Sunday, 26 October 2014

An Interview with The Author of Precious Thing - Colette Mcbeth

About the book...
Remember the person you sat next to on your first day at school? Still your best friend? Or disappeared from your life for good?

Some friendships fizzle out. Rachel and Clara promised theirs would last for ever. 

They met when Rachel was the new girl in class and Clara was the friend everyone wanted. Now in their late twenties Rachel has everything while Clara's life is spiralling further out of control. Then Clara vanishes. 

Imagine discovering something about your oldest friend that forces you to question everything you've shared together. The truth is always there. But only if you choose to see it.

About the author...
Colette started her career as a trainee reporter at The Journal in Newcastle before moving to the BBC where she was a news correspondent for 10 years.

She has reported on the One, Six and Ten O’Clock News and her record for talking live on air is 45 minutes non-stop. Throughout that time she promised herself she would write the story that had been swimming around in her head since she left university. In January 2011 she enrolled on the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course and began writing Precious Thing, finishing it on maternity leave with her third child.

Colette lives in West London with her husband and children and is currently writing her second novel. whilst she dreams of being beside the seaside

An interview...
Precious Thing has to be one of the best books I've read in many years.  I picked it up, devoured it in almost one sitting and haven't been able to forget about it since.  Read my review here! Her second novel The Life I left Behind is due out in January 2015 and I wanted all my blog readers who perhaps haven't read Precious Thing yet to get to know Colette a bit, read all about Precious Thing knowing full well if they pick up the book they'll be hooked like me and queueing up to pre-order The Life I Left Behind.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I always wanted to write but thought I needed a job so journalism seemed like the perfect fit. Then I found I loved the buzz of live TV so I spent another ten years in broadcasting. But Precious Thing was brewing in my head the whole time. In the end I had to start writing the story because the characters were getting so big they were bursting out of my head.
When I’m not writing stories I spend my time writing to do lists which I never, ever complete. I have three kids, spend my evenings collecting stray socks from under the sofa and looking at houses on Rightmove – I’m planning my move to the seaside. 
Before starting your working career you spent ‘a gap summer’ in Ibiza. Were you ever tempted to stay and what did you take from it?
Yes! I made some very good friends and one of them was running an event the following year and asked me to go back. By that time I was a trainee on a newspaper so I said no. Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I had stayed in that scene. Very different I imagine.  As for what I took from it, I had some amazing memories.  It really was a perfect summer. I was into music and clubbing at the time and I got to hang out with lots of people who I had been paying good money to see at clubs for years. I don’t think you can keep up that level of partying all year round though, not if you want to hang on to your sanity.  
You settled into working life and became a news correspondent, latterly with the BBC. During this time what was your greatest achievement?
That’s a tricky one. The stories you remember are the big ones and generally they are tragedies, murders or disasters so I wouldn’t call any of them an achievement. Instead I think you can  be proud of the way you reported on a story. I’d like to think I always remembered that there were real lives involved, families going through grief and sometimes unimaginable pain. One particular story that stays with me was the murder of five women who were working as prostitutes in Ipswich. That was a surreal time because the bodies were all found within two weeks of each other and you just didn’t know when it was going to end. But one of the issues that upset the families was that the women were always referred to as prostitutes first as if that was all they were and somehow their deaths didn’t matter as much. I always tried reminding people they were daughters and mothers and sisters too, not women defined by their jobs. 
After finishing your writing course, with the Faber Academy you were offered the chance to have the first few chapters of Precious Thing read not by one but 6 agents and you refused.
I did. I had polished a really small 90 second segment of the opening because that was what I was going to read to agents but the rest was a messy first draft. I didn’t want to send it out like in that state and give anyone an excuse to turn me down. I was also about to give birth to my third child so I told them I’d love to send it when it was ready. Six months later I did. That was how I got my agent. 
Taking a redundancy package and giving yourself three months to finish writing your novel was a gamble, what was plan b?
There wasn’t one! I always thought I would have to get a job but I was determined to finish the novel first. My husband had also taken redundancy at the same time so it was an interesting summer to say the least. But I maintain that it’s good to do things that scare you, and it certainly focused my mind. 
Precious Thing is about best friends, trust and obsession - where did you get your inspiration for this story-line?
It was Rachel’s character that came to me first, I was fascinated by her but she needed a close relationship as a foil. There was never any question of it being a boyfriend or a husband, it was always going to be her best friend. On some levels our female friends know us better than our partners. We can often be more open and honest and assume we’re on the same wave length, where as with boyfriends and husbands we accept there are some elements of their personality we will never grasp. In that sense the betrayal between female friends can be sharper, more devastating.
Obviously it helped that I had a very close group of female friends as a teenager so I was well aware of the dynamics and the power play and rivalries that come with being part of a clique of girls. What I did in Precious Thing was take that to the extreme. 
How much research into the locations and the psychology of the story lines was required to give realism to the novel?
It didn’t feel like a lot of research because it was done over years (I first had the idea for Precious Thing in 1998). My friend is also a clinical psychiatrist so we had several chats over wine about the personality traits of sociopaths so I was pretty confident in drawing the characters. Most of the story is set in Brighton, a city I know well very but I did go back and check out specific locations to make sure they were right. As for the TV side of things, I had spent a decade as a TV reporter so that part was a lot of fun, creating my own newsroom of dubious characters. I also wrote most of the first draft in quiet times in the BBC newsroom so all I had to do was look around me for inspiration. 
For me the story was compulsive and I developed an obsession of sorts, staying up half the night to read it. The story and characters stayed with me long after the end of the book. How easy was it for you to detach yourself once the book was finished? 
Thank you! It’s the best compliment when someone says they were still thinking about the book long after they finished it because that’s what I always wanted to achieve. I wrote the ending fairly quickly which was absolutely the right thing to do. I wanted that sense of pace and breathlessness but also it was quite difficult being in Rachel’s head towards the end. It wasn’t a healthy place to be.  I was wrung out afterwards and glad to escape but the hardest thing is letting go completely because you always know you could make it better with just another tweak. 
Describe the feeling when you held your first finished novel in your hands.
It was surreal, honestly, because you always think it won’t happen to you and that no one will want to read your novel.  In fact the most incredible time was when I found out I had got a book deal. I remember standing in a cafe waiting to be served and laughing to myself. The thing about writing is that every day you have this little voice in your head telling you not to bother, that it’s rubbish and you are wasting your time and somehow you have to learn to ignore it and tell the story you want to tell. So the book deal was vindication of that and it also meant  I could write full time. 
Your ‘jobs’ as both an author and a mother are each demanding in their own way. How do you juggle all the balls?
Badly! I know some people can be a full time mother and then write at night but I would find that impossible because I’m so exhausted by the end of the day. I write during the day when my sons are at school and my daughter is in nursery. But the hours pass too quickly and it’s always a bit of a race against the clock. Working at home also means you still have the washing and the Sainsbury’s shop to unpack when what you really need to do is write another 500 words. When I was trying to finish the second book I wished I could take myself off for a few weeks and not have to cook or referee fights or deal with bedtime because all I could think about was the story in my head. But they’re great kids and if I’m not the only mother who has to juggle so I need to stop moaning about it!
Do all of your friends expect free copies of your books and was having a novel published a bit like winning the lottery all your friends and acquaintances suddenly wanting to become your best friend?
I can honestly say all my friends have been amazing. They all bought books at my launch and then emailed me from their holidays to tell me how much they loved it. My mum friends at school have been wonderful too, they see me every day looking frazzled and they’re a great support. 
Your next novel ‘The Life I Left Behind’ is due out in Jan 15, what can you tell us about it?
It’s about two women, Melody and Eve, who were attacked by the same man years apart. Melody survived but feels dead inside and Eve was murdered. The story is told from their alternating points of view. As Melody begins to pick over her past in order to find the truth she develops a bond with Eve– a bit like a friendship beyond the grave – and realises that although she’s dead she’s the only person who can teach her how to live again.  
Now for a little bit of fun, a glimpse at the 
real Colette McBeth:-
What’s your favourite tipple? 
Rose in the summertime. 
Do you prefer savoury or sweet things? 
Crisps are my downfall.
Friends coming round - cook or get a take-away? 
Offer to cook and then wish I had got a take-away.
Do you prefer hot or cold climates? 
Hot every time. 
Do you prefer a beach holiday or city break?
Beach holiday.
Which would you prefer luxury cruise or fly long haul first class? 
Fly first class. I have an irrational fear of large boats. 
Do you prefer to go to the cinema or theatre? 
Either would be lovely, I rarely have the time these days. 
Which do you prefer comedy or true stories when watching a film?
Do you have any pets?
No but my kids are working on it. 
Tell us something we don’t know about you?
Country and Western music is my guilty pleasure. 
Huge thanks to Colette for visiting my blog and answering a few nosy questions.  If you want to order either ~ Precious Thing or The Life I Left behind you can do so below.

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