Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My author name is S E Lynes but my friends call me Susie. I was born at a very early age and am still alive.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I’m from the North West of England, near Liverpool, a place called Runcorn, which features in my next book, Mother.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I went to a very normal comprehensive school during the 80s. The classes were big, the books were old and often had to be shared one between three and the teachers were on strike but it was a good laugh. I always loved English and still remember my English teachers and the books we read, even though they said we wouldn’t.
My dad worked for the TSB bank, my mum is a potter. I have a sister, Jackie, who works for Comic Relief as a film maker and a brother, Robert, who is an artist and who designed the cover for Valentina. I am married with three kids, a boy, Alistair, 18, and two girls, Maddie and Franci, aged 17 and 12, respectively. We live in Teddington, a suburb of London. I teach creative writing at Richmond Adult Community College in Richmond and write books.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I have a book coming out in November. It is called Mother, and is published by Bookouture. It is another psychological thriller but is very different from Valentina. It is set in the late seventies, mostly in Leeds, against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I have always written, since I was little. An alternative question might be, when did I stop throwing away everything I’d written? And that moment came late. I did a course called Write a Novel in a Month, taught by the novelist, Sara Bailey, and that’s when I realised that becoming good at writing takes a long, long time, and that I should give myself a break and some space to learn instead of expecting everything I wrote to be any good straight away.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’m still learning. I always say I’m a tutor first, and that I teach creative writing and then if anyone asks if I’ve written anything I’ll say, yes, some books.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was inspired by my roots and the kind of women I grew up around. The main character was called Carol, an uneducated woman with three kids, who one night escapes from her violent, abusive husband and tries to make a new life for herself and her children in challenging circumstances. I got an agent with that book but it was never published.
My first published book, Valentina, is actually my fourth. I think this is quite common and shows something about the tenacity needed to keep going in the face of repeated rejection. Valentina was inspired by many things, mostly by the desire to break through. I read the top psychological thrillers of the time: Gone Girl, Girl on a Train and Before I Go to Sleep, and tried to write something along the themes of betrayal. Quite a few friends of mine had found themselves to be the victim of infidelity, one friend in particular had discovered her partner had not only cheated but had never been faithful, and the phrase I heard time and time again was: I feel like my whole life is a lie. It wasn’t hurt I was witnessing but devastation. Betrayal is devastating. And that phrase begged the question: what if your whole life was a lie? So I wanted to concoct a betrayal double whammy: in love and in friendship, and explore which would feel worse. I have still not decided.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
It was the name of the anti-heroine and it is a pointer to the fact that the reader will always be ahead of the main protagonist, Shona. From the moment the reader hears her name, they think, ah, here we go. It was a risk, putting the reader ahead, but that’s what I wanted to do. Part of me wanted to examine what trust means. If you trust, and love, you don’t live your life as if you’re in a psychological thriller. Shona, the main protagonist, hasn’t seen the book cover, she hasn’t read the blurb, why wouldn’t she take things at face value?
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I try and write layers of emotion and complication. I try to have a little humour and have that collapse when things turn dark, because that is what happens in life. I try and spread the sympathies if I can. I find the art of knowing what to write on the page and what to leave the reader to figure out very difficult.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
For Valentina, much of what I used was drawn from real life. I use real life as a palette and mix my paints from there to create something more dramatic. So a good friendship or marriage for example is a good source material for subversion – you take it, mix it up, turn it upside down to create drama. I lived in Aberdeen, where most of Valentina is set and my husband worked off shore, as Shona’s partner does. I didn’t have a baby then but I worked for BBC Scotland. A lot of this book is about loneliness and due to living in many different places and having to ‘start again’, I have found myself alone, and lonely, on more than one occasion. When we moved to Rome to live, that might sound like a dream, but when we got there, I found myself alone with two babies, no job and no friends. I met a woman on the steps of the nursery in Rome and invited her to my flat the very next day. We became very close and we are still friends. One critic wrote: you would never invite a stranger into your home! To which I would say, yes you would, in the right circumstances.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I draw on places I have been. I am lucky to have lived in many different places. I do travel if I can and if I can’t, the internet is a marvellous thing, especially Google Earth. For Mother, I travelled back to Leeds, where I went to Uni, and took many pictures of dark alleyways, ginnels, black sandstone, but for scenes in the US, I relied on the Internet, #budget!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My brother, Game of Thrones artist Robert M Ball, designed the cover for Valentina. A very talented designer at Bookouture did Mother.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
In Valentina, maybe that the violation of trust is the greatest violation there is? That’s why I referenced the houyhnhnms from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, mythical horses for whom fraud is the most serious crime. In Valentina, I was less concerned with who was married in law and more concerned with the emotional contract that is established between two people. When you enter a relationship, you do so on an understanding and I suppose Shona’s understanding of her relationship with Mikey and with Valentina is based on her own upbringing and her own friendships up until that point. She has no reason to think the worst of these people.
Also In Valentina, maybe that in taking revenge, we lose an important part of ourselves. There are many revenge movies, books, etc and we are supposed to cheer: yay! Gotcha! But I suppose I wanted to challenge the idea that revenge is in any way a good thing for the perpetrator. If someone does you a great wrong, revenge can be satisfying of course, but it can ultimately make you behave in a way which does not fit with who you are trying to be. It can rob you of who you are, in that sense. It is usually better to simply walk away from those who do not wish us well or who do us harm.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Recently, I loved Sweetpea by CK Skuse, Eleanor Oliphant by Gail Honeyman, and I have just discovered Rose Tremain, who is not new, but I have been meaning to read her for a while. Her novel, The Gustav Sonata, I found incredibly moving. My favourite writers are Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore and Pat Barker.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
My first writing tutor, Sara Bailey, whose novel Dark Water was published last year, and of course my wonderful writing groups. That’s two entities, isn’t it? Soz.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes, alongside teaching and encouraging other writers.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. Like all my books, Mother wasn’t excessively planned and some really interesting things happened in the process of writing it, such as the Yorkshire Ripper element proving too strong to stay in the background. It became utterly integral to the story.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learnt a lot about the Yorkshire Ripper, about the adoption process in the late seventies, the changes to the law, etc. I learnt that a narrow alleyway is called a ginnel!
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
For Valentina, I would like the three main parts to be played by up and coming talent from both Scotland and England, then the film might help those people to break through as Blackbird helped me by publishing Valentina.
For Mother, I would say the same. Jodi Whitaker would be perfect for Christopher’s mother, Phyllis, but the others could be up and coming.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Keep going. Google Elizabeth Gilbert and listen to her – she speaks about our struggles with humour and compassion. Keep going. Do a good writing course. Think of Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours… And keep going.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I want them to know that whatever they read of mine is the very best that I could do at the time. I want them to know that I read aloud, at least once, the whole book, to try and make the sentences fall as beautifully or as dramatically as I am able. And I want them to know that if they do connect to it and feel transported by it and if they are kind enough to let me know, then that makes me very happy indeed.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Winnie the Pooh.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Absurdity, cruelty, human frailty, happiness, moments of emotional surprise and poignancy make me cry. Social awkwardness makes me laugh because I am capable of humungous feats of social awkwardness, to my kids’ constant mortification. Also I can be quite rude, am not above toilet humour and a good loud burp can have me in hysterics. Sophisticated, I know.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I would love to meet Kristin Wiig because she makes me die laughing but it would have to be for a whole evening with lots to drink. She would have to wait while I fainted, wittered, and got through some pretty intense social awkwardness.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Cooking, baking, reading. Walking. Talking. I have spent years intending to take up swimming. Nothing earth shattering.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Loved the Handmaid’s Tale recently. I was obsessed with it but it made me incredibly stressed and cross. I like Peaky Blinders and worry I like the men’s clothes more than the women’s.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Favourite food is Italian. I love to cook pasta.
Colours: I love mellow greens but, being fair, wear a lot of black. Musically, my taste is very wide. I put music I like into my books. Valentina featured King Creosote’s Diamond Mine album and Christopher, the protagonist in Mother, is a huge Fleetwood Mac fan, as am I. I like a lot of old stuff but at the moment am listening to Childhood, Margaret Glaspy and today revisited Buena Vista Social Club because I heard someone playing that on holiday last week.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Cook, bake, talk to my kids, my husband, my pals, make stupid jokes, the usual.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
She was loyal and a good laugh.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Not at the mo. I am too up against it writing books, looking after three kids and teaching. I have a FB author page so I use that to post stuff. I am on Twitter and Instagram too.