I’m thrilled to be hosting an interview with Antonia Honeywell to celebrate the paperback release of her book The Ship, published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, an imprint of Orion, on 10th March 2016. The Ship is also available in e-book and can be purchased from the publishers, Amazon UK, Amazon US, WH Smith, Waterstones and all good book shops.
WELCOME TO LONDON BUT NOT AS YOU KNOW IT
Oxford Street burned for three weeks. The British Museum is occupied by ragtag survivors. The Regent’s Park camps have been bombed. The Nazareth Act has come into force. If you can’t produce your identity card, you don’t exist.
Lalla, sixteen, has grown up sheltered from the new reality by her visionary father, Michael Paul. But now the chaos has reached their doorstep. Michael has promised to save them. His escape route is a ship big enough to save five hundred people. But only the worthy will be chosen.
Once on board, as day follows identical day, Lalla’s unease grows. Where are they going? What does her father really want?
WHAT IS THE PRICE OF SALVATION?
An Interview with Antonia Honeywell
I was fortunate to meet Antonia in person and she’s as lovely as she is talented. Here’s your chance to meet her on Linda’s Book Bag.
Hello Antonia. It’s always a real pleasure to interview an author I’ve actually met in real life! Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your book ‘The Ship’.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I’ve always written – I started writing almost as soon as I learned to read – but it took a long time for me to realise that the writers I admired so much weren’t some mysterious ‘other’, they were just ordinary people who wrote. I didn’t know any writers in real life and had no idea how to begin to even think about becoming a published writer. I think, for me, the realisation that I was going to be a writer came very late. I’d been writing and failing for years and years and years, always telling myself that if THIS one didn’t make it, I’d give up. Then one day, when I was writing The Ship and facing the very real possibility that it, too, might never see the light of day, I suddenly realised that I was never going to stop. It was that moment, rather than the moment I got the book deal, that made me a writer.
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
I was a teacher for a long time, and I loved that. Working out how to present things to different children, and how to encourage them and get the best from them, was a wonderful outlet for my creativity. I started piano lessons three years ago and I love every moment; sometimes I wonder whether that might have been a possible path if I’d had the chance to learn properly earlier.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
The easiest part is the first draft. Just writing and writing, letting the ideas come and take the characters and story all over the place as they find out where they need to be. Not everyone works like this, but for me, the only way to find out what I’m writing about is to write. Then comes the discipline of deciding where the story lies and carving it out of the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written. That can be like chiselling marble with a darning needle.
I know you attended a novel writing course. What three things do you think you learnt there that have been most useful to you and might be helpful to other aspiring writers?
Firstly – you have to write. It doesn’t matter whether you use a pen or a computer, whether you colour-code your notes in files or scribble them on the backs of old envelopes, whether you use voice recognition software or write the whole thing by hand in copperplate. You have to write. Anything else is just noise.
Secondly – you have to show people your work. That’s really, really hard. But it’s essential if you’re hoping to be published. It’s like music – I can play the piano really well in a room on my own. But stick someone in with me, listening, and I go to pieces. If I could find the courage to play to another person, it would help me discover where my weaknesses lie, where I need to practice, the skills I need to develop. And if I found that courage, I might even get to the point where we both enjoy my playing. Writing’s like that.
Thirdly – be your own worst critic, but be your own best friend too. Believe in yourself and others will believe in you.
With four children, you have still managed to produce a successful novel. What would you say to those who claim they don’t have time to write?
I have every sympathy! Finding time to write is almost impossible; it’s a rare and fortunate person who has enough. But I’d go back to my first answer to the last question. Wanting to write doesn’t make you a writer. Writing does. So what is stopping you? What is taking up the time that you would like to use for writing? What are you prepared to give up? What can you do more efficiently? How can you get the help you need to create the time? How badly do you want to write?
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I don’t have anything as organised as a routine. Four children, the house, the garden and a very nearby mother mean that curveballs and googlies are inevitably thrown at any plans I make. I do my writing at the kitchen table, in the car, in soft play centres… I have a lovely study, but it’ll still be there when the children are a bit older and can start taking a turn at cooking family meals. For the moment, I make the most of every writing moment I get and never, ever object when my husband gets home late from work.
You blog about a variety of topics, including books. When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I usually have three or four books on the go at any one time, not counting the books I’m reading to the children. A lovely comforting re-read (currently Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers), a new book, often in proof (currently The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry), some non-fiction, often to do with a story idea (currently The Teeth May Smile But The Heart Does Not Forget, by Andrew Rice) and a classic (I’m having a bit of a Wilkie Collins thing at the moment and am really enjoying his lesser-known novels.). In with all that will be something I’m reading for ‘work’ – I shouldn’t call it work when it’s so enjoyable – preparing for interviews, for example. And if I’m appearing on a panel with another writer, I always read their work first.
How do you encourage your children to read and to write their own stories?
We all read a lot together. I try not to restrict their choices when we’re in a library or bookshop. Sometimes, if they’ve got a particular story they want to tell, I’ll scribe for them so that they can let their ideas flow without worrying about their pencils keeping up. But mostly, I let them see how much I love to read, I make sure there are plenty of books around and then I leave them alone. At the moment, they all love reading, but the eldest is only ten, so we’ll see.
You take part in many festivals and events. How important is it for authors to make contact with readers directly do you think?
I do as many events as I get invited to – I’d love to be invited to more! The opportunity to make direct contact with readers is one of my favourite things. To be in a room with readers, talking about books and writing, responding to readers’ questions, has to be the greatest privilege a writer can have.
‘The Ship’ has been described as ‘a dystopian novel with a utopian heart that will appeal across genres and age ranges’. How accurate do you find that description and how does it make you feel?
My editor wrote that and I thought it was a very great compliment. I loved that she saw something universal in the novel and resisted the temptation to categorise it.
What techniques did you use to create the high levels of tension in ‘The Ship’?
I try to keep the reader one step ahead of Lalla as Lalla works out what’s going on. So there’s the tension of what’s actually happening, then another layer as the reader witnesses Lalla piecing together the evidence. And then, of course, there’s the layer of what Lalla is going to do once she understands. Above all, I wanted the tension to come from the reader’s sense of what is right and wrong in this situation – not just from what Lalla is going to do, but from the reader’s own self-questioning about what they would do in Lalla’s place. Because there are right and wrong answers, but it’s not always easy to see them, or to act upon them.
‘The Ship’ is quite political in a sense, how important are politics to you personally?
I don’t think of myself as particularly political – but then I see that Donald Trump has won another primary and realise that I am blazingly political. If Donald Trump becomes the president of the USA, I’ll buy a cruise ship myself. So many issues that we like to think of as personal are actually political – the right to abortion, assisted dying, equal marriage, maternity pay, gender discrimination – I could go on. The point is that a good government should enshrine equal opportunities in law. Then we can battle it out amongst ourselves.
If you could chose to be a character from ‘ The Ship’, who would you be and why?
I’m Lalla. I think we’re all Lalla. Anyone who’s ever had to make a decision that runs counter to their upbringing, or other people’s ideas, is Lalla. The teenager contemplating coming out to his or her family; the spouse beginning to understand that their marriage isn’t working; the child who doesn’t want to join the family firm; a couple whose parents don’t agree with their childrearing decisions; the vicar who starts doubting the existence of God. There’s a Ship moment in every life. Sometimes more than one. It’s the moment when you realise you have to trust your own instincts over everything else. It’s the moment when you find out what you’re made of.
If ‘The Ship’ became a film, who would you like to play Lalla and why would you choose them?
I think Lalla should be played by a relatively unknown actor. I saw Game of Thrones for the first time recently, and the moment I saw Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, I thought, there’s Lalla. But of course I was late to Game of Thrones, and Maisie Williams is incredibly famous now, so I’ve rather missed the boat on that one. If we had Julianne Moore as Lalla’s mother, say, and Hugh Laurie or Charles Dance as Michael, you could give a new actor a fantastic break as Lalla.
What are you working on now and when can we expect another Antonia Honeywell novel?
I’m working very, very hard and, if I may, I’ll come back as soon as there’s any definite news and let you know!
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions. I wish you every success with’ The Ship’.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a real pleasure.
About Antonia Honeywell
Antonia Honeywell studied English at Manchester University and worked at the Natural History and Victoria and Albert Museums in London, running creative writing workshops and education programmes for children, before training as a teacher. During her ten years teaching English, drama and film studies, she wrote a musical, and a play which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival. She has four young children and lives in Buckinghamshire. The Ship is her first novel.
There are lots of other posts about Antonia and The Ship with these other bloggers too: