Henrietta McKervey is the author of The Heart of Everything, Violet Hill and What Becomes of Us. Her latest novel, A Talented Man, was published by Hachette Ireland on 2 April 2020.
Henrietta kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about A Talented Man.
Set in London in 1938, A Talented Man is a story of deception, forgery … and murder. Ellis Spender is a disillusioned author who wants money, success and the good life abroad. Struggling to stay ahead of his creditors, he decides to forge a sequel to one of the most famous novels of all time: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Ellis is from a society background, and Bram Stoker was a friend of his family, so Ellis has access to enough original material to pull off his scheme. His remarkable ‘discovery’ will create the success he believes he deserves. But he will stop at nothing to achieve it, so when his new-found success is threatened, his response is sure, swift, and completely shocking.
“Hangover Square meets The Talented Mr. Ripley, a chilling and engrossing tale of the psychopathic mind.” Christine Dwyer Hickey, author of The Narrow Land “The atmosphere of pre-war London is evoked with skill in this spirited story of literary skulduggery.” Joseph O’Connor author of Shadowplay and Star of the Sea
2. What inspired the book?
Originally, Bram Stoker’s wife Florence Lemon Balcombe (she was from Dublin, as was he, though they lived in the UK their entire married life). She was engaged to Oscar Wilde when she met Bram. She took on the role of his literary executor after his death in 1912, and was wonderfully fierce about defending his legacy. When she sued Prana Film over Nosferatu (which was basically an uncredited Dracula with the names changed), it established important principles of copyright which authors still benefit from to this day. Also, I thought it was curious that Bram Stoker never wrote a sequel to Dracula. So, I decided I would… or at least my character would. I’m also fascinated by the idea of living in a time that history records quite differently: for example, to us, 1938 is ‘the year before World War II, which is not how it was experienced; more than one character comments on how unlikely another war is: that people simply wouldn’t go through such a horrendous experience again).
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
Both, if there can be such a thing? I do a bit of planning and then just write and see what happens. You have to be open to things changing as you write them – this book went through quite a few significant changes in terms of plot as I went along and was better for it. My characters generally stay quite fixed though, in that I have a good idea of who they are before I start to write, so it becomes about developing and exploring them rather than creating them from scratch as I go along.
4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
That I still want to do it! It’s such a difficult thing. Also, a lovely thing which I realise I’m very privileged to do, but it’s not easy that’s for sure.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
A lot of podcasts at the moment. And, given that Ireland is pretty much on lockdown now (March 2020), plenty of walking. I spent this morning on a beach with (and at a safe distance from!) a writer friend, and it was lovely. Under normal circumstances I’d never have spent a working morning doing that, I’d have told myself I didn’t have the time.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Lorrie Moore’s non-fiction collection See What Can Be Done, because not only is it wonderful, but the various essays would remind me of other books and things I liked. A dictionary would also be good to have I guess.
7. I like to end my Q&As 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?
No-one ever asks, “If you weren’t published, would you still write?”. I asked a writer friend Kathleen MacMahon the same question recently, and she said emphatically yes. I wasn’t sure at the time but have thought about it a lot since and I’m with her. Yes. Being published is the jam. Writing is still the bread.
About the book
Ellis Spender, only son of a once-esteemed society family, believes money, success and the high life are his birthright — only prevented by a cruel trick of fate.
Struggling to stay ahead of his creditors, the dejected writer decides to forge a sequel to one of the most famous novels of all time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Its remarkable ‘discovery’ will create the lifestyle he believes is his due. But as his scheme begins to bear fruit, others who stand to gain become obstacles. And Ellis will stop at nothing to achieve his desires…
About the author
Henrietta McKervey is from Belfast and lives in Dublin. She is the author of the acclaimed literary novels What Becomes of Us, The Heart of Everything and Violet Hill. A Talented Man is her fourth novel. @hmckervey http://www.henriettamckervey.com