Wednesday 24 August 2011

Interview with Ned Hayes

Good news for the participants of the Perfect Pitch contest: Agent Mandy Hubbard should be picking the winner this week. So keep checking back.

In the meantime, let's meet another writer. This time we're talking to Ned Hayes. Ned has graciously allowed me to take a peek at his newest novel, and I was quite intrigued by his story.

Welcome to We Do Write, Ned. Tell us a little about yourself.

I'm interested in everything from technology mobility to post-modern theology to genetic engineering to bicycle hacking to medieval manuscripts to child-rearing and off-the-grid living. In addition to my newest novel, SINFUL FOLK, I wrote a book about technology and a mystery novel.

How long have you been writing?

I've been writing since I was 10 years old. I think I wrote my first attempted novel when I was 12, and I distinctively remember being fascinated by medieval stories and medieval life in 7th grade, when I wrote a story that won an award -- my story was set during the Hundred Years War between England and France. Writing has always been my passion -- I began by publishing shorter fiction and poetry (my book of poems, GLOSSOLALIA, appeared in 2009 from Orchard House Press. And I'm hopeful SINFUL FOLK will appear in 2012.

Tell us about SINFUL FOLK.

SINFUL FOLK is the story of a desperate mother who carries a hidden secret and a terrible grief.

In December of the year 1377, the village of Duns in the south of England suffered a great tragedy. Four young boys were burned to death in a house near the center of the village. It was the dead of winter, and the house burned to the ground. Although most English peasants of that era never traveled more than twenty miles from the place of their birth, villagers loaded the bodies on a cart and journeyed over 200 miles to London, to present the bodies before the King and demand justice.

SINFUL FOLK is the story of that mid-winter journey through the eyes of Mear, a middle-aged former nun who has lived for decades disguised as a mute man, raising her son in secret in this isolated village. Through the course of the journey with the men of the village, Mear’s story is told, her decades-long secrets come to light, and she is able to confront not only her son’s killer, but also the promise of her past, and the possibility of a new future as a noblewoman.

Mear begins her pilgrimage in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption.

Having read SINFUL FOLK, I have to say you presented the story well. I was brought right into the setting, the angst and sorrow Mear felt, and even wanted to punch a character or two. Her journey flowed well, and I was satisfied with the ending. How did the idea of the story come to you?

I was in graduate school for English Literature, studying Medieval Literature and reading Middle English works along with Chaucer. In the course of my reading, I came across this wonderful book by Miria Hallum called The Hollow Womb, in which the story of the village of Duns and the boys who burned to death there. It suddenly came to me that there was a person who so full of hate in that village that they burned down the house with all the boys inside. In a blind rush, I had to write a whole chapter from his perspective. I wrote a chapter in which he finds wood, carefully and surreptitiously stacks it against the house with the sleeping boys inside, and burns the place down. The whole chapter is so full of malice and anger that I found it breath-taking. I also realized I had no idea how to continue the story in the voice and head of that character. So I found my way into the head of Miriam (called Mear in the book), a woman who has been concealed in that village for years. Her perspective on the tragedy turned into the book SINFUL FOLK. The whole section I wrote from the perspective of the murderer was gradually cannibalized into difficult moments in Mear's journey and life, and the malice stripped away. However, I've never lost the sense that behind these deaths was a horrific ego and a sense of twisted payback, and the villain I knew so well traveled with Mear for all of her journey.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

The hardest part is hearing that what you've written isn't read the way you intended, and figuring out how to revise. I wrote a complete first draft of SINFUL FOLK after my agent requested the book -- it was half done, and I'd been putting it off forever. When she asked for the novel, I knew I had to complete it. So I finished up the first draft in a headlong 3 month rush. I thought it was suspenseful and thoughtful at the same time. Instead, as my early readers told me, it was simply ponderous. It moved too slowly, and it was hard to hear that readers found it slow-going. I am intensely grateful to my friend Sheri Boggs, because if she hadn't loved it (even at its first slow pace), I might never have picked it back up again. My friend Manek helped me find the way forward... and many other friends have contributed to the ideas. Writing for me isn't really an act of isolation, but an act of community.

The hardest part of writing is to be utterly alone in the knowledge that your book isn't working, and no one else can tell you exactly what to do next. You can get good advice, but in the end, you are marooned in an ocean of possibilities. and no way forward unless you write it.

Any tips you’ve learned about writing you’d like to share?

Most people think that writing is inspiration. It is not: it is perspiration. Write as much as possible, put words on the paper. If you keep putting 500 words down every day (that's only 2 pages, double-spaced!), you'll have 182,500 words in one year -- that's about 2 books for the average writer. Two books a year. The more you write, the more you are inspired. I wrote the first, second and third drafts of my novel for an hour a day while commuting on a train every day to a really demanding job that occupied me for 50 hours a week. You can always find time to write a page or two a day... just keep moving forward!

The other thing I've learned is that the more you write, the more inspiration comes to you. You have to be swimming to find fish.

Very wise! Let’s get to know you on a deeper level. What do you absolutely have to have nearby when writing?

I have to have something to write with. That's all. I prefer a laptop without connectivity, so I don't get distracted by going online and "researching" (time-wasting!). But I have written on a trans-Atlantic plane in the middle of the night, I've written in a train while commuting, I've written at my desk on lunch hours, I've written at a playground with children playing loudly, and occasionally I've even written in my lovely home office with my lovely wife and excitable children banging around nearby, and I've written in the back yard. Of course, quiet, music, hot tea and a nice view are preferable. But at the end of the day, there's no need for anything but a good idea, a piece of paper and a pen. Every now and then, I've come across a good phrase while driving or biking, and I've had to memorize it for later because I have no writing implements there with me. But it's still writing.

What human beings need to write is imagination. That is all.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

I would love to have the ability to go without sleeping. I love late nights -- the quiet, the solitude, the sense of working while the world sleeps around you. But I also love early mornings and dawn as the sun rises and the birds sing. Why can't I have both, and be writing through the night and into the day?

Quick writing test! Use the following words in a sentence: argument, tiger, and ballet shoes.

The Mad Hatter found himself without an argument when the tiger came to call, bringing ballet shoes to dunk into the tea-cups all around before he ate the March Hare whole and turned to say "Good day!"
(Ok, that was a little strange, but it was certainly fun. Thanks!)

It really was! Okay, here’s the part where you thank the people who are supporting you. Let's hear your shout outs.

I truly appreciate two kinds of friends and readers. First, I really need the cheerleaders and the positive supporters who tell me how great my writing is, and love what I've done -- my friends Sheri, and Bianca Davis and my wife Jill, whose boundless support always buoys me up. Without them, I'd just sink into despondency. But I also really, really need the support and good insights of my critical readers like Manek Mistry, Christine Gunn, Larry Clark, and Matt Haugh, who tell me exactly what isn't working with a book, and how to fix it. Again, as I've said before, for me writing is really an act of community. All these wonderful people come around to help and encourage, and hone and edit, and all of their good ideas help my ideas get better and better. Thank you all!!!

And finally, where can people find you online?

Readers can find out more about SINFUL FOLK at
You can find much more of my writing at 
You can follow me on Twitter -- @nedwriting or check out Sinful Folk on Facebook at
My poetry book GLOSSOLALIA (Speaking in Tongues) is on Amazon at
And I hope SINFUL FOLK will be up on Amazon soon... as well as in bookstores around the world.

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Ned. And thank you for letting me read your wonderful work. Be sure to let us know when SINFUL FOLK is available!


Janis said...

I agree about the superpower you choose, that would be nice! Looking forward to reading this book.

Ned Hayes said...

Yeah, wouldn't that superpower be nice to have? Thanks for reading the interview.... Dorothy is such a great promoter of writers and writing!