Today, I’m interviewing author Ann Thorsson. Her book Downhill is one of the best things I’ve read last year, and it’s a great pleasure to have her here today.
Your book Downhill is described as “a dramatic Romeo and Juliet set in the 1980’s coal mining North”. Yet, it isn’t a bit by bit retelling of the classic Shakespeare tragedy. How does the story of Ged and Julie relate to that of Romeo and Juliet?
It’s based on the “essence” of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – a love story with characters from the opposite ends of the social scale. Julie is a spoilt, only-child from a stiff, professional family, whereas Ged is from a large, loving, but rough mining family. They both studied Romeo and Juliet at school, and realise their similarities, which is why Ged affectionately calls Julie his “Lady Juliet”. Just like Shakespeare’s love-struck pair, Ged and Julie elope, although with more success than the original couple. That said, their life together is not without its drama, social challenges and family tragedy. And, just like Juliet, Julie meets with a…
Well, that would be giving the ending away, wouldn’t it!
Was it a challenge to present dialogues in the Derbyshire slang while appealing to readers from all over the world?
One of the things that I learned during my Advanced Creative Writing course was that while dialogue should convey the voice of the character and their environment, it should also be easy to read. I therefore tempered the dialogue slightly to make sure that it still conveyed “Northerness”, while being readable for a wider audience. I also tried not to use too much local slang – just enough to keep the dialogue natural without being too challenging.
One of the first things that caught my attention on Downhill was the cover art. What does it represent?
Great to hear that the cover artwork caught your attention – that’s what an author likes to hear!
I wanted to have quite a stark and striking design, and I think my photographer friend, Heather Burns, captured exactly what I had in mind.
The pit-head winding gear has quite a few representations – first of all, the setting is in the mining north during a time when the coal industry was under a lot of uncertainty. Secondly, young Ged starts off his working life down the pit, only for the black stuff to become the bane of his life. And finally, the downward slope of the gear provides a metaphoric illustration for life going ‘downhill’.
The orange tones of the cover were chosen to make it ‘stand out from the crowd’, so to speak.
How long did it take you to finish this book? How was the writing process?
I started writing Downhill as the final examinable component of the Advanced Creative Writing module when I was studying at the Open University. It received good feedback, and was encouraged to carry on – which I did!
The actual writing of the manuscript took around eighteen months, including my own proofreading and editing. I created family trees for the main characters, drew a map of the fictional town of Castle Ridge, and created a timeline of events (both real-time events, and for the storyline). Although the story was outlined, a lot of it grew organically during the writing process – the characters, their conversations, the events – often took over, so I let it run while I was writing.
Once completed, I gave copies of the manuscript to about five or six friends for their feedback and suggestions (and more editing/polishing!). I submitted the manuscript to a local publisher in Iceland, but it was rejected. I then looked to the UK and found UK Book Publishing, which is a Northern publishing-service company. They accepted it, and helped with proofreading, editing, typesetting and publishing, using the cover artwork that I provided.
From inception to publication, I would say the whole process took about two years.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on two projects: my second novel, Dark Dreams, is (at the moment of this interview) in typesetting, gearing towards publication. This novel came to me as a bad dream! It was so vivid that when I woke up the next morning I jotted down about six pages of notes. I then thought “shit – that’s the outline for my next novel!”. So that’s how Dark Dreams came about. I’m really excited for its release. It’s a dark and dramatic storyline, with a supernatural twist.
The other project that I’m working on is an anthology of poetry. It’s a joint project with a close friend of mine – her artwork is just so inspirational that I found words literally pouring out of my pen! We hope to publish it as a “coffee-table book”, with a part of the proceeds going towards a local good cause.
Thanks for the great talk, Ann!
Buy Downhill online at: https://www.amazon.com/Downhill-dramatic-Romeo-Juliet-mining/dp/1912183978/