Interview with Megan Taylor
Megan Taylor's brilliantly accomplished second novel, The Dawning, was published by Weathervane Press last month. The story unfolds over one New Year's Eve and alternates between five characters' viewpoints, exploring a family on the edge of crisis.
I caught up with Megan to talk about the book and her writing in general.
Hello, Megan and welcome to The View From Here. For me, the most powerful aspect of The Dawning is your extraordinary complex characterisation and your ability to evoke reader empathy throughout. As bully boy Callum insists, We're all the same inside, all capable of hurting and healing ourselves and others. Did you set out with this central concept in mind or did themes emerge as you wrote?
I wish I could say I had a central concept from the beginning, but although I definitely wanted to write a fast paced, character-driven novel from the start, I had no idea exactly how it would evolve. During the writing, the characters did quickly become very real and vivid to me – I genuinely felt for them and I’m enormously pleased if that has translated successfully to readers. And to be honest, the characters kind of led me though the whole story themselves (I hope that doesn’t sound too crazy).
“A beautifully written, tightly controlled and intricately constructed novel – extremely rich and evocative.” Nicholas Royle (author of Antwerp)
You use alternating third person limited omniscient narration to allow us to see events from different points of view. It can be a difficult technique to pull off, but you totally nailed it. Which character did you find the easiest to write and which the hardest?
That’s very kind! I found father Philip the most difficult to grasp. In writing from the perspective of a professional, middle-aged man, who is also struggling with particularly male health anxieties (Philip is worried about testicular cancer), I’d set myself quite a challenge. Luckily I had some brilliant male readers who provided enormously helpful feedback, especially early on, when I was still trying to figure Philip out. I always enjoy writing teenage girls (probably because secretly I’ve never really felt like a proper grown-up), so for me, Nicola was probably the easiest character to inhabit.
“Compelling, enthralling, ensnaring ... This writing is fearless, full of heart, is very very good.” Carline Smailes (author of In Search of Adam and Black Boxes)
I'm left wondering about your amazing empathy and how you developed it in real life. Tell me about your background and what influences your writing.
Much of my writing is concerned with secrets – with family secrets, but also with the fears and truths we keep inside, sometimes half hidden from ourselves. I’m generally fascinated by our private inner-worlds, and the different and interesting ways we hold ourselves together (or sometimes don’t manage to). I wonder about other people a lot, about what’s going on inside them. I don’t really know where this comes from - I think I’m probably just very nosy.
Thank you so much! In a way, setting myself quite strict boundaries in terms of structure helped, not just in terms of the characters different viewpoints, but because I was working within a very restricted timescale too (The Dawning is set over the course of a single night). My characters’ responses and even their memories had to be triggered only by immediate events. Anything extra had to be rigorously cut during the rewriting. There was quite a lot of rewriting!
While figuring out my characters at the very beginning, I also spent quite a lot of time imagining and free-writing different elements of their back-stories. Most of these exercises and sketches never made it anywhere near the actual novel. Nonetheless they were incredibly helpful in shaping the narrative.
You wrote the book for your MA Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, for which you were awarded a Distinction. Congratulations! How did studying for the MA help you develop your writing? Would you recommend it to others?
I really enjoyed my MA with MMU. The feedback I received from tutors and classmates was enormously valuable - likewise, I learnt a lot from reading others’ work. It was also just great - wonderfully inspiring - to be surrounded by other people who love writing. I’d definitely recommend it.
You recently did your first radio interview to promote the book. Tell me about that.
I was very lucky. My publisher happened to meet our local BBC Nottingham radio host, John Holmes, and gave him a copy of The Dawning. He liked it and invited me on to his Afternoon Show! It was live and I was terrified, but John was very kind, and I think it went well.
When did you first know you wanted to be 'a writer'?
I’m not sure – it was definitely a childhood daydream before it became an adult one. I loved reading. I loved books. By the time I was in junior school, I was relishing writing stories (including the secret life of my cat, the adventures of a superhero rabbit and far too many luridly illustrated horror tales).
How did you get your first 'break' as a writer?
I’d been fortunate to have the odd story short-listed in various competitions when I was younger, but I suppose a real turning point came when my first novel ‘How We Were Lost’ was placed second in the 2006 Yeovil Prize. Not long afterwards, ‘How We Were Lost’ was accepted for publication by Flame Books. I was over the moon – actually, I still am.
What are your future writing plans?
I’ve completed a draft of a third novel, ‘The Lives of Ghosts’, a dark suspense story about memories that refuse to be suppressed. It needs some more editing, but it’s (hopefully) not too far off. There’s further information about this, as well as about my published books on my website www.megantaylor.info.
I’ve also just started a fourth novel, but right now, that one’s still a secret.
Thank you, Megan, and the very best of luck with all your books.
Visit Megan's site here.