The Undoing of Arlo Knott by Heather Child
What led you into writing?
No idea – I’ve been writing stuff ever since I was a small child. My first book was entitled ‘How to grow trees’ and the first chapter was as follows: ‘Plant some tree seeds.’
How does a typical day look?
If it’s a writing day, I’ll chain-drink tea and coffee in the morning, which is the best time for creative drafting, then move onto some planning or possibly publicity work in the afternoon and evening. It’s usually worth losing the fight with a biscuit if it means getting the next bit done.
In what ways do your characters test your abilities?
The main challenge is to get inside the head of someone hugely different to yourself, especially if you don’t immediately identify with them. It’s sometimes hard to quell my own inner monologue and find something more authentic to the character.
What’s your setup?
Desk at the back of the house, with laptop. Or sometimes out in the garden with the frogs.
What lasting effects have your favourite authors had on your writing and style?
When drafting, it’s easy to slip into cliché or a sort of clunky placeholder text, so I’ll read the work of people who really know what they’re doing – people like Donna Tartt or Ann Patchett – for quality. I’ll dip into the Latin American magic realists – often Jorge Luis Borges or Julio Cortazar – to broaden my horizons, and I’ll read someone like Martin Amis to remind myself how to write confident prose that doesn’t give a damn.
What do you do for inspiration?
Roam the countryside, if I get the chance, or travel further afield. Routine isn’t great for the imagination, and a change of scenery always gets you out of a rut, so to speak.
What repeating themes do you find yourself pulling into your stories?
Decision-making, the sense of a right path in life, and people being controlled by their egos or constructs of their psyche.
There also tend to be a lot of plants. Someone once complained about the amount of vegetation in everything I write.
How do you wind down?
Walking or wild swimming is pretty good, followed by a relaxing read. Or, when I’ve forgotten what conversation sounds like, going for a beer with friends.
What sort of challenges do you regularly overcome while world-building?
It’s the classic see-saw of originality and plausibility… sometimes you want to create a setting that is so otherworldly it’s unlike anything the reader has imagined. However, they HAVE to be able to imagine it, or it won’t work, so you look for ways to anchor it to concepts and images that are already familiar.
What’s the most useful advice you could give to an aspiring author?
Get to know your story and its world inside out, so your prose will be free from anxiety, and use tangible, sensory imagery. Read Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, and don’t let setbacks put you off.
Tell us about the book you’re promoting.
The Undoing of Arlo Knott is about a man who has an ‘undo’ button for life. He can charm any woman, impress any friend, but a mistake in Arlo’s traumatic childhood is fast catching up with him, and the temptation to undo, undo and keep undoing might be too much to resist…
It’s crossover fiction – mainstream with a slight fantasy twist. What would you undo, if you had the chance?