Today I’m pleased to welcome Fleur Smithwick to the blog. Fleur’s debut novel, How to Make a Friend was published by Black Swan on 8 October 2015. Fleur kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about How to Make a Friend.
The novel is about a twenty-six year old woman battling a figment of her imagination for control of her life and her mind. That figment is Sam, the imaginary friend from her childhood who has returned, grown up and gorgeous, after she is involved in a tragic accident. Sam assumes the role of protector and confidante but it gradually becomes clear that he isn’t a force for good. Even though he comforts her, he also ruthlessly manipulates her insecurities to increase her dependence on him. It is gripping, disturbing and very romantic. All the stuff I like to read!
2. Where did the inspiration come from for the book?
It came from my own experiences as a child and my daughter’s. Both of us had imaginary friends, which gave me the idea that they could be passed down through the generations. I have always been interested in the power of the human mind to accept the extraordinary.
3. As well as writing novels you also write short stories. What are the major differences that you have noticed from writing both forms of fiction? Do you have to switch mindsets when you work on each type or are there writing rules that you always follow?
There are two big differences apart from the obvious, length. The first is that I write them with no intention of attempting to sell them, so there is more pleasure than pain, the second is the freedom to express parts of yourself that you wouldn’t use in a novel. How To Make A Friend kind of crossed over this.
I write short stories purely for competitions because there are no constraints or rules like there would be for magazines. Anything goes and I find that it’s my weirder tales that do better. How To Make a Friend started life as Play On.
When you are trying to get published and, like me, have no background in anything to do with writing, short story competitions can be a stepping stone to being taken seriously as an author. Whether you win, get short-listed or even longlisted, after a while these placements add up to very useful credentials.
4. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?
How to Make a Friend was only planned in as much as it was a short story. I love the idea of Pantsers but I’ve started several books like that and found I’ve run out of steam by 30,000 words, which is a terrible waste of time and effort. I plan thoroughly now that I’m writing under contract even though my instinct is to race in. I imagine most story tellers are like that, it’s what they do after all. It’s just that some are better at seeing and dealing with the overarching picture than others.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I walk as far as I can for as long as I can. It helps me work through plot problems, keeps me reasonably fit and sane. Otherwise I love a good television drama.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
That is such an unfair question! I have no idea. It would have to be long, with lots of subplots and characters so maybe something like Thackeray’s Vanity Fair or Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. On the other hand, I really don’t think I could do without Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice!
7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
8. How hard was it to construct a convincing narrative around such an unusual concept?
I didn’t find it hard because I didn’t think of Sam as anything other than a sentient being, and he was the character who kick-started the book for me. It just never occurred to me to think about convincing narratives or credible premises. I think that’s why he comes across so strongly and so believably.
Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.
About the author:
FLEUR SMITHWICK was brought up in London and studied French Literature & Language at Southampton University. She worked in various jobs, before becoming a full-time writer. As well as novels, Fleur writes short stories and has won The Writers’ Village and Segora competitions. She lives in Richmond with her husband and two children.
Find her on Twitter: @FleurSmithwick
About the book:
“As a lonely child, Alice found comfort the same way so many others do – she invented a friend. Sam was always there when she needed him, until one day… he wasn’t.
Now, Alice has a happy, normal life; she has a handful of close friends and a career as a photographer.
But when a tragic accident shatters the world Alice has constructed, the sense of isolation that haunted her in childhood returns. And with it, so does Sam.
To Alice, he looks and feels like a real person, but how can that be?
And who will decide when it is time for him to leave again?”