Gaynor Arnold keeping her word
At home with Edgbaston author Gaynor Arnold.
Novelist Gaynor Arnold can be forgiven for chuckling out loud during interviews. Just months ago the social worker was an unknown writer, who was simply pleased to have found a publisher for her first novel.
Fast forward and her book Girl in a Blue Dress is nominated for one of the world’s leading fiction prizes.
The hours spent writing a novel can be soul destroying – for every successfully published author there are many others who have banished their unfinished manuscript to a desk drawer.
Gaynor Arnold is one of the exceptions.
Not only did she find a publisher but she then found herself hurled into the limelight after her novel was nominated for this year’s Man Booker Prize.
Her book, a fictionalised account of Charles Dickens’s troubled marriage, did not make the shortlist but this has not deterred Gaynor from making the most of her time in the spotlight.
“I was very surprised to be nominated and to make it to the long list because you don’t really expect that type of acknowledgement – that the book you have written is good,” says Gaynor.
There was a swarm of public attention that followed the announcement and Gaynor, who has been a social worker for almost 40 years, appears to have enjoyed every moment.
She classes herself as ‘quite a fast writer’ but the manuscript still demanded hours of isolation tucked away in a ‘spare’ bedroom, in front of an archaic computer.
The room, in one of Edgbaston’s spacious Victorian properties, was a place for Gaynor to escape the pressures of work – her day job includes working in the adoption and fostering service.
“When I got home from work, if I went upstairs to what is a spare room, I was out o f the way,” explains Gaynor, who uses a kneeling chair which helps avoid any nagging back problems.
She adds: “I might think that I would spend an hour and would find the time would fly by and it could two or three hours. I forget everything and just want to get on.”
The novel is not the first published work by Gaynor, who studied English Literature at Oxford. She has lived with her family, including a supportive husband, in the house since the early 70s and has been involved with amateur dramatics.
“I have had short stories published and also written but not until my 40s,” explains Gaynor, who is far from living the typical life of a 63-year-old.
“I was very busy with work and children and the family and it really wasn’t ‘til my 40s when I thought what had happened and realised I wanted to write.”
A fascination with Dickens from her university days helped give Gaynor the first seeds of an idea that would be grow into the book.
“The book is inspired by Charles Dickens – I have always been interested in his life and an idea came to me – what would it be like to be married to a man like Dickens.
“It is not biographical or based on facts but it is how a wife would feel.”
She adds: “Obviously you cannot write without any reference to the Victorian way of life but it is not based on one person’s life. Over the years I have read an awful lot about Dickens and I am very interested in the history of the 19th century.
“I don’t want to get clogged down with facts which would make the writing very clunky but I have obviously had to check facts.”
This interest has no doubt been influenced in some way by Gaynor’s choice of homes built in Dickens’s era and what she calls ‘the golden age of the novel’.
“I have always lived in Victorian house and I feel quite close to the Victorian age,” explains Gaynor.
“They left so much of their building work around that you can’t have fail to learn to love it. I was brought up in a Victorian house and have lived in others since then.”
Gaynor’s home still bears many of the original Victorian characteristics that would be familiar to Dickens and his peers..
“The house is early Victorian – I love it, especially their imposing rooms with the high ceilings,” explains Gaynor, who praises the support of the Birmingham-based publishers Tindal Street Press.
She adds: “The novel was in no way set in my house but I feel it does help me to feel what they would be feeling. The fires burning in the rooms, the kitchen and the feeling about who has lived here before.”
Since the nomination Gaynor has spent little of her precious time in the house, although she know the time will come when she has to return once again to the ‘spare’ room to begin writing her next manuscript.
“I have hardly had any time to write anything,” says Gaynor, who has been in demand for interviews and talks at literary get-togethers.
She still has to find time to keep on top of her social work and admits that it is another way of life where few people know about Gaynor’s accomplishments.
“They have no idea. I have been running up and down to London and talking to literary lunches and then it is back to work – it certainly helps me to keep my feet on the ground,” says Gaynor.
She laughs again – you sense that this is one woman who still has to pinch herself to prove that her success is a reality.
Happily, fairytale endings are not just for books.
* Girl in a Blue Dress is published by Tindal Street Press, price £9.99. ISBN: 9780955647611
It is available in book stores and other outlets include online through the publisher’s website at www.tindalstreet.co.uk