Author of The Blasphemy Box.
‘What makes it unique is the way I have treated the subject: in a humorous yet heartfelt way. Though we feel Maddy’s pain and identify with her everywoman struggles, she never becomes a mawkish or maudlin figure crying into her teacup.‘
Today I’m pleased to welcome Mandy to share her guest post and Q & A and what writing her first novel means to her.
In conceiving my heroine Maddy, I was trying to tell the story of a nice, educated, attractive woman whose husband dumps her after twenty years of marriage and three children for no other reason than that she is fifty and he wants a younger, more exciting romantic partner. It was important to me to recount, detail by detail, incident by incident what I think Maddy (and many other woman out there like her) faces and is forced to go through and how, sometimes, these bomb-grade devastations can lead to a fuller, more satisfying life. Most women over 45 see their sexual currency fading, and many of them find that with that, their options are diminishing. Which, in this youth-mad culture, they are. The trick, however, is to see 45 or 50 as just an age, not as death; to understand that just because bad things happen it doesn’t mean good things won’t. You just have to believe.
In your novel Maddy’s husband leaves her for a younger woman. This scenario has been written many times before. In your book what makes it unique to other stories of this nature?
What makes it unique is the way I have treated the subject: in a humorous yet heartfelt way. Though we feel Maddy’s pain and identify with her everywoman struggles, she never becomes a mawkish or maudlin figure crying into her teacup. Her dry British wit, her smart, acute sense of humor and her wacky observations about her world and her current situation all contribute to make this ultimately an uplifting and upbeat story about a devastating situation so many women go through at her age.
Why did you want to write this book and what question is it answering?
I don’t know and I don’t know! I have been published in magazines and newspapers for many years as a journalist, and have also written two other novels, more literary in nature and not what they should be, but one day in July 2010, I found myself in front of my computer looking at a blank screen. Three weeks later, The Blasphemy Box was written. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t plot it out. It just appeared before me on the screen as I typed madly away. And I think its genus was that I was seeing myself aging, and not liking that one bit! I was seeing how, on the march towards 50 and with their physical appeal waning, women can become almost invisible, and perhaps I was just writing the novel I wanted to read, a book showing how there are a million Maddys out there struggling away. There are so many novels out there for young, hip women, but so few for the women they become, their older, (better?!) selves.
What was your research for this story and how long did it take you to write?
As I said above, it took three weeks to write and then a couple of years to rewrite (and rewrite)! For research, I have always been a big reader so that didn’t change. I surfed the internet some, and of course I mined my own life and that of other people I know.
What is your typical writing day like?
I don’t have one, really, but I do tend to write in the morning and mid-morning because I get up very early and by mid-afternoon I’m usually beat. I don’t write every day but I try to force myself to do some most days. It’s hard to think and concentrate, however, with my yellow Lab barking ferociously at every bumblebee and humming bird that has the audacity to pass by.
What sort of books do you read and which is your favorite?
I read all types of books except anything horror or sports related. I love history and have just read about ten books on the Lincoln assassination, the hunt for and trial of the conspirators and the life and sad end of Mary Todd Lincoln. I’m crazy about 16th century France and England and obsessed with Anne Boleyn. I love literary novels and have some favorite modern ones. But my real passion are the 18th, 19th and 20th century novels with those of Henry James, Edith Wharton and Thomas Hardy being my favorites.
Do you write in other genres or is it just women’s lit?
Just women’s lit.
When did you become a published writer?
My first short story was published when I was twelve and my journalism career started when I was about 22. The Blasphemy Box was published last month.
What has been the hardest thing about being a writer?
To create something out of nothing and to be in that endeavor completely and totally alone. Oh, and that blank page!
What is your writing background and what got you interested in writing?
I grew up in England where education is based on essay writing so I was writing from a very young age. I started writing short stories pretty early on and scribbled away over the years. I got my first real journalism job after college and have been published ever since. What got me interested in writing was reading. I have always loved words. The power they have to move you is shocking, particularly considering they are mere static symbols on a page.
Tell me how do you plot your novel?
I don’t. I just start writing. Soon, however, it becomes clear that I should draw up a plot. I do it, and then I revise it a thousand times. All of this is an exercise in futility and gets me nowhere!
Give me your best tips when it comes to plotting and structuring?
Obviously it’s helpful if you plot out your story. But it has never worked for me. Something else always flies into my head that then replaces what the plot should have me writing on that page and on that line. I write in a more organic way, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a better way.
If there is one thing you could tell your readers what would that be?
I would thank them for their time and consideration in reading my novel
And what book are you reading at the moment?
I have almost finished a biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, who is a fascinating character.