Last week fellow writer Lari Don kindly invited me to take part in a theme currently going around on authors’ blogs: The Next Big Thing. Each featured author answers a set of questions about their next book, and then invites five other authors (whose work they like, and who they think might be The Next Big Thing) to answer the same ones the following week.
This project has already spread like wildfire, so I am afraid I have not managed to find five new authors (I’ve found two, blush) because nearly everyone I asked is already taking part! I’ve nominated my two at the end of this post. Anyway, here goes!
What is the title of your next book?
Silent Saturday – it’s the first book in a trilogy with the theme Forbidden Spaces.
Well, the book is set in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) where I lived from 2008 to 2011. Throughout my three years there I took Flemish classes; as well as teaching the actual language, the teacher used to tell us a bit about Flemish culture and traditions. One particular tradition really stuck in my mind, and that was the acorn that grew into the mighty oak of a trilogy! In Britain, Easter eggs are supposedly brought by the Easter Bunny; in Flanders, children are told that the church bells fly away to Rome on the Saturday before Easter, and come back full of eggs. No church bells are rung that day (which is why it is known as “Silent Saturday”). When I heard this story, I immediately thought, well, if I were a Flemish child I would be dying to get into the belfry to see whether the bells had really flown away or not! And that is how Silent Saturday begins. The heroine, Veerle, and her childhood friend Kris, climb the bell-tower of their village church to see whether the bells have flown away. They are disappointed and a bit disgusted to find that the bells are where they usually are! So they decide to look out of the belfry window – and that is when they see something terrible taking place in the village. That is the beginning of the book.
Eek! I don’t really think of myself as writing to a particular genre. I would call Silent Saturday a thriller but it is at the literary end of the spectrum. Also, because of the Flemish setting I think it fits into the “European Crime” stable. Having said that, I don’t do “crime” in the sense of police procedures, except insofar as those have to be mentioned, because if there is a serial killer on the loose obviously the police are going to be involved. I’m not really interested in that (procedure), though. I’m interested in how my characters feel about what is going on!
Argh! Another tricky question! I haven’t ever really asked myself that, because Veerle, at least her outward appearance, was inspired by someone I saw in passing in Flanders, and I can’t think of an actress who looks exactly like her. I think however that in my ideal film version the Flemish characters (there are Walloon – French-speaking Belgian – characters too) would be played by Flemish/Dutch actors. The book is essentially Flemish – much of the plot depends on the location and the type of population you have in Belgium. You couldn’t relocate it to the US or the UK without ripping the heart out of it.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Dark doings in expat houses!
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Silent Saturday will be published in the UK in April 2013 by Bodley Head, an imprint of Random House. I am represented by the Darley Anderson Literary Agency.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took me roughly one year. This is about normal for me!
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I find it quite hard to compare it to anyone else’s work – apart from anything else, that sounds quite presumptuous! But the team at Bodley Head have described it as “Jo Nesbo meets Marcus Sedgwick” on the back of the proof copies. Penguin, who published my first three novels, once compared me to Stieg Larsson, who is dead(!).
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I really wanted to write a book about Flanders. My first three books were all set in Germany, and were very much inspired by the little German town of Bad Münstereifel, where we lived from 2011 to 2008. At the end of the third book, Wish me dead, I felt I had said what I wanted to say about Germany. Also, by the time that book came out we had moved to Belgium and I wanted to move on with my work too. It was a strange experience living in Belgium; in Bad Münstereifel there were very few English-speaking expats and we basically tried to blend into German culture as much as we could, but in Brussels there is a really high proportion of expats amongst the population. Also the affluence amongst some of them is astounding. That was definitely a factor in the development of the plot of Silent Saturday: the thought of all these incredibly luxurious villas inhabited by expats. What might be going on in those villas when the owners have all gone back to their home countries for the holidays?!
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I hope that readers will enjoy exploring the setting (Brussels and Flanders) because I think it is quite unusual. There’s also a mystery at the heart of the trilogy – I won’t say what, but it’s to do with the terrible event Veerle and Kris see from the top of the bell-tower – and I hope that that will keep them guessing! The other thing which may strike a chord in these difficult economic times is the opulence of the houses that Veerle and Kris visit. They are so much more luxurious than anything either of them has ever experienced that they don’t take breaking into them as seriously as they might normally have done – the houses don’t seem real, because the lifestyle they represent is so unimaginable to them. I think there is a certain appeal in imagining what one would do if one had access to a lifestyle like that, even for a while. Also it’s understandable that Veerle can’t really see the owners of those houses as real people – their lives are so removed from hers.
Those were my Next Big Thing questions! Here are my two “Next Big Things”:
Jenna burst onto the scene in 2010 with her first fantasy novel, Wintercraft, since followed by Wintercraft: Blackwatch and Wintercraft: Legacy. Her work has been described as “Huge fun, and deliciously shivery” (Amanda Craig, The Times).
The irrepressible Susy McPhee is the author of Husbands and Lies and The Runaway Wife. Susy’s books are full of lively wit but she is not afraid to tackle the darkest of subjects, including terminal illness and the death of a loved one.
As I said at the beginning, I was really supposed to recommend five authors, so I should like to mention Che Golden and Gillian Philip who were unfortunately snaffled by other participants in The Next Big Thing before I asked them, and also Inbali Iserles and Leila Rasheed who are both smashing authors but aren’t currently blogging. Do check them out!