Where has the week gone? I am so behind, but there are some great events coming up soon on the blog, so stay tuned. There are already lots of posts scheduled for February, so make sure you don't miss out.
In the meantime, let's check out this week's interview - I was dying to do this one, as it's about politics, albeit fiction-based and so just a little different for me.
Clearly you have worked in Westminster, so tell us, truthfully, what percentage would you suggest could be factual and how much fiction in the novel? (even though I realise not drawn from real events.)
As a politician might say, ‘I’m glad you asked me that!’ Obviously much is exaggerated for dramatic effect (nobody has been shot in Westminster since the Spencer Percival assassination, as far as I know!), but nothing would really surprise me about Westminster life, so I would suggest quite a high percentage! Often it could be quite frustrating, because I’d put something in the book, and something very similar would happen in real life, so that’s why I ended up putting in a disclaimer!
Are any of the characters modelled on anyone you know? If so, you don’t need to tell us who!
I take bits from some real people, and bits from others, then put them together to create a character. Many people have asked me who Colin Scott is based on, and will try to guess! I will just say that it is pure coincidence the reader might spot characteristics from current politicians in my fictional ones!
There are a lot of twists in Party Games. How did you go about setting these up and did they come to you as you wrote, or did you have them planned from the beginning?
I actually wrote the book over a ten year period, and gained inspiration from real events as time went on (the downfall of Iain Duncan Smith as Tory leader was one), but as I say above, things happened in real life which were similar to some plot lines, so I had to alter them slightly. The main theme of the book was always there from the start: young, charismatic leader fights jealous deputy, but I have allowed myself some freedom, as I suspect most authors do.
Although there is one key female in the novel, the protagonists are generally male. Do you find that Westminster is still very much a male-dominated environment?
Firstly yes, Westminster is still very much a male environment. The sitting hours, the feel of the place, and general attitude may be changing, but it is still not enough. There are more women MPs now, and often they are very young, but whether they will stick it out in the long term remains to be seen. The changes to the allowances has had a very negative impact on women, both for current MPs and those who might wish to stand for Parliament, because being an MP is very expensive and family-unfriendly. I don’t want to be an MP at the moment, certainly!
Turning to the book, yes, I only have one key female character (although Jeremy’s wife, Linda, is really the ‘power behind the throne’ in their relationship), but she is pivotal to the book, both on a political level and personal level, and has more balls than all the men in the book put together!
But it is, I think, quite hard to write a heroine politician. A man can be ruthless and come across as authoritarian, commanding respect, whereas a Machiavellian woman can simply come across as a bitch. It’s so incredibly sexist, but I have found Anthea one of the hardest characters to write because of this. I didn’t want her to come across as mousey either, without clout and simply swooning at the feet of the main character, I wanted her to be tough, highly intelligent, highly motivated and ambitious, but without seeming cold and unfeeling. She is 38 and does want children, so of course that is a major concern for her in a way that it isn’t for a man. For some reason, even today, it is less acceptable to have a scheming woman than it is to have a scheming man, and even less acceptable to have her sleep around. A man would be a stud, a ‘ladies man’, whereas a woman is just a slut!
It is worth noting, however, that Anthea is really the only character who gets anything done politically. Without giving out spoilers, she is the one going places and one of the more interesting characters. Yes, she has tough choices to make, but at least she has choices, unlike many of her male colleagues! As one of my favourite characters, Anthea will continue to be a key player in the sequel.
The role of The Press surprised me in the novel, ie I wasn’t aware they had such power. Is this totally fictional, or do you think in real life this is also the case?
Well, when you consider the Leveson Inquiry, I too was surprised at the power the media have! I wrote that aspect of it with pure fiction in mind, only to discover that actually the press involvement in Party Games is actually pretty mild in comparison! Although I think the Leveson report will have some sort of impact, I don’t think the relationship between the media and politicians will change to the extent politicians say it will. They will always want – and need - the media on their side, and if the media want the good stories, they will continue to court politicians. It may be done more transparently, but I think it will still be done, certainly! So, in that context, the interconnections between journalists and politicians in Party Games is, I believe, largely realistic.
Lots of deals and compromises were reached within the novel, with a considerable amount of backstabbing going on. Is this a good reflection of life in Westminster?
Definitely! Westminster politics is all about compromise and deals, but nobody really, truly trusts one another as everybody is ambitious with their own agendas. Politics between the staff can be just as compelling, if not more so! (Ooh, perhaps I’ve just given myself another book idea..!)
If you could make Party Games into a film, who would you have play the main characters?
My favourite question, but also quite hard! I see it more of a BBC4 mini series rather than a film, so I'm not about to suggest Brad Pitt for Rodney! Not that I've thought about it a lot, of course! Matthew Macfadyen (currently the lead in Ripper Street on BBC1) would HAVE to be Rodney. He's got that slightly rugged quality but also scrubs up pretty well! Perhaps his wife (Keeley Hawes) could be Anthea! As for Colin, there's an actor called Roger Barclay, currently in Holby City. When I see him I think he would be perfect. As for the others, I'm still thinking!
I believe you’re writing a sequel. What can you tell us about that, without giving too much away and without giving any spoilers to Party Games?
Yes - I am most excited about the sequel (it is actually a trilogy, so I’ve got my work cut out!), with a working title of Power Play. It takes on a very different tone to the first book; a feeling that everything is going wrong and only a miracle can fix it. What happens in the sequel will, of course, set up the ‘grand finale’ in the third book, but I have introduced a few new characters and made a minor character from Party Games a major character.
One of the messages I took away from the book is that politicians are just people at the end of the day, with the same foibles, weaknesses and needs as all human beings (I know to us laymen it doesn’t always seem that way!) . Who do you think this is most true of in the novel and for whom is it most important that the reader realise this?
Oh, I tough one! I have tried to make my characters as realistic as possible. The idea is that the book could be set in any hierarchy - a school, a hospital, a bank, an ad agency! Parliament is merely the backdrop, the vehicle for the characters. I think really that actually Tristan is one of my most realistic characters, while I've tried to make Colin the most believable antagonist as possible, with a back story which can vaguely justify his actions. Politicians are human, after all! Nobody is perfect, least of all them! It's important to realise that both of my central characters aren't black and white and, in some ways are similar, in that they are both emotionally repressed, finding relationships with women difficult.
It interested me the way the bill over Cornish devolution was dealt with, with the key female ‘having control’, but others having more than their finger in the pie. Is this a reflection on what actually happens and/or how does it differ in real life?
Yes, I would say so, although this particular storyline was to highlight the growing fractious relationship between Rodney and Anthea. It's far different in Opposition than in government, of course, as policy making in Opposition is very party-focused without the Whitehall machinery that ministers have. So, in that way, it's quite an insular world, containing a lot of power struggles and internal politics. Why nobody has written about being in opposition before I don't know, it's far more interesting on a very human level than government!
As always my first question, who is your Rupert Penry-Jones (I am daft about him!)
Well, I'm such a nerd I have politicians on my 'list', but that's far too embarrassing for any blog! But Matthew Macfadyen is rather yummy. I don't really go for the classic stud though, I'm more about a man in a nicely tailored suit sat on those green benches than a six-pack in a gym!
House of Cards or The Thick of It?
I'm going to be a total cop-out and say both. They are both very different, one showing how scheming politicians can be while the other showing how stupid. I do also love Borgen at the moment; it's gritty with a feisty female lead.
US or UK politics/legal shows/series? eg West Wing v House of Cards
Again, both, although I am more interested in UK-based political dramas. West Wing was awesome, and House of Cards has just been made into a US show with Kevin Spacey, so that will be interesting. I also loved Spooks. I would just love my book to be on TV too!
Fave politician of all time
Erm, tricky! I loved studying Lloyd George, he was brilliant, and probably one of the best politicians of his age. I’m not a huge Maggie fan, although I can see why some are, as her impact on politics was huge. I have a massive soft spot for John Major though, as without him I wonder whether I would have been so interested in politics when I was younger. Yes, I was that nerdy (and still am)!
Takeaway or fine dining
Fave holiday destination been to and not been to
Washington/Boston were my definite favourites, although I’d love to go to New York and drive across America. I’m not a very ‘beachy’ person, I much prefer city breaks.
Favourite genre (outside of your own) to read
I like mysteries (Dan Brown etc), but also love the Detective Agency books. I don’t mind a bit of adventure either. I LOVED the Hunger Games trilogy. Definitely NO vampire stories though, it’s been done to death (if you pardon the pun!)!
Sci-fi or romantic comedies? (movies)
Erm...I do like a good rom com, but sci-fi can be good on a big screen!
Do you play any sports? Which? or watch?
No, totally not sporty! Apart from the Olympics last year, I usually watch Wimbledon. That’s my bit of sport for the year!
Can you cook? If so, what’s your best dish and if not, what would you most like to be able to cook?
I can cook a bit, but I don’t love doing it, it’s more a means to an end! I do make a mean lasagne, though, and I’m usually quite proud of my sweet and sour chicken!
Well, thanks for joining us today and for sharing all that.
You can keep up with Emma on her blog - http://emmajgray.blogspot.co.
and you can pick up a copy of Party Games at http://amzn.to/11ckadr (UK) & http://amzn.to/TjMzd8 (US)
Tune in on Monday, as I will be giving an interview on The Dating Game - some very well thought out questions were asked of me. I like those!
Have a great weekend, Sooz