I’m very pleased to welcome Annabel Abbs to the blog today. I haven’t had a chance yet to read her debut novel, The Joyce Girl, but am aware it has been very well received by reviewers and have it on the list for a future read. It was published by Impress Books on 16th June 2016 and you can order a copy here: The Joyce Girl
Thanks for joining me Annabel. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m Annabel Abbs – I live in London with my four children, husband and dog. I grew up in Bristol, Wales and Sussex and studied English Lit at UEA. The Joyce Girl is my first novel
What inspired you to start writing?
I stumbled across the story of Lucia Joyce, the daughter of James Joyce, and was so outraged by the way she’d been erased from history, that I decided she needed resurrecting. When I couldn’t find a full account of her experiences in 1920s Paris anywhere, I decided to research it. When I realised there wasn’t sufficient material to write another biography, I decided to fictionalise her life. I hadn’t intended to write a novel – but that’s what happened. I was so busy researching and trying to juggle my family life I had no time to attend any courses, so I taught myself using How To books and by studying the novels of contemporary writers I admire.
Tell me about your journey to publication
When I had a reasonable draft I entered a few competitions. The novel was longlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award, then the Bath Novel Award. Two months later it won the Impress Prize for New Writing. So Impress published it. By then I had an agent and she has since sold it to Hachette in Australia and New Zealand and Aufbau Verlag in Germany. It’s now on submission in the US and in the hands of Hollywood producers, thanks to a film agent who agreed to represent me.
In a nutshell, what is your book about?
The Joyce Girl is based on accounts of Lucia Joyce, a dancer in 1920s Paris and the daughter of Irish writer, James Joyce. She had affairs with Samuel Beckett and the American sculptor, Alexander Calder. She then had a series of breakdowns and was sent to Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst in Zurich. She spent the last fifty years of her life in an English mental asylum.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
I was very wary about using the word ‘Girl’ as it seemed overdone and clichéd – even three years ago when I first came up with it. So I gave it a different title when I entered it for the Impress award and called it My Perfect Mind. But my editor much preferred The Joyce Girl as it says so precisely what the novel’s about. Lucia is never allowed to grow up and never recognised for who she is, only as her father’s daughter – so every word of the title accurately reflects her predicament.
How did you celebrate publication day?
The novel was launched on Bloomsday – the day that all Joyce fans celebrate. It’s the day on which Ulysses is set. 16th June! Hachette Australia launched it on 31st August with a very high profile marketing campaign which includes posters in subways. It was one of September’s iBooks of the month there.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I’ve just completed my second novel and my agent is reviewing it before it goes on submission. It’s in the same genre – biographical fiction. This is such an exciting new(ish) genre, that’s been made popular by the likes of Hilary Mantel. I love the way biography and fiction and history are blurring and blending. My second novel tells the story of the real Lady Chatterley but involves multiples points of view and is in the third person, unlike The Joyce Girl.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
I’ve been intensively re-reading DH Lawrence as part of my research, but recently I’ve really enjoyed The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd and A Country Road, A Tree, by Jo Baker. Both fall into the same genre of biographical fiction. I try and read everything in this category – it’s always fascinating to see how different novelists approach and interpret their subject/character.
What are you reading just now? (August 2016)
The Muse by Jessie Burton and a biography of Oscar Wilde’s wife by Franny Moyle
Tell me about your reading habits: book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?
I read from a book every night, from a kindle when I have insomnia, and I listen to hundreds of audiobooks when I’m running around doing chores or walking the dog.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
I would be Lizzie in Gavin McCrea’s Mrs Engels – just for the chance to observe Engels at first hand and speak in that wonderful voice of hers. But I’d only want to be her as a character, not as the real person on whom she’s based. Is that allowed?