Mean Mode Median is about a brother and sister who share a particular talent, a kind of verbal ability that unites them at first but then begins to bring them into conflict, and threatens to destroy not only their family, but the world. It has fantastical elements, and elements of realism; a strange mixture of Dune and King Lear, with a bit of Jane Eyre thrown in as well.
How does Mean Mode Median differ from your previous novels, Three Things About Me, and Light Reading?
When I read it now, I find it to be a free novel in a way that the others aren’t. I wrote it without feeling any pressure about my desire to rewrite King Lear in an Insurance Brokerage in Bristol. Nowadays I would dismiss it as an unworkable idea, but then, that’s because I’ve become used to dealing with agents and publishers who would tell me so. I’ve learned to confine my wilder ideas to my short stories, because I’ve become afraid of committing a year to a project that might never work.
Three Things About Me and Light Reading are more polished and accessible, but perhaps less ambitious books in that context.
As a counterpoint to this, I’ve just remembered that I plotted Mean Mode Median with much more detail than any of my other books, and I knew exactly what was going to happen. Now I leave the endings open until I reach them. That’s an interesting distinction, given that I think of it as a braver novel.
You write in a number of genres, thriller, literary fiction, science fiction, horror and even crime. Where do you feel at home the most, or is it just a question of where the story takes you, not the genre?
The genre is always tagged on afterwards, and I don’t tend to give it much thought before I reach the point where I’m going to attempt to sell it to someone! I see Mean Mode Median has been classified as Women’s Literary Fiction but it could just as easily be Fantasy or even Black Comedy. I definitely have a writing style, but that seems to be unaffected by considerations of genre.
How did you first get into writing?
I took a Creative Writing course at University and was immediately drawn to the power it gave to me, if I’m honest (rather like Anna and Edward, the siblings in Mean Mode Median, discovering their own voices). I loved creating worlds and people and situations. It allows me to control my environment and stop being so darned scared all the time.
You have been published by a major publisher as well as by the small press. What has been the most exciting experience so far in publishing?
In publishing, having a big launch party with wine and nibbles and your editor saying lovely things about you to a room filled with literary people is hard to beat. But I also really like the unveiling of the cover, when your designer/editor sends you their vision for your novel and ask you what you think. There’s a real thrill to waiting for the picture to pop up on your screen.
In your opinion, what do you think makes a good writer?
I can only tell you what has made me into a better writer. I’ve worked really really hard at this. I’ve been doing it for seventeen years and I’ve wanted so badly to write something I’m really proud of. I’ve learned not to care about what other people think of it, but to ask myself if I think it’s good enough for me. Mean Mode Median was the first time that I thought – yes. I’ve got something good here. That’s why I’m delighted to see it available once more. It deserves to be read.