Hello Meg, it’s so lovely to welcome you to Novel Kicks today. Your book is called The Wanderers (released yesterday and has, in my opinion one of the prettiest book covers.) Can you tell me about the novel and how the idea originated?
Thank you! (And I love that cover too.)
“The Wanderers” imagines that a private space company is four years away from sending the first crew of humans to Mars. Three astronauts have been selected, and as part of their training they are asked to undergo a seventeen-month simulation of the mission. The story is told from the point of view of the crewmembers, and also from some of the people they’ll be leaving behind: a wife, a daughter, and a son. We also hear from of one of the people tasked with observing and evaluating the astronauts. It’s a story about ambition, isolation, inner space, the problem of knowing what is “real” or even what “real” means, and the different kinds of personal simulations human beings find themselves in. (I hope it’s also a little bit funnier than my description!)
The idea for the book was inspired by a newspaper article I read concerning a simulated Mars mission: six volunteers spent 520 days in a module, being tested for the kind of psychological and physiological stresses a crew might experience in a long-duration space expedition. I thought it sounded like an incredibly cool setting for a novel.
What was your approach to the writing process with this novel – did you plan a lot, wait until you had a whole draft before editing?
I spent over a year researching before I wrote anything at all. The research continued for the length of writing: about four years. I don’t outline, but I spent months writing the first chapter and thinking through the general shape of the book. I revise CONSTANTLY.
Once you’d written your first novel, could you tell me a bit about the route you had to publication and how the process was different with this novel?
The first novel I wrote didn’t sell—just got very lovely rejection letters. So I put it away and tried again. The second book sold, and the editor who acquired it was interested in that first book, and told me to take it out and work on it a bit. I did, and it became my second published novel. (Lesson: you never know.) I don’t usually show anyone what I’m working on until it’s finished, so with “The Wanderers” my literary agent only knew that I was working on “something with astronauts in it.” It’s my first book to be published in the U.K, which is tremendously exciting for me.
Do you have any writing rituals – coffee before you start? No noise etc.
I avoid all rituals or rules involving writing other than Work Hard and Care About Everything.
Do you have any advice for anyone who might be suffering from writers block?
Well, I’m reluctant to give advice but I can say what I think it true. It’s this: writing isn’t about word count or how many hours a day you spend typing. (It’s also not about publishing.) Writing is a way of confronting the world. When I’m stuck, it’s because I’m not confronting the world, I’m confronting the “idea of being a writer.” That’s a closed-loop system. So, I go to museums, art galleries, concerts, plays, and read poetry and non-fiction. I stop being “person who is trying to write” and let myself be a reader, an audience member, a student. At a certain point, it becomes clear that being a writer MEANS being a reader, an audience member, a student. I get excited about what I’m observing, learning, confronting, and I want to talk about it, figure it out, and make something of my own.by