Updated on August 5, 2015
An interview with W Scott Beaven
A few weeks ago I reviewed Riccarton Junction by W Scott Beaven, a novel about a British-Japanese teenager uprooted from her home in London and taken to the Scottish borderlands. There she encounters racism, romance and the underground world of prison gangsters.
Now Beaven has returned to this blog for an interview about writing, the creation of the gutsy protagonist Kikarin, and the main themes in the sequel: The Train That Carried The Girl.
Kikarin is a fantastic character with loads of attitude. What influences did you draw upon when writing her?
This is a difficult question to answer. Can I take a minute to explain the genesis of the story? I began with the idea of what would happen to a cool, sassy young London girl if she were suddenly yanked out of her comfort zone and moved. But to where? The Australian Outback? The Congo? Too extreme. What about the remote Scottish-English Border country? I lived there for fourteen years and it is quite true what it says in the novel:there is no mobile phone signal and no Broadband. That would be an obstacle.
What other obstacles would there be? Well, there is no middle-class – only lords and serfs – so any friends she might make would have to be from a section of society that she had never previously associated with. What if she was mixed race? A conflict too far? Possibly, if she were part-Pakistani or part-Nigerian, but howabout part-Japanese? She would melt easily into West London society but not so much in the rough and ready south of Scotland. There she would find quite strong racist tendencies and she would not have previously come across Scottish sectarianism (Catholicism vs Protestanism).
So, I’d created a character, but I wanted her to be realistic. She could be sitting her AS-Levels (another level of conflict, but a manageable one). Now she has a lot on her plate, so I made her relationship with her parents and teachers supportive. And then I thought, what if she is beautiful? That would add another level of conflict, and it’s conflict that moves stories along.
Of course, everything has to be balanced. For example, I did not give Kiri karate skills; I gave that gift to her mother. Also, she isn’t popular or liked all that much: her school friend is the only other English girl in class and her boyfriend, Sacha, is a similar ‘outsider’ character.
We once employed a beautiful girl. Can’t remember her name now. She came to us as a receptionist/data-processing person. She was lovely, had a nice temperament and nothing was too much trouble for her. She had been Miss Sunderland 1986 or something, engaged to a Premier League footballer (whom she later married and divorced), and she was absolutely gorgeous. I had met pretty girls over the years, went out with one or two when I was younger, but this girl was in a different league. Pretty face, gorgeous figure, great legs, lovely smile, nice voice. Every rep and delivery driver went out of their way to pop their heads around the door just to catch a glimpse of her. All the blokes in the office and the warehouse dreamed dreams about her.
I never forgot her, so when it came to writing Kiri I used her as a kind of template. What did she think about being lusted after night and day? Fending off attention in every part of her life? It must have been a huge problem. How did she handle it? I think she must have had a lot of support at home, from her parents, from her mum.
Have you been to the real Riccarton Junction?
Yes. There is nothing to see. The train doesn’t exist (that is at Thorlieshope).
Did you always plan to write Kikarin’s story as two books, or did you just find you had more story to tell once you had written the first one?
I never intended to write only about Kikarin: I wanted to write a revenge-thriller, my favourite kind of novel, and I came to realise that a beautiful Asian girl was the ideal means to that end. Once her mum had taught her karate.
What can we expect in the sequel to this book, ‘The Train That Carried The Girl’?
Another long answer. It isn’t easy to write a first-person account in the voice of a young girl. More difficult if you are actually a man. But what a male writer can bring, that perhaps a female writer cannot do so well, are the surrounding male characters. Train That Carried The Girl is full of three-dimensional male characters.
The main things I wanted to write about were:
- Misogyny. I spent nearly forty years working in UK construction and found truly unbelievable levels of misogyny in the industry throughout that time. At all levels: working-class site geezers up to middle-class architects. I wanted to write about it. Can I just say that I have in my life met every variation, every type of man that is included in Train That Carried The Girl . Michael, Scott and Stephen do exist.
- The age gap in marriage. I am interested in why a woman, maybe a beautiful woman (Lauren Bacall, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Minnie Driver, Marilyn Monroe) would marry a man twice her age. I knew someone in this situation very, very well and wanted to explore it in my writing. Incidentally, my creative writing tutor, John Seymour, is in the opposite kind of relationship: older man and younger woman
- Class. I wanted to close the Chris, Ainslie, Kiri circle in a dramatic but realistic manner.
- Love. How we casually throw it away. Tell ourselves that if we kiss fifty frogs, one of them is bound to turn out to be the prince. But it is never like that.
It isn’t about accepting second best. In fact, you should never accept second best, just be open to someone different to the dream. If he ticks three of your boxes, well, that’s a start. Maybe he has other boxes you never knew you wanted ticked.
Do you have any other writing projects in the pipeline?
No, I don’t. I maintain my blog http://kikarinchadwick.blogspot.co.uk/ every week, but other than that I have no plans for Kiri.
You can buy Riccarton Junction and its sequel Train That Carried The Girl from Amazon.