Alia Henry and the Ghost Writer

My new novel comes out next Tuesday and I’m pumped. Some author notes to help you decide if you want to dive in…

Who is Alia? Alia Henry is the outer layer of Lady Thalia Penelope Heathcote Henry, the thin veneer she employs to deflect criticism. It is her crispy outer coating. It is her rampart. This is her ‘grounding flaw,’ without which she would be thoroughly unlikeable. She’s spoilt, self-serving, and self-destructive but because she’s a scared child at heart, we forgive her. Her minor flaw is the inability to focus or listen to anyone for even a moment. It has been her undoing at times. Her major flaw is her ability to trust anyone and everyone at the drop of a hat. She’s not discerning at all. Ever.

Her tragic flaw is she misses/loves/loathes her destructive, abusive parents and sometimes thinks she is simply genetically destined to follow their path.

You can listen to Alia’s playlist here. You can see my influences here on Pinterest.

We get it, she’s broken. Is she a Strong Female Protagonist? Absolutely, but this doesn’t mean she’s perfect. Okay, she’s tall, young, slim, and gorgeous; she is an Instagram star. Despite her looks and wealth, Alia is very human and fiercely feminist but she has all those flaws and consequently makes poor choices. She needs to grow up. Inspired by Eddie and Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, Fleabag, and Nadia Vulvokov from Russian Doll, she’s a great friend, generous with her money (and her drugs!), helps boost upcoming comedians in her live shows. She lives what she believes is an utterly free-range life and encourages her readers to do the same, surely sometimes with disastrous results. But unlike Patsy and Eddie, her privilege is not lost on her.

The book easily passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test (A measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added but essential I think.) We’re not setting the bar terribly high, but you’d be surprised by how few movies pass this test, even ones with female leads like Men in Black 3. Don’t get me started on that movie…

Is it a romance? In a word, Yes. It’s a #slowburn romance with no sex and a couple of HEAs (Happily Ever Afters) I only discovered after writing this that there is a trope called the ‘scarred hero’. Phillip is the scarred hero.

Who is Phillip? Is he the love interest? Ah, Phillip. Still waters run deep. He’s all rippling muscles and strong jawline but I hope he’s not a walking cliche. He’s a lot like my husband; He’s a good man, a kind man, a deep thinker and he laughs on the inside. Unlike my husband, Phillip has been damaged by war. He’s suffering but he knows the key to surviving and thriving is in helping others.

Is it a ghost story? Are there supernatural elements? No and yes. It’s a little bit like magical realism. Weird stuff happens and Alia accepts it almost without question, but then I’ve foreshadowed that aspect of her personality. She’s a ride or die chick. There are dreams but it’s absolutely not all a dream in the end!! Would I do that to you?

Why a crumbling chateau in the Loire? Why not? Write what you love, they say. After writing the first draft of Alia (back when she was still called Ella…) I realised I have a penchant for writing about old houses. This is not a shock. I am a fan of historical homes, and studied and worked in Interior Design for years. Hotel Deja Vu was set in an old mansion in Paris. Alia Henry is set in an old chateau, its lands have been sold off and the modern world is pressing in on every side. My new Work In Progress, The Circle, has an old house, the estate of the main character’s grandmother. Another first draft, set aside at present, includes a family home with a hidden library full of contraband books inspired by Fahrenheit 451. There is always an old house with secret rooms, an old family, a time travel or time slip element. I believe a psychologist would read me, literally, like a book.

Alia is a comedian. How did this character trait come about? A friend told me I should write a funny book because all my stories are too serious. Making her a comedian gave me carte blanche to shamelessly tell jokes in the story. Plus doing a stand-up gig is on my bucket-list.

Isn’t that just lazy writing? Isn’t it self-indulgent to give your characters such obviously self-biographical traits? I saw this question asked in a writing group on Facebook recently. Alia is a writer. Phillip is a writer. Of my other characters, Braith is a writer and Camryn is an artist. Write what you know they say! I know what it is to be an artist and I know what it is to write and deeply desire to have some kind of impact on the world around me through that writing. I am currently writing about a character who is a tech billionaire and I know little about tech and nothing about being a billionaire!

Much to my husband’s horror, I am also writing about a woman who murders her husband and manipulate social media to get away with it…

Who is my audience? A couple of Advance Copy readers have suggested my language is a little complex. I’ve read back through the manuscript with an eye to using more simple language where I can or improving my ‘shows’ to better convey my meaning. However sometimes I adhere to the above quote from Dorothy Parker, to magnificently disregard the reader who cannot follow. That sounds SO ARROGANT but what’s wrong with having to look up a word or two? Someone on Facebook said the term aide-de-camp, used to describe Phillip in the description/blurb, was enough to turn her off reading the book. That’s fine. I swapped the word for ‘assistant’ on the Amazon description but it doesn’t neatly sum up Phillip’s role the way aide-de-camp does, nor does it allude gently to his military background. Perhaps this is hubris but then maybe if someone is turned off by a word like that, they won’t like the rest of the story. Saved them wasting their time. Saved them writing a 1-star review…

Thanks for reading my thoughts on my new novel. If you want to check it out, it’s available to buy directly from my website, Amazon and Kobo.

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