I came across this writer when I was assigned one of her books in a Goodreads review group. I was so taken with the book that I wanted to find out more about the woman who wrote it.
Kyle has been writing since she was a child. As a teenager she kept her friends entertained with a serial. As an adult she decided most of what she had produced so far wasn’t good enough to be published and burnt it all.
She is a perfectionist, a trait that suits her well in her other activity, that of a potter. Quoting a saying coined by a master ceramicist, the hammer is the potter’s best friend, she goes on to regret the fact that modern computer technology with back-up in the cloud makes it hard for us to irretrievably delete something, thereby tempting us into not being radical enough, but instead to merely tinker around at the edges.
She does not understand the need for a special place or time for her writing. “But I do need hours of concentration and silence,” she says. A keen climber, she adds: “My best ideas come to me when belaying at the bottom of a sea cliff.”
Six book series
It is when we get on to the subject of her six-book series that her passion and perfectionism shines through. Her protagonist is a young woman who is determined to become the first woman to win a World Championship at stock car racing.
“Initially I wrote a book about a young female car mechanic. My agent at the time asked me to turn it into a series. I said I hadn’t planned to, but then the first sentence of the next book just popped into my mind and I knew what it would be about.
Half way through writing the second book of the series, I heard a BBC Radio 4 programme where Brian Sewell talked about his love of Stock Car racing. Yes, that Brian Sewell – the man so posh he made the Queen sound common. The man who came home from school once and asked his mother, ‘Mummy, what are elocution lessons?’ Mummy: ‘Something you’ll never need, darling . . .’ Anyhow, apparently he was a self-confessed petrol-head and was addicted to attending Stock Car races, declaring you could get drunk on the fumes in the air, and purring remarks such as, ‘it’s so utterly common, darling! The cars are all pink and purple and orange and they smash into each other and turn upside down – I love it!’
And I thought – wow, my heroine would think she’d died and gone to heaven. So I researched it, and no female had ever reached further than a semi-final of the World Championship since 1980, and that was the decider, I knew where my heroine Eve was headed…
My husband came home from work to find me staring endlessly at YouTube footage of cars driving mindlessly round in circles. He was bewildered. He’s a man who could get you safely up Everest, but he wouldn’t know a camshaft if it hit him between the eyes (except he might realise it would be safer to duck).
Soon we were puzzling our extended family by attending our nearest big oval in Manchester, Belle Vue, (where my husband apparently once went to the dogs). The BriSCA F2 Stocks’ chief grader sent me PDFs of the scoring systems. I studied the construction rules until I knew them better than most of the drivers. It was fiendishly difficult to find out some details. Stoxradio would always message me back to say that it was on the BriSCA website. IT WASN’T! Come on folks, this is your life, and how come NONE of you can tell me what colour you paint your roof when you win the World of Shale title?! (Two gold stripes, by the way. Someone finally dredged it up!)”
She goes on to reflect some more on the use of research in fiction:
“The trouble is, once you know a lot about a subject, there is a danger that you feel obliged to prove to the reader that you do. But
putting too much technical detail in holds up the flow of the story, and can seem awkward.
As authors we have to put a lot of research into the topic of our latest book to make sure we make it as authentic as possible, and yet we often have to end up writing the bulk of the story without any explicit reference to all that knowledge.
However, sometimes there is information that you feel you have to insert, or else most of the readers won’t understand the import of the story. It’s a ticklish line to tread. How do you ‘educate’ the reader about the technical facts/background information that they need to know to appreciate the storyline? Mostly, you end up leaving it out.
I could hear in my lively imagination the sound of the loud scoffing of mechanical types at my heroine standing around with a spanner in her hand and condemning it as lazy stereotyping! But the book is aimed at teenage girls who really do not want endless details of engine repairs, and the thrust of a scene in a garage is often only moved on by dialogue, and what do we do when we’re stopping to talk to someone? Straighten up and stand there chatting with the tool still in our hand…”
I ask about editing and the use of beta readers. In response she reveals the tension between her determination to tread her own path as a writer and the advice from professionals to write to a market.
“Writing advice is there to be ignored and rules are there to be broken. It’s up to you to decide how you’ll write. Virtually all of the novels that have won the literary prizes over the past few years were published by small independent publishing companies because the big established ones aren’t willing to take risks. When it comes down to it, some writing will achieve a popular audience but the scorn of the literary snobs, and other books will garner critical praise but the majority of readers will be wading through it out of duty.
There isn’t a book in existence that will speak to everyone who reads it. So we need to be resigned to that fact.
A novel is a collaboration between the writer’s imagination and craft, and the reader’s imagination.
The reader may not want to imagine what you are asking him or her to. And that’s their prerogative, they are the guardian of their own mind and spirit, and they have a right to choose what they allow into it. In any crowded room there will only be a few people you will feel able to ‘click’ with and desire to engage with further at any depth. Readers feel like that about books and authors. They have to trust that the murky depths of the writer’s psyche isn’t going to turn sour on them…”
The subject comes up again in relation to the serious subject matter dealt with in the book I read, Purgatory is a Place Too. It concerns the exposure of a paedophile ring run by men of Pakistani origin. But, in the earlier books the protagonist Eve, has a friend who is a Pakistani married to an Indian. I’ll let Dominique explain the problem she encountered with agents and editors in relation to that:
“I haven’t had a good experience of agents, editors or publishers.
The first book in my series went out to agents ten years ago. Two agents got back to me, offering to take it on. The one that took it told me that it was already nearly perfect, but she was going to send it to an editor as a precaution. The editor fiddled around saying the ‘policeman’ in it should be turned into three different policemen because it wasn’t realistic. I spent ages doing that then realised it completely ruined the point of the story. Doh! Told my agent I was changing it back again. The editor then told me to take out the Pakistani girl because she was ‘irrelevant’. I refused. My agent herself was from a Bajan background. How come the only ‘ethnic minority’ friend of my heroine was considered irrelevant? Anyway, the next book turned out to be almost entirely about her.
My agent sent the book out to 15 publishers. They wrote back (and I quote) ‘we love her writing style but no-one is reading contemporary novels right now – can you get her to write one about magic or vampires and send it back to us?’ It was the height of the Harry Potter and Twilight hysteria.
My agent got quite depressed. She had several other YA authors that she’d taken on writing similar contemporary ‘issue’ books and she couldn’t get any of them published.
(There is)a hunger out there for books that reflected the real lives of young people
I knew the publishers were wrong and that there was still a hunger out there for books that reflected the real lives of young people, as virtually every 13-15 year old in my small town had enthusiastically read my manuscript, and they kept asking me when it was going to be published because they wanted to buy a copy.
I guess we were ahead of the curve, because just recently a lot of YA novels have come out about gritty issues. So if I’d been touting it around a couple of years ago I might have struck lucky. By the time it comes to anyone’s attention, it’ll probably be considered passé again…
I put the book aside for 5 years, then took up the series again, finished it and went down the Indie route. The problem is – how do you get it out there to the demographic that needs to read it before it’s completely out of date? That is proving extremely difficult at the moment without the machinery of the conventional industry behind me.”
That’s something with which all independently published writer can empathise.
Now to the sensitive subjects of paedophile rings and racism. Dominique is emphatic in her defense of this choice of subject.
“I didn’t set out specifically to tackle it. I had written 4 books in the series already, but I knew the series wasn’t finished yet and I needed a fresh direction. Maybe a detective type of thing?
Then my brother turned up for Christmas. He was incandescent. He’d recently moved to Rotherham to help bring some of the men involved in the grooming gang scandal to justice. He was mainly working on the Council/Police corruption side of it. But before moving there he’d sat down and read the Jay report and said he cried for two days afterwards.
I was a bit blasé. I’d already known what was going on for at least 2 years by then. I’d even tried to tell my brother. But no-one was listening. It hadn’t hit the media yet. Most of the other scandals (Rochdale, Oxford, Telford, Stoke, Newcastle etc) hadn’t been publicised yet either. So it just became blindingly obvious what the next episode had to be.
My series was already set in a large industrial Lancashire town. One of my heroine’s best friends was conveniently of Pakistani origin and now married to an Indian guy against the will of her family with an attendant honour killing story line. And there had already been a misogyny and rape story line with my heroine. Put it all together and my heroine was ideally situated to discover that a grooming gang was operating in her home town.
Everything that happens to the girls in my book has actually happened to one of the real survivors – in fact I toned it right down to make it bearable to read. For the story to be comprehensible I also had to simplify it. I read the Jay report and stuck to details from that. I didn’t read any of the girls’ accounts so that I wouldn’t accidentally put something in that was too specific to an actual girl. I’ve had contact with survivors since finishing the book and I have read the last few chapters of all their books to accurately reflect their experiences in court in Book 6.
the reality of the British Northern town grooming gang scandals is that the race element is the most explosive and poisonous part of it.
If I was making this up, I’d have carefully established that the individuals from the grooming gang originated from all sorts of backgrounds, but the reality of the British Northern town grooming gang scandals is that the race element is the most explosive and poisonous part of it. It’s the element that most commentators are too squeamish to take on. But it’s exactly that element that has ripped apart the local communities.
In Rotherham 1300 mainly white girls were abused by the almost completely Pakistani gang over a number of years, and those in authority turned a blind eye, and re-framed the girls’ situation as being willing ‘child prostitutes’ which is a maddening conclusion to come to when you bear in mind that these girls were raped as young as 11, and that it generally would start at around 12-13 years (as that is an age when they are still conveniently easy to control).
I felt obliged to increase the age of the girls involved in my novel so as not to distress the reader too much, and to give it some vague chance of maybe getting published. My brother is very brave – he puts his email address out on his website with the sentence ‘Feel free to send all your death threats to this address’. Whereas I don’t allow my image to appear on the internet, as I need to protect my family.
I have tried to represent all sides of the debate so as not to be in danger of inciting race hatred. Due to the book going out to more beta readers than usual I’ve ended up having to add more and more corrective ‘information’. It has now become unwieldy and I can feel a final edit coming on to un-stodge it again…”
Having read Dominique’s book I can confirm that she is scrupulous in her treatment of the issues surrounding the controversy. To end the conversation I ask about her favourite books and writers.
“I tend to read ‘literary’ novels, but want to write entertaining ones. I have no favourite writers. Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’, Lionel Shriver’s ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, and Hilary Mantel’s ‘Bring up the Bodies’, are all excellent. I like books to be absorbing, detailed, complicated, and make you think, but not what I call ‘one-read-wonders’ – where once you know the ‘tricksy’ ending, there is nothing of any depth left to bring you back to the book again. Many of the top best-sellers are in this latter category.”
I am grateful to Dominique for agreeing to be my first interviewee for this series and for her frank and detailed responses to my probing. I hope you enjoyed the experience, too. You can find Dominique’s books here (these links will take you to her author page at the relevant site) Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com