Friday, March 16, 2018

The Second Most Common Question: Guest post by Lexie Elliott

Lexie Elliott is the author of The French Girl (February 2018, Berkley) and lives in London. The French Girl is her debut novel and explores the shifting relationships, and memories, of London-based recruiter Kate as she becomes entangled in a murder investigation ten years after a seemingly idyllic French holiday. 

The Second Most Common Question 

As a writer, the most common question I get asked is, What’s your book about? (For the answer, see above!) The second most common question is, Where do you get your ideas from?

The idea for The French Girl first hit me when I was on holiday at a farmhouse in France during my university years. There was a group of seven or eight of us, all students, and the farmhouse belonged to the parents of the brother-sister pair in our midst, otherwise I couldn’t possibly have afforded to stay there — at that stage I was rather broke after something like five years as a student. As it was, it felt supremely decadent to be drinking rosé at lunchtime and lounging by a turquoise-blue pool set amongst the sun-drenched vineyards of the Dordogne. Supremely decadent, and a little like being in the opening scenes of a movie: bright young things enjoying themselves, little knowing the darkness that lies ahead of them… I remember baking on a sun-lounger, whilst in my brain the plot unfolded, bit by bit, until I knew what that darkness might be, and how it might insidiously stalk my characters until they could never again be those carefree bright young things.

The idea was one thing. Writing it was quite another. Writing requires mental space, and life eats that up. Life (and student debt) required me to get a job after I’d completed my doctorate, and just figuring out how to become competent enough at that job to keep it took all my energy at first. Then I bumped — quite literally — into a man in a swimming pool who became my husband, and life gave me two children who are enormously wonderful but who are also sleep thieves, and time thieves, and attention thieves. I did write sporadically, in any time I could snatch for myself, but not The French Girl. That was too daunting a project to even start. So instead I wrote short stories, fragments of novellas, even a complete novel in a lighter tone. And once I was writing regularly I found I didn’t want for ideas. I could be on my way to work and I’d notice something odd, a little out of kilter, and my mind would start to lazily spin out a web of a story… It was like developing a muscle that had always been there, but had been allowed to waste away: nothing but exercise can reverse the atrophy. Through it all, The French Girl hovered in the recesses of my mind but I wasn’t yet ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

And then, somehow, I was. Perhaps I’d emerged from the fug of general exhaustion that very small children create, or perhaps I’d gained enough confidence to make a start on a more demanding project. Whatever the reason, I started writing The French Girl. And eventually, somewhat inconceivably, I actually finished writing The French Girl. In between I must have had hundreds of ideas for new projects. I keep a note of the more promising ones, and there’s one in particular which I’m a little scared to write. I’m not quite ready for it yet. But now I wonder if that’s the mark of a really good idea: something that’s a challenge, that worries me, something I’m not quite sure I can pull off. I’m guessing there will come a time when I’m ready to roll up my sleeves on that one too. At least I hope so.

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