Thursday, 28 February 2013

Interview with R J Heald

Morning folks. Happy Friday - again! Already? Anyway, yes it is.
Here, this morning, for your enjoyment is an interview with author R J Heald, author of last week's book review, 27: Six Friends, One Year.

There are few books with as many as 6 main characters (we’ve had this chat before since my own Sign of the Times has 12!) The rule is meant to be no more than 4 characters (apparently). Why did you decide on 6?

I was told that I should have one main character, who’s perspective should be maintained throughout the novel. I considered this advice, but ultimately dismissed it, because many of my favourite books have multiple characters and are written from several perspectives – for example Jodi Picoult’s best-selling books. They say you should write a book you want to read. I like reading books that make you think of events from several viewpoints, so that’s what I wrote!
Could you see 27 having a sequel or continuation?

Yes, I’ve started to write a sequel and I’m about a third of the way through the first draft. I’ve set it when the characters are 30, but I’m still deciding whether this is the right age. I might change it to age 35, because this will give them the chance to have a bit more life experience and face different challenges to the ones they faced at 27.
Why did you settle on the magic age of 27 and not eg  35?

I settled on 27, simply because I was 27 when I wrote the book! It was a time in my life when I was having lots of conversations with people my age, and there was an almost universal feeling of uncertainty. Everyone was questioning where they were in life and whether the decisions they had made had been the right ones. It felt (rightly or wrongly) like a last chance to change direction before our paths were set and our futures were determined. This made me realise that however perfect people’s lives are on the outside, they is usually some level of uncertainty or drama under the surface. So I thought it would be interesting to create characters who had met at university and then chosen quite different paths, but for whom things had not gone quite to plan.
The weakest character in the novel proves to be the strongest. Did you always know this would be the case?

Sam is one of my favourite characters. At the beginning of the novel, she perceives herself as worth less than those around her and suffers abuse at the hands of her partner, Patrick. When I started writing, I didn’t know what would happen to her, or where she was heading. She has a very clear plan for herself – to marry Patrick and live happily ever after - but that plan isn’t optimal for her. When I was writing her chapters, it was very touch and go as to whether her situation would resolve itself. In the end it is something that Renee says to her that makes her ask the questions that she needs to ask herself and make a decision that will change her life.

 You have won or been shortlisted for several awards. What can you tell us about that?

I’ve been lucky to be quite successful with awards and prizes! I was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2012. This is one of the biggest awards for independently published novels. There were 10,000 entries and my book was in the top 5%.  

I was a winner of the Next Big Author competition in 2011. This competition is run in partnership with Random House and judged by fellow writers. I was also shortlisted for the Brit Writers Awards in 2010.
Nothing is quite what it seems in 27. Those whose lives seem settled are exactly the opposite. How easy/difficult was it to come up with plot lines which would be both engaging and allow you to have such dramatic twists for each character? Did any particular scenes haunt you before you got them just right?

I found it quite easy to come up with the plotlines. The first thing I did was to create situations which would challenge the characters’ views and sense of identity. For example, Renee has defined her success by her marriage to Andy, but it’s clear from the first couple of chapters that this marriage is under enormous pressure. James is a rising star in his company, but he gets through each day by drinking increasing amounts of alcohol.

After I had defined the characters and situations, it was interesting to see where the plot took them. However, some of the issues the novel deals with are very sensitive and it was important to handle these issues appropriately. Although the tone of the book is very light, some of the underlying themes are darker. The Steve and Caroline story was particularly sensitive, as was Sam’s domestic abuse. Both these storylines raise questions about the power dynamic in relationships.  It was important to represent these stories realistically, whilst remaining true to the characters. 

Which character did you like the least/most and which did you enjoy writing the least/most?

Renee frustrates me because she is very rigid in her thinking, quite selfish and judgemental, and has a very stereotypical idea of what the “ideal life” is like. Her views are challenged by the events in the novel.
I think I enjoyed writing James’ scenes the most, because I could see how easily someone who was so outwardly successful could come unstuck.
There were quite a few twists and turns in the novel. Which (without revealing spoilers) were you absolutely dying to put on paper?
My favourite scene to write was the climax of the Steve and Caroline story. Steve is so deluded, but well-intentioned and his world really crumbles when he finds out Caroline’s secret and realisation dawns.
Did you intend for any characters to be unlikeable, with few redeeming features? Personally I am thinking about Dave, as I wanted to slap  him!
A few people have said that about Dave. Personally, I think he has a redeeming feature that none of the other characters have – the ability to be content and open-minded. He is so easy-going, that he is actually more resilient to life events than some of the other characters.  He just goes with the flow without much thought. Also, I think, whilst he is selfish, he is ultimately good-hearted. He has no malice towards anyone. I didn’t intend him to be unlikeable, but perhaps more of an anti-hero.
With all the characters, my intention was to make them real rather than likeable. Real people are complex and have strengths and weaknesses which come to the fore in different situations. In “27” the characters are generally well-adjusted, but are faced with situations which challenge their views and their place in the world. I think their experiences ultimately make them stronger, but things get difficult along the way!
How did you decide where to set 27?
I set it in London because it is a dynamic city and so many graduates come to London after university and just get lost in its vastness.


Fun Stuff

Quintessential question. Who is your Rupert Penry Jones?

I’m going to go a bit retro on this one and go for Jarvis Cocker.

 Which fictional character did you believe in longest? Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus?

I can’t remember, but logically I think I would say the Tooth Fairy. I could never work out how the presents would fit down our chimney and the Easter bunny never really made an appearance in my life. The tooth fairy, however, was very reliable and always left money.

Musicals or plays?

Plays. I love attending independent theatre in London.

City girl or country lass?

Can suburbia be an answer? I find cities a bit too crowded and busy. I like to be near parks and green space. But I also want to be able to get on a bus and go to a theatre or a gig. So the middle ground for me.

 If you had to move to another part of the UK, where would it be?

For how long? If I was just moving for a few months, then maybe the North coast of Scotland. It’s so beautiful and isolated and windy! If it was for longer, probably a city with a good arts scene like Manchester.

First alcoholic drink you ever had?

Red wine.

First job - paper rounds and Saturday jobs included!

Teacher/marker at a kids weekend Maths centre.  

Ten pin bowling or crochet?

Ten pin bowling.

Beer or wine?


 Thai food or fish n chips?

Thai food – I lived in Bangkok for a year.
You can catch up with Ruth here:-
and 27: Six Friends, One Year, can of course be purchased via Amazon here:- (UK) & (US)
and it's also available in paperback -
Until next week, guys and gals!
Have a great weekend

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