Today’s the day: I’ve sent my novel Swan Song out into the world (which feels a lot like saying goodbye to your child on the first day of school).
People have been asking me where the idea for Swan Song came from. The truth is: I don’t remember exactly. I know, from my journal, that I began writing the book early last year, and I know that the central theme – and the final sentence of the book – were with me for a long while before that. But I don’t recall exactly when the idea crystallised, because, I think, the book is so close to my heart, it has always been there.
Now that I can stand back and see the book as a whole, though, I can see clearly some of the inspirations:
* London: I lived in the Big Smoke for several years in my twenties, and the ‘crazy, colourful’ city, as I call it in Swan Song, had a profound impact on me. I loved all the culture. Many of the settings in the book – Kensington, Chiswick, the West End, Covent Garden, the South Bank – are places I know and love.
* Performance arts: I fell in love with the theatre at the age of eleven, when my grandparents took me to see my first show (Barnum). The theatre itself – the architecture, the lighting, the velvet seats, the atmosphere – and the spectacle, of course. Next came Starlight Express in the West End, Phantom, Oliver, Les Mis… I was hooked to the point that I threw myself into drama, dance and singing (which is how I came to be in Guys and Dolls with James Corden). By my twenties I’d long since given up any ambition to tread the boards myself, but I still loved performance arts so much. I’ve seen many brilliant musicals over the years, and plays – and ballets. Play Without Words at the National Theatre and, more recently, Giselle at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, were especially inspirational for Swan Song.
* Motherless daughters: Some years ago I was involved in a documentary film called The (Dead Mothers) Club, which is about motherless daughters – women who grew up without their mothers. This was very thought-provoking, opening the door to a whole world of meaning. Beautiful, comforting, liberating meaning. Swan Song isn’t an autobiography – Ava’s story is not my own – but it is infused with my own emotions and learnings on being a motherless daughter.
So there you have it, Swan Song, a coming-of-age novel about family and first love, in the city of hopes and dreams. Not an easy write, by any means, but one I’m proud to put on the bookshelf, alongside The Ceruleans.