Saturday, 27 April 2013

Author Visit: Tom Vowler

Good morning, all! Tom Vowler's short story collection The Method won the Scott Prize a couple of years ago, and he stopped by to talk about that then.  This week, his fantastic debut novel What Lies Within was published by Headline. (I've read it, it's very good). He's here to talk to you about it. 

Everyone who replies to this post before midnight Saturday 4th May will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of What Lies Within. This giveaway is open worldwide. 

Pull up a seat! x


Tom - welcome back!

Thanks for having me back. 

Tell us how life has changed for you since the publication of The Method

I suppose I’m happy to term myself a writer now without feeling pretentious or disingenuous. The collection you mention took form over several years, fitted around life’s tumult. But writing is a job now, with disciplined hours and deadlines to honour. Perhaps some of the fun recedes, but it’s a fortunate way to spend one’s days. 

Can you pitch What Lies Within to the lovely blog readers?

It’s a psychological suspense novel set largely on the brooding uplands of Dartmoor. Here’s the blurb:

Living in a remote farmhouse, Anna and her family are close to nature, surrounded by the haunting beauty of the moor. But when a convict escapes from the nearby prison, their isolation begins to feel more claustrophobic than free. Fearing for her children's safety, Anna's behaviour becomes increasingly irrational.

Meanwhile, a young idealistic teacher has just started her first job, determined to 'make a difference'. But when she is brutally attacked by one of her students, her version of events is doubted by even those closest to her. Struggling to deal with the terrible consequences, she does what she can to move on and start afresh. 

As the two narratives converge, the tension builds to a devastating denouement, shattering everything you thought you believed about nature, nurture and the true meaning of family.

What is its publication story?

Shortly after my collection of stories won a couple of prizes, a few publishers were interested in the novel, which is a thrilling yet terrifying time for a writer, sensing you are close to a book deal. It’s been wonderful working with my editor, seeing the novel realize its potential.

What sparked the idea for the book?

As with much of my fiction, its genesis emerged from a single news cutting, a story that both appalled and fascinated me, of one woman’s bravery in the face of terrible circumstances. From there all else – characters, setting, plot – emerged pretty quickly.

How long did it take to write?

Around two years, perhaps a little longer. First drafts come relatively quickly for me, then I sculpt away forever. 

What research did you do?

For me this is the most exciting time, discovering new worlds and the people who occupy them. My main character is a potter, so I spent hours watching a friend fashion his ceramics, having a go myself, producing the obligatory nondescript ‘bowl’. Other facets of the book were less fun to research, as I scoured the darker aspects of human behaviour. I spent a lot of time getting to know the moor, its flora and fauna, the people who live and work there, the prison at its heart. 

Talk to us about Dartmoor and the role place has in What Lies Within. 

Landscape has become increasingly important to me in my work, often becoming a ‘character’ itself, and Dartmoor acts well as an allegory for both the story and the people in it, its terrain bleak and bog-ridden one minute, beguiling and beautiful the next. My characters are products of the moor, rather than merely its inhabitants, their lives inexorably bound to its capricious nature. It is a place of contrasts, of epic and haunting beauty, where, for my characters, wonderful and terrifying things occur.

You’ve now worked, as a writer, with a large publishing company and a small one. How have the journeys differed? 

As you might expect, the scale is somewhat different, but essentially the process is the same. I suppose I feared working with a large publishing house that I’d lose a sense of control, for example during editing or when it came to the book’s cover, but this didn’t prove the case. And it’s exciting to be out in hardback this time as well. 

What do you know now about the industry, which you didn’t when you set out?

That it’s much like any other: dynamic, ruthless, vulnerable, flawed.

What’s the one main piece of advice you would give to an aspiring writer?

‘To write a little each day, without hope and without despair.’ Not my words, but I’m happy to borrow them. Forget, for now, the distraction of being published, of ego. Write the best book you can, and if it’s not, write another. The rest will take care of itself.

What are you writing at the moment?

Another novel, with similar themes, of a person desperate to keep their past from encroaching upon their new life.

Thanks, Tom! All the very best of luck. 

Everyone who replies to this post before midnight Saturday 4th May will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of What Lies Within. This giveaway is open worldwide. 


  1. Tom uses the word disingenuous. He's a writer.

    I am very excited about his novel. What I love about Tom - what I loved about his short story collection The Method - was his sense of control that never became writerly, but made you feel the confidence. Like watching an actor on stage who has it all sussed - you relax.

    So this - I think this will the voice of Barry White...damn fine.

  2. Congratulations to Tom. I really enjoyed The Method and I'm looking forward to reading What Lies Within.

  3. Sounds very intriguing. Looking forward to reading this.

  4. Looking forward to picking this up by my back window. Thanks for the work Tom, and thanks for showing it off Jen!

  5. Congrats, Tom! Can't wait to read it. x

  6. Congratulations to Tom! I thoroughly enjoyed reading and re-reading his short story collection, The Method, so I'm looking forward to reading his debut novel, especially as landscape and place is important to me and Dartmoor is a place I know and love.

  7. This novel sounds good. I'd love to read it.

  8. It sounds like it will be an interesting read. A lot of different threads to weave together in there. Best of luck to Tom for both the success of this novel, and the writing of his next one!

  9. I reckon this will be a great read. The plot sounds very intriguing. Looking forward to picking up a copy of this soon

  10. I am going to suggest this one to our local indie.

  11. Sounds fascinating. glad to hear of him and will keep an eye out for his other book as well.

  12. Congrats Tom! Thanks Jen for these interviews, they're keeping me up to date!

  13. Thanks, guys! Winner pulled out of the hat was Kath. Will email you now :).

  14. Oh wow, thanks so much! I can't wait to read it. :-)