This is my first ever blog tour post, so I’m going to admit to being a little anxious writing out this post. I keep telling myself it doesn’t have to be perfect, but I can’t help myself! The number of times I have backtracked this little paragraph is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Especially because I am so grateful and honoured to have Lynn Michell, the author of The Red Beach Hut herself, writing a guest post for my little corner of the internet!
The Red Beach Hut
by Lynn Michell
“Their eyes met and locked. Pulling his hand from his pocket, Neville waved. Once.”
Eight year old Neville is the first to notice that the red beach hut is occupied again.
Abbott, panicked by what he believes is a homophobic cyber attack, is on the run. The hut is his refuge and shelter.
Inevitably man and boy collide. Their fleeting friendship is poignant, honest and healing. But Abbot’s past threatens to tear him away, as others watch and self-interpret what they see.
An evocative portrayal of two outsiders who find companionship on a lonely beach, Lynn Michell’s novel is about the labels we give people who are different, and the harm that ensues.
Without further ado or much more rambling, I present to you Lynn’s wonderfully written post on writing in different styles!
Writing in different styles
“Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?”
- Scott Turow, Ordinary Heroes
I see all my writing, in and outside academia, as a story. I’m tuned in to the stories others tell, the stories I tell, the stories I make up. That’s the common denominator. That’s the nut inside the various shells of academic papers and research and writing novels and editing other women’s novels. While each is a different kind of story, almost everything I’ve taken has been shaped and told in terms of a narrative.
There’s another constant. I’m one of those writers who prefers to observe and to hang around on the sidelines watching people rather than throwing myself into the social fray. I watch and store and ponder. I squirrel away facial expressions and body language and the way someone is dressed. The inside of my head is a bit like backstage at some theatre – actors, props, scenery, costumes, dialogue. Thoughts. And feelings.
My first research project as a new lecturer at Keele University found me crawling around the floors of state nursery schools while scribbling on my clipboard watching small children play. I wanted to know how the noisy smorgesbord of toys and games on offer satisfied the needs of very different children and how many enjoyed, learned and gained something from their days. At first glance it looks like chaos but watch carefully and you’ll see confident children negotiating in groups, children who race for the physical activities, ones who cling to adults, and passive children who don’t do much because they don’t seem to know how to play or don’t want to. They remain on the edges and can be overlooked. I told the stories of the children’s days and showed that a minority of children were getting very little out of their experiences. One of several academic papers was called ‘Doing Six and Being Batman.’ One child’s words.
A lot of my academic work was interview based so I listened to individuals and groups of people, then went away to find the truest, closest way of telling their stories. For Growing Up in Smoke, funded by Cancer Research, I listened to children telling me what it was like to live in home where parents smoked and how much they hated the fug and and worried about asthma and about their parents dying. They drew pictures and wrote heart-felt feelings in letters and stories. I searched out the common themes as well as original thoughts and wrote as truthfully as I could about those children’s lives as passive smokers.
I wrote Shattered: Life with ME when I was emerging from the ME Ghetto after 15 years of not much of a life. I still didn’t feel well, but I knew I had the skills as a writer to portray this illness accurately, strongly and honestly. I interviewed 30 people of all ages from adolescents to seventy somethings, most of them severely, chronically ill and without diagnosis or treatment because there wasn’t one. The people I met were brave and inspiring and their stories needed to be told. My own health crept up a notch. After I’d typed up dozens of hours of interview material, I put on my academic sociologist’s hat and worked out how to classify the themes to present them without bias as a piece of good qualitative research. While writing the book, I wasn’t firing on all four cylinders and I still needed to rest, but I was the voice of seriously ill people who had not been heard or who had been horribly dismissed as hypochondriacs. It took a long five years but the letters and emails I received afterwards made it utterly worthwhile.
In my novels, I have a heady freedom compared with writing for an academic audience and I’m not hamstrung by conventions. Hidden in my debut novel, White Lies, is one almost true story amongst all the fiction, a story found by listening. When the present was growing dim for my elderly widowed father, a soldier most of his life, his periods of active service burned ever brighter. in his memory. I was regaled with his stories of being a Desert Rat in Libya in WWII and his time chasing the Mao Mao in the bloody uprising against colonial rule in Nairobi In the1950s. I knew his anecdotes off by heart. As a coping strategy, I told him to dictate his memoirs and so began long, regular meetings with me at the laptop and him talking and sipping coffee. More and more emerged. His perfect recall, and in particular his white colonial view of the Mao Mao brutality, was the start of that first novel. Yes, he is David, the soldier who cannot see the other story, that of the tribes disposed of their land and their way of life.
In The Red Beach Hut I’ve veered well away from stories of my own or those of people I know. If there are any vestiges, they’ve undergone so much transformation that their roots are hidden even from me. I can rationalise why I wrote that novel at the time of the 2015 General Election but that doesn’t reflect the experience. The characters of Abbott and Nevile arrived ready made and I tuned in to their conversations. Their stories about why they were on a beach at the faded end of the season came next. Unlike previous novels, it took three months of manic writing and that draft wasn’t significantly changed.
We all tell ourselves the stories we need to hear. We sanitise and exaggerate and add rose-coloured highlights. We writers collect those stories and spin them into yarns.
‘We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” Joan Didion.
So fascinating to learn about authors’ writing processes and how the same person can approach their various stories in different styles! Thank you so much for such an articulate post, Lynn.
Don’t forget to check The Red Beach Hut and Lynn’s other novels out!
About the Author :-
I write, have always written, and I run Linen Press, a small indie press for women writers. It’s a fine balancing act but ever since I watched Elvira Madigan, I’ve secretly wanted to be a tight rope walker.
My fourteen books are published by HarperCollins, Longman and The Women’s Press and include an illustrated writing scheme for schools, and Shattered, a book about living with ME. Those closest to my heart are fiction: Letters To My Semi-Detached Son, my debut novel set in Kenya, White Lies and my latest novel The Red Beach Hut.
When not writing or editing, you’ll find me building a house and creating a landscape out of rocks in an oak clearing high above a small village in southern France. Hands on.
Once again, a huge thank you to Lynn and the people behind the tour for giving me this opportunity. Be sure to check out Mrs Average Evaluates, the next stop in the tour tomorrow!