“I hadn’t read any books on how to write a novel – I went in completely blind – and I loved it,” says Hebden Bridge-based author Tara Guha of her debut novel Untouchable Things, published this month.
Having given up full-time work when her first baby was born, Guha found herself in a position to try something new and she decided it was the perfect opportunity to fulfil a long-held ambition.
“I loved writing when I was a child and I got diverted in to doing other things as an adult, but I always thought I would write a novel one day,” she says.
“I’d had an idea knocking about for a while and I thought ‘I will write that novel’. So when my daughter was sleeping I would just go to the computer and write. I felt it was something that gave me complete freedom. I had no baggage and I had no idea what was involved.”
The book is a gripping psychological thriller which explores loss, sexual obsession and the complex dynamics of group relationships.
An engaging read, it gradually pulls the reader in to a carefully constructed dark web of intrigue as young actress Rebecca Laurence becomes involved with charismatic Seth Gardner and his group of artistic friends.
The narrative is cleverly structured, opening with a police interrogation in which Rebecca is questioned about the background to her relationship with Seth. Other characters are subsequently interviewed and a picture slowly begins to take shape.
“I did spend a lot of time thinking about the structure,” says Guha. “Because I wanted to explore groups within groups I knew that I would want to include lots of characters but that’s quite a hard thing to do. How do you manage all the characters and also make it manageable for the reader?
“I took ideas from theatre and different ways of presenting dialogue because I wanted to get that dynamic sense of people talking to each other. And that led me to think about the idea of questions.”
The influence of theatre is also evident in other aspects of the book – not least in the central character’s occupation – but also in its themes and composition, with the narrative being divided up into scenes and acts.
“The more I thought about theatre, the more I liked the idea of an audience watching and the idea of the reader being like the audience,” says Guha. “I wanted to use theatre as some sort of metaphor – if offered me lots of options.”
Having written the first draft of the book in just nine months, Guha then began redrafting and rewriting.
“I knew it needed a massive overhaul,” she says. “I read some books about writing and went on a couple of courses and then I felt I had been given the tools to get to grips with it. I always kept coming back to it.”
After having her second daughter, she says, “it ground to a halt for a while” but she continued to return to it and eventually her perseverance and dedication paid off. Last year, nearly nine years after first starting work on the book, it won the 2014 Luke Bitmead Bursary.
“I was at the point of putting it aside,” she says. “I had sort of reconciled myself to that, really – I’d sent it out to agents and was getting near-misses but no offers and then I spotted the bursary which anybody with an unpublished novel could enter and part of the prize was a publishing deal. I sent it off and then I heard that I had been shortlisted – I was absolutely thrilled.”
She travelled down to London for the Awards ceremony with no expectation of winning. “I was just delighted to be on the shortlist,” she says. “And then they announced me as the winner. I have never been so shocked – or unprepared – I then had to make a speech. Everything changed in that split second – I had a publisher.”