As you know, I love writers and I love writing. Valentina Giambanco, whose fine debut novel The Gift Of Darkness was reviewed last week, kindly agreed to be interviewed about how he gets those pesky words on the page.
Giambanco was born in Italy and came to live in the UK after her Italian A Levels. She read English and Drama at Goldsmiths College and afterwards started working in film as an editor’s apprentice in a 35mm cutting room, then worked on many award-winning UK and US pictures from Four Weddings and a Funeral to Enigma, Beautiful Creatures and Secrets and Lies. V.M. Giambanco lives in London.
Absolutely. Film editing is storytelling and if you are in a cutting room – or in an editing suite – you take all the elements of a film, from photography to performance, and bring them together. Hopefully you distil what you need from each to create the story. It was a very useful background to have and has had an enormous impact on rhythm, character development and the timing of each scene.
What’s your writing process? What comes first, plot or character?
The first idea for the book came from the relationship between two characters: a detective and a criminal, and the story developed around them. At the same time there was quite a lot of plotting because the story flips back and forth between the present and an event that happened twenty-five years ago. Come to think of it, I don’t have an absolute answer for this question: I started with an event but what followed was shaped by the characters and the nature of their actions.
Take us through a typical writing day for you?
I so wish that I had a typical writing day. My ideal would be to get to the laptop as early as possible in the morning, reread a little of what I’d written the day before and continue until the next natural stop in the story. I think better when I’m walking and in the early phases of a book there is much ambling around my local parks – usually entirely oblivious to what’s happening around me. Real life means I don’t always get to sit down and write first thing, and yet I’m aware that whatever I’m doing – writing a blog piece or editing another manuscript – the story is always simmering in the background.
Who are the authors you love, and why?
How long have you got? There are so many authors I love that it’s hard to know where to start. Some of my all-time favourites are Jane Austen for the combination of comedy, social commentary and emotion; Raymond Chandler for his wit and the elegance of his prose; Stephen King for writing about children and their private world like no other; Thomas Harris for changing forever the way I read, and write, about modern everyday monsters. I could go on…
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve ever had to learn about writing?
I love this quote by Iris Murdoch: “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.” It is not a particularly positive attitude but occasionally it feels so true. The hardest lesson about writing is that your original idea might in fact be far superior to your talent and your skills and the best thing you can do, and the only thing you can do, is work like hell to catch up.
How do you deal with feedback?
Well, I tend to remember every word that’s less than positive and only vaguely recall the wholly favourable. Though I don’t think that’s very unusual for a writer. You tend to tie yourself in knots about something someone said and forget three other people said exactly the opposite. Working in film editing has left me with a healthy regard for collaboration and I completely enjoyed the process of editing the manuscript with my editor at Quercus, Jo Dickinson. If you’re working with the right people it’s absolutely essential to take on board their feedback.
If I had finished the book ten years ago it would have been very different. There is nothing in it that relates to my life, it is entirely a work of fiction. However, everything I have read and seen has become part of how I write.
Give me some advice about writing…
I’d say write the story that you really want to write. It takes so much energy and passion and enthusiasm to bring a novel to completion – especially a first novel. And, once it’s done and you have let it rest a few days, just get out the blue marker (or the colour of your choice) and read it like someone else wrote it.
And what’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…
If you have written something it’s a good idea to make sure you’re sending it to the right people: that the literary agent has an interest in that particular genre, that the publishers are indeed accepting unsolicited manuscripts. The Writers And Artists Yearbook is the source of all wisdom here.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing a second book set in Seattle, with the characters who have survived the first one.