Tales of the unexpected | Curious mysteries take deft turns in new books by two emerging stars. Edinburgh-based Mary Paulson-Ellis’ fine debut The Other Mrs Walker follows a woman on a seriously odd case for the Office for Lost People. Nicholas Searle makes a strong case to be le Carré’s heir with debut novel The Good Liar. A successful conman is about to pull of one final coup, but this one is not as simple as first imagined…
“Writers do lose control of their characters.”
They begin with three small readings each to give a flavour of their books. So what was their starting point for writing these novels? For Mary, it was the first snippet she read – the idea of a lady dead in an Edinburgh flat, she has no paperwork, but lots of objects, and she was taken with the idea: who will look after this? Who was she? Over a decade ago, she saw a documentary of those searching for the next of kin, and the idea stuck with her.
For Nicholas, the genesis of his novel included an incident with a distant relative. She, in her 80s, met someone online. First of all, he was surprised, he thought that online dating wasn’t for older generations (and subsequently found himself wrong), but within six weeks the man had moved in. He had the feeling he was a bad’un. “Your first ten seconds of meeting someone is very telling,” he says.
Both Roy and Margaret Penny, their leads, are difficult to like, but liking a character isn’t really the point of writing. Margaret Penny screws up her life and goes home to her estranged mother’s unannounced. “I did find her quite frustrating,” notes Mary. She wanted her to just simply ask those around her for information, but “She wouldn’t do what I wanted.”
There’s no shade of light and dark with Roy, notes Nicholas, it’s all dark. He did try to find things to like about him but he says, though readers may scarcely believe it, “Writers do lose control of their characters.” They can’t make them do what they don’t want to.
“I quite like that approach. Sod it.”
With debuts there can be a sense of a blueprint – likeable characters, happy endings. “I didn’t quite think ‘sod it, I’ll do what I want’,” says Nicholas, “but…”
“I’d quite recommend that approach,” agrees Mary. “Sod it.” She didn’t necessarily think that’s what she was doing, but the more they chat, she realises she just followed where the story took her without concern. Any spreadsheets came after it was written, more as a tracking mechanism than for planning.
The hour looks at the approach to writing and idea that everyone is made up of multiple points of views, questioning which is the correct one. There’s a strong sense of and draw to place, and there’s a lovely exchange regarding the memory of objects, and that they’re given new life with new people. Some things of no interest to you, a recipe, for one, can become cherished to others.
Mary and Nicholas have two excellent debuts on hand, so what comes next? Well, they’re both working on their next book, so we must now avidly await the next installment from two excellent authors.