Brighton-based author Laura Wilkinson has just published her first novel, BloodMining. Laura has a distinguished history of short stories and building a writers community online; she’s a fellow Ether Books author too.
In BloodMining, ambitious journalist Megan stops war-reportage and returns to her Welsh home to bring up her son. He inherits a serious life-limiting disorder; the journey in search of a cure forces Megan to learn many astonishing facts about her past, and its intimate relationship with the changing map of Europe.
You can get BloodMining on paper or via Kindle, and it will make a good Xmas present for yourself or anyone else. It’s a great read with characters who stay with you, interesting premises and twists to take your breath away.
SCT: I enjoyed BloodMining in lots of ways and I’m chuffed to bits that you’ve navigated the journey to published novelist. You say (in those extra bits at the back) that the story germinated in a newspaper report about older mothers. Tell us a bit about how that basic idea turned into the story of a younger mother protecting her son. (you might need a spoiler alert!)
LW: There’s definitely a spoiler in here. So proceed with caution if you’ve not read the book, and intend to!
As I say in those extras at the end, the narrative began with Elizabeth and Hannah – I felt compelled to write the story of how a middle-aged woman came to look after her own mother’s child – and I began writing what later became the middle section of the novel first. During this process I kept on thinking about the person the baby would grow up to become. I simply couldn’t get her out of my head, and I wondered what Elizabeth would tell her about her origins. Would Elizabeth be honest about where the baby came from? And where did she come from? After all, it must have been a donor egg? And did Hannah know anything about her donor? There are so many ethical implications about egg (and indeed sperm) donation, and our ethical framework lags behind the science… I imagined a scenario (there are several, of course) where ethics would be open to abuse and it went on from there. So it grew from a series of questions.
SCT: You set the story a little while in the future, when lots of the technology is recognisably the same, but the face of this country has changed radically. Although the United Kingdom has held together (just), it is straining under the weight of a devastating plague and poverty. These elements can be the central part of a lot of speculative fiction, but you have largely sidestepped that. Why did you decide to go down that radical route, rather than (for example) a convenient large-scale road accident?
LW: After I’d completed the first draft, aware that by placing the action in the near future the book would, as far as the marketing people are concerned, be placed in the speculative fiction section and as such be difficult to sell, I did consider a more contemporary setting. I even considered something as prosaic as a road traffic accident as a way of wiping out Elizabeth’s first family, as you suggest, but quite honestly it simply felt too contrived. I wanted Elizabeth’s tragedy to be more universal and not only personal to increase her sense of disgust and grief at Hannah’s actions. By making the tragedy affect so many people Hannah’s and the clinic in Eastern Europe’s actions go unnoticed for longer, and again, although I do not go into it in any great depth in the novel, there is a broader story at play – that of all the other children affected by the actions of the reproductive scientists and the lack of a strong ethical framework in my imagined future. Megan is a journalist; a truth-seeker, and her desire to discover the truth is not only personal, it’s political too. So, in part, the decision was driven by the characters.
Finally, I’d say that it was more creatively rewarding and I was tempted to explore this imagined future world in much greater detail (after all, I’d done quite a bit of research and thinking about it). I know that some readers would have liked more of this. My decision not to was driven by an awareness that the average length of a novel is somewhere between 80,000 and 120, 000 words and to push it much over this would make the book even harder to sell, to agents, publishers. It stands at almost 118,000 words as it is.
SCT: The book turns on issues around reproduction and human rights, which is fertile (sorry!) field for writers. Of course our own political opinions inform the way we write about everything, but for us as feminists, these are peculiarly important issues. I know your next book is about appearance, its manipulation and perception, which is another major feminist preoccupation. Do you think you will come back to reproduction in the future, as the world of genetic management develops?
LW: Who knows?! Never say never is a motto of mine. I’m about to begin work on my third novel and right now I’m preoccupied with Thatcher’s Children. Those women who grew up in an era of strong female leadership, women whose lives changed irrevocably ‘thanks’ to the destruction of our manufacturing industries. And though it’s not fashionable in my circles to admit this, Margaret Thatcher’s premiership led to changes that benefited many, many women. Though I’m not sure that was her intention! At present I’m in the process of finding my lead characters (there are two of them) and there are still so many things I don’t know about them so who knows what will occur.
I’ve not answered your question… I might, but not in novel#3. It’s such an important area, for men and women.
SCT: You have several strong women in BloodMining. They’d make lovely parts in a film. Who do you think should play Megan, and her relatives Elizabeth and Hannah?
LW: When I was writing Megan I had an image in my head of a young Angelica Houston, but AH is too old to play Megan, who is in her early thirties. Perhaps Angelina Jolie as she kicks ass. Elizabeth? As a youngish woman: Toni Collette. When she’s older: Judi Dench. Hannah… oh, she’s the hardest… maybe Anne Reid?
SCT: The novel shifts across different periods of time, each section covering several years in different decades of the twenty-first century. The three women take centre stage at different moments. You’ve given each of them a strong and distinctive voice. How did you achieve that distinctiveness for each woman and have you any techniques to share?
LW: Thank you. It took time and many drafts. It was hard because the women are related (Elizabeth grew up with Hannah, Megan grew up with Elizabeth), so I needed to balance the natural similarities that occur when we spend time with people and ensuring unique rhythms, mannerisms, favourite words and so forth.
Character work is the bedrock of all fiction, and although I’m not much of planner (not at all really) I do spend a lot of time working on my characters before I start the narrative proper, and during the first and subsequent drafts. I map and complete a number of character profiles – physical, psychological, historical and so on. I place my characters in a number of different, and challenging, situations and write the scenes. Not all of them make it into the final work, but something in these slices of life gives me a deeper understanding of my characters’ motivations, desires, secrets. And I’m open to my characters proving me wrong about my initial assumptions about them. They often do!
I love writing dialogue and I read it aloud to hear each character’s voice. And although this may sound like I’m dodging your question, in the end I’m not really sure how I achieve the desired effect. Once the characters are ‘there’ they have their own voice and I’m a bit like a conduit. And I’m sure I don’t always get it right; I’m still learning. I hope I never stop.
LW: Herehttp://laura-wilkinson.co.uk or on Facebook and Twitter #ScorpioScribble. I hope to hear from some of your followers.
SCT: Thanks for coming onto the blog, Laura. All the very best both with sales of BloodMining, and the second novel.
Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.