Friday, 18 March 2011

Fifteen minutes with Miriam Halahmy – Part Two

Hidden, the first book in the Hayling Cycle, by Miriam Halahmy, will be in book shops at the end of the month. For the first part of my interview with Miriam, click here – or read on for part two. 

8. Did you always imagine Hidden as part of a series? When you started, did you have all three books in your head? 
No, when I started Hidden, I think I was very much feeling my way in a new genre, writing for young adults, and I thought this would just be one book. But the trouble is, your characters have minds of their own, well mine do! A minor character in Hidden, the bad girl, Lindy, kept growing and growing until a whole new idea for a book about her emerged. The second book is called Illegal. But two books didn’t somehow feel the right arc and so Jess, a minor character in Illegal, becomes the main character in the third book, Stuffed, along with her boyfriend, Ryan. I have therefore written a cycle of three stand alone novels, with a shared landscape, where a minor character in the previous book becomes the major character in the next. 

9. Can you tell us more about Illegal and Stuffed? 
Illegal is Lindy’s story. Lindy helps Cousin Colin to run his cannabis farm, but then he forces her to push cocaine. Lindy is terrified that she will end up in prison like her older brothers. She must find a way to report Colin to the police without him knowing, otherwise he will kill her. She finds a friend in the mysterious Karl who is mute and drives her around the Island, underage, on his motorbike. 

Stuffed is Jess’ story and also Ryan’s. It is told in alternating first person voices. Both Jess and Ryan make a terrible discovery after they have started their relationship. Each keeps their secret from the other. Will their love survive the pressures they find themselves under? 

10. Which book in the series have you enjoyed writing the most and why? 
To be honest, the book I most enjoyed was the one I was working on – the work in progress, as authors like to say. But I also love redrafting and I really like working with my editor. So it has been a real pleasure to revisit each book and take a long slow look at it, taking the time to develop and enrich it to produce the best story possible.

11. What has been the hardest part of the journey? 

Getting past the gate keepers. Once I started writing my novels it felt like a tap had turned on. I wrote the first drafts quite quickly, in a matter of months. But for Hidden Alix’s voice was too passive. So I started again from the beginning, keeping the main storyline but turning her voice into a much more active, ironic, humorous voice. I really believed in my book and submitted quite soon after finishing it. But as most authors know, it is soooo hard to find an agent who really loves your work. Once you find the agent, then you have to find a publisher – more gatekeepers and more frustration. I coped at first by writing Illegal, while Hidden was being submitted. But I didn’t see the point of writing the third novel until I had my contract. It really is a long hard road to publication, but if you believe in your work then you will get there if you persevere.

12. Do you enjoy research? Any tips you could share? 
I love doing research and for Hidden the research involved lots of lovely visits to one of my favourites places. But it also meant that I had a chance to meet people and visit places I wouldn’t have thought about if I wasn’t writing the novel. For example, in Hidden, Alix’s grandpa tells of his experiences as a boy of fourteen in May 1940, sailing over to Dunkirk with his dad, to help rescue the stranded British army. To my delight, I discovered that five ‘little ships’ went to Dunkirk from Hayling and I was shown over one of them, Count Dracula, by one of the local sailors. I have a total passion for history and it was so exciting to find myself standing on the bridge of this plucky little boat. It really helped to bring that part of the book alive for me. 

My biggest research tip : enjoy it, see it as fun, but don’t let your research dominate your story. Ultimately it is your characters and the twists and turns of their journey through your book which will hold the reader’s attention. Be accurate, but be minimal in the use of your research.  

13. If you could give one piece of advice to the Miriam who first sat down to write the Hayling Cycle, what would it be? 
Don’t rush, believe in your story and give it the time and space to unfold. I think I let my fingers run away with me on the laptop sometimes. Certainly I took much longer over the next two books. But I find the first-draft stage the most nerve-wracking. Once I have got to the end then I can relax, I know the arc of the story and the characters. The redrafting stage feels long and luxurious as I spend hours contemplating how to enrich the text and make my characters stand up and stand out on the page.

14. Which five books would you save if the house was on fire? 

1.The Secret Garden – it was my school prize when I was nine. I think I fell in love with Dickon. 

2.Little Women – my mother’s copy which her sisters gave her when she was little. 

3.Crime and Punishment – my favourite of all the great Russian writers which I read throughout my uni years. 

4.Death of a Naturalist – the first poetry collection by our greatest living poet, Seamus Heaney. He signed my copy two years ago when I met him and told him about his influence on my poetry. 

5.The Concise Oxford English Dictionary – something new on every page. 

15. What question do you wish I had asked you? 
Why dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate? Fry’s chocolate cream instead of Turkish Delight? Crikey! Couldn’t you ask me anything about chocolate?!?

Sorry Miriam, maybe a large bar of Bourneville will serve as an apology? 

Hidden will be out in paperback at the end of the month, published by Meadowside Books – available in all good book shops and online here.

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