I’m thrilled to be part of the launch celebrations for The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence and published by Hodder in paperback on 10th March 2016. I’ll be posting my review tomorrow, 12th March, but in the mean time I’m excited that Gavin agreed to answer three eclectic questions I had. You can read the answers below.
The Mirror World of Melody Black
Life has its ups and downs.
‘You’re going to find some of my actions frustrating. I’m hard to live with, maddening, uneven – I get that. But I can’t stand around listing my faults or we’ll be here for ever. All I ask right now is that you indulge me. For as long as it lasts, this is going to be one hell of a ride.’
Abby is an aspiring journalist, an indifferent daughter, a cohabiting girlfriend; a ‘normal’ woman in her mid-twenties. But something sets her apart from everyone else. It allows her to achieve complete truth and clarity. Something that no one else could ever understand. But the very thing that sets Abby apart could destroy her.
And then she meets Melody Black.
In The Mirror World of Melody Black, Gavin draws upon his own experiences to depict an unsettling, at times hilarious, but most of all truthful account of what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder. He brings to the fore questions like where is the line between sanity and insanity? At what point has someone gone off the rails? And what is the difference between passion and mania?
Praise for The Mirror World of Melody Black
‘[Extence] captures how the illness feels from the inside with sensitivity and sparkling humour. In Abby he has created a warm, funny and relatable heroine’ Daily Express
‘Extence really brings Abby to life in this honest, unequivocal narrative…There is something curiously cathartic about this book, as well as having the bravery, touching honesty and memorable protagonist that Extence is making his trademark’ Heat
‘Insightful and sensitive, Extence describes with the lightest of touches what it’s like to live with bipolar’ Sunday Express
‘[Abby’s] at the heart of Gavin Extence’s sensitive, witty second novel. The immediacy of his writing draws you into Abby’s world, and cleverly shows how fine the line is that separates what we call ‘normal’ from not’ Psychologies.
An Interview with Gavin Extence
What were the challenges of writing from a female perspective?
I’d be the first to admit that I’m not the most manly of men, and to be honest, I never found the idea of writing as a woman particularly daunting. I always felt confident that I could write a female narrator and make her voice feel authentic. But there were still lots of creative challenges that I hadn’t really anticipated. Women’s clothing was the big one. Abby, the narrator has a lot of hang-ups about how she looks – her weight, her height, the size of her breasts. She spends a lot of time thinking about how she looks, and how she appears to other people, so I had to spend a lot of time thinking about these things too. I had to do a lot of research. I learnt about necklines and hemlines and colour coordination. I watched vlogs about matching makeup with hair and skin tone. There were instances when I spent literally hours deciding what Abby was going to wear. My wife tells me that I became noticeably better at dressing our daughter during this period!
How does society view ‘normality’ and why did you want to explore this in your novel?
For me, normality and abnormality are really interesting and difficult concepts, and they’re always tied to the wider context of society. Human beings are social animals; we’ve evolved to live together and cooperate, and so there are big psychological pressures that make most of us want to conform – and that perhaps make us suspicious of anything different or abnormal. But normality isn’t always a good thing, just as abnormality isn’t always bad. Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery were abnormal for the times he was living in. Albert Einstein’s mind wasn’t normal. I read somewhere that Beethoven’s personal hygiene was abnormally bad (even by nineteenth century standards). He frequently forgot to wash because he was too busy composing. But I think most of us would be willing to forgive this in Beethoven’s case. If the price of the Moonlight Sonata was Beethoven not washing his hair, then that’s fine by me. Abnormality can in many instances be a problem, and it can be difficult to live with, but it also enriches our culture to remarkable degree, and that’s worth celebrating.
What was it like to be featured on the Simon Mayo book club?
My debut also featured on the Simon Mayo book club, so I didn’t think they’d even consider Melody Black. I assumed it would be ruled out by default. So it came as a very pleasant surprise. It’s a nervy experience having a new book out, and it was a big confidence boost to have that kind of endorsement. It’s also great to get that first feedback from the listeners who have read the book. That’s a bit scary too because you get to hear what people thought of your novel live on air. But when the feedback’s good, there aren’t many better feelings. The feedback I got on Simon Mayo was very good, and hugely encouraging.
(And well deserved I think!)
Photo courtesy of Alix Extence
Gavin Extence lives in Sheffield with his wife, children and cat. He has written two novels, The Universe Versus Alex Woods and The Mirror World of Melody Black.
Both have featured on BBC Radio 2’s Book Club with Simon Mayo. The Universe Versus Alex Woods, which tackled the big issue of assisted dying with humour and a lightness of touch, won the Writer’s Guide Best Book 2013, was shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize, selected as a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club Read, and was a Top Ten Amazon Best Book of 2013.
Look out for Gavin’s new novel, The Empathy Problem, coming in August 2016.