The Next Big Thing

Last week I was surprised and delighted to be tagged by the poet Aine Macaodha in a Blog Hop called 'THE NEXT BIG THING'  in which writers answer ten questions on their work in progress and tag other writers to do the same.

(Image © National Museum of Ireland)

When I'm sailing uncharted waters my mind's mostly on feeling the current, so I tend to be fairly useless when it comes to talking about work that's unfinished. But Aine's invitation arrived when the draft of my next book was already off my desk and with my agent. That means that although it's still a work in progress I do have some degree of separation from it. So here are my responses to the ten questions.

 1) What is the title of your next book?

Currently it's called The Songs Within Birdsong - titles often change before publication, though.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

I've been exploring its themes all my life. The immediate impulse came from the social and physical dynamics of the area of inner London where I live when I'm not in Corca Dhuibhne. One central part of the plot arose from a conversation with my literary agent, Gaia Banks, who, as well as being an agent, is a born editor and creative facilitator.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

 It's a novel.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

When it comes to movies everyone wants a name attached, to secure funding. Yet at the same time you long for a producer and director with the courage and imagination to think actor first and funding second. Since one of my protagonists is an adolescent there'd probably be a decent chance of that with this book. And since the other principle character is Central European and in her eighties there are wonderful choices to be made. (Many of whom are names, actually - look at the casting for Hoffman's Quartet.) (Looks. Drools. Pulls herself together.) Casting's a funny thing, anyway. Sometimes you set your heart on an actor, get someone else and find yourself unable to conceive of a better performance than the one you end up with. 

5) What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?

Can't really answer that. I don't write to say something so much as to find out what it is I have to say. One sentence synopses can't be produced till a work's completely finished. Besides, I'm never sure the author's the right person to come up with them. 

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My initial job's done once I deliver a draft that I'm happy with to Gaia and she's happy too. Then I drink tea, walk beaches and get on with the next thing till we get an offer from a publisher.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

My first drafts usually take a few months. Sometimes, as with this one, there are long breaks in the process. While writing my last book, which is a memoir, I realised that the oral, Irish language, tradition of storytelling has had as much influence on my work as the literary, English language tradition. That, combined with the fact that I've been a scriptwriter and playwright for most of my career, means I tend to see, hear and work on things in my head before I write them down

(There's a story about someone asking the Regency playwright Richard Sheridan if he'd completed a play he was working on. 'Yes,' he said, 'all that remains now is to write it.')

8) What other books would you compare yours to?

That's another thing I'm not sure authors should do.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?.

The starting point was Kindertotenlieder, a song-cycle by Gustav Mahler. The first title for the book was Dead Children Songs, which is a direct translation of Mahler's title.

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

Can't speak for my readers but the songs within birdsong concept delights and fascinates me because it exposes how much happens beyond human awareness. The heart of the book is the relationship between an adolescent and her grandmother.
This is how it opens:- 

'Birds speak in myriad fragments and complex patterns beyond our awareness. The stories of their lives reach us in disconnected snatches. In an egg a bundle of cells is suspended in liquid. Time brings a bird with the message of its cells imprinted in its voice. It speaks of danger, fear, hunger, aggression and desire. We hear songs.

The detail is lost. Digitally recorded birdsong, slowed down but played at pitch, reveals sounds within sounds, like painted Easter eggs one inside another. We now know that birds sing too fast for human ears.

Analysts have linked the speed of birds’ communication to the relative shortness of their lifespan. Humans, who live longer, have more time. But what we have to tell can also be lost.  Sometimes because it’s too hard to bear.' 

So that's it. Thanks for thinking of me, Aine. And, by the way, as I've been typing this I've had an email from Gaia saying she loves the draft. 
So .....

.... onwards and upwards.

Next week on THE NEXT BIG THING are two writers whose work I admire, one of whom I met recently, having read her blog, and one I've known and worked with in broadcast for many years. Many thanks to them both for accepting my invitation to blog hop.

Emily Benet

Emily Benet is a writer based in London. Her debut book, Shop Girl Diaries, began as a weekly blog about working in her mum’s unusual chandelier shop. Her blog was the winner of the CompletelyNovel Author Blog Awards at the London Book Fair 2010. She has written about the benefits of Social Media for writers in Publishing Talk, Mslexia and The New Writer and runs Blogging for Beginners and Improvers workshops. She is currently editing a romantic comedy called Spray Painted Bananas which she serialised on Wattpad. She blogs at

Michael Bartlett

As well as being a professional writer and a producer with a long and distinguished career in broadcasting, Michael Bartlett is a partner in Crimson Cats, a UK based audio book publishing company specialising in producing and publishing unusual and quirky audio books, mostly material which does not exist elsewhere in audio. From 1975 to the end of 1982 he worked for BBC Radio Drama, initially as a producer, then as Editor of Afternoon Theatre on Radio 4. Before that he worked as a Director in Children's Television, a reader in the Television Script Unit and a producer in Schools Radio. He blogs at

And do check out Aine's work too.


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