To help promote Paul Kearney's latest, The Wolf in the Attic, I invited the author to write a guest blog for the Hotlist. For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien... and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them. Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer's wine-dark sea. But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is. That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.
So I’m sitting here puffing on a pipe and looking out at the sea (grey, whitecaps, unseasonably grim), and the only noise aside from the waves outside is the ticking of a clock and the occasional mmmpf and snuffle from the two dogs asleep at my feet.
As I type, it’s the day before the publication of The Wolf in the Attic, which will be the twelfth book of mine that Solaris have published, and the one which, far and away, I am most nervous about. Even after twenty-five years in this game (now there’s a number to make me pause), I can still get that light-in-the-stomach tightness at the thought of a story of mine going out there into the big bad world, like a man sending his daughter off to college in the sure knowledge that all men are bastards.
And there’s the rub – in the end, writing is about the reader as much as the story or the person who writes it. It’s a two-way street, and I’m riding up it on a tricycle while my potential readership is thundering towards me in a Mack truck, tooting the horn and throwing empty beercans out the window.
Advance copies of the book have been sent out to quite a few folk via NetGalley, and I have definitely noticed a change in my audience with this one. For one thing, the vast majority of those who have reviewed the novel thus far have been women, which is a new phenomenon for me, it must be said. In my past books, mostly about soldiers, kings, armies and wide-spanning wars, the female readership was in a minority. And I have been accused of misogyny before this, a charge which I hope this book refutes for good. I didn’t set out to appeal to a certain audience; I never have. I just had a story that was in my head and had to get out.
All authors go through this moment of profound doubt as the work they have painstakingly slaved over is about to be pushed off the diving board (I’m really mixing up the metaphors this morning). Up to now they have seen it as a work of profound genius (usually while writing the last line), or as time goes on and the revisions are piled in, it descends into a noisome swamp of mediocrity.
For the vast majority of pen-jockeys the truth of course lies somewhere in that vast darkling space in between. (Having said that, some writers really are geniuses, and many are hopelessly mediocre.)
The key point is; the writer has no idea. It’s impossible to judge one’s own work, unless after a long remove of time. (I picked up my first novel The Way to Babylon recently and leafed through it for the first time in twenty years. Finally able to muster some objectivity, I saw paragraphs of Really Nice Stuff interlaced with other passages that made me want to throw the book at the wall.)
So, dear reader, as you pick up a novel in a dusty old bookshop, (or download it to your kindle), no matter what you end up thinking of the story, spare a thought for the poor old author who took the time to sit alone day after day, for months on end in this gregarious world, and laboriously type out one word after another in the hope that they might somehow make sense to someone, anyone – that an anonymous, unknown reader out there would see those words and go; Yes! That’s right!
That’s pure alchemy, when that happens, the little miracle which makes it all worthwhile.
Now off you go, and remember, every time you read a book, you are treading on someone’s dreams...