Local author Lindsey Barraclough, residing in Wimbledon Park, London, has written an incredible, critically acclaimed debut novel entitled Long Lankin, which has since been shortlisted for numerous prestigious awards, including the ‘We Read Prize’,  ‘UKLA Award’ and 'Branford Boase Award', and also longlisted for the 'Carnegie Medal' and 'Waterstone's Prize'. 

The name of the book is based on an ancient folk ballad that she first came across as a teenager, from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and she is now putting the finishing touches on a second novel which she has described as “both a prequel and a sequel”.  In the following interview, she discusses numerous aspects of the book, her own experiences in writing it, a possible film adaptation and also some advice to other aspiring novelists. Personally I found the book atmospheric, descriptive and captivating from start to finish, and would recommend all readers to get their hands on a copy.

 

“You can learn a huge amount by seeing a project through to the end. You sometimes finish up in a surprising place.”

 

Although containing a scary, intense plotline, the novel is written in quite an inclusive way, which readers of most age groups could understand. Who would you say the main target of Long Lankin is?

I know that Long Lankin has been read by almost as many adults as teenagers and children, but I didn’t actually have any target readership in mind when I wrote it. I suppose I just did it for me, really.

I am aware that although most of the main characters are children, the book does have its scary moments. It also explores more adult themes, such as the impact that past events have on the present – lost love and opportunity, for example, and the far-reaching effects of war on individuals and the community.

 

Some would describe Long Lankin as a classic folktale, others as a horror story. Would you classify the novel as either of these, or perhaps a combination of the two?

Perhaps because the roots of the story are so ancient, harking back to a time rich in folklore and superstition, and the book itself is set in a part of the country that in the 1950s was still pretty much a wilderness, these elements might give it the feel of a timeless folktale. There are definitely some classic themes in the book, for example, the child separated from its parents, the isolated haunted house, the prowling monster, friendship, sacrifice and redemption.

As to its being a horror story, it depends very much on how you define horror, which is probably a subjective thing. Some readers find Long Lankin much scarier than others. I don’t think the book is overtly gory but there are undeniably some nasty themes in it.

I suppose the book is a combination of the two really.

 

Long Lankin is composed of first person narratives which fluctuate between the characters Cora, Roger and Ida, as opposed to an archetypal chapter format. What was behind your decision to choose this format?

I really enjoyed looking out through the eyes of two contrasting children, the rather carefree Roger and the more melancholic Cora. Their experiences of life are utterly different, but they become good friends and end up discovering and facing the eponymous creature together. Roger is very much at ease with those around him, whereas Cora’s relationships are fraught with problems. Cora and Roger could have shared the narrative between them, but Ida’s perspective becomes increasingly important as the tale goes on. She sheds light on the past and also on her own complex motivations.

I suppose the consecutive days could be thought of as chapters, but their purpose was to drive the story forward rather relentlessly, not to divide it up in a conventional way.

 

Seeing events through the eyes of different narrative perspectives is crucial to the structure of the story. Was the theme of ‘perspective’ an important wider issue for you when writing the novel?

Ida’s perspective is essential to understanding the long-term consequences of Long Lankin’s greed, how he has affected her family and the community. I think we sometimes forget that elderly people were once young and could have been beautiful, fell in love and had adventures. The circumstances of the past, as well as nature, can conspire to make an old person short-tempered and difficult.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed gradually changing Cora’s (and hopefully the reader’s) perception of Ida through the book.

 

Unlike in films, a novel can’t make use of visual and sound effects to create horror and suspense. How did you go about constructing such a bone-chilling atmosphere?

Quite simply I imagined myself there, really thought myself into Cora’s shoes as she walked through the dark house, often shut my eyes and pretended I was standing in the church or the graveyard, and tried to write down what I saw and felt. It helped that I remembered my aunt’s house so well, and that the other places in the story were all real and familiar to me.

When Cora and Roger were in particularly frightening situations, I found myself writing in the present tense, as if I were actually experiencing the events as they happened.

 

You were approached by numerous parties looking to visually adapt your concept, and decided to allow a British film company the rights to use the novel. How did you respond to such interest?

Most people would imagine this to be very exciting, and in many ways it is. Having meetings with film producers and directors is quite exhilarating, as is having actors’ names bandied about, but there is also the sense that you are handing over your baby to people to deconstruct and reconfigure in a completely different way. A novel and a film are utterly different beasts, and in the transformation from one into the other, much has to be condensed, changed and sacrificed. That can be quite hard for the writer to accept.

When your book goes out into the world it takes on a life of its own, and readers bring to it all their own experiences and interpretations, so it becomes new for almost every individual who reads it. Producers and directors will look at a novel in a completely different way again, and have only a very short time on screen in which to tell the story.


 

The novel is very complex and detailed in its structure and narrative; how much time and effort goes into writing such a book?

Curiously, the very first draft of Long Lankin was written in a great big whoosh in exactly three months. I started it in longhand and couldn’t write fast enough. In the end this draft became the bones of the story which remained pretty intact, but it took another two and a half years of intensive work to fine-tune and craft it, often late into the night because that was the only time available. I had to learn as I went along, making all kinds of difficult decisions, such as exactly where to drip information in while trying to make that information as compelling as possible.

I don’t know whether most writers have the same experience but when I was working on the book it was as if I were living in two parallel worlds. Even when I wasn’t sitting down with the paper, or later the computer, in front of me, I would be thinking about Long Lankin most of the time.

 

And finally, what advice would you give to people, of all ages, who are aspiring writers?

I would say it’s really important to read a lot in a wide range of genres. You never know where inspiration will come from, and it’s always good to learn from those who have gone before.

Be interested in everything, and particularly in people and their little quirks, and it helps to have a notebook to jot down observations and things that come into your head at unexpected moments. Unfortunately I never follow my own advice and my pockets and bags are littered with scraps of paper, backs of receipts etc. that I’ve had to resort to when the muse strikes.

Also it’s vital to be self-disciplined, and do try and finish what you start. You can learn a huge amount by seeing a project through to the end. You sometimes finish up in a surprising place.
Mostly you have to be prepared to work very hard, and on your own.

 

Thanks very much for your time, and best wishes to you and your future projects.

 

"SAID MY LORD TO MY LADY,
     AS HE RODE AWAY;
BEWARE OF LONG LANKIN
THAT LIVES IN THE HAY”