Another great aspect of this writing life of mine is that I occasionally get to use my blog to host an author I really respect and admire. So today is a good day for me, as I’m delighted to be joined by John Baker on his virtual tour to launch his new book, Winged With Death.
You know what I said above about some books being extraordinary? Winged With Death is a prime example. With a narrative that weaves between Uruguay in the 70s, the present day and the narrator’s childhood, it takes real craft to hold the clarity of the timeline, maintain the disparate threads, mesh them together seamlessly and ensure the reader is always enthralled but never confused. And of course, threaded throughout the book is the
Let me come clean here. The scenes set in the brutal dictatorship in
He’s got it so right, you see. If I hadn’t written my posts before reading Winged With Death, I might question that I was unintentionally plagiarising the book. Similarly, if
WELCOME, JOHN. COME ON IN AND PUT YOUR FEET UP. COMFY? THEN LET’S
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO WRITE A
In a way Winged with Death is a result of writing several serial novels. I wrote the Sam Turner novels; and then the Stone Lewis novels initially because that's what my publishers wanted from me. (They still do, which is one of the main reasons I've moved to a new publisher).
I don't think that there's anything wrong with writing serial characters, although it does become limiting after a while. The Stone Lewis novels emerged because of Sam Turner's limitations. I wanted to write more overt political novels and Sam was too laid back and too damn old to change his ways.
What's it like to write about completely different characters and settings? In a word, it's liberating. It's also frightening, as any writing is frightening until it begins to fly.
A writer has to remain flexible; once he or she becomes stuck it is the end of the road. And that stuckness or not stuckness is a subtle thing. Some writers (I'm thinking of
My way (and I'm not comparing myself to the greats) was to leave the series characters behind and strike out again, as though with a first novel, with nothing to help me but some stout shoes and a toothbrush. And that was a whizz. I loved it. I want to do it again (and again).
YES, THIS HAS
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE
First I brought some photographs of the city up on the internet, then began reading about its history. I knew there was a tango connection, and that it was there, in
I looked up people who lived in
Through a book site I met a wonderful contact in
A lot of people were involved in the writing of Winged with Death.
THIS IS AMAZING, JOHN. WHAT A GREAT INSIGHT INTO YOUR WRITING PROCESS. AND OF COURSE YOUR NARRATOR HAS A SIMILAR DREAM OF
SO - WERE THE STRANDS OF PLACE, TIME AND TANGO ALWAYS MESHED TOGETHER FOR YOU RIGHT FROM THE START? IT SOUNDS LIKE THE DANCE THEME AS A METAPHOR PRECEDED AND THE DREAM GAVE YOU THE STAGE ON WHICH TO SET IT. AT WHAT POINT DID YOU REALISE THIS?
It's a difficult question, Debi, because I can't honestly remember exactly how the novel developed. The
"When I started writing that story, I didn't know there was going to be a PhD with a wooden leg in it. I merely found myself one morning writing a description of two women I knew something about, and before I realised it, I had equipped one of them with a daughter with a wooden leg. I brought in the
And this, of course, is what most writers know, or come to know at some point in their writing career; that the creative process represents, more than anything else, an act of faith. The first draft of a novel – perhaps of any creative work, is to discover what it is going to be about – and it requires a special talent. The ability to accept and live with something that is wholly imperfect – until you can make it better.
JOHN, YOU’RE SUCH A TALENTED WRITER,
It has never been an easy thing. I was lucky to get my first novel published. It was sifted out of the slush-pile in a backroom of the old Gollantz offices by my first editor, Mike Petty. In those days there was still a glimmer of the traditional publisher about. They didn't expect a first novel to be a resounding commercial success, still believed that you had to nurture a writer along, have patience, wait for a breakthrough to take place after a few years. If the breakthrough didn't happen it was not regarded as the end of the world, there were many writers regarded as mid-list authors, they didn't make big bucks but they covered expenses and brought in some profits if you paid attention to their backlist.
That's all long-gone now, of course. Publishers are run by men in suits who have to justify every penny they spend. If an author doesn't show an almost immediate good profit he or she will be unlikely to secure a new deal.
They come up, sometimes, with weird formulas. I have been asked more than once by an editor to write a novel close to or exactly like (put your own favourite and commercially successful author in this space) - which, of course, is fine if you're a hack but in creative terms is an impossibility. A good writer spends years developing an individual voice and at the end of the day, that is all he or she has.
Am I answering your question? It has been difficult to secure new publishing deals, and in the present climate it is certainly not getting easier.
SO TRUE, JOHN. I NEVER THOUGH I’D MORPH INTO A PERSON WHO SIGHS A LOT AND MURMURS ‘THOSE WERE THE DAYS …’ AT REGULAR INTERVALS.
John Baker's blog is here.
Read reviews for Winged with Death here.
Details of the virtual tour with dates and links can be found here.