Jan 09

Felicity Everett The People at Number 9 | Author Interviews

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I loved your book. Where did the idea for The People at Number 9 come from?

I’m glad you enjoyed The People At Number 9. The idea had probably been bubbling under for a long time before `i thought of a way to make it into an entertaining story. I’ve always been susceptible to ‘dangerous’ friends – the kind who are fun to be with but unreliable and sometimes worse! It started in primary school for me, when I was desperate to be in with a little gang, led by a queen bee who decided on a weekly basis who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’. Even after the agony of being sent to friendship Siberia on a number of occasions, I didn’t learn my lesson and find a proper friend, just hung around until my turn to be ‘in’ came round again. I’m not saying Lou and Gav in The People At Number 9 are as mean or calculating as this – they probably aren’t aware of exploiting Sara and Neil (who maybe deserve it anyway!) but it’s that attraction, like a moth to a flame, that interested me.
Did you expect it to become so successful and resonate with people so much?

Of course any author hopes for  readers, but you can’t write the book you think people want to read, because it won’t be authentic. You have to write the book you’ve got in you.  More than anything, writing is communicating. It’s a way of asking ‘is it just me or…?’ So when I wrote The People At Number 9, it was my curiosity about the subject that drove me forward. I hoped people would get it, but it was surprising and thrilling that so many readers reacted so positively to it. From the feedback I’ve had, I think it resonates because it’s a rare person who hasn’t at some time in their lives been the underdog in a friendship – the one who always makes the phone call, books the tickets, turns up on time and is kept waiting around. Not many people are daft enough to let a situation like that get out of control the way Sara does in the novel, but they can empathise enough to enjoy the journey.

How long did it take for you to write?

It took about two and a half years to write, which is quite along time for a short novel, but I wrote it when me and my family were living in Australia for a little while, and there were many distractions!

What is your writing process?

I don’t plan very much. I take a theme and some characters and sort of improvise, although for No 9 I did have a vague route map for the story. In the past I’ve tried to do that thing that some writers do of creating a life for their characters before they even start writing, listing their record collection, where they lived as a child, their favourite colour – stuff like that, but it just didn’t work for me. I think I find my characters by hearing them speak. I love writing dialogue.

I am a compulsive rewriter – I can’t just rush to the end of a first draft, knowing it’s terrible and then rewrite it from the beginning, I have to go back and make each paragraph right (or as right as it can be) as I go along, which is very laborious. My finished first draft is effectively a fifth or sixth draft. I don’t send it to my agent until I’m pretty sure it’s as good as I can get it.

Do you have a daily word count?

No. It’s so dispiriting if you don’t reach it. I’m happy if I can write five hundred good words a day. Sometimes a good day’s writing can actually be deleting a page or two, if the scene’s not working, or the writing is flabby, so I tend to think in terms of progress rather than pages.

Where do your ideas come from?

That’s a tough one. I don’t really know. I think I’m very influenced by place and I’m interested in the psychology of relationships. I suppose I tend to take a fairly mundane universal situation – a friendship gone awry or a move to the countryside (in the case of my new novel) and then ask ‘what if?’ If you ask that question enough times, it can take you to some pretty dark and twisted places!

Do you have a specific place where you write.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I write in bed! We moved to a new house, and I got the study all kitted out, had the desk positioned in front of the window with the lovely view, got all my books organised, and then found I never went in there. It was just too daunted by the open lap-top on the pristine desk. It felt too ‘intentional’, as though I had to write really impressive sentences; be ‘A Writer’. So now, instead, I wake up and grab my laptop, read the news, check Facebook and then open my document – I sort of sneak up on it. I re-read what I last wrote, alter a word or two and then, before I know it, I’m in full flow and if I’m lucky I’ve written a page or two. The only problem is that all that slouching is doing my back in!

Who are our favourite writers?

Jonathan Franzen, Colm Toibin, Anne Enright, Elizabeth Strout, to name a few. I love a family novel and I like social commentary. I’m a big fan of short stories – The New Yorker has a wonderful archive and I’ve discovered some great novels by writers I’ve first come to for their short stories – George Saunders and Curtiss Sittenfeld being two.

What books have you read recently that you loved?

Eligible by Curtiss Sittenfeld and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (see above). I’ve also re-read Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier because it’s a tutorial in evoking a sense of place and a compelling atmosphere, two things I am attempting in my new book.
What is next for you?

I’m writing a gothic psychodrama!  It’s a novel about a couple who move to the countryside to make a fresh start, but find themselves haunted, not only by their own past, but by a strange unease in their new community and the landscape that surrounds it.