1. What can you tell our readers about your new novel The Serial Dater's Shopping List?
TSDSL is a chick lit novel, though not your usual girl-meets-boy but girl-meets-boy-boy-boy… over 40 of them (she’s set the task by her boss of meeting a man a day during May but she goes speed dating mid-month).
Whilst most novels pick fictional towns or real cities, TSDSL is based in Northampton, England. I live here and there are very few books about the town (Waterstone’s has a slim rack of them but they’re mostly non-fiction) so I thought I’d ‘write about what you know’. Isobel ‘Izzy’ McFarlane is fairly autobiographical too. She’s just turned 40 (slightly younger than I was when I wrote it), 5’10, and quite quiet. She is, however, not timid and gives the guys she meets (who are weird and mostly not-so-wonderful) as good as she gets.
Through other threads within the novel the reader meets her colleagues and family and her boss’ 50-year-old African Grey Parrot called ‘Baby’.
2. The protagonist is a journalist, so why choose this profession for your central character?
That’s a very good question. Like most of my characters I pick them out the air (or they just form themselves). Back in October 2009 I planned to do my second NaNoWriMo and by the 30th October I thought it was time I decided what I was going to write about (I’m just as late a planner this year, for my sixth novel, a very dark crime) so I browsed a Word notes file on my computer and came across all these male characters. I could have just picked one but they were all so quirky that I wanted to include them. I then needed a woman to meet them all but she had to have a reason to meet so many in a short time (again that was my choice – perhaps writing in a month inspired me to set it in that timeframe) so a journalist popped into my brain. We have a local newspaper based here so that probably helped.
Also because I had to write 50,000+ words in a month (I ended up writing 117,540 with a day to spare!), I didn’t want anything too ‘heavy’. Of course that’s when the hard work starts, the editing process, and here we are three years later with the finished book.
3. There have been many books that tackle the subject of internet dating, so what does yours bring to the table that's fresh?
Firstly I’d say because it’s Izzy’s ‘job’ to meet them and whilst she is single and would like to meet ‘Mr Right’, she fairly self-assured and remains quite aloof of her situation and keeps reminding herself that she doesn’t have to get involved when on some occasions it could have been easy to let herself go.
Apart from its location, I’m not aware of any dating novels that have quite so many characters. We get to meet most of them only in their chapter so, like someone we talk to at a party and never see again, we get an impression of them (favourable or otherwise, some staying in our minds for longer) and then we (Izzy) move(s) on.
4. How much research did you have to put into the world of internet dating?
<laughs> I’ve been there, done it. Whilst many of the characters are not from my direct experience (I’ve not had anyone fall asleep on me… or stand me up, actually), I did, again, write about what I know. The locations are also venues I’ve been to, although one has changed its name twice since I went there / started the book. It’s still what I’ve ended up calling it… for now.
5. Where did the inspiration for the storyline come from?
Part-experience, part-imagination. I’m very lucky in that I can come up with stories from any kind of prompt, whether it’s a single word, a sentence start or newspaper article. ‘Finding’ the men in my ideas document kicked it off and as the month progressed, so did the story.
6. There are a few unusual characters in the novel such as Isobel's niece, so tell us a little bit about these.
Lola’s lovely, and so clever. I don’t have children myself but I have a family next door with a four-year old daughter. Whilst I didn’t base Lola on her (because I wrote the novel three years ago) she’s actually now what I imagined Lola to be. As for the men that Izzy meets they are definitely quirky, although she quite readily finds fault with many of them, and in most cases rightly so. They say clothes maketh the man and two of the most memorable are Nigel the day-glo cyclist, and Eddie the ‘colour-blind traffic light’. We also have Tim who eats a ‘platter for two’ as a snack, the complete opposite of ‘so thin he’s hidden behind a pillar’ Lawrence. Of course there are more ‘normal’ characters but, just like life, no-one’s perfect.
7. Which modern women's writers are your favourite and why?
Kate Atkinson is one of my ‘who would you invite to dinner’ (the other two are Roald Dahl and my father, both deceased – and they knew each other – so it really is a wish list) and also who I’d love to interview for my blog, I’ve just not asked her yet. About five years ago I spotted a three-episode course on her first three books (two novels and a collection of short stories, the latter being my favourite of hers). She has a very distinctive writing style, very quirky (I’d love to know if Roald was an inspiration for her) and I like reading and writing books that’s aren’t ‘ordinary’. Other favourite authors include Alice Munro, Jane Rusbridge (who, like me, uses second-person viewpoint), Jane Wenham-Jones, Marika Cobbold and Trisha Ashley (who got me reading prologues!).
8. Which authors do you believe to have had the greatest influence on your work and in what ways?
If I had to pick one it would be Roald Dahl. I love writing twist-in-the-tail short stories / flash fiction and apart from reading his books, I was an avid watcher of his Tales of the Unexpected TV series. I also grew up (in my teens) on Stephen King (and blame him for me wearing glasses as I’d read his books under the duvet with a torch) so I’ve always had a dark side (perhaps also why Izzy isn’t light and fluffy) although I’ve mellowed now to crime and humour.
9. What is next for you?
Apart from my current NaNo novel, I’ve had my second-written book (a general / mystery novel written in between my first and second NaNos) returned from one of my beta readers so I plan to do final edits on it (then it’s off to another reader) and then it can go online. I also have a short story collection, three flash fiction collections and another writer’s block workbook to be final edited and go up. I’m very lucky, inspiration never stops.
10. How did you plan on making each for the 31 dates memorable and individual?
I’ve interviewed over 550 authors for my blog and most say that they don’t know where a lot of their writing comes from, that they just get an idea (however vague) and run with it, seeing ‘what happens’. I was the same for TSDSL. I had a list of male characters, some as simple as ‘Cling film on his arm, just had tattoo done, hides from mum as still lives at home’ – we all know someone who should have moved out years ago (I left home when I was 24, my brother was mid-thirties – we had our cooking and washing done, we were on to too good a thing!) and I’d spotted someone once who’d had what looked like cling film over a new tattoo. These things get jotted down and many stick in your brain. Because in real life everyone is different (my mother and aunt are 81-year-old twins and are very different people – two of the speed daters are twins) so inspiration is out there, we just have to keep our eyes and ears open.
Female First Lucy Walton