My new shrink asks me, ‘What things do you remember about being very young?’ It’s like looking into a murky river, I say. Memories flash near the surface like fish coming up for flies. The past peeps out, startles me, and then is gone…
Amanda secludes herself in her bedroom, no longer willing to face the outside world. Gradually, she pieces together the story of her life: her brothers have had to abandon her, her mother scarcely talks to her, and the Wacky Man could return any day to burn the house down. Just like he promised.
As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?
I like to think I have my finger on the pulse of the book world, but this time I was taken by surprise. All of a sudden, my favourite book blogs were full of Legend Press, #legend100, the Luke Bitmead Bursary and the debut novel by Lyn G Farrell – released on 2 May – The Wacky Man. I quickly realised I wanted to be part of it all – and that The Wacky Man must go straight onto my “must read” list. Well, just look at these wonderful reviews on Linda’s Book Bag and Random Things Through My Letterbox, wouldn’t you?
And when Lyn noticed my interest and got in touch to ask if I’d like to be part of her launch celebration, I couldn’t have been more delighted.
Hello Lyn, and welcome to Being Anne – a little introduction to start with?
Hi Anne. I’m a Leeds author, working full time as an online tutor and writing around my job. I started writing late in life which shows it’s never too late to try new things and I took about ten years, from initial ideas to completion, to write The Wacky Man. I learned as much as I could about writing in that decade and am overjoyed that all the hard work has paid off. When I’m not writing or working, I like reading, studying Tibetan and being on my allotment. I also get out now and again to the cinema or to the pub with friends.
You already know that The Wacky Man came to my notice because of the wonderful reviews. Why do you think the story has had such an impact on everyone who’s read it?
I think the book is unusual in giving a battered child centre stage in which to speak directly to the reader and take you into her world. I knew that the subject would be an uncomfortable one and by its very nature lend to a raw and difficult style. The viewpoints of the authorities are also deliberately minimal because I wanted readers to feel Amanda’s story rather than think about it.
Has the reaction surprised you, or did you know (or, at least, hope) that you had something really special?
I’m actually overwhelmed with the response. It was something I was hoping for but I had so many years of struggling to get what I had in my head onto the page, in the way I needed it to be, I had some doubts along the way. I was also worried that the difficult subject matter might put people off. I’m so glad that people are reacting to it the way they are. It’s very important to me, on a personal level, that Amanda’s story is heard.
The cover of The Wacky Man is incredibly striking – I’d pick it up if I saw it on a shelf even if I knew nothing about the book. Tell me where it came from…
That’s all down to the fantastic graphic designer Legend Press used, Simon Levy. The cover reflects the involvement of the education psychology departments with Amanda. I also think it links so cleverly to mental processes that are a theme throughout the story. The more you look at it, the more some aspects recede and others are then is revealed. I absolutely love it.
After ten years in the making, I’m guessing it can’t have been easy stepping from behind your keyboard and into the spotlight. I watched you receiving the Luke Bitmead bursary on YouTube, listened to your interview on Radio Leeds (2 hours 10 minutes in)… how are you finding it all?
I’m a very sociable person but I’m certainly unused to radio interviews and ad hoc speeches in front of people I don’t know! I thought I’d struggle with events such as the ones you’ve mentioned but I am really starting to enjoy them. They involve lovely people who want to put you at ease and learn more about your work and that’s such a positive thing to experience. The radio interview was great, Andrew was a fantastic host and made me feel so welcome. I’m actually looking forward to many more of them. I have met amazing people and made new friends along the way and I don’t want that to stop any time soon!
I know The Wacky Man draws on your personal life experience – is it difficult to have that repeatedly exposed?
I’ve worked very hard on my own healing for many years before I’d even thought about writing The Wacky Man because I was aware from being a teenager that I’d been affected by my horrific childhood experiences. It’s actually very empowering to feel that the issues the book raises might help people’s understanding the lifelong effects of abuse, especially when the children are very young when they endure extreme violence and haven’t developed the coping methods older people would have.
I don’t say that it might never be difficult again, or that I might become very emotional in a particular setting or situation, so I try to be mindful of that. I’m also extremely lucky that I am supported by all my sisters and brothers. We were a tightly knitted ‘resistance’ group in childhood and we’re still close now. That really helps.
What did winning the Luke Bitmead bursary mean to you (as if I need to ask… I saw your delighted face!)?
It means everything to me. I felt like someone was willing to take a risk on my novel and now that the reviews are coming in, I can see they were right in supporting the novel. The chance to work with a professional publisher and be supported by a really friendly and patient team, has been invaluable. I also feel very connected to Luke in terms of the struggles he had due to his own experiences and think his mother, Elaine, is an amazing woman who I’m happy to be able to count as a friend. I want to work with the Luke Bitmead foundation in promoting more awareness and training and a better response to mental health issues.
How are you finding working on your second novel? Are you feeling the pressure of expectation?
I’ll possibly feel the pressure of expectation when I have time to think about it properly. I started preparation for it a while ago but at the moment I’m so busy with the launch of the first one I’ve not been able to think too much about it. I’m hoping that I can put ideas about ‘The difficult second novel’ to one side and just work on it without looking to my debut novel. I can say for sure that the second novel is quite different to the first.
I noticed in one of your interviews that you said you’d like to try comedy in a future novel. Why does that appeal to you?
I particularly love books where the writer has that incredible ability to show the humour we can all find in moments of terrific sadness or stress, it makes their novels all the more convincing and gripping. I’m a huge fan of Jonathan Franzen, John Irving or Roddy Doyle (or in fact, the absolutely brilliant Happy Valley TV series by Sally Wainwright). Though it wasn’t suitable for The Wacky Man, I’d love to explore this style of writing in future novels. It seems out of my range at the moment and it’s just an ambition to give it a try.
How do you manage to fit your writing around your working life? What does a typical writing day look like?
I don’t have a typical day except it’s typical that I’ll be either getting up early to write before I start work or start writing immediately after work. I often work at weekends but I’m really trying to make sure that I don’t cloister myself away as much as I’m tempted to as I think that can be unhealthy. I’ve also just booked a week off work to concentrate on the second novel. Having the luxury of whole days devoted to writing will hopefully work wonders on progressing the new novel and I’ve factored in some walking/allotment time in the attempt to keep a writing/life balance.
It’s good to come across a Leeds based author. Does living in the North rather than the Home Counties and being within easy striking distance of London bring any challenges?
I haven’t noticed any problems yet though I’m sure there are more opportunities for bookshop readings and author events in and near to London. It only takes around two hours from Leeds so I’ve managed to get down there when I’ve needed to. It’s also a great excuse to see my niece who is studying medicine in London. Fortunately the area I’m living in is also very good for writers. Leeds is a great city with lots of writing events and festivals, not to mention Hebden Bridge, Bradford and Ilkley being close by, all of which host literature events. (Totally agree, Lyn – let’s hear it for the vibrant literary scene in West Yorkshire…) I think you’ve raised an excellent question, one I’m going to think about a lot. And I will also ask the opinions of more experienced writers, to see what they’ve found about living outside London. Forewarned is forearmed!
And what writers do you particularly admire? if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you really like them to mention?
I love hundreds and hundreds of writers and all of them have given me something special. I’ve mentioned a few above and here are quite a lot more just off the top of my head: Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood, Marge Pierce, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Dorothy Allison, Elif Shafak, Alice Munro, Carol Shields, Hilary Mantel. I also love Cormac McCarthy, Sebastian Barry, J D Salinger, John Steinbeck, Sid Smith, Kirk Vonnegut, Tin Winton, Douglas Adams (more comedy!), George Orwell, and Yevgeny Zamyatin whose incredible novel We I encourage everyone to read.
I’d love people to say my writing reminded them of any of those in the list above. The world is full of wonderful writers, some of whom I’ll have the joy of discovering in the future. I just wish I had more time to dedicate to finding them.
Lyn, thank you – it’s been a real pleasure to “meet” you. I now have a copy of The Wacky Man, and I’m really looking forward to reading and reviewing it as soon as I possibly can.
Lyn G Farrell grew up in Lancashire where she would have gone to school if things had been different. She studied Psychology as an undergraduate at the University of Leeds, later gaining a PGCET and most recently, a Masters in ICT and Education. Having worked in a number of IT and teaching roles, she is currently an online tutor in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.
Lyn is currently working on her second novel, studying creative writing with the University of East Anglia and experimenting with flash fiction. You can contact Lyn via Legend Press or via Twitter or her Facebook author page.