A New Map Of Love by Abi Oliver
How can you pack for the journey of a lifetime?
George Baxter has settled for a comfortable life, content as the years unfold predictably – until Win, his wife of twenty-six years, dies.
With his loyal dog Monty by his side, George throws himself into his work as an antiques dealer. His business is at the heart of the village and all sorts pass through the doors, each person in search of their own little piece of history.
When George meets local widow Sylvia Newsome, he imagines a different kind of future. But life has more revelations to offer him. Over the course of an English summer George uncovers some unexpected mysteries from his past, which could shape his tomorrows . . .
Q) Your novel A New Map of Love is set in 1964. What was the inspiration behind the era and setting?
A) I have written a large number of stories set in times before I was born and I wanted to write about a time that I could – at least dimly – remember. I was three in 1964! But here are a number of things about that year which made it a good setting for the kind of book I wanted to create. The summer of 1964 was a long, hot one and I wanted to write one of those novels which captures the loveliness of the English summertime – something which is of course real, but which is also a kind of fantasy archetype that most of us hold in our minds in relation to our landscape.
1964 was also the year when the Beatles were really beginning to emerge, after sex had been discovered (according to Philip Larkin) – and later in the year the government changed. Big changes were looming which only reached rural places like distant echoes to begin with – but reach them they did, gradually.
Q) Your character George Baxter is a country antique dealer. Is George based on anyone from real life?
A) My father was a country antique dealer. Now I look back on it, it was a great life at that time. All jobs have their stresses of course, but it involved him knowing a huge amount about all sorts of things. My father had huge knowledge and experience. It also involved driving about the countryside going to visit other dealers – extended lunches in the pub, that sort of thing! And we had a workshop out at the back where the men restored furniture and sometimes made up extra things that people needed like bookshelves. There was always a sense of business and the smell of sawdust coming across to the house. Not to mention all the characters – there was a staff of about seven – and that was before you get on to the customers.
I have actually spent many years writing about Birmingham (as Annie Murray) and this part of my life was put very much on a back burner. But the idea of writing about it has been waiting in my mind for some time.
The reason I finally began was that I studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University. The book that is now A New Map of Love was my main project for the degree.
Q) Your novel begins with your protagonist running off “from his wife’s funeral do like a bolter fleeing a wedding.” Despite his actions, you have crafted a very sympathetic character. Tell us about how you developed the character of George Oswald Baxter?
A) George was one of those characters who seemed to arrive almost fully formed. I think because he is the sort of Englishman of a certain type and generation with whom I am pretty familiar, I could work out his reaction to things quite easily. I quickly grew very fond of him and realized that despite being an intelligent and sensitive man, in his loneliness he might not always see straight or have the best judgement. His character developed gradually as the story also developed and then further in the editing process.
Q) Can you talk us through the route from idea to publication? could you also tell us a little bit about your writing process?
A) I wrote A New Map of Love over about two years in first draft, though I had to do quite a bit of re-writing. Process wise, I think ideally having a good while to think about a story before you get too far into the writing is very helpful. For example, the novel I am working on now is one which I have been thinking about for several years. I wrote A New Map of Love in longhand, which I prefer. Every, let’s say 5000 words I would type it on to the computer, which is the first stage of re-writing, but I find a great sense of freedom in writing by hand. As I had planned to set the book over one hot summer, the simplest thing seemed to be to structure it month by month. I like to have an over-all structure in my head though, and the classic three part arrangement – even if the novel is not in three parts – is very useful as a benchmark of the rhythm and shape of it.
Characters also present themselves and have to be gradually built upon – such a Eleanora Byngh (with an h). I find I gradually see into them and what is driving them by writing about them.
It’s always vital to remember, as another writer once said to me, ‘the first draft is not the last.’
Q) You say you have written under another name. Can you tell us about your writing background?
A) I’ve always written, – maybe something to do with growing up as an only child. We also travelled quite a lot, so I had hours of time to fill on journeys. I suppose I’ve always been writing something. In the end I did do a degree in literature. For much of the time since then, I have belonged to writers groups. I was a member of Birmingham’s Tindal Street Fiction Group and lately, have set up two more workshops with another writer, Oxford Narrative Group and Leather Lane Writers in London. The collective sharing, insights and support of writer’s workshops has been very important.
In 1991 I won a short story competition run by SHE Magazine and also This Morning with Richard and Judy. Through this I joined the wonderful Darley Anderson Agency which has represented me ever since. Darley sold my first novel – what in the trade would be called a ‘regional saga’ set in Birmingham, and it was published in 1995. Since then I have published 21 novels – as I write, the 21st, The Doorstep Child is at number 6 in the paperback chart!
During those years though, we moved as a family, away from Birmingham, which still has a lot of my affection and fascination as a place, back to the Thames Valley, where I come from originally. The place has worked its magic on me and I’ve found I wanted to write about that too. So I have a sort of town mouse identity – Annie Murray. Abi Oliver is more of a country mouse. And I love all of it.
*Huge thanks to the author for being part of a Q&A on my blog. Review to follow soon!