Cally Taylor. Hello!
Hello Nik! Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog.
First things first (let’s get this out of the way). Your book, the brilliant Heaven Can Wait, made me cry. How does it feel to have written something that made a grown man weep?
Pretty gobsmacked to be honest, and a little bit guilty for upsetting you! When I wrote ‘Heaven Can Wait’ I never imagined that
a) men would read it and
b) it would touch them
but I’ve heard back from a couple of men who’ve read it now and had nothing but positive comments (the ones with negative comments probably decided to keep them to themselves!). Interestingly the part of the book that made you cry made me cry when I wrote it and I think maybe that’s what touches people, the genuine emotion I put into ‘Heaven Can Wait’.
Can you tell us what the book’s about?
‘Heaven Can Wait’ is a supernatural romantic-comedy (yes, despite the crying there are funny bits in it!) about a woman called Lucy Brown who dies the night before her wedding and ends up in Limbo. She’s given the choice between going to heaven to be reunited with her parents or returning to earth to complete a task that will allow her to become a ghost so she can be reunited with her fiancé Dan. Lucy decides to return to earth, joins two other ‘wannabe ghosts’ in a grotty house in North London, and has twenty-one days to find love for a total stranger. The pressure is on, and it just gets greater when she realises her so-called best friend Anna is intent on making a move on Dan.
When and why did you start writing it?
Before ‘Heaven Can Wait’ I’d previously started two novels but ditched them when I ran out of steam/enthusiasm and kept telling myself ‘I’ll finish a novel one day’. In the summer of 2006 one of my best friends from school died suddenly and unexpectedly and, as people often do in such situations, I re-evaluated my outlook on life. Time was precious I realised, and I couldn’t keep putting off writing a novel. By March 2007 the idea for ‘Heaven Can Wait’ was so clear in my head I had to sit down and write it. Three months and three weeks later I finished the first draft.
Love, in its different forms, is something that features a great deal in the book. Can you talk to us about that, about ‘love’ as a theme and a thing? Do you believe that love conquers all?
Wow – big question! People are motivated by different things – greed, desire, ambition etc but I think the most fascinating motivating force is love. Love is so hugely powerful it can compel people to do all kinds of insane/brave/unselfish things and it’s the reason Lucy overcomes obstacle after obstacle in her desperate attempt to be reunited with the love of her life. Can love conquer all? Not always unfortunately. Sometimes love can be unhealthy, sometimes it’s unrequited and sometimes people are so broken that even love can’t save them – but those are subjects I think I might save for future books!
Me! Er…someone who gets excited by technology and gadgets, someone who sits slightly uncomfortably on the edge of the social norm, someone who’d rather escape into a virtual world than live in the real one. I like geeks. They’re not trying to be ‘cool’, they just like what they like and they don’t care who knows it.
Would you say that Heaven Can Wait is a story about accepting people and forgiveness?
Hmmm… there’s certainly a lot of acceptance and forgiveness in ‘Heaven Can Wait’. Lucy makes a lot of assumptions about the people she meets when she returns to earth and it’s only through really getting to know them that her opinions change. She does forgive quite a few people too. Having said that I’d say that, at heart, ‘Heaven Can Wait’ is about putting other people’s dreams and needs above your own.
What do you think every great story has to have?
I think every great story has to have a character whose actions are driven by some kind of unrelenting desire/motivation. I also think the character has to undergo some kind of transformation/change of perception or, if they don’t, the reader does.
What’s the best bit about being an author?
Holding my book in my hands. That’s the biggest thrill of all.
Vanessa Gebbie said she enjoyed the originality of your ideas and wants to know what you put on your cornflakes in the morning.
I don’t! I have peanut butter on Ryvita! (I’m all about low GI foods at the moment). Maybe that’s the secret? Actually I blame Enid Blyton for my vivid imagination. If you were raised on tales of strange worlds at the top of the tree you’re bound to come up with some pretty strange worlds of your own.
And Annie Clarkson would like to know how much influence Boot Camp had on your writing.
Boot Camp taught me about the fundamentals of good fiction – good openings, strong characterisation, pace, plot, theme and endings to name but a few – and that, in order to improve as a writer you need to be disciplined. You need to set yourself targets, aim high and actually write instead of just talking about it.
How has writing Heaven Can Wait changed you as a writer?
Writing ‘Heaven Can Wait’ helped me find my voice as a writer. It made me realise what I do best – create stories that balance humour with emotion.
‘Cally Taylor’ is going to be entered into the OED and you can write its definition. What does it say?
Writer, dreamer, geek.
If you were a musical instrument, what would you be?
Can I be a metronome instead? Once you set me off I just keep on going… (a bit like my answers to this interview!)
So, I enjoyed Heaven Can Wait a huge amount (I loved it) – what else would you recommend I read?
‘After You’d Gone’ by Maggie O’Farrell.
[Nik: Interesting. I'll look that up because I loved The Distance Between Us...]
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
There’s a lot to be said for dreaming about writing, reading about writing and talking about writing but you’re not actually a writer unless you sit down and write.
Any tips for those dreaming of being published?
Write the novel you’re compelled to write. Write something that moves you and/or makes you laugh (or, if you write horror, genuinely scares you). I think readers/agents/publishers can tell if you’re faking it and have written something you hope will be commercial rather than something you were genuinely passionate about.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just delivered my second novel (hopefully out by the end of 2010) to my editor and am waiting for her feedback. I’ve spent the last year working on it and am looking forward to a few weeks off over Christmas so I can re-charge my batteries, indulge in some DVD boxed set marathons and finally read some of the books on my teetering ‘to be read’ pile. I’m hoping the break from writing will spark an idea for novel three.
Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you for a lovely interview. You’re a very nice man J