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Naomi Wood
Debut novelist Naomi Wood talks to us about her novel THE GODLESS BOYS, how she got started and her future writing plans.
We caught up with Naomi Wood prior to her appearance as one of a trio of new talent at the ‘New Voices’ event at the Brighton Festival. Having read all three of the novels due to be discussed at the event, we were particularly intrigued by Wood’s debut and delighted to have the chance to discuss it, and her writing life, on a lively festival afternoon in Brighton’s Pavilion Theatre cafe.

Our first question, given that THE GODLESS BOYS is such a strong testament to the power of the authorial imagination, was how much of the book came from the realm of the author’s own experience; how much of the book in fact was ‘made up?’ Wood was, she explains, brought up in an ‘actively non-religious’ family, both her parents rebelling against their own religious upbringings. And, while Wood herself is not a believer, she was intrigued about those who she grew up with in the 1980s whom she describes as ‘the first generation of secular Britons.’ The basic premise of the book – the godly versus the godless – stems not only from this experience, but from the war of words between the new atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens and the like) and those who advocate faith. Later, despite being a non believer, when she read Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD, her head was turned slightly, and for the first time she could see ‘the beauty of faith.’

As to the inspiration for the characters in THE GODLESS BOYS, some are based on people she has known. One of the central character’s (Nathaniel’s) mother is a late middle-aged woman who lives in a rundown house, subsisting on next to nothing, her shape firmly implanted in the armchair which she rarely leaves. This, Wood says, was based on her gran; her Mum, she seems somewhat embarrassed to say, ‘did not expect it.’ As for the rest: the argot used by her characters, the island setting, these come from her experiences of visiting the isle of Arran off the West Scottish coast as a child. Wood grew up for a time in Scotland and York and has since travelled all over the world, including Hong Kong, Paris and Washington DC. And all this by the tender age of 27.

For, remarkable as it seems for such an accomplished debut, and given that THE GODLESS BOYS took over four years to write, the book’s publication this spring came only in the author’s 27th year. Wood, it seems, is a natural. Not that the process of writing the novel was without its toil – she becomes a little apologetic when recalling the ten drafts and four years’ work it took to perfect the book. During this time she worked for two years with her agent on the script, and then one further year with her editor at Picador, both of whose advice she was ‘happy to take on,’ even if this did involve introducing one character much earlier on and some major rewriting. Such juicy titbits fascinating for all those with writing ambitions: flawlessly plotted as THE GODLESS BOYS may be, Wood’s experience tells us that hard work is one of the key steps to authorial success.

The book had also been peer reviewed by her fellow students on her Creative Writing MA at UEA, some of whom when she originally spoke of the rebellion of 1986 weren’t sure whether she was reading faction or pure fiction: proof of her extraordinary writing skill. The course also provided time and space to work on early drafts, and now the university will provide the same to allow her to work on a second novel, which she describes as a ‘tragic romance’ about the four wives of Ernest Hemmingway; the novel will be submitted as a part of a PHD.

We would loved to have learned more about the new work, as Wood is clearly a career writer, bursting with ideas, with whom we could have talked about writing long into the afternoon, but alas a rehearsal for the festival event beckoned. As to what beckons for her future, something tells us that the tenacity and talent displayed in both the journey to publication and content of her novel, tells indicates that hers is clearly a name to watch.

Naomi Wood

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