Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Next Big Thing…

The idea of The Next Big Thing is that a writer puts up a post on his or her own blog answering ten questions about his/her work in progress, and then “tags” three other writers to do the same. The writer then posts a link to his/her “tagger” and to the people he/she is “tagging” so that readers who are interested can visit those pages and perhaps discover some new authors whose work they’d like to read.

John Hudspith, a writer in possession of a wild and unique imagination, tagged me in his Next Big Thing. John is currently working on Kimi's Fear, the follow up to his outstanding debut, Kimi's Secret, a fantastic and fantastical book for readers aged 9 to 90.  Thanks, Johnny.

Here are my answers re my Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?
I first called it Poetic Justice but now it's called The Spiritual Hunt. This will no doubt change to something snappier when it's finished.

Where did the idea for the bookcome from?
Mock up of cover when working
title was Poetic Justice
I've been fascinated by the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud for a very long time and wrote a play about him some years back (Death Without Tears), so it seemed a natural progression to write a novel inspired by him too. 

I was also struck by a brief meeting many years ago, with a young man in Berlin. He claimed to be under the spell of an older man who kept him in control by tapping him on the forehead and singing jingles. I never discovered any more about this young man but have always remembered his wild eyes and air of terrified vulnerability. His image and situation seeped into my consciousness and he partly inspired one of the characters in this book.

What is the genre of your book?
This is always a difficult one for me. It is, I think, general fiction with a good handful of literary fiction thrown in - I hope.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Another hard one! I tend not to imagine my characters in such precise detail. I like to leave the reader room to develop their own ideas as to what the character looks like. Of course, I do give descriptions - Andrea is blonde, Albert is dark with a little tuft of beard, and the boy has messy chestnut curls. But as to who would play them, I just have no idea.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A missing Rimbaud manuscript has been rediscovered - or has it?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm not sure about this yet. Some of my other novels are self-published but I might send this one out to agents to see what reaction I get. If there's no interest from the traditional publishing world then I would self publish digitally certainly, and possibly also in print form.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Ha! I'm still writing it and it's been several years so far. I do take a long time to write a book - I wish I could speed up but I seem to have to let the work mature before I know exactly where it's going. I revise as I go along so really I'm on the umpteenth draft but it just isn't finished yet. I'm hoping the whole thing will be all done by Christmas (preferably this Christmas!).

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
People who've read what I've written so far have mentioned The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas and The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies, as being in the same general category. I'm not sure that it's exactly like any of those books but perhaps has elements of all of them.

As it's written using various different voices and devices such as letters, diaries and blogs, in addition to the main narrative, it's not a straightforward book in terms of format and chronology.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I said  above, Arthur Rimbaud - French poet extraordinaire - is the progenitor of this book. I've been mildly obsessed by him for three decades, if mild obsession is possible, and I've always been fascinated by the idea that there may be a lost work by him still out there somewhere. I also wanted to stretch myself by writing in different styles using different voices, so this novel has been (and still is) a challenge to write.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The main narrative is about the protagonist Andrea's obsession with Rimbaud and the lost manuscript. The novel charts her involvement with a man who claims to be a Magician - with a capital M! - and the teenage boy who is his acolyte. As she falls deeper under their spell, Andrea begins to lose her grasp on what is real and what is not.

In addition to this strand, there are also strands woven through which tell the story of Rimbaud and Verlaine and also chart the whereabouts of the manuscript from 1872, when it was last seen, to the 150th anniversary of Rimbaud's birth (2004), when the book is set.

The writers I am tagging are:

Jimmy Bain, who writes The Bumble Books

and (as I've been unable to find anyone else to tag because all the writers I know have either already taken part or are too busy (very sensibly) engaged in writing their next book)

Barbie Scott, who writes erotica.

If anyone reading this would like to take part, do get in touch and I will add you to this very select list of taggees!


Saturday, 20 October 2012


Today, 20th October, is the birthday of Jean-Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud. He was born in Charleville, France in 1854 and wrote astonishing poetry between the ages of around 16 and 21. He died aged 37 after living for many years in Africa as a trader.

I first became interested in Rimbaud in 1973 when I was a student at University College London. One day I wandered across the grand foyer where Jeremy Bentham sits and stopped to look at a display of letters and photographs. There I learned for the first time about the relationship of Rimbaud and Verlaine and, in particular, their time in London living in Great College Street, Camden in 1873.

Even though I'd never read a word of his poetry, something about Rimbaud hooked me and I've been fascinated by him ever since.

My current work in progress DELIRIUM: THE RIMBAUD DELUSION (now complete) is about a woman obsessed with Rimbaud (well, they say write what you know!). Andrea becomes embroiled with a Magician and his young acolyte while visiting Charleville for the 150th anniversary of the poet's birth. This odd pair claim to have rediscovered Rimbaud's lost manuscript, La Chasse Spirituelle.

The novel uses a variety of voices and devices to explore Andrea's gradual breakdown and tell the story of the whereabouts of the missing manuscript from 1872, when it was last seen, to 2004 when the novel is set.

Here is an extract from the early part of the novel:

~ ~ ~

Diary of Mathilde Verlaine
Rue Nicolet, Paris
September 1871

An extraordinary evening! Today there arrived from the north the most astonishing young poet called Arthur Rimbaud. Maman and I had awaited his arrival with some anticipation-the verses he sent to Paul were most unusual and we all had high hopes of him.
How those hopes were dashed! M. Rimbaud is not at all the elegant young man of our imagination. He is an unkempt youth, more child than man, though he is not much younger than I-seventeen or thereabouts. Maman and I were greatly surprised by his untidy appearance, his clothes being crumpled and somewhat outgrown-and he has brought with him no luggage whatsoever!
Despite all our efforts to engage our guest in conversation, M. Rimbaud would not be drawn, either on his future plans or his theories of poetry. Maman and I are quite worn out with the strain of fulfilling our social obligations.
In contrast, my husband is perfectly taken with him. Paul is of the opinion that this vagabond poet is a genius. ‘He will shake up the salons of Paris, Mathilde!’ he cried, when I remarked upon M. Rimbaud’s lack of manners at the dinner table. ‘He will make those stuffed shirts sit up and take notice. Yes, and your stuffed shirt of a father too, when he gets back.’
I dread to think what dear Papa will make of our strange house guest. I fear he will not allow him to remain here, once he returns from his hunting trip.
In the meantime, I become more indisposed each day as I await my happy event.

~ ~ ~
rue de Campagne
My cock nestles against Paul’s arse, languid after love. His breathing-rhythmic, slight snore-hasn’t begun to annoy me yet. I am lost in the deserts of love, still wandering amiably in those dreamlike states: fondness, tenderness, tristesse.
He stirs, groans, rolls on his back. Speaks broken words, half-formed thoughts. Perhaps I catch my name. I listen for it, ready to arm myself, the better to taunt him later. You dream of me. You need me more than I need you.
Putting my ear to his lips, I listen, but he is silent apart from the rasp of his boozy breath.
Sniggering, I pinch his nose and count: one, two, three-
He gasps, snorts, wakes. Wha-? What the-?
I’m astride him now, pummelling him, beating a rat-a-tattoo on his chest.
Ow- Ow- Stoppit! He grabs my wrists, throws me off. He is still the stronger of us-but only just. And now he’s on top of me, holding me down, snarling in my face. Cunt! Arsehole! Prick! And I’m laughing back at him, laughing at the way the rage boils up in him, rouging his cheeks; the way the spit drools from his mouth, the snot slicks his moustache.
I reach up, suck up his dribble, let my lips climb up the string of mucus to his mouth. Till we’re biting, teeth against teeth; clashing, snuffling, snarling, hearts pounding, cocks hard.
And off we go again. Carnival ride.
~ ~ ~
Charleville, France
August 2004

Deux pressions, sil vous plait.
The Café de l’Univers was cool and shady. It was also empty. The bored waitress stirred from her lethargy when I ordered beers from the tap.
Rimboy swung himself into one of the booths ranked along the right side of the room. I slid onto the red leatherette bench opposite him, keeping the table between us. Our knees brushed as we settled into our seats.
Glancing around, I tried to imagine the café as it was in Rimbaud’s day. Though it was now a different building, I fancied I could hear echoes of the poet’s pals—Delahaye, Labarrière, Charles Bretagne—all discussing Arthur’s latest exploits, and laughing. It wouldn’t have been like this then, with these fifties style benches. Then, there would have been round tables and bentwood chairs. Pipesmoke and carafes. Perhaps I sat in the exact space Rimbaud once sat in, the molecules of my body mingling with the memory of his.
When I read his poetry,’ I said, my voice smoky with emotion, ‘I curl up inside.’
Rimboy nodded, casing the room with his indolent blue gaze.
When I read about his life, I feel that clutch in the pit of my stomach. In my groin. It’s almost sexual, what I feel.’ I sat back as the waitress put a glass in front of me. ‘Not for the man himself, I don’t mean that. I mean for the idea of him. The myth of him. The-’
I spread my hands and appealed to him for understanding. He wrinkled his nose and the strabismus made a fleeting reappearance. Even squinting, he was cute.
I shook my head. ‘Oh, I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I only know how I respond to him.’ I ran my finger through the condensation on my glass. ‘You feel something similar, I imagine?’
I am Rimbaud,’ he said.
He swilled most of his beer down in one gulp. I savoured a long draught of my own. He was much deeper into the fantasy than I was.
So you believe in the transmigration of souls then?’ I said.
The survival of the soul. Reincarnation.’
He contemplated me for a moment. ‘Naturally I believe in it. I’m here aren’t I?’
Do you think the soul reincarnates immediately after death?’ I went on. ‘Or within forty-nine days like the Buddhists say?’
He shrugged. ‘Maybe it varies. I don’t know.’
Well, it’s over a hundred years since Rimbaud died. Where’s his soul been until now? Where have you been? Or rather, who have you been until now?
He tapped the rim of his glass with his nail. ‘I’ve been a lot of people. Before I was Rimbaud, I was Mozart. Did you know that?’
That took me by surprise. ‘No, I didn’t know that,’ I said, ‘but I suppose I can see a connection. Precocious genius, scatological humour.’ I eyed him up and down. There was more to this young man than I’d thought. ‘I always wondered,’ I said. ‘When you were Rimbaud—did you return to the Catholic Church on your deathbed as some people say?’
He snorted. ‘I’m a pagan now and I was a pagan then. Always and forever.’
All the time we sat there I was twitching in my seat. I wanted to have a look at the wad of poetry. I needed to see it, to find out if it was genuine. Truth be told, I wanted it to be the real thing. I’d probably be disappointed when it turned out to be another aspect of his fantasy. But I had to make sure.
Let’s have a look at the poem then.’ I stuck out my hand.
Best forget the dalliance. Concentrate on the manuscript.
He hesitated. Then, disentangling the sheaf of creased paper from his pocket, he passed it to me. I smoothed the top sheet and started to read.
La Chasse Spirituelle. The Spiritual Hunt.’
Now, I wouldn’t call myself a Rimbaud scholar in the academic sense, but I’ve read enough of the man to get a flavour of his work. I’ve pored over his poetry both in my cups and sober, with lovers and without. I’ve read him in sorrow and I’ve read him with joy. I have internalised him. So when the opening lines of the poem didn’t immediately shriek forgery, I succumbed to the frisson of excitement that tingled through me. This could be the real thing. A wet dream coming true.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

FREE copy to mark 25 years since the storm of '87 which starts Jess's journey.
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Saturday, 6 October 2012

is now available at
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