caught the attention of the Waterstones’ critics last year and with good reason. It is a story that traces the dark possibilities of best intentions going awry. It’s not a comfortable read but then these are the kind of books that get us the most excited. It gives an unsettling glimpse into a clumsy young woman’s life who’s actions would almost certainly label her as a monster if she didn’t have so much in common with the rest of us.

Got your interest? Read the full interview with the talented Jenn Ashworth below then leave a comment in the discussion box. Enjoy!

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The Scribbler: What does it mean to you to be recognised as a New Voice of 2009 by Waterstones?

Jenn Ashworth: It’s very exciting. It’s especially flattering because this is a promotion that involves front-line booksellers reading, reviewing and choosing the promoted books – not publishers paying for them. As a debut novelist with a smaller publisher, that’s levelled a playing field I might not otherwise have had a turn on.

TS: What is different about your writing that helps it stand out from other new writers at the moment?

JA: I think that’s something you’d have to ask my readers. Most have remarked on the uncomfortable mix of comedy and near-tragedy in my writing – not only this novel, but also in the short stories that I publish online. As far as I know, A Kind of Intimacy is the first novel to have ever given the sea-side town of Fleetwood, Lancashire to the world, either. I’d love to be corrected if I’m wrong.

TS: As a New Voice of 2009 you must be inspired by some very contemporary authors. Which writers do you enjoy reading and draw inspiration from?

JA: I’ve just finished reading Ray Robinson’s first novel – Electricity, which I really enjoyed. I also have a lot of respect for my friend Chris Killen, who’s novel The Bird Room was published recently. I think he and I come from very different places as writers, and yet both have a dark sense of humour that comes across in our work. Generally though, my inspiration doesn’t come from books, it comes from people.

TS: Our readers will be very interested in how you approach a writing project. Where do you lift your ideas from?

JA: In the past when I’ve been asked this I’ve said something faintly sarcastic about the ideas tree in the bottom of my garden. My polite answer would be something to do with wanting to explore certain themes and issues that are important to me on an emotional level I’m not really able to verbalise. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I knew I wanted to write about feeling odd and lonely and not quite involved with the world before I started seeing a woman who looked a bit like Annie on the bus in to work in the morning. I worked in a library and when an American self help book called The Surrendered Wife appeared on my trolley, other ideas started to appear. Hard work and seven drafts over two and a half years brought it all together.

TS: When you first began writing how easy was it to find and sign to publisher? Can you talk us through that process?

JA: I first began writing when I was ten or twelve, and didn’t have any idea about finding a publisher back then. The process of signing with Arcadia was the usual one – handled by my agent who submitted the manuscript on my behalf to a few editors he thought would appreciate Annie’s strange character. I did an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester University, and although the camaraderie and the feedback certainly helped me stay motivated and to consider myself as a writer, I wouldn’t say that I made magical contacts there that helped with the search. I’ve since heard that Annie terrified one of the editors at Arcadia, which makes me smile.

TS: What obstacles have you come across in your writing and how did you overcome them?

JA: The biggest obstacle is my own laziness and cloudy thinking. I’d love to be ten times cleverer than I really am. I can feel what I want to say, but can’t catch hold of it sometimes. That’s terrible. I make lists though, and I have a black board to write down words that come to me in the night, and I don’t have a television and try not to go out or socialise too much so I don’t get distracted. The Internet is a big distraction. The instant gratification of online publishing is becoming a barrier to the slow progress of writing a novel. I might need to get rid of it. The internet, not the novel.

TS: We often hear that artists have trouble dealing with their own pieces (i.e. musicians not able to listen to their albums etc.) How do you feel about your own work? Are you comfortable with it?

Jenn Ashworth

Jenn Ashworth

JA: I like the novel – I’m not ashamed of it. I didn’t read it while it was being submitted because I was working on something else, and now the only time I look at it is when I’m asked to do readings. I’m just finished with that one now, and onto something that’s got more of my attention. I suppose I’ve moved on, although I can still see what I saw in her at the time!

TS: Have you already started work on your next book? Is it difficult to leave one piece behind and start new one?

JA: I have started it, and I expect to be finished fairly soon. I think. I hope. It took a year and a couple of false starts and lots of experiments with short stories before I felt ready to write another novel. I needed to read a lot, and rest. Fill up the tank again, maybe. It is going well now, although finding the time is a constant struggle. And so often, when I have the time the inclination is absent. I feel bad complaining though. I’m well aware it isn’t a proper job, because I’ve got one of those too.

TS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and advice would you give to our budding readers today?

JA: Andrew Motion told me to just write down what happens. I was asking him about some tortuous, self inflicted, silly problem I was having with tense, or point of view, or the Russian doll effect you get when you try to take into account the narrator’s circumstances while they are narrating. Whinging about it, I think, and he very politely told me to just write down what happens. I took it to mean that sometimes you can be too clever, and that it helps to forget most of what you learned during your undergrad degree.

TS: In your opinion what is A Kind of Intimacy about?

JA: I think its about trying to start again and, perhaps through no fault of your own, not quite being able to manage it.

TS: What books inspired you to pick up the pen and start writing?

JA: None of them in particular. I wrote more than I read when I was younger. It’s only since I started making sure that it is the other way round that my writing got any better.

TS: What is your learning background? And do you feel it helped you in writing your novel?

JA: Well, I have an English degree which I don’t think helped too much – although I do love being able to read as well as I can, and the very rigorous and old fashioned way I was taught is, I think, responsible for that and suited me very well. The Creative Writing MA was an experience I wont forget or regret, but I’m still not exactly sure what kind of effect it has had on my writing. As I’m writing this second novel I am half missing the regular support of my classmates, and half glad that I’m writing without stablisers now.

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Discussion
Promote or rant about Jenn Ashworth or any of your favourite new writers for 2009 and expect more Q&As with the novelists on the Waterstones ones to watch list 2009.

Words: Dean Samways

Waterstones’ New Voices 2009 – Interview Two – Yiyun Li

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The Vagrants By Yiyun Li

The Vagrants By Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li has made it onto the Waterstones’ ones to watch list 2009 after the release of her well received novel The Vagrants.

Moving to the United States in 1996 she had work published in the New Yorker as well as winning awards and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the Whiting Foundation.

Her first collection of works, Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction.

Her most recent novel The Vagrants follows a small group in a small town during the 1970s when China was going through a social and political revolution towards a more open and free society.

In the middle of all this hype and excitement Yiyun Li took some time out to chat to The Scribbler. Read the interview below.

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THE SCRIBBLER: What is different about your writing that helps it stand out from other new writers at the moment?

YIYUN LI: I don’t think that is a question I can answer.

TS: As a ‘New Voice of 2009’ you must be inspired by some very contemporary authors. Which writers do you enjoy reading and draw inspiration from?

YL: Of the contemporary authors, I feel greatly indebted to William Trevor, whose novels and stories I read for inspiration.

TS: Our readers will be very interested in how you approach a writing project. Where do you lift your ideas from?

YL: I look for situations in life (from newspapers and from conversations with people) that fascinate or baffle me, and I then go on to make up characters to explore the situations.

TS: When you first began writing how easy was it to find and sign to publisher? Can you talk us through that process?

YL: I suppose I had my share of rejection letters from literary magazines, though I was fortunate enough to have a story published in The New Yorker early in my career, which helped when I signed up with the publisher.

TS: What obstacles have you come across in your writing and how did you overcome them?

YL: I write in a second language, so I am always aware that language will remain a challenge. I keep reading and writing, which seems the only way to deal with the challenge, if not to overcome it.

TS: We often hear that artists have trouble dealing with their own pieces (i.e. musicians not able to listen to their albums etc.)

Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li

YL: How do you feel about your own work? Are you comfortable with it? After I finish my work I don’t think about it anymore. I am comfortable for my work to be read by the world, as by the time my words are in print I am distant enough from them.

TS: Have you already started work on your next book? Is it difficult to leave one piece behind and start new one?

YL: I have started to work on my next book, a collection of stories. I don’t find it hard to leave a piece behind. In fact, it is always a joy to leave the old behind and start something new.

TS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and advice would you give to our budding readers today?

YL: James Alan McPherson, who was my mentor when I began to write, rarely discussed the crafts of writing when I met him, but every time we met he would say to me, “Keep writing.” An I do believe that is the best advice given to me, and I would pass it on to young writers.

TS: In your opinion what is The Vagrants about?

YL: I don’t think I’d talk about a novel that way, not my books or other authors’ books.

TS: What books inspired you to pick up the pen and star writing?

YL: Many of William Trevor’s stories and novels inspired me to start writing. So has Graham Greene’s work.

TS: What is your learning background, and do you feel it helped you in writing your novel?

YL: I had a science background – I was trained to become an immunologist when I gave up that career to become a writer.

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Click on the clip to see a trailer for the film adaptation of Yiyun Li’s A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers

Discussion:
Discuss, promote or rant about Yiyun Li or any of your favourite new writers for 2009, and expect more Q&As with the novelists on the Waterstones ones to watch list 2009.

Words: Seamus Swords

Waterstones’ New Voices 2009 – Interview One – Janice Y. K. Lee

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Janice Y.K Lees debute novel

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K Lee

Janice Y. K. Lee has written her first novel to much acclaim, after making it onto the Waterstones’ New Voices 2009 The Scribbler has managed to secure a quick Q&A with the writer.

This interview is the first in a series in which we hope to talk to all the nominated writers competing for the Waterstones award.

Impressing many publications from the intellectual New Yorker to fashion magazine Vogue, Janice Y. K. Lee has managed to impress some of the harshest critiques with The Piano Teacher, a tale of love, passion and survival in 1940s and 50s Hong Kong.

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THE SCRIBBLER: What is different about your writing that helps it stand out from other new writers at the moment?

JANICE Y. K. LEE: I think that people like to be transported in a novel, and 40s and 50s Hong Kong is sufficiently far away from most peoples’ worlds that they feel as if they are travelling and learning a little bit.  The Piano Teacher has been described as an historical epic and an epic love story and I think both of those appeals to readers.

TS: As a New Voice of 2009 you must be inspired by some very contemporary authors. Which writers do you enjoy reading and draw inspiration from?

JYKL: I do read mostly contemporary writers, partly because I want to support writers working now and also because it is the closest to my heart.  I think Shirley Hazzard and Michael Ondaatje are amazing.  Also Amy Hempel, Lorrie Moore, Junot Diaz, Jeffrey Eugenides.  I could go on and on.

TS:  Our readers will be very interested in how you approach a writing project. Where do you lift your ideas from?

JYKL: I don’t know that I “lift” them as much as they come floating up to the conscious part of my head.  I’ll be thinking about many things, and some will keep coming back, or be resonating for a reason I cannot figure out.  I was interested in a long time by people who steal, people who one would never think would do such a thing.  This found its way into short stories, characters I would write about, and eventually found its way into the book.  TPT started as a short story about an English piano teacher and her young Chinese student.  From there, the characters really led me to their story.

TS: When you first began writing how easy was it to find and sign to publisher? Can you talk us through that process?

JYKL: I have an unusual story, which will probably not be that helpful, unfortunately.  My teacher from grad school, Chang rae Lee, introduced me to my agent, and she took me on the basis of my short stories but she really encouraged me to write a novel.  It took me a while, but after 5 years, I had my novel.  She was always very encouraging of it and because I took so long to make sure it was right, it was in good shape by the time I finished it.  From there, she sent it out and there were a lot of interested parties and it ended up going to auction.  I had a lot of rejection during my 20s with my short stories, but luckily, with this novel, it was a fairy tale sort of story.

Janice Y.K Lee

Janice Y. K. Lee

TS: What obstacles have you come across in your writing and how did you overcome them?

JYKL: I think writing a first novel, in particular, is difficult as you are writing in obscurity, you are likely not making any money, and people often don’t know what to make of you.  All I can say is that you just have to believe in yourself, and in your book, and keep on.

TS: We often hear that artists have trouble dealing with their own pieces (i.e. musicians not able to listen to their albums etc.) How do you feel about your own work? Are you comfortable with it?

JYKL: I haven’t read the book through since it came out.  I don’t know when I’ll do that.  I do flip through sometimes, and read a passage, and usually I will like it.  I suppose that’s pretty good!

TS: Have you already started work on your next book? Is it difficult to leave one piece behind and start new one?

JYKL: Writing a second book is awfully difficult as well!  I feel there is a certain expectation as to the kind of the book I will write, and I’m trying hard to let that feeling go and write what I want to write.  I think I have successfully left TPT behind but it’s just trying to get to that new place right now.

TS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and advice would you give to our budding readers today?

JYKL: Treat writing like a job.  It is a job and you have to work very hard at it.  It is not always some romantic life of late nights and wine and talking about one’s process (that may come afterwards! or before!).  You have to sit at that desk and write.

TS: In your opinion what is The Piano Teacher about?

JYKL: I think it’s about Claire (the book’s piano teacher), but I’ve been argued down to the ground about that.  Others think it is about consequences of actions made under duress, east meets west, wartime.  But I’ll stick to my guns and say it’s about Claire’s journey as a person.

TS: What books inspired you to pick up the pen and start writing?

JYKL: Any of the books written by the writers I mentioned above will move me and make me want to write.  They have a way of surprising readers, using words differently, illuminating character, that make one pause and savour the language.  

TS: What is your learning background? And do you feel it helped you in writing your novel?

JYKL: I went to university and studied English and American Literature which was certainly helpful.  I did an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing which was helpful insofar as it gave me time to write in a community of people who were doing the same thing.

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Click on the below clip to hear an except from The Piano Teacher:

Discussion:
Please take this chance to discuss, promote or rant about Janice Y.K Lee or any of your favourite new writers for 2009, and expect more Q&As with the novelists on the Waterstones ones to watch list 2009.

Words: Seamus Swords

Ones to read in 2009

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Richard Milward author of Ten Storey Love Song, one of Waterstones New Voices of 2009

Richard Milward author of Ten Storey Love Song, one of Waterstones' New Voices of 2009

In true eagle-eyed Scribbler enthusiasm, we have sought out – with the help of Waterstones – the writers we all need to look out for and read this year.

The high street booksellers, Waterstone’s this week announced its New Voices for 2009, the books from emerging writers that the chain believes will go on to feature in and possibly win the literary awards of the year.

Incredibly half the choices came from independent publishers, including A Kind of Intimacy, a debut by prison librarian Jenn Ashworth which is being compared to Notes on a Scandal, and Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt.

Waterstone’s fiction category manager, Toby Bourne said: “There are a huge number of novels published every year and it is very difficult to say which will strike awards gold and which will not, but we had a fantastic hit rate last year.”

Included in 2008’s selection were Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger which went on to win the Man Booker, Sadie JonesThe Outcast, which was awarded the Costa First Novel Award, and other novels that made Richard & Judy’s Book Club (bleurgh!) and other awards shortlists.

“Even more so than last year, debut fiction dominates our list, with only the precociously talented Richard Milward two novels into his career,” said Waterstone’s fiction buyer, Janine Cook, who helped choose the list.”

Ten Torey Love Song by Richard Milward, only his second book, is a novel written in a single, 286-page paragraph by the 24-year-old.

Cook went onto to say: “The writers may be new, but they have huge talent and these books deserve to compete with those from more established writers for both the attention of readers and for the big prizes.

“This is an invaluable opportunity for these authors to reach the widest possible audience. The Outcast and The White Tiger have gone on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies between them since inclusion in New Voices 2008, so the rewards can be very high.”

Waterstones’ New Voices will be featured in Waterstones’ stores and online at Waterstones.com from 5 March.

The titles are:

Watch a Richard Millward talk about his New Voices of 2009 highlighted novel Ten Storey Love Song below:

Discussion:
So then, has anyone read any of these new offerings? Will anyone be looking into any of these books now they have received the titles of New Voices of 2009? It’s gotta be a good thing right?

Words: Dean Samways

Keep coming back to The Scribbler for interviews with the New Voices of 2009 in the coming weeks

Economic downturn makes for unhappy reading

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Not even the boy wizard could help Waterstones profits last year (Waterstones)

Not even the boy wizard could help Waterstones' profits last year (Waterstones)

Waterstones today announced figures that suggest the book market has been effected by reduced customer spending during the current economic climate.

The retailer’s parent company HMV saw Waterstone’s like-for-like sales drop 3.1% in the 26 weeks between April and 25 October. The comparison showed a 1.4% fall when adjusted for the phenomenal impact of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on 2007’s result.

The report also shows HMV has suffered market deterioration since the end of October which is in line with the well-documented downturn in consumer confidence. It is quoted in saying the book market has seen a ‘marked deterioration’ in the five weeks to 29 November.

Waterstone’s operating loss before exceptional items increased in the first half year to £9.3m from £8.9m in 2007.

According to HMV the book market as a whole shrunk 5% during the period and had been particularly hit by poor performances by non-fiction publications.

What is perhaps more worrying is the continued work with year-on-year losses. Before tax losses for the group were £27.5m, against £28.7m a year earlier.

Of course this doesn’t mean that novel writing has to be unprofitable. Self-publication can be a fantastic way of getting your work read by a wider audience and earning money on the side.

The Scribbler will be looking to publish advice and guidance on the best means of self-publication in early 2009.

Keep it here for all the best news, reviews, features and interviews on the literary industry.

Take a look at a book launch that really should have peaked Waterstones’ profits last year. The irrepressible Russell Brand and his Booky Wook in Waterstone’s Piccadilly:

Discussion:
Has the credit crunch stopped you buying the number of books you would normally like to? Have you resorted to library loans? Aspiring writer? Would you consider self-publication if publishers begin a campaign of turning authors away due to the economic climate? Let us know below.

Words: Dean Samways