The Wacky Man by Lyn G Farrell
Published by Legend Press
Ebook & Paperback : 2 May 2016
I saw this book mentioned so many times on my social media feeds earlier this year and, swayed by the many rave reviews from fellow bloggers, I had to buy a copy. It’s waiting patiently to be read and reviewed but in the meantime I am very happy to welcome Lyn to the blog with a Q&A.
It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the blog Lyn, would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
I’m Lyn, a Leeds based writer and I am also an academic, working in distance learning. I feel like a rather unlikely novelist because I have always written part time and also in a fairly ‘off and on’ way, depending on what else I was doing. I’m catching up with life after a rather bad start. I’m completely addicted to learning, am an amateur singer, speak Tibetan badly and hack away at a guitar in the hope that one day I’ll be able to play something.
The Wacky Man was shortlisted for the 2015 Luke Bitmead Bursary (an annual prize for unpublished novelists) where you were up against 8 other authors, part of the prize a publishing contract with Legend Press for 2016. How did you feel when you were announced as the winner and was this the first award that you had won for your writing?
I never expected to win and for a few weeks afterwards kept worrying that they’d announced the wrong person by mistake but were too polite to tell me! It was a wonderful feeling after so many years of writing the story. Since I won I’ve also felt more and more deeply connected to Luke, because of his experiences as a survivor of domestic abuse with the mental scars that creates, and as a writer. I think it is amazing that his mother, Elaine, could turn the devastating horror of losing her son and the trauma and grief that followed into something so positive. So the prize has also meant that I could be working with Elaine for the Luke Bitmead Memorial Fund (http://www.lukebitmead.com/welcome) which I’m delighted about.
I’ve never won anything before though I came close twice before; I had a short story highly commended by Writers’ Forum magazine several years ago and was runner up (unprized) in a regional newspaper for a short story over a decade ago. Lovely feeling but nowhere near as thrilling as winning the Luke Bitmead Award.
Your debut novel ‘The Wacky Man’ sounds very much a hard-hitting story and has been described by one reviewer as ‘deeply unsettling, heart-rending and terrifying’. Can you please tell us briefly about the book and why you chose to write this story?
The Wacky Man is about Amanda, an intelligent and disturbed teenager, who is fighting to overcome the extreme violence and abuse she has endured at the hands of her father.
I wrote this story for two main reasons. I’ve always wanted to write fiction, it’s one of my biggest passions, and when this story started to manifest, I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t have Amanda as my main character. Fiction gives a home to all sorts of characters, be they travellers through magical wardrobes, predatory men crowing about their conquests, fleeing murderers or heroines fighting for good. I felt that Amanda, a battered child, has as much a place in mainstream fiction as a princess or a horse and I wanted to write as beautifully as I could, about something I knew was going to be brutal and raw.
It is autobiographically inspired because I also wanted to use my own experiences and my passion for writing to give a voice to the children so often silenced and to convey the terror of living through something like this. I didn’t think for a moment that the subject matter might be seen as controversial; we read about and see horrific violence in crime novels and films all the time except usually the victim of the violence is talked about only by others. I think the fact that this has a child, angry, anguished and talking directly to the reader, makes it harder to leave behind. The review you quote from above tells me I’ve done the job I wanted to. If my novel helps in even the smallest way, to increase understanding of how much support children from violent homes need, and why, then I’ll be delighted.
Has life changed for you since becoming published? Do you have a full time job around which you have to fit your writing? If so, how do you best manage your writing time and is there any particular place you go to, to write, or any particular time of day that you find best for writing?
Life has changed a lot, so much so that I wish I could sleep less to fit everything in. The writing has taken me in a new and exciting direction, with Elaine as I mentioned before and it is also full of author events, festivals, article writing and blogger guest posts and reviews. I’m meeting new people with the same passion for reading and writing and I’m loving every minute of it but I also work full time. I have an academic role in online learning and all the writing related work has to be fitted around that. Luckily I work at home between 3 and 4 days a week so I get up early in the morning and write. I also write after work, when I’m not teaching in the evenings, and at weekends, though I try to keep some of Sunday for relaxing. I don’t have the luxury of a particular time of day, just as and when I can fit it in. I feel very lucky to be so busy with things that I love doing.
I have an ‘office’ (which is actually an office/bedroom/exercise room/library) in my flat and usually write there as I type straight onto the computer. I also keep a notebook by my bed for lazy weekends when I’m shattered and don’t want to get up. I write and snooze and write a bit more. I’ve become good at carving out bits of time here and there to make sure I fit it all in. My Tibetan language study and guitar practice is really suffering and I’ve had to give up the allotment, but until I can go part time in the day job, the priority has to be to writing.
What is the best writing advice that you have received? And what advice would you give to anyone trying to get their novel published? Is there anything that you wished you had done differently?
I was told, by my mentor, Clio Gray, who came on board for the last two years of the novel, ‘Never give up. It will happen’. I’d spend days where I couldn’t see how to resolve something and it seemed to unsurmountable I’d despair and think it was never going to work. I’d leave it aside but have it bubbling around in my mind and suddenly, a solution would arrive. You have to remember that writing is a process. The more you write, the better you will get at it. You will have to scrap a lot of the work you produce but it’s not wasted because the next time you write, you’ll make a better job of it.
Before you submit to agents or publishers, get an editor and then leave your ego behind whilst you go through the process! By all means, go and beat up a cushion when a well-loved scene or favourite passage has been cut from the novel, but then sit back and try to be objective. If you’re not happy with something that’s been dropped, discuss it. Find out what they’re thinking. Sometimes you can reach a compromise or you can see it from their point of view. Either way, editing will hurt at some point and you just have to live with that. And always remember, if the person advising you is experienced, it’s likely they know what they’re talking about!
I wish I’d done creative writing courses before starting the novel. It would have saved me the seven yearlong slog where I learned by making mistakes. Learning by ‘doing’ has also taught me a lot so I don’t totally regret it, but I’m now doing creative writing course, post novel, and learning a lot.
Do you have any favourite books or authors which may have inspired you? What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now?
I love reading for pleasure. A masterpiece of a novel always inspire me because it teaches by example but also gives me great joy when I’m absorbed in it. A few favourite writers off the top of my head would include Peter Carey, Hilary Mantel, Elif Shafak, Italo Calvino, Kate Grenville, Honore de Balzac, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Gabriel García Márquez, Dorothy Allison, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro, Doris Lessing, John Irving, Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle. So many more – it really would be easier to send photos of my bookcases and Kindle collection. I like so many different genres of books, from gritty and magic realism to sci fi and comedy. I also love nonfiction, particularly biographies, memoirs and history books. I’ll really have a go at anything!
I have about other books I’m reading as part of my research for my second novel but I consider this work as well as pleasure. Though I am really gripped by them, I’m writing notes and hunting down scenes I’ve written where I think I can incorporate the new information.
I’m also reading ‘Random Acts of Heroic Love, as part of Radio Leeds Big Yorkshire Book Club. It’s not going to make my favourites list but I’m enjoying it in parts. And I’ve just finished ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating’ which I spotted on a blogger’s website some time ago. It enchanted me and has made me fascinated with snails.
How do you feel about social media, do you find it helpful or a distraction?
It’s both, definitely. It’s so useful for networking or finding out the latest writing news, not to mention promoting your own work. But it’s a terrible distraction to the undisciplined which, unfortunately, is the camp I sit in. I waste too much time on it and then I become very puritan and ignore it but am slowly and surely sucked back in by something. I wouldn’t be without it but I’m desperately trying to emulate Ruth Dugdall, who schedules specific times for it. If only I had her resolve.
When you’re not working or writing, what do you to relax?
I love reading and films. BBC IPlayer has quite a stock of old black and white melodrama and some world cinema at times too. I try to see my family as much as possible too, I don’t get to see enough of them. Once a month I host an acoustic night where I sing and I’d love to sing more but time is against me, especially as I’m also learning to drive.
What’s next for your writing career. Are you working on a book at the moment?
I’m working on some flash fiction ideas, a couple of writing related articles, some festival talks and a few short stories. I’m also writing my second novel, about the healing power of unusual friendship. I’ve got quite a lot done in first draft stage, but a lot is still in note form. I still have some research to do, especially for one of the two main characters. or in need of further fact gathering. Plenty to keep me busy, that’s for sure!
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions Lyn.
About the book:
My new shrink asks me, ‘What things do you remember about being very young?’ It’s like looking into a murky river, I say. Memories flash near the surface like fish coming up for flies. The past peeps out, startles me, and then is gone…
Amanda secludes herself in her bedroom, no longer willing to face the outside world. Gradually, she pieces together the story of her life: her brothers have had to abandon her, her mother scarcely talks to her, and the Wacky Man could return any day to burn the house down. Just like he promised. As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?
About the author:
Lyn G Farrell is the winner of the 2015 Luke Bitmead Bursary Award for her debut novel, The Wacky Man.
Lyn is currently working on her second novel, studying creative writing with the University of East Anglia and experimenting with flash fiction.