I urge you to get hold of a copy of True Things About Me. I read it in one sitting and adored its deliciously dark and twisted pages. The author,Deborah Kay Davies was kind enough to send me one of her personal copies in the post as we have got to know each other over the last couple of years through sharing a publisher (Parthian Books) and reviews I have written about her work including the incredible Wales Book of the Year winning short story collection Grace, Tamar and Lazlo the Beautiful. Last night I attended the Cardiff launch of the novel, out now throughCanongate, at Waterstone’s, The Hayes.
Upon arrival Deborah and her partner Norman were both delightful and arty kisses, well wishes and drinks were passed between us. Deborah looked stylish as ever in a shimmering, long mint green gown. The bookshop soon filled up to standing room only, packed with family, friends and fellow writers (Philip Gross, Jon Gower) and Norman took to the stage to introduce the star of the night.
Deborah had chosen tamer extracts to read because her mother was coming and she didn’t want her loved ones to run from the room screaming ‘make the nasty woman stop’. Having seen her read a few times recently (Oxfam Bookjam, Camp Bestival) I am glad to hear other parts of the text come alive and the room glitters with giggles as we hear about bread beatings, cool dentists and children who like to watch. She reads with a mischievous twinkle in her eye somewhere between naughty child and minxy minx. Everyone warms to her.
Deborah tells us that the novel grew from a short story that was told in 13 true-things-about-me parts. As such it was essentially easy to turn into a novel, in that she knew how the story went, but difficult in that she found certain aspects of the process of writing longer pieces – matching up timelines, for example – boring. I’d have to agree with her on that aspect of composing long fiction! Still, difficulties aside, in True Things Deborah manages to make the novel of girl meets bad guy compellingly her own, brutal and brilliant, unnerving and unstoppable, funny and fantastic. It is based on a women that the writer knows who was engaged in a hot affair with a bad, bad man who told Deborah that she only continued with it because ‘he had a big cock.’ There are times the writer became uncertain of what she was doing, ‘About three quarters of the way through writing the novel I got a little unstuck. I thought that it wasn’t a very edifying story. I wasn’t writing a book that would be thought of as saying something new.’
So what spurred her on to complete it? ‘Canongate were going to pay me £10,000! I finished it in the 11 days because I knew I was going to get money. I just had to sit down and write and so I did. Any writers in this room, if you are the kind to need everything just so, and to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Stop the pussyfooting around and the grizzling and the hysterics. Stop reading Best Magazine and just get on with it. Or give up. Treat writing as a job. Sit down and do it and be confident and be happy that it is your job. I love being a writer in all its wonderful, energising, mysterious, surprising, horrible, sparkling ways.’ That’s told you. And me. I note-to-self to finish my own novel faster.
The last question of the evening, does Deborah ever write out of her comfort zone? ‘No I don’t ever write out of my comfort zone, I am always completely comfortable writing whatever I want and need to write.’ Norman chips in here, ‘In my opinion Deborah’s comfort zone has considerably wider range than most.’ We laugh and the chat wraps up with goodbyes and plans to catch up at my Cardiff launch the following month. I can’t wait for her next release, which she informed me is a series of 300 short pieces of sudden fiction and poetry charting the life of one girl and her disastrous marriage. I’m a big fan of the prosetry hybrid, and I’m a big fan of DKD. You should be too.
Deborah’s success reminds me of writers whose careers I follow, look up to, and hope to emanate in later life. Growing up I always wanted to be a journalist and a writer. I kept all my glossy magazines until a house fire destroyed them. I used to read Jackie and Just 17. Then, in the 90s, magazines like Minx, Select and The Facecaught my eye and the writings of Polly Vernon and Miranda Sawyer. I’ve tracked their ladder climbing ever since. Polly to her current role as Deputy Editor of the Observer Magazine, and Miranda, who also ended up at the Observer as a feature writer, and who contributes to GQ, Vogue and The Guardian.
Similarly, in writing, it is the careers of Gwendoline Riley and literary pals like Rachel Trezise that I have tracked, but in Deborah’s work there are more mirrors. Her first collection of poetry, Things You Think I Don’t Know, was published by Parthian in 2006. I am currently working on mine. Her second book, also through Parthian was the award winning collection of short stories, and my debut short story collection launches through Parthian a fortnight tomorrow. Her third a novel with another much loved publishing house of mine, Canongate. I am working on a novel now. Will I finish it? Will I get an agent? Will I jump publishers? Will it make anywhere near the splash DKD is now? I don’t know, but I can hope, and I can certainly be glad that all the other women writers I love – women like DKD, Ali Smith, Maggie O’ Farrell, MJ Hyland, Mary Gaitskill, Alison Millar, Clare Allan, Fflur Dafydd, Jenn Ashworth and Caroline Bird – exist.
In other news…
Congratulations to Gill McEvoy who won Cinnamon Press’ birthday competition and a place on their autumn writing course. Gill’s winning poems will feature in their April 2011 anthology and 10 Cinnamon Press books each also go to runners up, Amanda Rackstraw and Karen Harvey.
Want something to do on Saturday 18th September (after a fantastic night out at my book launch in Swansea on the 17th, obviously)? I think that the upcoming Academi literary bus tour Lynette Roberts in Llanybri looks good. Dr John Pikoulis will lead a tour through the Carmarthenshire landscape of Lynette Roberts, one of Wales’ most significant 1940s poets and essayists.