Hello again my fellow bookworms and page turners, I was lucky enough to get a seat at my first ever Read Regional event based in Hull Libraries Cafe on Friday evening which was a talk and reading with Editor, Director Project Manager and not to mention Author Debbie Taylor.
Debbie Taylor is the founder and Editorial Director of Mslexia, which is an organization committed to helping women writers progress and succeed, through their quarterly magazine, writer’s diary and annual writing competitions. But this is just the tip of the iceberg that is the career and background. She has also worked as Editor at New Internationalist and Writing Women magazines and as a writer, researcher and project manager for many organisations, including Oxfam, Anti-Slavery, BBC 2, Channel 4, UNICEF and WHO. And last but not least Debbie has written a string of well received novels such as The Fourth Queen, Hungry Ghosts and of course her latest work, Herring Girl.
Debbie explained that there is a running paranormal theme that runs through all of her books, her latest the Herring Girl is a time slip novel existing in both the years 2007 and 1898. The story follows a young confused 12 year old male called Ben who doesn’t feel like he was born into the right body, with the help of a psychotherapist Ben discovers that these feelings are routed within his past life’s somewhat “unfinished business” the story follows a long and in depth investigation into Ben’s past life, and his feelings of being trans-gendered. This is an interesting mechanic that gives the story a whole new depth, it’s difficult to tell you much more as it will spoil the story for anyone going to read the novel for themselves.
Debbie went on to tell us about her own brushing’s with the paranormal. One of which was when she discovered she was indeed infertile and unable to have children. In order to take her mind off it and also try and turn this terrible news into a positive she went out to Africa and met the women out there and wrote a book about single mothers, while there each of the families suggested a fertility remedy which Debbie partook, and upon her return she managed to conceive a baby girl, her own little miracle. This Debbie explained is the main reason why all of her books have an undertone of the Supernatural to them.
This lead onto a discussion of her thought and planning process for the Herring Girl. The Idea originally came about after moving to a new home, which was a disused listed building. In order to create a new home she immersed herself in the Local history section of the Library to get a better feel for the area’s history and tastes, this is when inspiration struck, this along with the idea of “being born into the wrong body” which is a quotation often used by many in the Trans-Gendered community of which there has been several quite high profile documentaries and publications about sparked the idea of a re-incarnation twist to the story, allowing the story to exist over two linear timelines that intersect at points of interest.
Debbie then read several very profound segments from her latest work the Herring Girl, one of which described the feelings of Ben dressing as a girl before removing all the makeup before his father caught him. This I found was a powerful segment of the book which really sets the tone of the entire novel.
The attentive audience was then given the floor to ask Questions.
Did you also research the Dialect of the South Shields region while researching Fishing, History and Transgender, as the parts with dialect seems very on the nose?
Yes – most of this research was done on my allotment, a lot of the “old boys” have very thick accents and have a lot of knowledge about the area, in particularly about the demolition of the “low town” which divided and then redistributed the community around south shields which would have started around the time of the Herring Girls story. I also studied the recordings of the dialect that are held within the archives of the Newcastle University.
Originally there was a lot more Dialect in the book, however the editor asked to tone it down and cut a lot of it out words such as “Can-net” instead of Can’t and “Us” instead of me where just a few of the casualties of editing.
Debbie also explained how she thought it would be fun to have Authors upload their original drafts of their work, particularly if there was any massive editorial changes, just so fans can see what the originals where actually like (I can’t help agree with this notion).
Did you end up with your actual ending then? or was it an edited ending?
Yes – as I am a planner & a plotter, the ending is a shock, but it had to be done..
“if you want to know more you will have to read it!”
Can you describe to us your typical writing day? and do you set yourself a target per day?
I usually writes first thing in a morning, even before I get washed. Usually with ear plugs in or with the door locked, in fact Ideally in a another country to my family so that i can relax and concentrate. I did this by using my first payment from Penguin Publishers to buy a small house in the Mountains of Crete where i regularly go and write, usually with my husband in tow.
As for targets I used to set myself a target of 1000 words a day, but I don’t do that anymore. My writing day is a lot more relaxed now it was very intense when I was giving myself targets, it was a lot different.
Does your Husband read your books, and does he offer criticism and suggestions?
Yes, my husband does read my work however he doesn’t particularly give advice or critique, he is a poet and strangely enough poets don’t read a lot of novels as a general rule. I do however have a friend called Margaret Wilkinson and she has been reading critiquing and offering suggestions and advice for years, and has quite a significant input to my work.
Do you think that the illustrated cover plays an important part in the book buying process? or do you think it’s mainly down to marketing and prose?
Yes! – My cover is, completely inaccurate, I did attempt to get it changed at the time however I am afraid it was out of my hands.
An audience member then interjected to say “I have to admit, I’d never have picked that book up with that cover, if it wasn’t on the reading list”
I remember I asked for a Herring Girl to go on the cover but instead I got a representation that looks more like the French lieutenants woman. Rather than a Herring Girl, clad in her Newspaper stuffed boots and oily tarp overalls. Unfortunately they based the cover off another time slip novel that they had previously published believing that they would fit the same theme, so my cover I would say is from a marketing perspective.
And that concludes my first ever Read Regional event, it was a very interesting and enjoyable evening, hopefully one of many more to come, especially if there is going to be free tea and biscuits as well as great company.. they may have to pry me away! I hope to cover many more Read Regional events in the future.
Until next time, read more books!