23rd September 2019
One of the joys of my blog, An Author’s Mind, has been its variety of possibilities. And, this month, novelist Alison Ripley Cubitt hints at new and exhilarating routes to creativity which other novelists may like to consider! A very warm welcome, Alison!
Alison: Thank you, Lizzie, it’s a pleasure to be here! I should point out: I’m a multi-genre author who writes non-fiction and memoir under my own name and fiction thrillers, crime and screenplays under the pen-name, Lambert Nagle.
Lizzie: Thank you. Now, perhaps you’d like to start by introducing the book you’d like to bring to our attention. No spoilers, of course!
Alison: The novel I’m currently working on is Nighthawks, a follow up to my first novel, Revolution Earth. It’s about art looting and is set in Italy and the USA. This is the first one in the Detective Stephen Connor series. It’s an eco-thriller and, thanks to Greta Thunberg, the environment is very much the hot topic now.
Lizzie: So, down to business. Books are about people and, in books, people are characters. Do your characters change and develop over the course of your books?
Alison: Thanks for this question about characters changing in the story. That’s essential as far as the main character is concerned in my opinion and I’ve made sure that Stephen does so. When we first meet him, he lacks confidence and is something of an underdog. By journey’s end, he realises that what matters is that against all the odds, he’s survived.
Lizzie: And how do you research a novel? How do you include what you learn?
Alison: For me, it’s not just about the historical research but world-building. As far as building the story world was concerned, I managed to familiarise myself with some of the locations on visits to Italy. And the Boston, USA setting came about as I lived there for a few months. I studied art history at university, and one of the paintings I wrote about for my coursework happened to have been one of the most frequently stolen artworks of all time. And that intrigued me and set me off on this trajectory of writing about looted art. I became so immersed in the subject matter that I was reluctant to let the research go and had to tone down the amount I included in the novel. I didn’t want the general reader to be bored. I’ve also had to learn to become much more disciplined. The research is there to serve the story, not the other way around.
Lizzie: What genre if any do you favour?
Alison: I’m an avid consumer of Euro crime and thrillers, particularly television drama. As a big fan of Scandi-noir, particularly Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium trilogy and Henning Mankell’s Wallander crime thrillers. I’m drawn to the characters and their humanity. And I like the way these authors tackle big themes: from polarization in society to human rights and migration. I hope that readers who want a good story will enjoy my thrillers, but at the same time be drawn to the themes.
Lizzie: And what are the big themes you are exploring through a genre-based approach?
Alison: In Nighthawks, the theme is that the real villains in looting art to order are the middlemen and those at the top. They make the real money, while those who do the stealing at the bottom of the food chain receive a pittance. The theme in Revolution Earth is about the global nature of our world: what happens in one part of the world has a profound effect on another. For example, after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in 1986, the impact was felt as far away as Western Europe. And the rural economy in North Wales was impacted for over ten years after the event. Sheep continued to fail radioactive tests, and their meat wasn’t safe for human consumption.
Lizzie: How do you go about writing a book?
Alison: I’ve found out that it’s crucial to work with an outline and know the spine of both the story and the main character’s arc. When it comes to writing the individual scenes, I prefer to set up a situation and see where it takes my characters.
Lizzie: What about other ways of telling your story to your audience?
Alison: The question I’ve set myself in this interview is whether I prefer writing screenplays rather than books. The short answer is ‘Yes!’ But far fewer films see the light of day compared with texts as they’re so expensive to make. Over the past three years, I’ve been working on two film projects, a short and a feature film, alongside Nighthawks.
Lizzie: Who would you cast?
Alison: In the movie version of my current Work-in-Progress, I would cast Cillian Murphy (Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders), as the main character, Detective Stephen Connor, an Irish cop working for the Metropolitan Police.
Lizzie: What draws you personally into a book?
Alison: What first draws me into a book depends entirely on whether I know the author by reputation or not. I have so many books in my ‘to read’ pile that when I do pick one out, it will be because I have heard of the author. The current book I’m reading has the dullest cover I’ve ever seen: matt black with the author’s name and the title in silver font. It does, however, say in a strap-line above the title: The Original Bestseller. If I didn’t know the author’s work, I’d never have picked it off the shelf. I knew the book by reputation and had a rough idea what it was about, but I confess I didn’t, on this occasion, read the blurb. For a lesser-known author, it’s a combination of the cover, blurb and the number of four and five-star reviews. As far as the production of my books is concerned, I spend a considerable time writing and rewriting the blurb and am passionate about professional cover design. I’m lucky I’ve found a designer who I enjoy working with who has done an excellent job for me so far.
Lizzie: What comes next?
Alison: As far as what comes next, I am focused on writing the first draft of a feature film set in New Zealand. It’s set in a farming community. One of the themes is the disconnect between the people who grow our food who live in the countryside and anti-farming protesters, most of whom live in cities. And I have a full outline of both a novel and a film script and have written the opening scenes of the latter.
Lizzie: And what have you learned about yourself during this process?
Alison: What I learned about myself in the process of writing Nighthawks is that I’m my own worst enemy! And that the reason that this book is taking so long as I seem to like complicating things and making my life difficult. I’m grateful to my developmental editor as she’s helped me in this regard.
Lizzie: Thank you, Alison, for so many fascinating insights!