Today I’m pleased to welcome Harriet Paige to the blog. Harriet is the author of Man with a Seagull on his Head was published by Bluemoose books on 19 March 2017 and is shortlisted for the 2017 Not the Booker prize run by The Guardian newspaper.
Harriet kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Man With A Seagull on His Head.
It’s about a local council worker, Ray Eccles, who, after being hit on the head by a wounded seagull, becomes obsessively transfixed upon the scene and figure that was in his field of vision at the time of the accident. Compelled to depict his vision repeatedly and continuously he’s propelled into the limelight as an accidental artist du jour. The novel follows him and his unsuspecting muse, as well as the art collectors who discover him. It’s a novel about art, love and creativity, about our search for meaning and connection amid a conflicting sense of loneliness and hope.
2. What inspired the book?
It was a ‘what if?’ question. What if someone was caused to remember everything that their senses perceive in a particular moment? All the things that pass us by every second of our lives before our brain has even grasped them. The minute detail that we need to continuously slough off and forget in order to function. I became fascinated by the idea that within this detail lies our connection to something eternal, remaining tantalisingly just beyond the grasp of our consciousness. But not for Ray Eccles. Although he doesn’t so much as grasp it as have it thrust upon him.
3. 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?
This is the second novel I have written. My first was unpublished and it was much more of a ‘see where the words take you’ kind of novel. This one took a clear shape in my mind before I started and I had it all mapped out, even if it did change direction a little in the process. In retrospect I realise I only adopted the first method as I didn’t really know what I wanted to say and I wouldn’t start a novel again without having a clear sense of the direction in which it’s heading. For this novel, the whole process took around 10 years, but I had three children in that time which slowed things up considerably.
4. What did you discover about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
How difficult it was.
5. How does it feel to be shortlisted for the 2017 Not the Booker? What does it mean to be recognised this way?
I was thrilled to find out I was on the shortlist and it means a great deal to me. Being shortlisted for and winning prizes is obviously gratifying on a personal level but as a writer my ultimate hope is that my work will be read by and touch as many people as possible. So I hope that this will introduce the book to a wider readership. The prize itself is a wonderful platform for independent publishers such as my own, Bluemoose Books. My mother-in-law, who was following the votes closely, made a list of books she now wants to read that she would probably never have heard of otherwise, and there must be plenty of other people like her, which is a great thing.
6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
My children are seven, five and three, so I don’t get much time to write let alone relax and get away from it all. But there are plenty of things I’d like to do: spend time with my husband, read, do yoga, go for long walks, work on my allotment, swim in seas and rivers.
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Who has taught you most about life? Answer – my children.
About the book
Under the intense summer sun on the Essex coast a gull falls from the sky and strikes an unassuming local council worker sitting on the beach below. From that moment on he is obsessed, a crazed visionary repeatedly depicting the scene and the unknown figure within it who filled his view at the moment of impact. The mysterious beauty of his creations draw others to him, but can they lay hold of that which possesses him? And what of his anonymous muse?
About the author
Harriet Paige lives in London. MAN WITH A SEAGULL ON HIS HEAD is her debut novel.