Writing fiction from a woman's point of view is not intimidating for veteran British novelist Graham Swift.
"I very much prefer writing in the first person," Swift said by phone from his London home. "This is the first time I've had a woman narrator for a whole novel. I would say that the really hard and exciting thing about writing fiction is simply entering another character, whether male or female.
"The gender of the character is a secondary thing. I felt Paula, the wife and mother in this story, was the right narrator. When I was writing, I didn't keep reminding myself that this was a woman. I just got on with it."
Swift said he's not sure men and women are all that different when you delve into their most private thoughts. "I use instinct or intuition. Once I felt I could hear Paula's inner voice, there was no essential problem."
His new novel, "Tomorrow," is narrated by Paula Hook, the 50-year-old wife of Mike Hook, her husband of 25 years. They have teenage twins, Kate and Nick, who are asleep in nearby rooms, as Mike sleeps next to her. Paula lies awake thinking about tomorrow, when a major event will occur in the family.
Because she considers the event, just a few hours away, to be major, she is thinking, remembering how she and Mike met, evaluating their relationship and delivering preparatory thoughts to the children she loves. Suspense as to what the event will be builds steadily until about halfway through when the reader is finally brought in on it.
The suspense is as effectively built as if Swift were writing a crime novel. But there is no crime here. This is a deeply moving story about life, marriage, love and the importance of children. Swift is surprisingly effective in providing the narrative from a woman's point of view. He never hits a false note.
Like all our thoughts, Paula's are often disconnected and rambling, and they cover the essential events of her life. Swift is remarkably successful in provoking thought in his reader, who is likely to be mesmerized until the end.
"It's a mystery to me how novels start," said Swift. "For me they don't start with some clear-cut theme. Instead, they come in a more confused, obscure way and then somehow I get the feeling something is starting to happen."
In fact, Swift considers writing itself to be a mysterious process. "I want to write about the mystery of life. All my novels end with more mystery than they begin with, because life to me is amazingly mysterious and complicated. In an elastic form like a novel, you can be true to that."
Although Swift knows his approach is suspenseful, he sees that as a secondary aspect. "Paula knows what will happen tomorrow, but the reader does not know the nature of the announcement for some time. If the reader were to correctly guess that announcement in the first few pages, that wouldn't trouble me.
"Even then I would hope the reader would know there's much more going on in this book than building up to a revelation. Nor is it about anything outlandish or rare. It's quite a common problem, and most people could empathize with it. Paula is just allowing in her thoughts for all possible reactions her children could have."
Swift sees Mike and Paula as "a successful love story and a marriage with just one problem, but otherwise they are a very happy couple. There is real, lasting love between them.
"There are also two intertwining love stories one between the parents, and the other between the parents and their children. In a way, it's also a story about the love between couples. It's a novel about basic human bonds."
Paula also deals with sexuality in pretty candid terms, but also with genuine tenderness. There is nothing for the reader to be anxious about. In fact, this novel is unusual in its ability to memorialize love, marriage and family in a soft, delicate way. Paula has humorous thoughts as well, but the tenderness far outweighs them.
Swift does not read his novels aloud before publication, because he "writes for the page. I can hear the voice without reading it aloud. I'd love to hear it read by a really good professional actress, though."
He is a careful writer who cares a great deal about finding the right words. "In this book I was trying for someone's thoughts as they would develop spontaneously, so it tends to meander and be mixed with an inner language going on inside her head."Although he knows many other writers have influenced him, Swift cannot pinpoint any overriding impact. "I don't think now that there is a single writer I feel over my shoulder. I feel I'm my own person as a writer. Probably the writers who wrote boys adventure stories when I was very young inspired me most."
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