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Tiffany Murray
Happy Accidents is your first published novel but is it the first you have written? Was it easy to find a publisher?
Happy Accidents is my first published novel though it is my second written work. I'm certainly persistent! The first book had a good story but it was written in this terribly dense 3rd person, a style I now see as not my voice at all. It was very sombre, very dramatic on a grand scale and very scared to be honest. Now as a teacher of creative writing when I see this sort of writing I recognise it as a stage some writers have to get through. Get the pretension out of your system, the feeling that 'this is how writers should write' and find your own voice: this is the key. This first book lies in one of those bottomless- bottom drawers I think all writers have. Sometimes I take it out and think 'well, that was five years of my life' then I quickly shut it up again; life is too short. As soon as my agent sent out Happy Accidents I was lucky and I did find a publisher. It certainly soothed the force of those rejections for the first book. It also made me understand that writing is and at times should be an incredibly slow process.
What made you want to write and what keeps you going?
I was living in New York, studying for a PhD in African and Caribbean Literature and writing these awfully theory-bound papers. That was when I started to write creatively in a 'serious' way and it was where Happy Accidents started: in Manhattan, homesick for Herefordshire, trying to capture little vignettes of memories. When I did finally return this homesickness then reflected back onto New York, and that was when Iris and Rita, the Coney Island sisters, made their appearance. I wanted to recreate those voices I missed and to superimpose the life, squeal and fairground rides of Coney Island onto my little part of 'somewhere between England and Wales.' It's hard to pinpoint what keeps you going, writing has simply become something 'I do.' The real element that spurs me on though isn't so much the new story I may be working on but the characters that inhabit this fictional place. They tend to hassle themselves onto the page. Now it's also the pleasure and responsibility in knowing that there is a growing readership somewhere. That's lovely. Though after being asked 'when's the next book?' at many readers and writers evenings this year, it's certainly time for the next one (Diamond Star Halo) to hassle itself into book form.
You took the famous MA creative writing course at UEA. In what ways did it help you (or not)?
The MA was incredibly quick, a little too quick for me, Herefordian girl that I am. This is hindsight though; UEA was a great environment to learn about the tools of writing. Most universities, those with established departments, are. But like reading groups, any writing groups are invaluable; it's simply about collecting a small audience you trust.
The characters in Happy Accidents are engaging and, although somewhat bizarre, very convincing. To what extent were they based on people you know?
Hmmm...the 'big' question. Though simply answered. The place, Happy Farm, is based on my grandparents' farm. That memory of damp and chill is one that has lingered. The photographs in the text are of myself as a child. 'Marlene', the mother in the book, is my mother's baptised name, and the darker experiences that this character goes through mirror my mother's experiences. This though is where 'real life' ends and fiction takes over. My mother is and was fantastic, one of the strongest, firmest-handed people I know. Not a crumbling wreck of a woman like Marlene. My grandmother wasn't American or Jewish. I didn't have an Aunt called 'Rita.' This is, I think, something that many writers do, they employ personal observations, snatches of memory as some sort of foundation, then transform and transmute these into the fiction that then dominates the page. I like this mix. For there has to be a kernel of truth, a feeling of 'this really happened' to every story. Also, Happy Accidents is about childhood books and the books that go to make up childhood. So Kate Happy is a little how I remember myself as an only child but she's also a little bit Jane Eyre: a bit Catherine Earnshaw, Mary Lennox, Nancy Drew, and she's certainly a little bit Addie Pray from Paper Moon.
How much of your own experience shaped the narrative of Happy Accidents?
Again, I think a lot of writing is wishful thing: we can in some way fulfil fantasy on the page (as writer and reader). The facts are that I grew up on a farm in Herefordshire and transplanted myself to a life in New York. Kate Happy's realities are far more precise and particular than this. Her movements, her voice as narrator shape this novel.
Despite the tragic events and unfortunate circumstances in Happy Accidents, the reader comes away with an optimistic sense of the world and human nature. Does this reflect your own personality and view of life?
Definitely, and thank you. This attitude is much thanks to my mother. I've been brought up not so much with a stiff upper lip, but with a 'don't dwell and move on' attitude. Perhaps it's a British trait. Perhaps my entire family needs regressive therapy, but I think this would be entirely dangerous!
Tiffany Murray

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