I am thrilled to welcome debut author Abby Beverley to Bookaholic Confessions, today. Abby’s novel, Dying to be Slim was released in September last year and it’s received some cracking reviews so far. I am dying to read it (see what I did there…?!?) and had lots of questions for Abby, including what inspired her to write Clara’s story and where she finds the inspiration behind her characters…
Hi Abby, welcome to Bookaholic Confessions! I’m thrilled to have you on the site, thank you so much for participating in this interview. Would you like to start by introducing yourself…?
Of course and can I just say a huge thank you for allowing me this opportunity to talk about my favourite activity (writing) in conjunction with the launch of my debut novel. Abby Beverley is not a pseudonym – it’s my real name, although I’ve only been married for a year and a half, so I’m still getting used to it!
I’ve been a teacher for twenty years (ICT and English) and, during that time, I’ve had many stories and articles published, including academic papers for teaching journals. I guess this confirmed to me that I had some ‘ability’ but I never had that most precious of all resources – time. So I was never able to write books, which is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. Then I took a year out to organise my wedding, to welcome my children back from overseas and, yes, to write my first book.
I’ve had a very interesting life – in fact, most of it you couldn’t make up! This includes being adopted, leaving school at fifteen to work in a typing pool, having my first child as a teenager, living in New Zealand, suffering from a ‘should-have-been-fatal’ DVT on a long haul flight and having a family set-up that is so complicated, it would take me a week to explain it!
Can you tell us a bit about debut novel, Dying to be Slim (released 17th September 2015 with Matador)?
Yes. DTBS started life as a short story. That’s why the prologue is so long. The prologue was (give or take) the short story. It was essentially about a middle-aged woman’s battle with her weight and why she might have let herself become morbidly obese. Obviously, we find out that Clara has had two sets of twins in her teens but we also discover, almost in passing, that her mother left when she was small and that her father died sometime just after the birth of the second set of babies. To add to poor Clara’s difficulties, her partner has also run out on her. Can you imagine how she must have felt? It doesn’t bear thinking about. No support, no money, no real friends and we find out that at least one of her children is a selective mute.
Thankfully for Clara, she finds love again in the shape of Jakey, a talented pastry chef at the local hotel. She exchanges dodgy chip scraps for cakes and pastries, and manages to have a fifth child – a single birth this time. From this point on, Clara grows and grows, tormented by her early traumas, a newborn baby, a house crammed with “four stroppy young teens” and a partner working long shifts. Amazingly enough, Clara never lets go of the positives in her life although she is now morbidly obese. We first meet Clara during an interview she is giving about positivity. However, the real story begins when the article is published and a little magic enters Clara’s life…
Originally, Clara released her inner self within the short story but, once I had become excited about the prospect of writing a full length novel, I held off until Chapter Two. Starla is Clara without the trauma. Starla runs, jumps, skips, appreciates beauty, heads outside and explores upstairs. Starla is the fun Clara; a personification of Clara’s positive mental attitude.
I can’t tell you anymore because it would be a spoiler. However, there’s a bit of indecision and escapism going on (and Starla is in and out of Clara’s body like the hokey cokey)!
Oh, and Clara discovers that none of her family are quite what they seem…
I love the themes running through Dying to be Slim and I can’t wait to start reading. What inspired you to write this story?
Embarrassingly enough, my grown-up daughter Natalie and I were watching one of those competitive American shows featuring morbidly obese people on a quest to lose weight. As we watched mid-morning, in our PJs, we were stuffing Christmas chocolate and I remember rubbing my tummy, telling Natalie I felt as big as the contestants on the telly. I was snuggled in a sleeping bag which I unzipped to get a cup of tea and remarked that I wished I could unzip my body to allow the slimmer ‘me’ out to jump around for a bit.
Funnily enough, the main theme of the book isn’t weight loss, although I do explore the practicalities of being morbidly obese. It’s more of a family drama, laced with scandal galore. However, running beneath all the intrigue, is a deep family bond.
There’s also an element of “be careful what you wish for”.
The chapter I’m most proud of is the one where something happens to Tina (I don’t want to spoil so I won’t say what). A close family member went through the same experience and I consulted her before the book went to publication. She told me that she thinks about this ‘something’ every single day. That really moved me and I have to admit, I struggle to read it without fighting back a tear.
Is dieting and weight a topic that you feel particularly strong about?
Yes, it is. Very much so. I’ve always felt concerned at the amount of pressure that is put on young girls to stay slender. Society judges people so harshly on the way they look.
I know some wonderful people who carry a few extra pounds. You know why? Because most people who really enjoy their food and drink, enjoy life. I once read that you can tell what someone’s attitude is by the way they eat their dinner.
I absolutely adore Roald Dahl’s description of Mrs Twit who has grown to be ugly because she’s mean to people. He adds that: “If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
The same applies to weight. You can be thirty four stone like Clara but this does not make you ugly, unlovable or unworthy. In fact, you’re probably a really good laugh!
How long did Dying to be Slim take you to write?
It took me about five months to write most of it and I’m talking about a 6am start, sometimes working through without much of a break until midnight. I took most weekends off because you do need to clear your head at times and do some ‘normal’ stuff.
After these five months, I was suddenly asked to do a whole term of supply teaching and that meant that the last couple of chapters were very difficult to get finished. However, I managed to complete them during half term.
When I read those chapters now, they feel rushed although the story does end exactly the way I wanted it to. But I’m always hypercritical of my own work – whether I’m writing, decorating, baking or just wrapping a birthday present!
Are any of the characters in your novel based on anyone in real life or are they completely fictional?
Jakey is based loosely on my husband although he wouldn’t have been the shy youth that Clara describes in the prologue, having been a Sergeant in the army. Also, my husband sadly doesn’t have Jakey’s flair in the kitchen – his ‘signature dish’ is a fried egg sandwich! Yuk!
The remaining characters are completely fictional, although Guy’s IT office is almost an exact replica of the office I worked in for over four years at a Leicestershire high school, when I was ICT Coordinator there. It was a bizarre place with hardly any room to even place a mug of tea down! I shared it with three men who were extremely untidy but we did have quite a few laughs – as well as lots of bickering over how cold to pitch the air conditioning system!
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Oh yes! Most definitely. As a very tiny tot, I used to make ‘books’ with pictures for my parents and, later, when I started to write, I churned these out almost hourly. I can remember my parents going spare at the amount of paper I used. (I always liked a clean, crease-free sheet to begin on). When Princess Anne got married in 1973, I became obsessed with weddings and princesses and ponies. My ‘books’ reflected this and I wrote my first published story around this time, aged just seven, which was about a white circus pony who was fed up with doing tricks for audiences. Instead, he ran away to join the stables where he lived happily ever after, dining on fresh, green grass and getting fat!
What tips would you give to any aspiring authors out there?
I would encourage them to remember that fable with the tortoise and the hare. Good things take time. Once, I spent a whole day working on one paragraph that didn’t seem to sound right however I wrote it.
Then there’s copy editing. That takes ages. You wait and wait! Then there’s publishing. You have to wait for your launch date for what feels like forever. Then you want everyone to buy it immediately but you have to wait again to build up a readership. Don’t even start me on waiting for people to write reviews on Amazon!
Having said all this, I’m the most impatient person I know! Do as I say, not as I do!
What books do you enjoy reading and who are your favourite authors?
One of my favourite books is “The Woman In White” by Wilkie Collins. The paragraph where the author introduces Miss Halcombe to the reader is arguably the best character introduction in literature. I have tried to emulate it slightly with Clara’s introduction of herself in the prologue of DTBS.
As an English teacher, I regularly read novels with my classes and I always love it when I can slip Louis Sachar’s “Holes” or John Boyne’s “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” into the curriculum. I love the simplicity of these stories. The only book I have ever read, then read again straight away is “Room” by Emily Donoghue. I would love to write a book from a child’s point of view but I think it would be very difficult to get the right balance of innocence in the narrative and maturity in the subject matter.
And finally – can you tell us a bit about what you’re up to at the moment?
I’m about a quarter of the way through the sequel to DTBS. This is a much darker book and it moves the reader on in time. The focal characters are Billie and Marnie, although Tina is up to her old tricks again! There are also one or two new characters.
I’m also enjoying the attention that DTBS is getting. I’ve been featured on five or six blogs now and the book seems to be receiving quite a lot of attention via Twitter and other social medias. The local newspaper has also expressed an interest in featuring DTBS and I’ve been asked to read extracts at various writing groups.
I’m also on a diet! Thankfully, I’m not Clara’s size but I have got a few pounds to shift. I’ve been trying to promote the book against my weight loss journey but I’ve yet to attract the attention of any of the big Slimming magazines. Oh well… never give up…
In the meantime, is that a slice of triple chocolate fudge cake over there? Mmmm….
A huge thank you to Abby for taking part in this interview. ♥
Get hold of your copy of Dying to be Slim on Kindle here.