Sunday, 4 January 2015

Philippa Hawley in conversation with Tom Hale

Philippa spoke to journalist Tom Hale on 3 January 2015 about her new book.

Q:- So you’ve recently published your second novel, ‘How They Met Themselves’. How does that feel?
A:- I’m delighted to have it out there. I was keen to publish this novel before Christmas in order for it to be available as Christmas presents, and even though it was a very busy time for my family, and indeed everyone in Wivenhoe, the launch went well.

Q:- Are you pleased with how the book has turned out?
A:- Yes, delighted. It looks great,and feels good to hold. It has a fabulous cover which Catherine Dodds created, using a photograph from my husband, Clinton’s collection. I’m pleased with the story and the characters within it

Q:- Tell us how the story began, and what it’s about.
A:- After ‘There’s No Sea in Salford’ was so satisfying to write, I knew I wanted to write another book. I was inspired by a journey I made in America with three girlfriends in 2011 when we drove up the west coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I wanted to use this experience as the basis for a novel, but then changed the perspective by writing it from the point of view of a young man making a journey and growing up in the process. The main character, Max meets two very different young women at opposite ends of California and on his return to England an unexpected connection between them unfolds, which changes all their lives.

Q:- How did you find writing from such a different point of view?
A:- It was a challenge trying to think like a 23 year old man, but having children in their twenties and knowing their friends helped. I was careful not to try to be too ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’ as I thought that would simply sound cliched. I also had to be careful not to write embarrassing scenes that might make my own youngsters cringe.

Q:- I notice you use your medical experience in your writing. Why is that so important to you?
A:- Having been a practising doctor for over 32 years it is hard to leave my medical experience behind. Ex-patients provide a huge source of material and I find I enjoy writing about medical issues in a way that is hopefully accessible and even informative for the general reader.

Q:- What issues you explore in ‘How They Met Themselves’.
A:- The two major subjects are disability and adoption, but I also touch upon mental health, bereavement, fertility and relationships in general.

Q:- And how did you think of the unusual title?
A:- ‘How They Met Themselves’ is the name of a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I have always loved the Pre-Raphaelites and came across this painting when researching doppelgangers. It seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Q:- I’ve heard you say you learnt a lot from writing and publishing your first novel. What did you learn that helped you this time?
A:   -To be organised, do research, keep good character notes, and use a flow chart.
-To be conscious of point of view and be consistent. 
-To avoid cliche and be creative with metaphor and simile.
     -To aim to ‘show not tell’ but still be clear and allow the story to make sense and come together.
     -To check and recheck your writing, then pay someone to copy edit, before checking again.
     -To be patient and to not rush things, especially when it comes to publishing and printing the finished article.
     -To have a thick skin in response to the comments and opinions of your readers. Most are supportive, balanced and fair, but inevitably some can be harsh. I try to remember it’s my book and I enjoyed writing it.
    - Not to expect to make money out of self-publishing or e-publishing.

Q:- So will there be a novel number three?
A:- I hope so. The skeleton of it is sitting in my drawer where it will rest for a while. I wrote 50,000 words as a darker and more troubled follow up to ‘How They Met Themselves’ during National Novel Writing Month in November 2014. I’ve been trying to get away from my rather gentle style of writing where everything turns out well in the end. To do the opposite is fun.

Q:- Finally, are you going to put this second novel on to Kindle?
A:- Yes, hopefully in January 2015 it will go on Kindle. I was keen see it first of all as a paperback, printed by Lightening Source, but would like to follow it up as an e-book. I found this to be a successful format with ‘There’s No Sea in Salford’. I do love physical books and real bookshops, but I like to give the reader a choice.

Q:- Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A:- I just want to say how much I’ve appreciated the support of my two writing groups over the last couple of years while ‘How They Met Themselves’ was being written. It is very helpful to share writing experiences with others who understand the process. ‘How They Met Themselves’ is currently available from Wivenhoe Bookshop ( and Red Lion Books in Colchester.