The Next Big Thing (I’ve been blog-tagged!)

As part of a project called the Next Big Thing, I’ve been asked to complete and post a self-interview about a writing project and then tag 5 more writers to do the same. I was tagged by the fabulous Siren of Brixton – whose blog everyone should check out and/or subscribe to – and so I’ve put together my answers to the series of questions below. If, after reading, anyone is interested in reading or listening to excerpts from my draft manuscript, ‘For Laika‘, just head to the longer stories page where you can sample some bite-sized morsels.


What is the title of your book?
For Laika
What genre does your book fall under?
I suppose it would be classified as literary fiction but that makes it sound a bit more highbrow and niche than the story and style probably warrant. I just know that it’s not a mystery nor a bodice-ripper and there are no vampires, wizards or Bilbos in it. It places a fictional character in a specific period of history and tells the story of her personal evolution amidst actual events – in parallel with the imagined perspective of a real character (the first dog in space) who is travelling her own tragic trajectory.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Obviously I’ve tried to squeeze in a bit of an outline in the previous question – a clear indication that I find it a challenge to condense a novel length story into a concise sentence. But here goes …
The news of the first dog in space triggers a young British woman to look for meaning in her own life, leading her to become involved in the birth of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and causing disruption in her marriage.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
It evolved from my interest in Laika, the first dog launched into space in 1957. In contemporary society, there would be an even more extreme reaction to this use of animals to further man’s objectives than there was at the time and – as is my strength/weakness (I always find myself looking at things from every angle = wishy washy) – I began to wonder if it was a bad thing or a good thing for the dog i.e. did she have more positive experiences because of being taken from life as a stray dog on the streets of Moscow by Soviet scientists to balance out her untimely death or was the preparation overwhelmingly negative? I wanted to explore the story from the dog’s perspective without a tone of human judgement or moral conclusion. Then I thought that to compare her experiences with those of a woman during that same era would create an interesting contrast, especially if there were parallels as well. And the story of Julia Nymont grew from there.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It felt quite quick. I became so immersed in the history and finding ways to weave the characters into the actual events and then discovering that so many of Stevie Smith’s poems fitted into Julia’s emerging self-discovery that I was motivated every day to fit another piece into the puzzle. I think it took just under 6 months (while I also did other money-earning work) including the research.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think I’ve covered the inspiration for this specific story in the answer to where the idea came from. But I’m inspired to write novels by the great writers who’ve led to me to see what an engaging and illuminating experience reading a good novel can be. I started writing fiction in various forms long before I discovered Paul Auster but his work has become something that seems to genuinely switch lights on in parts of my brain that I didn’t know existed. So I aspire to create stories that might even have just a fragment of the originality and intriguing complexity that his do. I will never try to replicate his tone, style or subject matter but I’d love to be able to write something that makes someone one day sit up with excitement as they clutch their book (or tablet device) and say “Oh, wow! Brilliant!” as some new plot point has linked cleverly to something else already told with colour and humanity. I might never achieve that aim but to aspire to and to write with that objective is an invigorating motivation.
Will your book be self published or represented by an agency?
I have already put short excerpts from ‘For Laika’ online in both text and audiobook format here on on my blog site and will add a few more segments in the future. My submission to Chapter One Promotions’ Novel Competition reached finalist status so I live in hope of future agency representation but won’t submit until I have a much more polished draft. The challenge is getting good professional feedback on a early draft without having an agent in order to produce a rewrite that will get a positive response from a publisher. I’ve gone through a range of programs and competitions in the hope of receiving that kind of editorial input but am yet to be awarded that valuable commodity.
What other books would you compare this book to within your genre?
It’s so hard to compare your own writing with that of others. They feel like two very different commodities. As someone who’d like to make even a small living from writing, I have to try and trick myself into some level of objectivity in order to determine if publishers will see this as a product that the bookbuying public will want. And yet, I don’t write to appeal to the largest number of people possible – I write to tell a story and, once that starts, it seems to have a life of its own to some degree. Of course I control its evolution and I can retrain the plot into something that might be more marketable during redrafting – but I won’t do that if it doesn’t tell the best story possible. The thing that drives me – and therefore drives my characters – is emotion. Normal, human feelings. I write about events and actions predominantly to illustrate and explore  universal emotions. Because irrespective of our personal circumstances, that’s what binds us all together in this global community. So because of that, and because I’m so buried in the whole thing, it’s contrived for me to come up with comparisons. And it also feels like self-aggrandisement ‘cos I’m not going to say it’s like some crap book, am I?
What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?
I would actually choose an unknown for the part of Julia – not that the writer of the original prose piece gets any say in the casting! Apart from the fact that I feel that’s the best way for an audience to get lost in the story (no thinking I liked Carey Mulligan better in “An Education” etc.), I think a young actress in her first major role might find herself exploring the same kind of awakening that Julia’s character is going through. So that transition from naïvete to greater self-knowledge might be best depicted by a newcomer to leading roles in feature films exploring her own skills and abilities. And for Laika? Well, that’s a tricky one. I’ve never actually considered this as a filmic piece but Laika’s story is from the dog’s perspective so my kneejerk response is to say that no dog need be cast but that it’s all filmed POV with the camera as Laika.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The lovely poetry of Stevie Smith is interspersed throughout. And to say that it helps describe Julia’s journey is best encapsulated by the fact that a friend who hadn’t heard of her work before she read my first draft asked me if I wrote the poetry especially. And having found news articles from that time and a documentary on the March to Aldermaston to inform me about the era and the key events, those that have an interest in the history of the campaign against nuclear disarmament or simply the post-WW2 era might find the segments where factual details flesh out the fictional character’s story especially interesting. I’ve tried to set it distinctly in London (and outside London) in that specific time so I hope the elements that illustrate that will inform some and remind others. But mostly I hope that the stories of Laika and Julia resonate with readers. We’re all staggering our way along some haphazard path trying to make the best of it, so I’d like people to connect with the human (or canine!) fundamentals that are at the heart of ‘For Laika’.

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About alisonearlsALOUD

My writing. Me reading it aloud. View all posts by alisonearlsALOUD

4 responses to “The Next Big Thing (I’ve been blog-tagged!)

  • Siren of Brixton

    You’re the first tag-ee to respond! It’s really interesting to see the contrast between our responses. You are so high-brow compared to me haha!

    I love your one sentence synopsis. I’d buy that!

    I agree with your impulse of using an unknown – I also loved Carey Mulligan in An Education and the lack of expectation you have of her as an actor does make the film less predictable. And, dare I say, have a more literary feel? I can’t imagine what a film would look like with sections shot in POV from a dog’s POV. But I guess the alternative is a performing dog. It’s been done quite well in Black Beauty adaptations, so I suppose it’s possible.

    Your long-form writing reminds me a liittle of Kate Atkinson, albeit more lyrical in tone. But you both use words so beautifully and the plot becomes almost secondary to the wonderful word-play.You also both use mystery effectively to pull the reader through.

    I hope you are the Next Big Thing!

    • alisonearlsALOUD

      HIghbrow?? I used the words ‘crap’ and ‘wishy-washy’!
      It was an interesting exercise – made me think about the piece in a more detached, general way … something I should probably do more as that’s how potential readers (and of course agents/publishers) will tackle it initially.
      Thanks so much for your lovely compliments and encouragement. I’d be happy to find a small but keen following while you’re in talks with Guillermo del Toro from your position on the bestseller list!

  • february 2013 « alisonearlsALOUD

    […] piece of writing containing the influence of some genuinely significant events … having posted my ‘Next Big Thing’ interview last month, I thought I’d follow up by adding another section from my novel-length […]

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