Debut novelist Tasha Kavanagh has been garnering high praise for Things We Have in Common, a dark and twisted coming of age thriller. A former film editor (including Twelve Monkeys and The Talented My Ripley), Tasha cut her writing teeth on children’s books.
Tell me a little about Things We Have in Common?
Things We Have in Common is a dark, literary thriller. When 15 year old Yasmin, an overweight, social outcast, sees a sinister man watching Alice Taylor – the girl she herself obsesses about – from the school fence, she gets it into her head that he’s planning to take her. Believing that she can save Alice and so win her friendship, Yasmin sets about finding out as much as she can about the man… and then she meets him. Does this man pose a genuine threat and if so, can Yasmin save Alice? Or is this just another one of Yasmin’s fantasies and is he really her soulmate?
How long have you been writing?
I always wanted to be a writer – it took me a while to get there, though! I received my MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia when I was 21, but then, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write, I took a detour into film editing where I spent many years working on features including Twelve Monkeys, Seven Years in Tibet and The Talented Mr Ripley. Between films my first children’s book was published. That was 15 years ago. When I retired from the film world to bring up my daughter, I began writing more consistently and in the following years had 10 books for children published. I also worked as a picture book editor for a literary consultancy. Then, two years ago I decided to try to write a novel – something that had always been a dream but that I wasn’t sure I could do since the stories I had written were only 300 words! I started, though, and kept going and the result is Things We Have in Common.
What inspires the ideas for your books?
All sorts of things – music, art, books, things I’ve heard about. Not consciously, though. They sit in my subconscious, then surface as though from thin air when I write. A few months before I started writing Things We Have in Common, a young girl at my daughter’s school said a man tried to grab her when she went back to fetch her coat from the playing field. Only once I’d written the first sentence of the novel did I realise the impact that had had on me. It wasn’t so much the fact of the man; it was that no one knew whether the girl was telling the truth. Then, about half way through the novel, I suddenly remembered The Collector by John Fowles. I’d read it when I was 15 and though consciously I’d forgotten about it, it had obviously been there in my subconscious, influencing me.
How does writing for adults differ from writing for children?
I don’t think the writing itself does differ, other than the amount of it! I never think about the age of the reader when I’m writing – just focus on trying to tell a great story. The main difference, I suppose, when writing for children, is that it’s important to have a subject matter that’s relevant to them. Not many four year olds are going to relate to the desperation of a man made redundant, for example. But because adults have been children, they can relate to all kinds of situations faced by young or older protagonists.
How do you go about plotting a story?
Organically! When I started Things We Have in Common, I had the opening image of Yasmin on the playing field watching the man watching Alice, but I could feel the story. I could feel Yasmin’s sense of connection to this sinister stranger and knew the tone of the story – of the ending. Every writer works differently, but for me, so long as I have a sense of where my characters will end up, I like to discover the route as I go. It’s true that characters take on a life of their own as you spend time with them, and often when writing Things We Have in Common, Yasmin did something I wasn’t expecting her to. It’s one of the things that makes the act of writing so compelling.
Are you a fiction reader? Who are the writers you admire?
I’ve always loved reading, though I’m not very fast! There are so many authors I’m crazy about that write for all different ages. Dr Seuss, Daphne du Maurier (Don’t Look Now is a masterpiece!), Kevin Brooks and Patricia Highsmith come immediately to mind. There are lots other others, though, and many more I’m yet to discover.
Are you a disciplined, nine-to-five writer, or do you prefer to go with the creative flow?
Both. I think it’s important to commit to what you’re doing, but also to be kind to yourself because writing a novel is tough; it’s a bumpy ride of highs and lows and you have to accept that, refuse to give up and just keep trucking!
Do you have any advice for would-be writers?
I’d say make a silent commitment to yourself to write your story and create time to spend with it. Try to feel, as well as to think, your way. Remember that you need to go through the hopeless days to get to the wonderful ones – and that as long as you are spending dedicated time with your idea, you are productively writing, even if at the end of a day you end up with fewer words than you started with!
Have you visited Blackpool before?
I had a dear friend from Blackpool who tragically died in a climbing accident. His mum had a shop along the front and on the two occasions I went to Blackpool we helped out, selling miniature Blackpool Towers.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing my second novel. It’s another dark, character-driven story. I seem to be uncontrollably drawn to people’s interior worlds. Secrets and lies. Those are the things that really get under my skin.
TASHA KAVANAGH is at the Brunswick Room, Blackpool Central Library, July 2 at 12.30pm.
You can book via the website or at the library.
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