Novelist and rocker Stevie Turner talks about the process of writing, life in the East End of London, guitar solos and meeting Mathew Manning.
1. You’ve written four novels. Can you describe the process you use from idea to publication?
At the moment I am just dredging up memories from yesteryear and condensing them together in chapters for some of my work. As you know, parts of my debut novel The Porn Detective are based on actual events. I just had to write it all down when I was finally free of being one. After attending a Pilates class for a year I found I was spending more time observing than bothering to do the exercises properly, because the idea of ‘The Pilates Class’ was forming in my head for my second novel. A TV news bulletin gave me the idea for the third book ‘A House Without Windows’, and I pulled out the memories from my four years of working in a residential home to write Lily: A Short Story.
When I finish writing a novel I read through it a few times to check for spelling and grammatical errors, then leave it alone for a week or so and then read through it again. When I’m satisfied I always send samples to a few agents to get some feedback. This takes several weeks whereby you wait in hope that this time an agency will like your work. With The Porn Detective, I had a terrible week with one agency where I was told that on the Friday afternoon they would tell me whether or not they would take the book on after a big conference. I waited and waited, but unsurprisingly the answer came back in the negative. I am now waiting again as there is interest in my fifth novel from two agencies (two others have rejected it), but I have grown a thicker skin this time.
When the inevitable rejections come through, I will dust myself off, copy my manuscript, and set it up for Smashwords’ publication (they seem to like everything justified to the left and no tabs). After this I will publish on Amazon.co.uk and then start on the next project. I always like to have something to write about.
2. Some of the subjects you write about are quite emotional, sometimes harrowing. Does this have an effect on you?
I’ve lived through being a porn detective and this is the novel that had the most effect on me; having to live it all again as I was writing it down (the experience was quite therapeutic though). A House Without Windows was based on a news item I read which fascinated me at the time and gave me the idea, although my story is completely made up and had no effect on me at all as I was creating it. Lily; a Short Story, was based on my experience of working at weekends in the kitchens of a residential home when my sons were babies. Some of the carers were lovely, but I found out that others were definitely ones to avoid on a dark night; let alone give them responsibility for looking after your dearly loved elderly relative.
3. What does your family think about your writing and you being an author?
They know I have written a book regarding the cancer diagnosis and treatment I had, but none of them know I write fiction. Hence the pseudonym; I can write what I like and they have no inkling at all. The only person who knows about Stevie Turner is my husband, and they’ll have to pull all his nails out before he says anything!
4. Can you choose one outstanding memory from your childhood?
I must have been about 9 or 10. My headmistress, the formidable Miss Anderson, took me in her car to the Festival Hall on the Embankment, where I was entranced listening to the London Symphony Orchestra playing Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ and other works. Why she picked me out I have no idea. I was always musically orientated, and perhaps she noticed this. It was even exciting travelling up to the West End in her car, as my parents did not own one at the time.
Nowadays people would be quick to put other connotations on a teacher picking out a single pupil like this, but there was never anything remotely sinister in her intentions. I remember that I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon out, and that was the end of it.
When my primary school had an open day about 5 or 6 years’ ago I went along, and there was poor Miss Anderson; 92, shrivelled up with age and in a wheelchair, but still sprightly and not at all senile. The sight of this strong, fearless, well-built lady feeble and frail with age was most upsetting, and unfortunately she did not remember me at all.
5. Which song lyrics do you relate to?
Frank Sinatra singing ‘It Was a Very Good Year.’ The rich timbre of his voice and the poignant, wistful lyrics always make me want to cry, although I’m not usually an over-emotional person. He’s an older man looking back at his life, and I’d love to say that my life has always been like ‘vintage wine poured from fine oak kegs, that pours sweet and clear’. However, although some of it undoubtedly has been, I’m sad to say that sometimes the wine has been a little on the corky side………
6. What do you think about people who criticise self-publishing?
They are probably looking down from the lofty heights of agent land, and have forgotten the struggle it took to find their way there.
7. How do you decide when a novel is finished?
When I can’t think of any other way of extending the storyline. I usually get to this state after about 55,000 words. This suits me as I usually become bored with it by then and want to move on to the next project.
8. If you met your hero what’s the first question you would ask them?
My hero is the surgeon who probably saved my life in a gruelling 6 hour operation. I don’t see him now, but if we ever met up again I’d ask him if he thought I’d still be alive 10 years after the diagnosis of advanced cancer.
9. With ebooks and self-publishing becoming more popular where do you think literature is heading?
I’m not sure there will be physical books in generations to come; just as I’m not sure there will be any shops left to buy them in anyway. The reader would have to wallow through the mire of millions and millions of e-books to find the chosen few worth reading.
10. If you became Prime minister, what would be the first law you introduce?
Ban all monetary benefits except for those genuinely unable to work through illness or disability. There would then be a huge stash of money left over to shore up the crumbling NHS and the education system. There is a slowly increasing work-shy underclass who have no intention of ever earning a living at all, and are happy to live parasitically off the state. I was brought up on a Council estate in the 1970’s; people living there then were decent hardworking types who worked but could not afford a mortgage. Times changed in the following 20 years; my mother moved out to be near me in the 1990’s due to the violence and drugged-up low-life living there. Nobody worked; it had become what’s known as a ‘sink’ estate. Fortunately it was demolished and reinvented as a des res area for bread roll throwing Hooray Henrys. Flats there now are going at about half a million pounds each. Poor old Dad is probably writhing in his grave at the thought of it.
11. What’s the greatest guitar solo?
Ooh – that’s a good one. Somewhere out there in iTunes there is the most awesomely long and intricate version of Slash playing the theme tune from The Godfather part 1. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, nor will again I expect. Also Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Sloe Gin’ stands out, as does Dave Gilmour’s solo in ‘Comfortably Numb’. I could go on and on; Dave Prichard’s solo in Aftermath, and Steve Morse playing the solo from ‘Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming’. My son is rather majestic on the guitar as well!
12. Do you have one top tip for writers?
Don’t get too downhearted when the rejection letters start arriving. This is a very subjective game; sooner or later somebody will like your writing. I’ve recently heard a story where a writer finally found an agent after 12 years – don’t give up!
13. Have you ever abandoned an idea for a novel after you started writing?
No, I usually have the outline in my head, and once it’s there in my brain it won’t go away until I write it all down.
14. If you became a millionaire author what would you buy?
A big house with a swimming pool on the Isle of Wight, my favourite place in the whole wide world. It would have to be big enough for my entire immediate family to stay in as well, when they all come to visit. The family is ever-expanding; I’ll be getting a fourth grandchild after Christmas. My sons seem to be pleasingly fertile.
15. What do you miss about living in the east end of London?
The markets on a Saturday afternoon. Going ‘Down the Roman’ for new clothes, and also walking through Crisp Street market on the way home from school was part of my life as a young girl. I would always see a friend or relative to talk to, and there was the excitement of standing for hours looking through the old 45 records set out on a stall in the middle of Crisp Street market. There was the pie and mash shop and often a new dress to buy in Roman Road market, and the atmosphere of the markets was something I will always remember. Nowadays it has totally changed and I wouldn’t want to live there at all.
16. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: do you prefer Rooney Mara or Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander?
I’ve only seen the film with Rooney Mara in, and she seemed perfectly cast. Unfortunately I have never heard of Noomi Rapace.
17. Is literature a woman’s world or a man’s world?
Either. Some jobs are more male orientated, and some (like mine) are more geared to females. With writing it does not matter; a man can write just as well as a woman, and vice versa.
18. Which is your favourite autobiography?
Matthew Manning’s ‘One Foot in the Stars’. I went to him for healing after my cancer operations. He had cured his own wife of cancer, and was in such demand that he could only see people who were suffering from cancer. He took me on, and after a few healing sessions told me to “Go away and enjoy life; there is nothing wrong with you.” To this day I do not know whether it was the surgeon who saved my life, or Mr Manning.
19. What do you think will be the crowd reaction to Metallica at Glastonbury?
I’m not sure Glastonbury is the right festival for Metallica; they would be better off playing at Download or Sonisphere. However, doubtless it will be raining there, so Metallica will definitely make them forget they are soaking wet.
20. In a film about your life who would you want to play Stevie Turner?
Obviously it’ll have to be somebody British, middle aged, and with a sense of humour. I think Jennifer Saunders would make a pretty good job of it!
Thanks Chris, for posing such thought-provoking questions.
Stevies novels are available at Smashwords and Amazon, and Lily, A Short Story is available from Smashwords.