Published by Doubleday/Transworld
ebook, hardback and paperback : 11 January 2018
It’s the last day of the publisher blog tour for Turning for Home today and I’m delighted that Barney Norris has kindly agreed to answer a few questions. My thanks to Anne Cater for the invitation to take part in the tour.
Welcome to the blog Barney
You’re an author and a playwright and are the co-founder of a touring theatre company, Up InArms. What was your first interest – theatre or writing, or did one lead to the other?
Hello, thank you for having me! I think both of those worlds excited me from a very early stage – being in plays helped me get control of shyness when I was five or six, and books seemed exciting as soon as I could read them. I’ve always been into both.
Can you tell us a little about your second novel, Turning for Home. Where did the inspiration for the story come from
Turning For Home is a novel about family, and the deep rooted identities we get from our families, and also about the way that people carry wars within themselves. Different conflicts, but always conflicts under the surface that are shaping how we live. I started writing it because I was interested in the way the legacy of the Troubles is playing out in our own time; then events in my own life further complicated what I was doing, and I found myself writing about more types of hunger than I had expected.
If you are writing a play and a book at the same time, how difficult or easy is it to give your full attention to the story in hand. Does the other project keep interrupting your thoughts and demanding your time instead?
I try to write one thing at a time these days; it’s much better to concentrate and let all the ideas that come to you go in the one story. I tend to find stories are made up of lots of little ideas, that are usually secretly related to each other once you really look at them, and are also of course related to whatever you’re doing in your life at the time you have them all. It stands to reason, then, that all those related fragments should go in the same story – that way, you might be able to reverse engineer something coherent and interesting.
How did you plan/research your books? Do you plot in detail or just see where the story takes you?
I don’t plan in great detail, and while I’ve done lots of research for certain projects, in the end I always just make everything up. I can always see a kind of shape for the story, which I work towards – without a sense of the shape of what I’m going to do, I can’t start.
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 don’t know what advice has really worked for me – I think it’s all so personal, it’s probably a bad idea to pass on quotes. I find a lot of things I think are helpful stop working for me after a while, actually. The one thing I cling to is a line of D.H.Lawrence – ‘bite down and don’t let the bastards shake you off till the money starts flowing like blood’. When it comes to getting published, I think it’s important to be humble, and be ready to start it all again if you’re asked to; and to be relentless in pursuing the goal you have. You have to beat and beat at the door – people don’t mind, and if they mind, they’ll tell you, and those people weren’t going to print your stuff anyway, so what have you lost in annoying them? As to wishing, I always wish I was more humble about things. Although I’m also aware that the armour of confidence is necessary to get anything done.
Is there any part of the writing process which you enjoy (or dislike) the most – i.e. researching, writing, editing?
I love all of it, but I love writing by hand – I tend to lie on my stomach in the sun with a pen and some paper and try and get into the headspace I associate with colouring in when I was a child. That free, happy place, lying in the sun, is a lovely place to go.
Do you read reviews of your work?
I do; over the years I’ve learned lots from them, and I also have to for my theatre work, because I produce a lot of it and need to sell the shows. And I love criticism; I love that field of creativity, and feel so lucky to have my stuff talked about by some quite brilliant people (I think there are brilliant people reviewing plays and books out there). But I’m thinking I might try and read a bit less. I care a lot about the work I’m doing, and I can be quite vulnerable about it, and I worry about how it would feel if my work had its head kicked in, at the moment, because I’ve been writing a lot of personal stuff that feels very vulnerable. I discovered Good Reads the other week and it’s a really quite sorrowful place, I trawled through and saw so many amazing writers being treated like ready meals. That was very far from what I think reading is like, so that’s made me want to read less criticism. That’s part of a general trend for me, I used to want to write journalism, and generally to write as much as possible. Now I dream of saying no to everything that isn’t utterly essential for me to say for my own wellbeing. I want to be quiet now, not loud.
When you’re not working or writing, what do you do to relax?
Not much at the moment! I’m having a busy year and the work has been quite full on. I just like spending time with my wife, really. And those friends who make me feel calm. And my books. And I do love telly. I like walking, I do what I can of that. Gardening makes me happy, and we’ve just bought a flat with a little garden, so I hope perhaps more of that this year.
Are there any authors whose books have made an impact on you? What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now?
All writers are readers; all writers will have hundreds of authors who make impacts on them every day. At present I’m reading a lot of new work because I’m a judge for the Somerset Maugham Award, and my pleasure book I’m currently reading is a collection of Yeats’s later essays (nice populist name check there…! Sorry). I tend to fall for writers and then go quite deeply into them. That’s happened to me with a lot of different people, so I don’t know if I can name a type of book I like. Anything by whoever I’m in love with at the time.
Finally, what’s next for your writing career?
I’m writing my third novel at the moment, and then I’m going to write some plays, and then another novel, according to the contracts I’ve signed! That will take a few years, so I have this lovely calm feeling of knowing what I’m going to do. Alongside that, I have a few plays waiting to go into production with various theatres, that will all need more work as they go into rehearsal, so I’ll work on those one at a time if they all reach the stage as well. And I’m going to try and explore film; I’ve held off because the exciting projects have been in theatre and books, but my company Up In Arms are just starting to feel excited about this medium, so we want to do some exploring. The really big adventure is that we’re going to make bigger theatre; I’ve done five years of studio plays and now I want to work with bigger emotional palettes, for bigger audiences, on bigger canvases. That’s the project of the next few years.
| About the Book |
‘Isn’t the life of any person made up out of the telling of two tales, after all? People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them. The whole world makes more sense if you remember that everyone has two lives, their real lives and their dreams, both stories only a tape’s breadth apart from each other, impossibly divided, indivisibly close.’
Every year, Robert’s family come together at a rambling old house to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, distant cousins – it has been a milestone in their lives for decades. But this year Robert doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met – and neither, for quite different reasons, does his granddaughter Kate. Neither of them is sure they can face the party. But for both Robert and Kate, it may become the most important gathering of all.
As lyrical and true to life as Norris’s critically acclaimed debut Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, which won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and Debut of the Year at the British Book Awards, this is a compelling, emotional story of family, human frailty, and the marks that love leaves on us.
| About the Author |
Barney Norris was born in Sussex in 1987, and grew up in Salisbury. Upon leaving university he founded the theatre company Up In Arms. He won the Critics’ Circle and Offwestend Awards for Most Promising Playwright for his debut full-length play Visitors. He is the Martin Esslin Playwright in Residence at Keble College, Oxford. Barney’s new play Nightfall is one of the three inaugural productions at Nicholas Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre, beginning early 2018.