The Next Big Thing

by garrycraigpowell

The Next Big Thing is a sort of writers’ tag–the idea is to interview yourself about your current or next book, mention the person who tagged you, and tag five more friends. I’m grateful to my super friend and colleague Stephanie Vanderslice for tagging me. Her blog, which is at is already up. Because my current project is far from complete, I might sometimes answer with respect to the last one. I just don’t know! I can be unpredictable like that.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

I can’t give away the title of the new novel yet. It’s too good and I’m afraid someone might nick it. The last one was Stoning the Devil. I’m good at titles, I think.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Where do ideas come from? Heaven? Dreams? The murky, bubbling stew of the unconscious? All I know is that in general you don’t think of them; they visit you. There is magic in this, and in my case, there are muses. The idea for the historical novel I’m working on gripped my throat like an assassin. If I fail to fulfill its wishes I will be throttled, strangled. The same with Stoning the Devil. It’s a cliche but true all the same: you don’t choose these subjects, they choose you are. If you’re choosing consciously the material is rubbish.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction. I am only interested in writing that is art.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I like this question because it’s so symptomatic of our culture, isn’t it? We have become a culture of movie-goers rather than readers. Sitting at a conference a couple of years ago with a group of English professors, I was shocked that when they asked each other if they had read such and such, their answers were most frequently, “No, but I’ve seen the movie.” And in the Writing Department where I work, people discuss their favourite TV shows and movies with more passion than the books they have read (which are fairly infrequent topics of conversation). If you publish a book, you can be sure that most of your own colleagues will not read it, though they would watch the movie of it, as long as it’s in English and has famous, glamorous actors in it. But if I’m pressed, I would need a very charismatic man for my lead (I’m talking about the historical novel here), not too big, late middle age: Ben Kingsley would be perfect, if a little old, or Sean Penn. There are lots of women in this book. The most important one should be middle-aged, histrionic, somewhat maternal in appearance. Judi Dench twenty years ago? As for Stoning the Devil, Ralph Fiennes would make a good Colin, Penelope Cruz a great Fayruz. I could see Javier Bardem as Khalifa. Any number of French actresses for Randa: Sophie Marceau, perhaps, or the divine Emmanuelle Beart. I love those French actresses, my God! Why don’t we have women like that? 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Historical novel: a world-famous poet, playwright, novelist, playboy and war hero takes a band of Italian deserters into Dalmatia just after the First World War and starts a utopian republic there, incidentally (and accidentally) influencing the rise of fascism massively. Believe it or not, it’s a true story.

Stoning the Devil: a group of young Arab women, some from the Gulf, others Palestinian refugees, strive to find love and freedom and fulfillment in the UAE, in the face of brutal treatment by men, cultural misunderstandings and their own tragic flaws.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Stoning the Devil was published by Skylight Press in August 2012. The new book will not be self-published, though I do not have a publisher for it yet. I don’t know whether it will be agented or not. At present it isn’t.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

STD: (unfortunate acronym, eh?) several years. New one: still in the middle of it. Should be done by August. That is the Divine Plan. So perhaps a total of 10 or 11 months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

STD:  Naomi Shihab Nye said “there is no other book like this one” but the closest I can think of would be Andrew J. Keir’s Bloody Flies (which shares the story sequence format and the setting, the UAE), Hosseini’s Kite Runner (my book is more serious, less melodramatic), Mantel’s Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, or Hanan al Shaykh’s Women of Sand and Myrhh. I suppose Fadia Faqir’s Cities of Salt might be another point of comparison.

New masterpiece: G by John Berger; C by Tom McCarthy. (No, my title isn’t a single letter.) But much as I admire both these novels, mine will be very different.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Who: all the people I knew in the Middle East, for STD, especially the brave women; for the coming chef d’ oeuvre (you do realize this is tongue in cheek, don’t you? remember I’m English), the Italian poet Gabriele D’ Annunzio. What: all the demons, angels, jinni, spirits and sprites residing in my mind and wafting around in the ether.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Stoning the Devil provides, I think, not only a fascinating glimpse into life in the contemporary Gulf, particularly into the lives of women there, but introduces the reader to extraordinarily complex characters; and the book is written in lyrical prose of (I hope) great beauty and transcendence. I’m afraid I had to abandon my English diffidence to say that. The new work will continue to investigate my usual themes of sexual politics, this time from a more masculine perspective, in the context of one of the most bizarre episodes in twentieth century history (if not world history), and should shed new light on the rise of fascism and how modern Italy has become the country it is.

The readers I have tagged, who will be blogging next week–I hope–some of them have been somewhat noncommittal about it, damn these writers’ eyes! (though in one case that was my fault)–are, or will be, or may be, the brilliant

David Joiner and

Sybil Baker

Cara Brookins

Andrew J. Keir

Carol Johnson