Having so enjoyed reading the novel, I’m thrilled that Lyn G. Farrell has agreed to be interviewed for Linda’s Book Bag.
The Wacky Man
The Wacky Man was winner of the Luke Bitmead Bursary.
My new shrink asks me, ‘What things do you remember about being very young?’ It’s like looking into a murky river, I say. Memories flash near the surface like fish coming up for flies. The past peeps out, startles me, and then is gone…
Amanda secludes herself in her bedroom, no longer willing to face the outside world. Gradually, she pieces together the story of her life: her brothers have had to abandon her, her mother scarcely talks to her, and the Wacky Man could return any day to burn the house down. Just like he promised.
As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?
An Interview with Lyn G Farrell
Hi Lyn. Huge congratulations on your debut novel The Wacky Man which is published today. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your debut and your writing.
Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
I am a great believer in lifelong learning and in finding happiness in the smaller things in life. I am determined to learn Tibetan (at the moment I speak it very badly) though I think my guitar study is dying a death. I love reading, world cinema, singing, comedy and theatre though I don’t have time to do enough of any of those as I’d like – I need 7 hours sleep a night minimum. I’m learning to drive at the moment so a current little happiness is reversing around corners. I would love to visit Tibet and it’s my dream to write comedy into one of my future novels. Occasionally I get to my allotment to grow a few things and am envious of the beautifully kept plots all around the scruffy chaos of my own. I also campaign on human rights and animal welfare. I think it’s important to use freedom responsibly as everyone has the right to a happy life.
My goodness – are you sure you have time to sleep with all that going on in your life?
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
Until I won the Luke Bitmead Bursary Award, I never thought of myself as a writer. I kept my writing secret for the longest time because I was learning how to write for the first seven years or so of working on The Wacky Man… At the Award ceremony my niece said ‘I didn’t even know you’d written a novel!’ because it was the first time she’d heard anything about it. So I suppose I’m only just now thinking of myself as a writer.
The Wacky Man is your debut novel. Please would you tell me a little about your journey to publication?
When I finished the book at the beginning of 2015, my mentor encouraged me to try the major agencies and I was amazed to get some personal responses back along with the standard rejections. However the feedback was ‘…really like your writing but the subject matter is too brutal’. By May 2015, when the last agency has written to say ‘no, and after ten years of work on the novel, I felt it was the end of the road for the book. A month or so later a fantastic academic job opportunity came up. Six weeks into the new job, I was notified by Legend Press that I’d been shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary Award. I’d applied a long time before and assumed that I’d not been successful so it was an incredible feeling to get the news.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I don’t have a set routine as I work it around a full time job and some days I finish work and I’m shattered mentally. I like to wake early if I can; there is something magical about starting writing as fresh as the morning that has just started and I feel far calmer and less stressed than after work. However, sometimes my body won’t cooperate so I have to write in the evening or at the weekend. I might write for only half an hour on a bad day. I just grab what time I can.
I write all over the place; in bed, at my ‘writing’ PC, on the sofa, on the bus. I write in notebooks and on the backs of envelopes and I’ll write in the margins of a book I’m using for research to get my ideas down immediately.
How did you get involved with the Luke Bitmead Trust?
My novel mentor, Clio Gray, told me about the competition and I was impressed to see a charity so dedicated to helping emerging writers. Thanks to Luke’s passion to help other writers, and his mother Elaine’s dedication to carry out his passion after he tragically died, I am now a published writer with lots of new friends I’ve made along the way. I am really looking forward to meeting future winners and I also hope that I can do something in partnership with the Trust at some point in the future.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
My second novel involves such a lot of research on a particular kind of organisation. I’ve read about ten books, from personal accounts to academic explorations on the subject. I’m also reading a lot of newspaper, journal and blog articles online and talking to people who have experienced the things I need to know more about. I’m still finding out new things every day and that is for the first character. I’m now moving in to research for my second character and will repeat all the above processes. I find talking to people gives you the best research – they supply little details that you wouldn’t realise yourself. I’m a bit nervous about translating all this research into a novel because it’s such a different approach to my debut book.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
I love jotting down ideas for the characters and writing passages of prose in that stream of consciousness, first draft style. I’m completely engrossed in my writing then and things just flow because I’m not thinking about where they’ll fit or whether I can include them as characters take shape in front of me I feel a real rush of excitement and achievement.
The hardest part is editing. It’s painstaking and slow and you have to be constantly on the ball to notice flaws with tenses or gaps in timing or plot. There are also, inevitably, times when the editor will say something needs to come out and you feel it will wreck everything you’ve worked so hard for (it nearly always has the opposite effect). The editing process makes the novel far, far better than the first draft, but you have to view it using the technical and systematic part of your mind and that level of concentration is exhausting, especially if you have just put in an eight hour shift at work. However, there were times when I really enjoyed using that side of my brain and I think learning those skills is invaluable to any writer.
I thought the title of your debut, The Wacky Man, had multiple interpretations. How far was this your intention?
It was written to have two interpretations but I’m intrigued if people have found more. One reader told me she thought it was drug related (perhaps because of ‘wacky baccy’) but that has nothing to do with the story.
The Wacky Man has a very striking cover, reminding me of Rorschach tests. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
That’s exactly what it is so it’s great that you saw that in the cover. It came about because of the brilliant graphic designer, Simon Levy. The cover conveys things hidden under the surface, things that can slip past unnoticed or that suddenly reveal themselves to you. I think it’s extremely clever and I love it.
I agree – it’s a fantastic image.
How did the character of Amanda evolve? Is she entirely fictional or does she have her origins in someone you know?
The character is based on events from my own childhood. We suffered extreme violence at the hands of our father so a lot of the depictions of violence come from real life. I was also a chronic truant who was too traumatised to continue at school. I really love your phrasing ‘has origins in’ because it’s very accurate in terms of this novel. I always wanted The Wacky Man to be fiction, to have that freedom in approaching the story. I think the two characters closest to real people are Amanda and Seamus, but my novel weaves fiction and history together to better help convey the consequences of abuse.
After reading The Wacky Man I felt I had a better understanding of humanity. What were you hoping to convey through your writing?
I hoped it would give a voice to battered children who are usually rendered voiceless about their horrific experiences. I also wanted to depict, with no holds barred, the raw brutality involved in battering a child, the lifelong consequences of it on that child and the way a traumatised child’s behaviour can be misinterpreted as bad or crazy. I hoped to highlight how reluctant we can be in a society to face these things head on, and how that makes it harder to help the children who suffer.
I think you did that utterly brilliantly Lyn.
Why did you choose to contrast Amanda’s first person account with the third person events in the alternate sections of the book?
I thought it would be more powerful if the reader is ‘sitting’ with Amanda who is damaged and crumbling, to feel they are almost trapped inside that room. That would have been impossible to keep up throughout the book. The third person events I felt were better than a long series of flashbacks narrated by Amanda. And also it helped me structure them chronologically. At this point I’m not sophisticated enough to play around with alternative structures in stories.
I had sympathy for, if not empathy with, Seamus. How far was this your intention well as developing reader empathy with Amanda?
It was important for me that readers empathise with Amanda, even though she is a pain in the arse at times and often lashing out. They can be angry or frustrated with her but I hope they keep hold of their compassion towards her and understand her complete lack of trust even in those who could help her. With Seamus, I’m not so sure; I definitely wanted him to be seen as human rather than a monster because it is fathers (and mothers), not monsters, who do this to their children. I see room for pity, because he can’t overcome his own problems enough to care for his children, though he does try on occasion. I am hugely satisfied if readers react to the novel in any way. I want them to feel any one of a range of emotions because I wouldn’t want to contrive the book so as to steer everyone towards a restricted set of feelings. I think I might react very differently to it when I read it again, especially as time passes on, so however readers react to it is valid.
How much did you need to rely on your background in psychology when writing The Wacky Man?
There may have been something unconscious filtering through my brain but on the surface, there wasn’t much at all. I studied psychology a long time ago and I wanted readers to feel the story rather than process it. I actually wanted something almost the opposite from the way these subjects are talked about in academia, with theories, statistics and charts and that objective, impersonal tone. I’m not criticising psychology in any way at all. I am passionate about research as it is crucial in order to better understand behaviour. It’s just that I wanted Amanda’s life to be felt in the gut rather than the brain if that makes sense.
It makes perfect sense and is exactly what you’ve achieved I think.
If you could chose to be a character from The Wacky Man, who would you be and why?
I don’t want to be any of them. It’s too near the knuckle for me. I would have to write a new part, that of a fairy godmother who grants happiness to all and then the book would be ruined.
I agree – I loved the rawness of Amanda’s emotions and to have done things differently would have ruined the read for me.
If The Wacky Man became a film, who would you like to play Amanda and why would you choose them?
Molly Wright was excellent in The A Word, I think she’d do a fantastic job. And definitely Sarah Lancashire for the mother. I’m a super fan as are my family and friends. She is one of the best actors of our time, her talent is breath taking. I know you didn’t ask about that character but I had to tell you!
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
I have an allotment which gave me the opportunity to incorporate things about the way plants grow into Amanda’s anxious thoughts in The Wacky Man. I also kept a blog for three years about growing veg and I’m hoping to work a lot of that writing into my third novel. I am drawn towards people outside of dominant culture, especially those who are silenced easily. Ideas bubble away in the back of my mind so I make endless notes about things that interest me in the hope that I can return to them later.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I love reading novels of course. I have a back log, digital and physical that just keeps growing but I love having so many choices when I do sit down to read. I also read travel, history, political books, online news, articles and campaigns or anything on Facebook or Twitter that catches my eye. Right now I’m reading ‘A diary of interrogations, about torture in Tibet and have literally just started Fifteen Dogs as well.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Wacky Man should be their next read, what would you say?
This is so difficult and the only thing I can say is: ‘Amanda will take you on a journey you need to witness. Please allow her to.
Thank you so much for your time, Lyn, in answering my questions. I absolutely loved The Wacky Man as a thought provoking and emotional read and feel honoured to have had you on Linda’s Book Bag today.
About Lyn G. Farrell
Lyn G. Farrell is the winner of the 2015 Luke Bitmead Bursary andThe Wacky Man is her debut novel.
Lyn grew up in Lancashire where she would have gone to school if life had been different. She spent most of her teenage years reading anything she could get her hands on.
She studied Psychology at the University of Leeds and now works in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.