‘In my writing, as in my reading, I’m drawn to the darker moments people face, both internally and externally, those gasping moments when the ground gives way – and in how we cope, or don’t. I’m not interested in softening these experiences, or in easy happy endings.’ Annie Clarkson interviews Megan Taylor about her second novel The Dawning
Annie Clarkson (AC): In The Dawning, the action takes place over the course of one night, which I would imagine might slow down the pace of a novel, but I bit my nails down to the quick while reading it. How did you manage to maintain such high tension throughout the book?
Megan Taylor (MT): Ha-ha! Bitten nails are brilliant – thank you tons for letting me know that Annie. With The Dawning, I wanted to balance the characterisation with a fast-paced narrative and so I’m very pleased the story pulled you along. I did consciously play with thriller elements such as cliff-hangers, but I also think that the limited time-frame actually helped add an extra intimacy – I was hoping that readers would feel as caught up as the characters by that single night’s events.
AC: You take the viewpoint of five different characters in The Dawning, and still manage to keep really close to each characters experience, even while writing in the third person. Was it fun writing all the different stories? Did you have more of an affinity with one of the characters than the others?
MT: During the writing, each character became very real to me, and yes, it was definitely fun slipping between them. I sometimes find it easier writing younger people and teenage girls in particular (I suspect that there’s a stubborn part of me stuck at seventeen forever) and so the daughter of the family, Nicola, was probably the least challenging for me to write. Dad, Philip, was harder. Luckily I had some brilliant advice from male writers and readers. I feel like I learnt a lot along the way.
AC: Each of your characters is faced with a major adversity or issue in the novel, Stella’s post-natal depression for instance, which struck me as quite an achingly sad and debilitating state to be in. Did you do much research for the issues in the novel? Are they close to your heart? Or issues that you were drawn to explore?
MT: I did read some case studies to do with the various health struggles that arise in The Dawning because I didn’t want to get anything major wrong. At the same time I’d never presume, or even attempt, to write a definitive description of any specific condition. In the end, for me, it all comes down to individuals rather than issues. It’s about embodying a character and trying to remain true to their singular experience. It’s (hopefully) about a more general empathy (I’m hoping this is making sense too).
Having said that, I do seem to be continually drawn to writing about mothers and children. I’m fascinated by the knots and bonds of these relationships, which are so essential to who we are. These are probably the ideas that are closest to my heart.
AC: I have to say, I felt there was something very brutal in each of your novels, The Dawning and How We Were Lost. Is brutality a theme you are drawn towards?
MT: I’d never thought about it quite this way before, but you’re probably right. In my writing, as in my reading, I’m drawn to the darker moments people face, both internally and externally, those gasping moments when the ground gives way – and in how we cope, or don’t. I’m not interested in softening these experiences, or in easy happy endings.
AC: I might describe The Dawning as a domestic horror. It seems to have leanings towards horror, but it is concerned with family, breakdown, growing up and host of other issues. What genre of novel would you say The Dawning is?
MT: Ag – that’s been a tough one to answer before. My publisher helped me come up with ‘domestic thriller’, but ‘domestic horror’ would work just as well. I still have no idea really how to label it. Put simply, it’s a novel about a family pushed to the brink – this could perhaps be categorised under several genres. I never think about markets when I’m writing (although perhaps I should), I just write.
AC: Vicker’s farm reminded me of Wuthering Heights towards the end of the novel (cruel man living without a wife, all the dogs, the dirt, an almost gothic atmosphere). Did you intend this comparison, or is just my vivid northern imagination? Were you inspired by any books or films in the writing of The Dawning?
MT: I’m very honoured if it reminded you of Wuthering Heights in any way at all. I wasn’t consciously evoking that great novel (I kind of wish I had have been, now you mention it) but maybe it crept in anyway when I wasn’t looking. Since I was young, I’ve enjoyed gothic classics – and naturally, they cast big shadows. Perhaps that shows.
AC: You seem fond of (and very good at exploring) child points of view. Nicola and Zac’s chapters in the novel are particularly vivid and felt very real for me. How do you get into or under the skin of your characters?
MT: I’m really pleased they worked for you. I do a lot of free-writing (and more general daydreaming) when I’m working out characters, especially at the start of a novel. I find it helps a lot to drift off on tangents (for example, exploring where certain personality quirks or an imagined argument might lead), although most of these early character scenes and sketches don’t actually end up anywhere near the finished book. I draw on my own memories and emotions too, although often only to twist or inflate or even invert them.
AC: I was very impressed by the array of brilliant and exact verbs you use in the novel, do you have any favourite verbs, or verbs that you avoid using?
MT: Thank you! I do love verbs. All of them probably, as long as they’re in the right place.
AC: Finally, is ‘the second novel’ as difficult as everyone says?
MT: I think that sometimes writing is difficult wherever you’re at. Other times of course it’s simply the best thing ever.
But personally, looking at it overall, writing a second novel was, if anything, a little easier. I knew I could make it to the end and I also enjoyed and appreciated the whole process of rewriting a lot more. Being published has felt more real this time too, although that amazing holding-your-own-novel moment was just as stunning. I know I’m incredibly fortunate to have had that twice.