Today I am delighted to introduce Frances Kay, a writer and children’s playwright. I first met up with Frances (‘Fan’) on a lively on-line writers’ forum. Apparently, she agreed to read my own book after noticing that I had included the word “sossidges” in a comment to a mutual friend. We swapped reads, and since then, have kept in touch. Fan’s writing is very strong, eerily atmospheric and convincing, threaded through with sardonic wit and humour. Fan’s first book, MICKA was published in 2010 by Picador and won 100% positive reviews from The Guardian, The Times and the Financial Times, as well as being featured on BBC radio 4’s programme ‘A Good Read’. Her second novel, DOLLYWAGGLERS, has recently been published by Tenebris Books.
Welcome, Frances. Can you tell me a little about what inspired you to write the ‘Dollywagglers’?
A long time love of dystopian literature, ever since I read ‘1984’ when I was fifteen. Orwell was my idol – a principled, disillusioned man with a love of England and the English language. I was especially taken with Orwell ‘s uncompromising vision of a nightmare future when I learned that he was fatally ill with TB as he wrote it, and died soon after it was published.
I wanted to express my disappointment, my anger and my love for England in this story, which I could only do from an exile’s perspective (I was living in Ireland when I wrote it), and when I was diagnosed in 2012 with an inoperable tumour, I felt reckless and emboldened to write my truth, even if it is hard to read. Parts of it were hard to write.
Any tips for developing a writing habit? Do you write every day or do you prefer to write when you are in the mood?
For a person who makes their living from writing, I’m a very bad example! I either need a commissioning theatre company breathing down my neck, or I have to wake up at seven and feel the desperate urge to get to my computer. I write in bursts, in a trance state. Of course, editing and improving can be done less breathlessly!
You call DOLLYWAGGLERS a dystopia, filled with refreshing anger and dark, bitter humour. What attracts you to writing dark fiction?
We all have a shadow side that needs to come out and play. I write plays for children and young people, and they deserve hope and optimism, but when I write for adults, I can let loose my darker self – and she has a field day. I also enjoy reading this kind of fiction, if it is well written. I’m thinking now of books like Helen Dunmore’s ‘A Spell in Winter’ – she’s a terrific writer.
What was the publishing process like for you?
Two publishers so far, and they could not have been more different. Picador is an imprint of Macmillan, and being accepted by this huge concern with its glamorous reputation was such an honour, I was ready to say yes to anything. They have a publicity and sales machine, so the process of getting my book ready for publication involved me saying yes to a cover I didn’t like, that I felt did not reflect the story within. After MICKA was published, I felt rather neglected. The next book by Picador followed mine a week later, and it was Emma Donohue’s ‘Room’. The excitement around that book and the Booker shortlisting, reinforced my feeling of being suddenly orphaned. No one from my publishers came to the launch event I set up, and I had to suggest to Picador they enter my book for the McKitterick Prize [it was the runner up].
Tenebris Books is another kettle of fish entirely. DOLLYWAGGLERS is the first one of this new imprint of Grimbold Books to be published, and they went to huge efforts to help me launch it with a splash. They asked for my input with the cover, and Ken Dawson, their designer, transformed a photo I gave them of two seedy puppets on Southwold beach into a sleazy, brooding cover that exactly captures the spirit of the book – I love it. They also provided champagne for the launch in London, and Zoe Harris, my editor, flew over with her husband from Norway, and made a fabulous speech at our launch. All the production team was there. I felt so loved! Even more importantly, Zoe and Sammy [of Grimbold Books] love the book with a passion, and our editing was done painlessly and collaboratively. They even paid an advance – and that is a rare thing, these days. I hope they will publish my next book.
And your future plans?
My life expectancy, though uncertain, is, I am assured, at least ten years. If I can publish another three novels, I will feel completely fulfilled. I want to leave something my children and grandchildren can read when they are older; I’ll still be a presence in their lives. I’m working on a sequel to DOLLYWAGGLERS; I felt there was a lot more story to explore. And I’m still writing plays for young people. Plenty more ideas in my head!
Thanks for inviting me on your blog, Fran. I’ll be happy to have you as a guest on mine, as I love your book ‘Trapped’, which has a wonderfully poignant, evocative cover.
Thank you too, Frances. It has been such a pleasure to host you today. I hope all your publishing dreams come true.