Friday, December 05, 2008

Author Snapshot: Tara Hanks

Born: London
Reside: Brighton
Birthday: 1972
Most recent book: The Mmm Girl
Web site:

What’s your favorite city?
Brighton, where I’ve lived sporadically for the last 15 years, because it’s a small city, by the sea and close to countryside, and the people are tolerant, creative and optimistic. Well, most of them are.

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Browse through all the second-hand bookshops in the North Laine, eat pie and chips on the pier, go on a quick pub crawl (soft drinks for me), and see a late show at the Duke Of York’s, the oldest independent cinema in England.

What food do you love?

Very simple food -- granary bread, strong cheese, water. And dark chocolate, of course!

What food have you vowed never to touch again?

What’s on your nightstand?
Just a lamp and a clock-radio, I don’t read in bed. I’m currently reading Moll Flanders, and Women In Early Modern England. I also have a pile of biographies on my sideboard, for lighter reading.

What inspires you?

Music, art and film are as important to me as reading. My biggest influences tend to come from the Modernist era. My novels, so far, have been based on real events. Human flaws and contradictions fascinate me.

What are you working on now?

A novel about the Pendle witch case of 1612. I went to college in Lancashire during the early 1990s, and lived downhill from the castle where the witches were held. Their story is still talked about today. At that time it was the largest trial of its kind.

I’ve been researching for a year and have just started writing. I’m working from multiple viewpoints, so each chapter will be narrated by a different character. Mainly I’m focusing on the accused women, rich and poor, young and old -- but I’m also including some male perspectives, and looking inside the minds of the witches, their victims, and the witch-hunters.

Tell us about your process.

Usually I write straight onto a laptop, but if I get stuck it can help to write by hand. I tend to be slow and painstaking. I do plan in advance but not down to the last detail, and I still have no idea what other writers use reference cards for!

I don’t have a formal writing room, and have always worked with other people around. My children are both at school now, so I expect that my routine will change. I don’t find being a mother conflicts too much with writing, in my experience the opposite is true.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
I’m in the lounge. In front of me, my husband is fixing a computer. The kids are in bed, but I can see my son’s Halloween bat-mobile hanging from the light behind me. On the walls are family photos, a painting by my son, and a couple of old movie posters.

The sofa is the messiest part of the room, and it’s all mine. Cushions, books and papers are cluttered around me. Now that the research is finished and I need more space to write, I may move into the bedroom. It’s too distracting in here.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I made up stories from an early age, starting with comic strips. Though I was first in my family to go to college, my father has always loved books. As a teenager I pushed myself into other areas, like drama. But by the time I started my degree, I realized that writing was the natural thing to do.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?

Probably some other art form -- acting, or singing. Maybe working in a library, or something that benefits the community. Of course, I wouldn’t mind being an eccentric millionaire. Failing that, writing seems to suit me rather well.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
At university I had a tutor who was supportive of my early attempts at writing, unlike others who, not unreasonably, barely noticed me. More recently, winning the UKA Press Opening Pages Competition was a happy moment, and it led to my last novel, The Mmm Girl, being published. Whenever I hear from readers who have been touched by my work, I feel a bit closer to becoming the kind of writer I’d like to read.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being a writer?

Observing people, which is something most of us do anyway. Taking what I find in the outside world and bringing it into contact with my inner self.

What’s the most difficult?

The fear of not being equal to the task. Insecurity goes hand-in-hand with a writer’s sensitivity. Many writers, myself included, don’t take criticism very well, so it’s strange that many of us seem to crave recognition, positive or otherwise.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?

“Do you have to do a lot of research?”

Yes, but it’s only a fraction of what I have to imagine. Facts can’t explain a character’s thoughts and feelings.

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?

“Is your book exactly what you thought it would be?”

Writing a novel is like leading a double life. By the time The Mmm Girl was published, I was almost the same age as Marilyn Monroe when she died. I felt that I had been on a long journey with her, and I miss her company. But now it’s time for readers to experience it too.

What question would like never to be asked again?

“How do I get published?”

There is no easy answer. It takes patience, hard work and talent, and even then, the rewards may not be spectacular.

Please tell us about your most recent book.
The Mmm Girl is subtitled Marilyn Monroe, By Herself. It is written in the first person, and covers her life from early childhood up until her death, aged 36. Marilyn, like other stars, is someone whom we know from memory, through the roles she chose to play.

I was interested to explore not just her image, but what she was really like. The only way for me to do that was to use empathy and stand in her shoes, to re-imagine all those events afresh. Though I’ve never visited America and wasn’t born in Marilyn’s lifetime, that actually worked to my advantage and I found the freedom that a writer needs to embrace my subject without preconceptions.

My book has gained some interest from Marilyn’s fans, but I also think it stands on its own as a novel. In parts it is quite harrowing, I’ve been told, but I don’t see Marilyn as simply a tragic beauty.

My aim was to create a realistic telling and not a mythic one, which has been done before. It is an attempt to express Marilyn’s generous spirit, and to show how hope can flourish even in the toughest conditions.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.

I dream about packing, and unpacking suitcases. And floating downstairs. Make of that what you will!

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OpenID sandysays1 said...

It's always fascinating to see other writer's insights into what they do and get a feel for them. Visit my site- I have some posts you might gets some chuckles from.

Friday, December 5, 2008 5:03:00 AM PST  
Blogger Amy said...

Hi Tara, I can't wait to read your book. I found your insights on the writing life and process useful & interesting. Even getting a group of writers together, it's sometimes the last thing (or the thing that never gets mentioned: how do you write?

Having people connect to your work has to be the best reward.

Friday, December 5, 2008 9:48:00 AM PST  

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