Sunday, 28 February 2016

'The Last Thing I Remember' Blog Tour: An Author Interview with Deborah Bee

Deborah Bee studied fashion journalism at Central St Martins. She has worked at various magazines and newspapers including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Times and the Guardian as a writer, a fashion editor and later an editor. Currently, she is a Creative Director in luxury retail.

A very warm welcome to you Deborah, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.
Thank you for inviting me!

For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a bit about the part of the world that you are currently resident in and why do you like living there?
I live in Somerset at weekends and in London during the week. I have to be in London for work – I work in Luxury Retail – so Monday to Friday I'm in a tiny flat near the river Thames. If I stand tiptoes on a chair I can nearly see it. In summer when the windows are open I can hear the rowers splashing up and down practising for the Boat Race. It’s quite a quiet part of London but near enough the centre for art galleries and theatres. Somerset is the opposite of London. Our house is in a village with maybe 20 other properties. We are surrounded by fields full of sheep and great big oak trees. There are no street-lights so it gets properly dark at night. The church next door is C14th. It’s all very rural – lovely in summer, muddy in winter. My heart is in Somerset.
Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?
I have always loved a good story so I guess books like Tom’s Midnight Garden got me hooked on reading. And I love a good twist at the end. Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree books made me want to climb trees and find Moon Face. But I guess that didn't fuel The Last Thing I Remember much. My Dad used to read to me The Cat in the Hat. I can recite that almost word for word. I think enjoying reading more than watching TV was a good start to becoming a writer.

Do you have a set routine when you are working on a novel?
I'm really new to fiction so no, not really. All I can say is that when you are creating an entire world, you have to concentrate really hard. So my routine is to remove anything that could distract me; emails, phone, internet, children asking for meals, kitchen sides that need wiping down, AGAIN – I have to get them out of the way, then hunker down. Writing in hotels is fabulous – you don’t even have to make your bed – but that’s obviously a luxury I can’t afford often. Writing on planes is great too – until WIFI really gets going.

Where do you do your writing best?
I have taken some long weekends in Scotland – there’s this amazing cottage overlooking the sea that I stay in when I can. There is no one to talk to and just a horizon of waves. It’s usually cold when I go, so I don’t even want to go outside. I also really like writing in bed. But don’t tell my osteopath. He’d stop treating my sore neck.

What helped you to decide to base your current novel’s storyline on a girl who had been in a coma after being mugged?
I wanted Sarah’s memory to be a blank sheet of paper that she had to rediscover through almost going back in time, so that she only finds out what shaped her life at the same pace as the readers. And I wanted her to piece her life together through hearing what other people said, (unreliable witnesses) and being unable to respond. The British are so good at not saying what they think, unlike other cultures. Stiff upper lip and all that. So being effectively dumb was an extreme representation of that. Having researched Locked in Syndrome, I was fascinated by how people are told that the coma victim may be able to hear, so be careful, and yet they forget – even the medical staff.

When you are writing a novel, how do you place yourself into the scenes that you are actually writing about?
Hard question. I think maybe you become the characters. You have to really imagine that you are there. I've probably salvaged many memories and re-imagined them in my story. I've leant my forehead on many a wallpaper-covered wall, listening to grown-ups arguing or discussing things that children are considered too young to hear. 

How do you go about imagining, developing and give real lives and personalities to the characters that we read about within in your book?

I've stolen many identities for The Last Thing I Remember. It’s so much easier to get a true response for dialogue if you have got a real person in your head. One of the nurses is based on a friend at work – my friend is very sensible, reliable, practical – if I think to myself ‘What would Beth say’ it helps so much. She even has the same name in the book. I checked to see if she minded and she said she didn't, so long as she didn't do anything embarrassing. I blackmailed her for weeks afterwards. Kelly’s patois changed after I went on holiday with my sons’ friend who kept saying “I'm not even lying.” Deadpan. Still make me laugh.

Did you encounter any difficulties in getting you book accepted and published?
I was incredibly lucky. I sent it to an agent who loved it. They sent me a text when I was in the back of a cab. I cried. I think if I’d known how difficult it is for most first-timers, I would have quit before I’d even started.
Did you have to undertake any research for your novel?

I read anything I could find about coma victims. I watched real-life hospital dramas where it’s properly harsh – not like Holby City, where everything looks clean and orderly. I used to live in North London, so I knew what the cultural mix is like. But I want to stress that it’s not a novel about comas or proper medical facts – it’s about people, and how they deal with crises – from the mum who cares too much what other people think – to the next-door-neighbour who can never find her own car in the car park.

What is your favourite book and why?

The Great Gatsby because the characters are written so well. A Prayer for Owen Meany because the twist at the end takes you right back to the start. Heartburn by Nora Ephron, for the hilarious dialogue in the face of a domestic catastrophe. Pinter’s Betrayal for telling a story backwards and shifting empathy for the character. To Kill a Mockingbird for Boo Radley. And Catcher in the Rye for Holden Caulfield, who expresses his character so well through dialogue. I realise that’s way too many and nothing like my book, but they are all my favourites. Damn, forget Dangerous Liaisons, for the structure – told through letters – genius.
Do you have any other hobbies or interests that you enjoy undertaking in order to get a break from your normal routine and your writing?
I write all day as part of my day-job. Fiction is my hobby. I've got my day-job to thank for my ability to sit down, put in my headphones, and write. Radiohead, since you ask. Always. I once saw Thom Yorke at Paddington station. I nearly thanked him. But that would've been odd. I was listening to Radiohead at the time.

Can you give us a hint about any other books that you may have in the making at the moment?
I have two on the go. One is very commercial and one is difficult – like The Last Thing I Remember. My agent would probably want the commercial one – I don’t know. The difficult one is easier to write.
Deborah, to conclude our interview can I ask if there is another question that I should have asked you within this interview and what would be your answer?
You should have asked me ‘What is your favourite quote from an author,’ just so I can get a laugh out of the back row. Harold Pinter was asked for his favourite question from the public. He told an anecdote about a woman who brought her six-year-old son to a book-signing. She introduced Pinter as a very good writer. Her son asked her if Pinter could even do Ws.

Deborah, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary site. I would also like to thank-you again for taking the time to speak to us today.

Hard questions are always fun! Thank you for taking time to ask them.

Release Information:

Published by Twenty7 

Ebook, 3rd March 2016, £4.99 
Paperback, 28th July 2016, £7.99

Book Synopsis

The Last Thing I Remember is the startling debut thriller from Deborah Bee, with TV rights already optioned by Alan Moloney’s Parallel Films Imagine waking up and being unable to move, unable to see, unable to communicate. Your past is a blank piece of paper and you don’t even know your own name. But you can hear. And the only way to piece together your life is to listen to the people around you…

 Hello. Hello? Where’ve they gone? This is me thinking. I have woken up and I’m not there. I can hear. There is a buzzing sound and a rhythmic heaving, in out in out, and a click, click, click, click. But there is no me. My body has gone. I have disappeared. This is me thinking. That is all I can do.

Sarah is in a coma. She was mugged. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She didn’t deserve any of it. She’s a nice girl from a nice family. She’s a victim. That’s what they say. 

Kelly is in the waiting room. She’s just a kid. A typical schoolgirl. Bullied a bit, probably. She doesn’t know anything. That’s what they say. So why is she there? Why does she keep turning up? 

Can Sarah remember what happened to her, and work out who is it that keeps coming into her room at night?

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