Booksquawk interviews Di Reed, author of “The Big Book of Death, Sex and Chocolate”
Interview by Hereward L.M. Proops
Booksquawk: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Di Reed: My dad was a Flight Sergeant with the RAF, my mum was a wartime GPO telephonist. My sister Margaret is eight years older. Had peripatetic childhood with family moving around to various postings, including East Africa and Aden. Consequently attended 13 schools before studying English at University of Sussex.
Married Mike Reed in 1986; three children, Harriet, Madeleine and Al. Moved from Bradford in West Yorkshire to the Isle of Lewis in 1994; have been copywriter for Dynam marketing consultancy since 1995, and did 8-year stint as weekend/holiday relief cook on sporting estates on Lewis, Harris and North Uist. Mike and I have also co-managed local craft events six months every year, for the last six years.
Since moving here, I have completed four books – The Big Book of Death, Sex and Chocolate, Celtic Fringe, Royal Macnab and an erotic novel, 27. Currently working on another two novels.
Other interests: painting rocks and slates for craft markets, keen movie fan, enthusiastic but limited alto and tenor sax player, cooking – and eating!
Booksquawk: “The Big Book of Death, Sex and Chocolate” was originally self-published. How did it come to be published by Two Ravens Press?
Di Reed: The book was originally represented by Curtis Brown; I took the decision to self-publish when my agent retired. I had been selling the book alongside two other self-published titles at the craft markets. It was too limited a platform, and as the independent publishing scene had changed so much since I had last submitted work, I decided to give it another go. I found out that Two Ravens was actually based on Lewis, and a review on their website said it was a publishing house that was prepared to take risks. I sent DSC off there, along with Celtic Fringe and Royal Macnab, and had an acceptance for all three after just nine days.
Booksquawk: Has anything changed from the self-published book to the Two Ravens imprint?
Di Reed: The cover! The original cover featured an image which expressed transience. Two Ravens felt it was a bit obscure, so it has been given a more commercial slant.
Booksquawk: Which is your favourite story in the collection?
Di Reed: That’s a difficult one. I would probably choose Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, because of its mix of tragi-comedy and the outrageous, and Tristan was one of those characters who just arrived fully formed in my head and I could hear his voice, so the writing was a real pleasure. It was also inspired by a copywriting job I had done years before, covering a transvestite emporium run by a woman who used to be a man, so I had great background material too!
Booksquawk: New collections of short stories by a single author are becoming increasingly rare… why do you think this is? Did you have difficulty getting “The Big Book of Death, Sex and Chocolate” noticed by agents and publishers?
Di Reed: The received wisdom seems to be that you can’t launch a new writer on a short story collection. I’ve never actually heard the argument for why, and I don’t see why the sentiment should translate to an already published writer. It’s possible that reading habits have changed, although I think it more likely that reading habits are now driven by what booksellers choose to stock. The costs of producing new books and marketing them is much higher than it used to be, which means the financial risk of launching a new book is much greater. For some reason, a new writer launch with a novel is perceived as being safer. With DSC, the title certainly upped the book’s attention-getting ability; some of the rejection letters were actually apologetic – but nobody had the nerve to pick it up!
Booksquawk: Do you have a routine for writing? A favourite location or time of day that suits you best?
Di Reed: I would love to have a routine, but working between the demands of family, day job, producing work to sell at the craft markets and managing the markets, all add up to a working week where anything can happen at any time and derail the best intentions. I try to find an hour or two a day for writing – or at the moment, tying up the last remaining bits of research for a book I’ve been working on for over a decade. Sometimes I make notes in other places, but the actual writing is always done at my desk in my office overlooking Loch Odhairn – there’s something about the space outside that frees the mind.
Booksquawk: Which writers influence you? Do you have a favourite author or novel?
Di Reed: I tend to have favourite books rather than authors, although I am a fan of Dan Brown – and rather jealous of his ability to construct such good yarns and set such good pace around fairly intellectual discussion points. I liked Ian McEwan’s earlier works and was definitely influenced by the short story collections First Love, Last Rites and In Between the Sheets. Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in 9 ½ Chapters was a key influence for DSC – I realised that to write a cohesive book within a themed framework, I didn’t have to stick to a single narrative. I love Clive James’ The Silver Castle, because it’s a book about poverty that doesn’t patronise the poor, and Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm for its total Englishness. My favourite novel is Hermann Hesse’s Narziss and Goldmund, for its beautiful language, and its profundity.
Booksquawk: Are you working on anything at the moment? Will we see a follow-up to “The Big Book of Death, Sex and Chocolate”?
Di Reed: I’m drafting story and plot lines for a third Hebridean book to follow on from Celtic Fringe and Royal Macnab, both of which will be published on Kindle by Two Ravens.
Read the review of The Big Book of Death, Sex and Chocolate here.
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