Monday, 24 August 2009

Event Preview: Interview with Sophie Hannah

In anticipation of the fabulously multi-talented Sophie Hannah's upcoming visit to Mr B's ( we asked the poet and short story/thriller writer a few warm-up questions...
Mr B: You’ve written many different genres including poetry, short story collections and of course thrillers such as “The Other Half Lives”. Does your writing process differ greatly from genre to genre?

Sophie: In some ways, I think writing poetry and writing crime fiction are very similar processes, because, in both cases, structure is paramount. In a poem, if one word isn't right, or if one line has a dodgy rhythm, it can bring down the whole construct. In a crime novel, if you want to have a big moment of revelation in chapter thirty, you have to lay the groundwork (ie plant the relevant information) in chapter three. Whatever form I'm writing in, I'm quite obsessed with structure, with the skeleton behind the story or poem, as it were. I think that's true of my short stories as well. I like the things I write to have proper shapes. In terms of the process, writing a novel is a full-time job - when I'm writing the first draft of one of my thrillers, I'm at my desk for at least seven hours a day, typing away. When I write poetry or short stories, because they're shorter, there's less of a stretch of hard labour involved. I might sit at my desk in front of the computer for eight hours a day, but perhaps only for one or two days instead of a hundred and fifty days!

Mr B: In a novel as complex as ‘The Other Half Lives’ with regards to plot and character development, how on earth do you go about mapping and structuring the writing process? Is it necessary to have a very firm idea of the ultimate plot destination?

Sophie: I like to have a firm idea of the plot and character development before I start, because I don't want to invest any time in writing a novel that I might have to give up half way through. So I like to check before I start that the plot is feasible and will work from start to finish - that's why I tend to plan it all out. The plot of 'The Other Half Lives' is very intricate, but I don't remember working it out as such. One minute all I had was the opening mystery - why would anyone confess to the murder of someone who isn't dead? - and then, about six months later, an entire plot, complete with fully fleshed out characters, simply appeared in my head to go with that opening idea. My ideas/plots often arrive like that - as if by magic. The hard part is then making the idea that I've been 'given' into as good a book as I possibly can.

Mr B: Perusing your website ( we also noticed that you have written the English versions of some of the classic Tove Jansson Moomin comic books. How did that come about? Do you have any Finnish heritage?!

Sophie: No, I'm not at all Finnish. My verse versions of Tove Jansson's Moomin books were based on literal translations of the original. I was chosen because the originals had a jaunty rhyme and rhythm, and I'm known to be the sort of poet who doesn't baulk at being asked to write jauntily and metrically. Originally the publishers asked another poet to do it, but she couldn't promise that her version would rhyme - she suggested me to the publisher, as most of my poetry rhymes, and for me it's easy to write in rhyming verse.

Mr B: If we ask you nicely will you also read us a poem during your event?

Sophie: Yes - I often start and end my fiction events with poems, so that will be no problem at all!

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