Impact Arts spoke to William Thacker, author of Lingua Franca, on his experiences of writing his book and also some of the key themes of the piece.
Can you tell us what the book is about?
Lingua Franca is a satirical novel about a naming rights agency that rebrands struggling towns under corporate sponsorship; Milton Keynes becomes Stella Artois, for instance. We follow Miles Platting, founder of the Lingua Franca agency, in his bid to rename Barrow-in-Furness to Birdseye-in-Furness. In broad terms, it’s about language, identity, community, class and the whole ‘what’s in a name?’ thing.
Are your characters and their trajectory already established in your mind before you begin work on a novel, or do they develop as you write?
It’s a bit of both. Some key decisions, like deciding the tense and point of view, which can shape the characterisation, should be decided early. Once you’ve established the basics, it’s nice for the characters to surprise you along the way. Lingua Franca is quite a light novel, so on this occasion the characters have perhaps played second fiddle to the concept.
The advantage of a light approach is that you can be agile; Miles, for instance, was initially quite righteous, but I realised it was more interesting to present him as a cold marketer and explore things from a darker perspective. I wanted the reader to have the space to make their own mind up.
“The ‘lingua franca’ of the story is a common corporate language, but, ultimately, silence.”
What has the process entailed, from conception to publication?
Writing every day on a train for two years. Learning how to use a cafetiere. Trying to eek out a story from a high-concept idea. Rinse and repeat.
How did you choose your imaginative title?
I had a few titles knocking about; Lingua Franca seemed the most interesting and faithful to the story. The ‘lingua franca’ of the story is a common corporate language, but, ultimately, silence. At one stage I thought it would be cool to name the novel after a brand. Vodafone, or something.
This is your second novel; in your opinion, is there any difference between publishing a first novel versus a second novel?
In my case, I felt I was no longer writing-to-impress, and had a little more license to do my own thing. I could take the handbrake off. I’ve also built a supportive relationship with my publisher, and it helps to have the trust and confidence of other people. Writing a novel the first time around can be pretty lonely!
You’re also a screenwriter. How does writing film scripts differ from working on a novel?
I suppose with a script, the words are just a cue for other people to do their jobs. You’re more conscious that the text will quickly evaporate as soon as the film is shot. It’s also a challenge to write to a budget; ‘you gotta ditch that police chase scene!’ With a novel, everything rests on the words; there’s no hiding place. You can be more expansive with the novel form, whereas screenwriting requires rigid discipline and relentlessly hitting the story beats.
Have you always wanted to write for a living?
Yes, I used to write comedy sketches as a 10 year-old and would force my classmates to perform them. I took writing (and reading) more seriously as a teenager and later did a Creative Writing MA as a kind of apprenticeship.
Do you have any further projects on the go?
I’m working on a couple of film ideas with director Mark Gill, with whom I’ve just co-written the Morrissey biopic, Steven, due for release early next year. I’ve also started a third novel, which will be bigger in scale. A book that would make a good doorstop.
Do you have any advice for students who want to get their work published?
First and foremost you should enjoy writing. It should be an enriching activity, not a demoralising, energy-sapping one. Then if you decide to make a serious go of it, I think you need courage. It’s important to experiment and explore your style without being afraid to fail. If you never ‘fail’, you never learn; and of course the learning process never stops.
Things like contacting agents and publishers should only be a consideration once you’ve been through the whole gamut of novel writing purgatory: the highs and lows, the false dawns and eureka moments. But have courage!
Questions by Amy Wilcockson
Image courtesy of Legend Press
For more information on William Thacker and ‘Lingua Franca’, see here