Friday, 24 February 2017

Manchester, So Much to Answer For

I finished the copyedits for The Café in Fir Tree Park last week!  I can't deny the huge relief I felt when I pressed the 'send' button and pinged the final 297 pages of manuscript over to my editor at Harper Collins, and I'm hoping there won't be any more changes now.  Ebook publication day (May 26th) is drawing ever nearer.

I've taken a much-needed week away from drafting/edits and have come back to my laptop refreshed and ready to tackle my next projects (yes, multiple projects, because one book at a time is obviously not enough of a challenge).

Although quite different in style and content, both the novels I'm working on are set in Manchester. 


The first, a contemporary Christmas romcom, will be published by Harper Impulse this winter.  I've written around half of it already, and (at the moment) I'm really enjoying working on it.  I do love a festive book!  I've made trips to Manchester to reacquaint myself with the city in the hope that I'll be able to weave both landmarks and the city's unique vibe into the novel in much the same way as I did with Sheffield in The Singalong Society for Singletons.  Creating a sense of place is really important to me as a writer, so I'm going to try to cross the Pennines as many times as I possibly can in the name of research over the coming months.

The second project is proving more of a challenge, despite being the book I've wanted to write for a very long time.  It's a departure from my usual romcoms, more in the style of book group fiction or accessible literary fiction, so that in itself is impacting on the way I'm writing.  There's also the small matter of the fact it's not yet under contract anywhere, and I'd be lying if I said that didn't make a difference - I'm prioritising the first project as it's got a home and a deadline.

But the biggest challenge I'm facing with regard to the second project is that it's set between 1976 - 2000.  I'd never been to Manchester until 1997 (when I went to watch Sheffield United play at Old Trafford), and although I made a few visits to the city when two of my closest friends went to university there the following year, my first-hand experience of the city between these dates is limited to say the least.  I wasn't even born in 1976!  There are specific events that happened in Manchester in this period which are key to the plot, and I'm reading a ridiculous amount of non-fic about Manchester, the post-punk/indie/Britpop music scenes as well as watching YouTube documentaries about Thatcherite Britain to try to create something as authentic as possible, but nothing can compare to actually experiencing the change the city was going through at this time.  I really want to talk to people who lived through this, especially those who were heavily into the local music scene, so if you or anyone you know can help...

Epping Walk Bridge, the scene of Kevin Cummins' famous Joy Division photoshoot

The book opens at the Sex Pistol's now legendary Lesser Free Trade Hall gig, and I have so many questions about it that I'd love to ask someone who was there.  The trouble is, although thousands of people of a certain age claim to have been there, the reality is the audience that night was small and select.  Furthermore, of that small, select crowd (estimated by Dave Nolan who wrote 'I Swear I was There' to be around 35-40 people), a significant number went on become the musicians that shaped the cultural landscape in the years that followed.  Morrissey, Peter Hook, Mark E Smith... I imagine they're all a bit too busy being musical legends to talk to me about a gig forty years ago.

Next weekend I'm in Manchester again, and I'm looking forward to exploring possible settings and locations that I can mention in these books as well as hopefully finding new information that'll get the words flowing out of my fingertips.  Wish me luck!

Outside Salford Lads' Club, which has influenced both my current projects in different ways!
The title of this blog post comes from Suffer Little Children by The Smiths.

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