My Next Big Thing

I’ll start by thanking  LIndsay Stanberry-Flynn for tagging me in the Next Big Thing which provides the opportunity for writers to answer questions about their current writing project. Lindsay is a novelist and short story writer. I recommend that you buy and read her prize winning novel,  Unravelling and her next novel The Piano Player’s Son will be published next autumn. Having read a little of the Piano Player’s Son in draft I can’t wait for it to come out.
And now I get a chance to talk about my Next Big Thing:
What is the working title of your book?
It had a variety of working titles; ‘Life under the Red Ensign’ and ‘Pink then Red’ before my publisher decided it should just be called Convoy.  I liked the simplicity of this as the poems are about the convoys to Malta during the second world war.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
It came from my taid, my grandfather. I’ve already written about the inspiration for the first poem which came out of the blue while I was taking part in one of Pascale Petit’s workshops at Tate Modern.  After writing the first poem I tried ignoring the whole thing but it would not go away.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’d pity any director endeavouring to turn this sequence of poems into a film. There are fifty nine ships involved for a start and a large cast including not just merchant seamen but also Royal Naval commanders, admirals, RAF pilots and people on the island of Malta. However if Jane Campion were willing to take it on I’d recommend concentrating on the important convoys and the father/daughter relationship between my taid and my mother. Taid would have to be played by someone from North Wales. My ideal choice would be Huw Garmon who played the lead role in Hedd Wyn. He was the poet Ellis Humphrey Evans who was killed during the first world war. Huw Garmon comes from Llangefni so his accent would be perfect and he is also about the right age as my Taid will have been in his late thirties during the war. There is also a lovely role for a six to twelve year old girl playing my mother growing up in North Wales and waiting for her father to come back from the war.
I’d like Ian McKellen to be Captain Thomas Horn, Master of the Sydney Star which was torpedoed during the July 1941 convoy. This is pure indulgence on my part but I would love to hear him say the lines:
I’m as old as this century.
Tonight I feel each year like an anchor’s weight.
I had wondered about the possibility of having Daniel Craig to play Lt Commander Roger Hill of HMS Ledbury although I’m not sure this would work as a) Mr Craig is likely to be far too busy, b) he’d have to grow a beard for the part and c) having been the hero of the hour during Operation Pedestal Roger Hill does get very emotional towards the end of the poem and later on is fraught to the point of throwing up at the prospect of putting back to sea. Much of this is definitely not James Bond territory.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
They went to the sea in ships and fought and died.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
A poet with an agent – now there’s an idea. I’m open to offers. Convoy, however, will be published by Cinnamon Press in 2013.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I firstly started writing it seriously in the autumn of 2010. A lot of the poems were written whilst I was staying at Tyn-y-coed near Conwy. It is a marvellous place to go to get peace and quiet in which to write and it’s surrounded by mountains and not far from the sea. There are regular writers courses there organised by Cinnamon Press.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
There is one poet who covered similar ground and that was Alan Ross. He served on destroyers during the war, although mostly in the Arctic and North sea rather than the Mediterranean. I thoroughly recommend his collected Poems published by Harvill Press in 2005 which includes his long narrative poem ‘J.W.51B: a convoy’.
The only contemporary poet that I know of who has written about men going away to sea is Jehanne Dubrow with her third collection Stateside. She is the wife who is left behind when her husband is deployed and the poems are wonderful. Every time I pick up her book again I discover a new favourite; the current one is the poem Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot which is all about being deployed
I’m relieved that I didn’t discover either of these books until I was thoroughly engrossed in the writing of mine to the point where I wouldn’t have wanted to stop. I do hesitate about comparing my book to either of theirs though.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
It was merchant seamen who inspired me to write the book. Having decided I’d better find out more about what Taid went through during the war I discovered all their forgotten histories. it has been irresistible and daunting at the same time and I just hope I’ve done justice to them.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Ships, loss, human frailty; those moments when men are braver than they believe they are capable of and other moments when they are terrified.
You can imagine it like one of those black and white war movies except that the poems are in colour.

Tag time
And now I’m going to pass the baton on to Ruth Downie and if you haven’t already met Ruso or to give him his full moniker – Roman Army Doctor and investigator Gaius Petreius Ruso then you are in for a treat.

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