Interview with The Sender

My novel, The Sender, follows the journey of a mysterious and inspiring unsigned card, interconnecting the lives of four women from different backgrounds and cities who are all facing unique adversities. The card instructs each woman to hold it in their possession for six months before choosing another woman in need to send it to, and invites them to meet in Edinburgh two years from the date of its inception.

The card seems to hold an extraordinary quality that helps the women face their challenges head-on, though none of them can imagine who the anonymous sender is or why they were the chosen ones.

This interview is with the instigator – The Sender.

 

Toni: First of all, it’s a pleasure to meet you and I’d like to say I wish there were more people like you in the world. What was the reason behind your decision to send the card?

The Sender: I watched my friend going through a terrible time in her life and I felt helpless. She was devastated by what was happening to her and I knew she felt scared and vulnerable. I just wanted her to know she was strong enough to get through it and that she had someone looking over her.

Toni: Why did you decide the card should be anonymous?

The Sender: I thought it would be more meaningful that way. I think there’s something special about receiving a gift from someone who doesn’t want to be thanked for it. It has an air of mystery about it and that means the thought lingers longer.

Toni: Did you have the idea of ‘paying it forward’ in mind when you decided to send the card? Is that why it was to be sent on again and again?

The Sender: That’s right. Not only would those receiving it experience the feeling of being in someone’s thoughts, they would also get to pass that gift on to someone else. That’s a win-win situation and I hoped the message would spread.

Toni: Was there any significance in having four women meet two years after the card was first sent?

The Sender: Firstly, the card has a four leaf clover inside and each woman is asked to take a leaf from the clover before they send it on. It was symbolic of the good fortune I hoped they’d be experiencing since receiving the card. And secondly, I thought that having the card for a six month period might be long enough to help their healing process take hold. I then wanted them to meet to celebrate the good deed they’d done for each other and to let them share their stories. That worked out to be a two year timeframe.

Toni: Why did you instruct them to choose another woman to send it to and not include men? Surely anyone would be touched to receive this card?

The Sender: I did ponder that one for a while. I settled on women because I wasn’t sure the card would necessarily be sent on as I intended. I thought it was more likely that women would do it. Next time I’ll include men. It would be interesting to see if that works.

Toni: Does that mean you intend to do this again?

The Sender: That’s the plan. I think small acts of kindness can have disproportionately large effects on people and the more of that we have in the world, the better.

Toni: Thanks for your time. It’s been great to chat with you.

The Sender: My pleasure. I’m only too happy to spread this message.

 

This post is brought to you by Toni Jenkins.

Crime fiction as a resource

The genre of crime fiction, in both written and visual forms, can be used as a valuable reference for writers in other genres. I don’t write crime fiction and take my hat off to those who do. If ever there was a category open to hazards and slip-ups, this is it. Divulging the wrong clue at the wrong moment can inadvertently expose the plot sooner than intended and leave the rest of the book, series, play or movie almost moot.

A well-written piece is like an instruction manual for those of us who write other types of fiction. There are so many lessons to be learned from reading a perfectly constructed story unfolding in just the right way to keep the reader interested, guessing and eager for more. But it’s not only books that provide a treasure chest of teaching material for a writer.

I am in awe of such wonderful scriptwriters as Sally Wainwright, the main writer of the detective drama, Scott and Bailey, and Jimmy McGovern who wrote the gripping two part series, Accused. As I watch these episodes, as well as being engrossed in the story, I’m fascinated by how expertly they drop just enough crumbs along the trail to keep the viewer intrigued. The plot is revealed in perfectly constructed stages, often with flashbacks and different points-of-view, and events are presented at just the right moment to throw more legitimate questions into the viewer’s mind.

They are experts in setting pace, dangling hooks and lacing sub-plots into the main framework. They portray characters with colour, contradiction and idiosyncrasies. A simple line cleverly inserted to appear almost insignificant can highlight a great deal about the belief structure of a protagonist which the viewer, often unwittingly, absorbs. For example, in Scott and Bailey, DCI Gill Murray’s comment that a criminal ‘has the mental age of a banana’ shows in those few words (and delivered with her clipped tone), that she has no time for ‘low-life scumbags,’ as she’s also prone to call them. She certainly does not suffer fools and this is made clear within a few short seconds.

Watching these skills played out on screen can provide precious material for any writer. Distilling a complicated story, regardless of the genre, into a tight-knit format that keeps the reader wanting more is no easy task. As a writer, I absorb as many of these visual clues as I can. They are reminders of how important a cleverly placed line of text can be for plot development, revealing a character’s backstory or setting up the next scene. It is also a wonderful source of watching how ‘show, don’t tell’ is crucial in maintaining the viewer’s interest.

Consumers are clever. Readers and viewers alike don’t usually want to be spoon-fed the obvious. We want to think, analyse, guess and predict. It makes the journey exciting and makes us feel like we’re in the story. We buy into it. It is perhaps the greatest reason to stay involved, to keep switching on or turning the page. If a scriptwriter or novelist can achieve this, then that is surely one of the biggest measures of success.

Competition for the readers’ and viewers’ time is more critical than ever so every tool a writer can add to their belt can only be an advantage. For me, then, a leisurely break in front of the box often doubles as a cheap research trip (at least that’s what I tell myself as I settle in with my feet up!).

 

This post is brought to you by Toni Jenkins.