March 30, 2008

Interview With Adele Hartley...

Last month I read Redress, the debut novel by Adele Hartley. It's a dark, psychological thriller with a little horror thrown into the mix, and it's really rather good. I walked into Waterstones for mine, but if you're too lazy to do that, you can buy it here as well, from the comfort of your own home. See, no excuse.

Although she is a mistress of many trades, and has her fingers in a lot of pies, Adele kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me, and I thank her for her time and effort in doing so.
As well as your editorial duties, you are the also director of the annual Dead by Dawn festival in Edinburgh. When did you find the time and energy to write Redress?
Looking back I have no idea! I was in Spain when I got the call offering me the book deal so I spent my holiday sitting in my dad’s study, hogging the computer, drinking every ice-cold lager shandy he brought upstairs and getting the first draft of about 55,000 words down. It was missing huge tranches and needed a ton of work but I did feel that I’d broken the back of it. It was full of bits that said “something interesting happens here” and I just had to hope that I would eventually figure out what that was! After that, I just set time aside every week to work on the manuscript. I envy the proper writers I know as they all seem to have discipline and make plans and work to a schedule but my experience was a lot more erratic. When I was on a roll it was easy but there were lots of days of doing anything to avoid staring at a blank page. I got all my tax paperwork up to date. I did all the ironing, I started rearranging furniture. I am an arch procrastinator. But it worked out ok. I really enjoy what I do with the festival and because that requires external interaction, it mostly took the day shift and as I find it easiest to write at night, Redress took the graveyard, appropriately enough.

How did you find the transition from editor to author?
They were such separate experiences that in theory it wasn’t a problem. What I quickly realised was that having been a movie programmer for 15 years, I was very used to being the person who accepts or rejects other people’s work. That didn’t help! The festival being a success every year is vitally important to me but I never feel vulnerable like I did with this book. My partner would tell you that in the couple of months before publication I was a disaster! Oddly, all the stress went away the day it was published. At that point, I finally started believing all the things I’d been telling myself – fundamentally I was delighted because I rarely finish anything (I have the attention span of…something that can’t be bothered to finish sentences) and so to have risen to the challenge of the book felt great. It still does. Harder than any of the challenges of the transition and the writing would have been thinking up excuses for the rest of my life if I’d run away.

In lieu of the standard ‘where-do-you-get-your-ideas-from?’ question, how did the germ for Redress come about?
I’m having to make up the answer to this question quite a lot because I can’t really remember. I’ve decided it’s because I am always interested in the way we mortals are capable of abdicating any form of personal responsibility; there is always someone else to blame. I’m fascinated by the lies we tell ourselves, the justifications, and also the way we can ignore our instincts once we become fixated on one goal. Skirving was a way to try and take that idea to its extreme. A lot of the pieces I write just for myself are a way to process things I’ve overheard or witnessed and not been in a position to control. The work is a way to address that, at least in my head.

Is Redress the one novel you have inside you to write, or can we expect more work from you in the future?
When I was pitching the Read by Dawn anthology to the publisher, he said he would do it but on the condition I sent him something I had written. I sent him the unfinished short story Redress and he said ‘if you finish it, I’ll publish it’ so I kinda got my deal by accident. Now that I’ve got away with one, though, there’s a seriously foul idea brewing away for the second one, though not a sequel to Redress.

The relationship between the two lead characters in Redress, Cassie and Jen, has a great feeling of truth to it. Was it something you took from your own life?
Some of it, and from things my friends have told me and from listening a lot, particularly on the train ride from the city to my house. I saw a kid recently on a packed commuter service – he was bored senseless and had been rummaging about in his nose for a good five minutes while his mother read the paper. Suddenly this gorgeous, angelic 6 year old held up his finger and announced to the entire train in a very clear, loud voice “I got a bogey!” and there it was for everyone to see. I didn’t know a person could go the colour his mum went. You couldn’t make up anything better! The ‘can you lick your own elbow’ moment with Cassie came out of very similar circumstances. Sometimes you just get great lines handed to you. And more than anything, I wanted to write girls who had something more to them than a taste for Chardonnay and a shoe obsession, which is why I spent as much time on their development as I did on their adult lives.

When you were writing Redress were you concerned that the serial killer genre had gone as far as it could go, or were you confident you had something new to say?
I don’t enjoy serial killer material particularly, either on page or on the screen, and I guess weirdly, had never thought of this as a serial killer story. This question mostly proves just how much distance there can be between intention and perception! It’s certainly not a genre I would expect to approach again, but sometimes stories tell themselves a certain way.

Are you happy to be known as a horror author?
Sure. I’m a horror fan and I would hate to sell the genre short in any media, but then again, I’ve seen plenty of other writers find it hard to lose a tag when they choose to write in other genres. I appreciate there’s a real need to pigeon-hole people and I think I’d rather focus on developing as a writer and let the labelling come as it may. Of course, after the next book, I think it might be hard to deny the horror tag!

Who are your favourite authors?
Ray Bradbury has always been top of the list. I also adored Michael Marshall Smith’s short stories, likewise Jim Crace for Devil’s Larder and Clive Barker for the Books of Blood, Richard Brautigan, Alasdair Gray, Andrew Greig, Terry Pratchett, Graham Masterton, Sara Sharpe, Roger McGough, Mervyn Peake. And Iain Banks, of course!

Do you also write short fiction?
I do and for some reason, it’s mostly when I’m livid about something. It’s so much cheaper than therapy! But then when I leave it alone for a while and go back, very often there’s the nugget of a story in there that merits a little more attention.

And finally, how can fans keep up to date with you?
Fans? Hurrah!! My publisher is Beautiful Books and through that you can check out the imprint sites – Redress is through Burning House and the Read by Dawn anthologies are under Bloody Books.

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