I know, I know, two interviews in a month. But don't worry, the sky's not about to fall or anything. It's just that this month has seen the launch of Killing Daniel, a rather fine book by a rather fine author, Sarah Dobbs. I don't want to give too much away just yet, so maybe a review will have to wait for a while, but what I can say is that I can't think of too many books that are set in Manchester and Japan, nor can I think of too many books that open with a murder so distinctively (and unsettlingly) described. Got your interest yet? Good. I can also add that this is far from vanilla crime fiction - it is contemporary, literary fiction, struck through with Sarah's memorable descriptions and beguiling prose style.
So you get the picture? This is a book that needs to be read. Want to know more about the author first? Well then, you're in the right place, as Sarah was kind enough to give me this interview between launches...
Pip: As an introduction, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sarah: I'm a writer - I think I'm just about allowed to say that without a little flutter of not-really-but-I'll-pretend-until-it's-true! My novel, Killing Daniel, was published by Unthank Books on 5 November. I also write short stories, some scripts. I also teach, paint, take photographs, stroke cats, lust after dogs, not in a weird way. Get drunk on two glasses of wine (as that poor lady I wobbled into at the recent launch might testify!) This be my public apology.
P: What is your book about?
S: Essentially, a teenager called Daniel dies and in some way the novel is about the implications of that on the girl he loved. She becomes obsessed with tracking down his killer. I suppose that's the 'thrillerness' about the novel. But it's also about loss and friendship, the power of the past and the choices we can make in the way we live our lives. It's a hopeful novel, despite a quite difficult and dark subject matter.
P: When and why did you begin writing?
S: I was half this size and the reasons are many. The ones I'd allow to be googled forever are this:
- My mother wanted to write books, I sort of got it in my head that I'd complete that ambition.
- I was big into all the point horror as a kid. They never ended the way I wanted them too. All these unhappy endings, no no no. I wrote the endings I wanted in my head. I suppose it goes on from there, wanting to write a book that completely satisfies me as reader. Not that this one does, perfectionism, big positive and negative for writers.
P: What genre do you prefer to write in?
S: I don't care. I want to write something that either starts off as, or becomes, an obsession.
P: What is your biggest writing achievement to date?
S: Aw, I would say Killing Daniel (the novel). I was pretty proud of getting a story on the BBC a few years ago, the Ghost in the Mechanic. I thought it was all going to snowball from there. It did not.
P: What inspired you to write Killing Daniel?
S: Ah, yes. I wanted to tell Daniel's story. I wanted to write about Japan. Explore a culture I didn't know at all and perhaps get to know one I knew vaguely and one I knew well (I hope I'm still talking English!)
P: Who is your favourite author, and what is it about their work that strikes a chord with you?
S: I'll respectfully be greedy here. I have a thing for the Murakamis (Ryu and Haruki). Some I love, some not. I like translated fiction - I suppose there's something that grasps me about the gaps between how something can be told in one language and in another. What story do we get? I think that's mimetic of the process between text and reader. I also sucked up Ray Robinson's Electricity. The detail is gritty and gorgeous. Maybe it struck a chord because of the way I thought (I was an MA student back then!) I could, or wanted, to write. Ditto Graham Mort. His prose is a puzzle of layers, the details rendered like a Rothko or a Turner, depending.
P: What book are you reading now, and would you recommend it?
S: I'm reading Carys Bray's 'Sweet Home' a short story collection that is not sweet. Yes I flipping would. It's scarily well written, very well controlled and thoughtful. I was so pleased I bought it - I think it'll make my short story teaching so much easier!
P: What are your current projects?
S: I'm sketching out something secretive but brilliant (she says), working on a screenplay with a friend, drawing together a short story collection and just generally plodding on.
P: Where and when do you do most of your writing?
S: I flipping built myself a sleek writer's room complete with two desks that hug half the room, inspirational photographs and comfy chair. But I do it on the couch. In front of Gray's Anatomy. I know, it's a shame.
P: What would you say was the hardest part of writing your book?
S: Getting the right way to tell it. Killing Daniel went through so many drafts, so many POV changes, loss of characters, addition of characters, a million different endings, a million different reader perspectives. Out and out nightmare. Which is why I wore a sparkly dress on launch night. You're damn right I'm celebrating!
P: Who designed your book cover – and was the cover something you deemed important?
S: Tommy Collin designed the cover and many other lovelies, such as Killing Daniel postcards and fortune cookies. I kid you not. That was cool. But yes, I was a bit of a pain in the arse when it came to the cover. I can see why some publishers might not include authors too much on the process. I wanted it to match my vision (I know I sound like a pleb here, but it felt so important). Eventually, Tommy came up with a cover that matched his vision, and then I realised I had a new vision. It's gorgeous.
P: Where can we buy the book?
P: Do you have a website or blog where we can keep tabs on you?
S: sarahjanedobbs.wordpress.com - please pop round for a visit. I'm nice.
P: Your best advice for other writers?
S: Write what you need to write. It won't work otherwise and also, it's a bit pointless, isn't it?
P: And, finally, do you have anything else that you’d like to say to everyone?
S: Support small publishing! Can I say that? I feel like I should be wearing a cape with Unthank across the chest. They've worked tirelessly on this. Plus it's one of the ways that unconventional and brave writing gets a chance. You might never go back... :)
So there we are - a great book by a great author. Do me a favour, go and buy it now, and I promise I'll leave this interviewing lark to pro's, and get back to writing about music. Deal?