Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca was a huge influence on this piece. The first line, ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’ haunts me. Mrs Danvers is a brilliant character who terrorizes the unnamed narrator, beautifully. I always find something to love in the language Du Maurier uses: ‘time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand’. I had just finished reading it again when I wrote this piece. I had just ‘returned’ from Manderley, again.
2. Tell us about your process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about? Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.
My writing starts with an obsession. It’s usually an obsession with a writer or director, but it can also be a song or colour. I immerse myself in the author’s/director’s oeuvre in a short period of time and then give myself some space to breathe, away from the novels and films. Then I start writing down the things I remember. One example is a piece of writing I wrote after watching a series of Woody Allen films. I started writing down quotes, images, words, characters that I remembered and bits of Woody Allen popular culture. From there, a piece of flash fiction developed about a man obsessed with death, Dostoyevsky, Gershwin and the clarinet – among other things!
3. What advice do you have for other writers? (About the first or last line? About how to choose the title? Do you follow any rules?)
Always start in medias res. Sometimes this means that you have to abandon the first paragraph, page or even chapter that you have written to get to this, but it is always worth it. Publishers and editors don’t want a lead up to what happens, they want to be in the middle of the action in the first line.
4. Who or what inspires your writing?
Nabokov! His incredible word play and use of language is extraordinary – and English wasn’t even his first language. Humbert Humbert is a wonderful character who manipulates the reader expertly – I can’t help but get drawn in by him, every time I read Lolita. It has, probably, the most exciting and provocative opening line of any piece of literature: ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.’ If you read it out loud it is even more voluptuous.
5. Tell us what you do if you haven’t written anything in a while and you want to get started writing again? Could you share your favourite writing exercise with our readers?
There is a wonderful website called Random First Line Generator that creates a first line for your story when you press the button: http://writingexercises.co.uk/firstlinegenerator.php It always gives me inspiration.