Saturday, 20 March 2010

A Kind of Intimacy: an Interview and giveaway

So, somehow I managed to get a free copy of my friend Jenn Ashworth's book A Kind of Intimacy... and thought I would give it away (see below), and celebrate the brilliance of her book with an interview and other such lovely things.

Jenn is a Lancashire girl like me. I can't remember where we met, but I think it might have been at some reading or another, perhaps no point in not being friends or perhaps Preston reading night Word Soup. We have read at a couple of events, shared a free lunch, and shared a chair at the Manchester Blog Awards. I love her blog Every Day I Lie a Little , and am generally in awe of her for being such a fabulous writer and all round lovely lass.

I decided to take advantage of her loveliness, and ask her some questions that I hope other people might not have asked her about A Kind of Intimacy.

Me: So, let's cut to the quick... Have you known many Annie's, and how did you decide on this name for your main character?

Jenn: I only know one Annie, and that's my Granny. Although I forget she's called Annie for a couple of reasons - I only ever call her Granny and most other people call her Anna. She's nothing like my Annie and not based on her at all. And then I know you, but I met you after I invented my Annie, so there's no clue there... the real reason I decided to give Annie her name was a little nod to the Annie Wilkes character in Stephen King's Misery - one of the inspirations for A Kind of Intimacy - and also Orphan Annie - because it's the sort of film Annie Fairhurst would like to watch and probably how she sees herself. And of course it is such a pretty name ;)

Me: She is a fascinating character, I've read a lot of descriptions of her: On the back of the book, she is described as 'morbidly obese, lonely and hopeful', and in reviews and interviews, has variously been described as 'a sickly smelling orchid' (Bookmunch), 'a compulsive liar' (The Guardian), and 'an overweight loner who books appointments with herself' (The Independent)... she doesn't exactly come with a glowing reference. how would you describe Annie?

Jenn:See, I actually like Annie. I really do. She's trouble to live next door too, obviously. And there is something sickly about her sexuality - she's very prurient and prudish all at the same time. She can't really talk about sex because she doesn't have the words for it - the best she can come up with is 'pecker' - and yet sex is such a huge part of her life and her identity.

I think about Annie through her own language because that is how I came to know her - her words have been corrupted or debased by all the things she reads - she constantly speaks in clichés - and I think that's why she has such a problem knowing herself and other people - she can't get through all these clichés in order to find the right words - to say the things she wants to say. There aren't any right words anymore. And because of that, and because that is such an ordinary, human difficulty and one that as a writer I struggle with all of the time, I have a lot of empathy for her. She is always doing what she thinks is right, after

Me: How did it feel to be writing about a woman who is very overweight, when you are quite a skinny lass yourself? Sometimes I found it a little uncomfortable to read, and wondered what responses you have had from readers, whether you did any research?

Jenn:I didn't find that a problem at all - whenever I'm writing something that is not based on my own experience, I'm having to put myself in the shoes of someone else, to imagine what it would be like to be them. It would be no different if I was writing about a man, or a child, or a middle class person, or a person who lived somewhere else. I'd still need to use those imaginative muscles and do a bit of research.

I was pregnant when I wrote the first draft, so I had a small inkling into what it would be like to feel heavy and find clothes and moving about difficult - and I had a terrible time at school so I didn't have any problem remembering what it was like to feel stared at or treated differently. I applied those experiences to Annie. Readers generally haven't commented on me portraying a big person other than to comment on my size when the meet me - as if they secretly suspect that the book is a thinly veiled autobiography. That, I find funny. I don't root through my neighbours knicker-drawer either, promise.

And yes - I did research about the FA (Fat Admiring) community, and BBWs - through magazines and websites and forums, all of which made my browsing history not something I wanted my mum to look at. I found it sad in a way - the way that the women were reduced to nothing more than a set of measurements. It's the same for smaller women too though, I think. That research was more for me to get an insight into this world Annie could get herself mixed up in, rather than for her character though - she's not interested in that sub-culture, she just wants to meet someone who is interested in talking to her and she thinks Abundance is the logical place to look.

I did a reading once at my old college in Cambridge and someone asked about the irony of the word 'Abundance' to describe the Fat Admiring contact magazine - when Annie's personal life is so impoverished. It's a nice idea, but I didn't mean any irony by it. There was a real magazine called Abundance, although I don't think it's going

Me: I love the fact that you set your novels in the north west of England (being a Lancashire girl myself). Do you know Fleetwood very well? Why did you choose this as your setting?

Jenn:I chose Fleetwood because I wanted somewhere near to my house I could go and research easily while pushing a pram - and because there's something that attracts me to dismal sea-side towns. Annie's from remote Cumbria, and she thinks, when she meets her husband, she's moving to Blackpool. Blackpool and Fleetwood are worlds and worlds apart, and the thing that characterises Fleetwood is how isolated it is - there's no train station and it's hard to get out of.

This scene isn't in the book, but I always imaged Annie arriving in Fleetwood shortly before her wedding day with the Blackpool Lights and Tower Ballroom and bingo and cocktails and musical stage shows whirling about in her mind, and looking around her at the empty main-street and old fish warehouses and realising that yet again, real life did not quite measure up to her fantasy. When she moves again - the move that kick-starts the action in the book - that same thing happens. So I chose Fleetwood because it (and Fleetwooders won't like this...) it just feels so disappointing. Also, I've never read another novel set in Fleetwood.

Me: I think it's fair to say (without spoiling the story!) that Annie is not the best of neighbours. How would you cope if Annie moved next door to you?

Jenn:Haha! I've never thought of that. I'm always very interested in my neighbours, but I'm not sure I like the idea of them being so interested in me! I have an idea that all Annie needed was the kind of unconditional love we're all supposed to get in childhood - although as an adult that need has become bottomless. I don't think friendship would do it for her, but I'd like to think I'd try and be kind to her. I'm almost sure I would. The Mr says I'm too soft and walk about with an 'empathy gun' pointed at my own head (one of his nice phrases) but the idea of there being real people like Annie walking about and there not being much we can do to help them makes me sad.

Me: I love Boris's description of Annie as ‘a minority interest, like collecting Stilton jars or learning to fold paper birds’. Do you have any minority interests?

Jenn:Well, I like folding paper birds...
I get fads now and again - I was interested in Angler Fish for ages, and before that, hot air balloons and the history of their construction. Most of it ends up somewhere in my writing, or a story - or I write about characters who get single minded and obsessed about something. Sometimes I think I only write because it gives me an excuse to have these obsessions and because I like the noise the keyboard makes when I get up to speed typing on it. There's something very interesting about people who have hobbies, who are really into something just for the sake of it. I always wanted to write about someone who has a collection of something or other that got out of hand, and maybe one day I

Me: Do you think Annie is a product of her past?

Jenn:Yes - I think so. She was unloved, and this book looks at what happens to intelligent, basically good adults who weren't loved enough as children. She's got the same impulses and needs and desires as everyone else, she's just grown up crooked and it's too late for her to be fixed. And yet, if you were presented with a child like Annie, I think most people would find it hard to love her. It's a chicken and egg situation. I also don't like the idea of 'diagnosing' Annie - you could say she has all kinds of disorders and it would probably be true of her character, but I feel like giving someone a label dismisses them or their behaviour - it's a full stop that means we can cease the effort in trying to understand. I always make the mistake of talking about her like she's real... thinking about it as a book, yes, there are scenes from her childhood in there that I put in so you could see that she'd always been odd and her parents had found her difficult too - and that her relationship with her parents had shaped her expectations of adult relationships. But it would be a shame if that was all a reader got out of the book.

Me: I read somewhere that there is 'a potential Annie in all of us'. Discuss

Jenn:I just don't think she's that different to most of us, like I said, want she wants is normal - and basic and almost tragically little. Whether Neil would be enough to fill this bottomless pit of need in her, I don't know. That's why I put the bit about her baby in there - she struggles to fill that need in someone else, and is completely unable to mother in the way that she needed to be mothered. She's empty - maybe it's not possible for people to get loved enough. I don't think that's very unusual either.

Me: I've had the pleasure to hear you read a couple of times from A Kind of Intimacy (which is a real treat). The first time you read the scene where Annie loses her virginity, and the second time you read the scene where she meets a man from a contact man and goes to a seedy hotel. Both brilliant scenes, dead pan, funny, and kind of tragic. How do readers respond to the 'dirty bits' in your book?

Jenn:I think most of the mucky parts are fairly comic - which is why I choose to read them at events - I figure if someone is paying to see me I might as well give them a laugh. I've not had any complaints so far. Because, like the rest of the book, these scenes are told in Annie's own voice, and because she's such a prude with her language, I don't think any of the sex scenes are that graphic - she alludes to what happens, but we get more of a sense of her confusion and embarrassment and disappointment than who did what and when.

Me: Last question, I promise. You've just finished your second novel Cold Light. From the brief bit I heard you read, it sounds gripping... when's it out, and if you had to describe it in six words, what would they be...?

Jenn:I can't tell you when it is out yet, but when I can I will be shouting about it on my blog, as always. It's an exciting time - I can't believe I'm signing up to do it all over again. Six words to describe it? Hmm. Teenage girls in Preston Halloween Flasher Shocker? (that's seven, but you get a whole tabloid-style sentence for that...) Valentine's Day Suicide Pact: Truth Revealed - that's another six. I could do this all day.

A Kind of Intimacy is such a great book, I urge everyone to read it. You can read reviews of A Kind of Intimacy here:

Review in The Guardian
Review in The Independent
and there are links to all kinds of interesting interviews and other stuff on Jenn's blog

And if you want to win a copy for FREE, just leave a comment below, and me or Sissycat will pick a name out of the hat.


Michelle said...

A Kind of Intimacy sounds intriguing. I so enjoyed your interview, Annie and Jen. Thank you. Also looking forward to hearing more about Cold Light.

Tania Hershman said...

Great interview, although because I haven't read the book yet - and hope to win a copy! - I didn't read it all because I like to come to books as fresh as possible. Pick me! Pick me!

Carola Huttmann said...

Inspired and inspiring interview. I would love to read the book. Please pick me :)

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I like Annie already....great interview.

Megan said...

Sounds fabulous. I completely love how Annie remains real for Jenn. Cheers ladies
(pick me Sissy and there might be some cat-nip in it for you ...)

annie clarkson said...

Wonderful, you're all in the mix, we will pick randomly next weekend.

No catnip though please Meg, we worked out it makes her sick, poor sis :(

green ink said...

I have wanted to read Jenn's book for ages, perfect excuse :)

Jenn Ashworth said...

Thank you for such an interesting interview. All the best people in the world are called Annie, aren't they?


sonia said...

sounds fab - I am on a reading roll and need to continue please pick me.

Nik Perring said...

Brilliant interview, folks. Thanks to both of you. And my Gran was an Annie too. :)

Jenn Ashworth said...

Small Fry was nearly an Annie, although the novel was underway then and sensible friends told me that it would be weird to name her after a (not altogether sane) character in a novel I'd just started writing. They may have had a point. Small Fry is such an unusual name, after all ;)

annie clarkson said...

There are many lovely Annies in the world, but Small Fry is such a beautiful name for a child, it could catch on...

Bob Jacobs said...

Cool. Pick me! Pick me! I love free books!

Rachel Fox said...

Is it too late to add me in?

annie clarkson said...

thanks everyone for your comments, Sonia is the winner and the book will be heading her way after the bank holiday. But, everyone else I sooo recommend Jenn's book, so try and get a copy it will be worth it!