The Piano Player’s Son was published by Cinnamon Press at the end of last year. Nuanced and understated, never a word out of place…. You could blink and miss an important phrase or tone that reveals bit by bit the accumulating tensions and undercurrents in relationships within the family. All the characters are complex, flawed and entirely credible …the dialogue is taut and well controlled….we see more and more of the family’s secrets coming out in small gestures, tones of voice, and significantly in what is often left unsaid. We are kept on tenterhooks throughout and yet the ending is completely unexpected and pitch perfect. This is a great book from a great small press and it deserves a wide readership. You will probably guess that Lindsay excels at flash fiction, too.
This is Lindsey’s second novel – her first one, Unravelling, won at least two awards. You can read more about that and her other work as well as her writing courses on her website .There is further info and more reviews on Good Reads.
I was lucky enough to meet Lindsay years ago on a course near Hebden Bridge run by Jan Fortune. Since then, Lindsay has won several awards for her writing. I managed to track her down to ask her some questions about The Piano Player’s Son. I didn’t want to give anything of the final denouement away so, as so often happens in these situations, I found it fairly difficult to phrase questions that wouldn’t give away the ending by mistake!
Q. You built up the suspense step by step, not too much and not too little – until the denouement which gives the reader a real surprise… did you calculate how much tension to ratchet up?
A In theory – yes, of course I did! In reality, some of it is calculated and structured, but some of it is instinctive. Years ago, an agent said about a novel of mine (one that she then went to reject!) that it had ‘a wonderful page-turning quality’. Relating that is not to boast, but I think I’ve got an inbuilt tendency to hooks in writing. Robert McKee, the screenwriter, defines character as the choices we make under pressure, and I enjoy upping the tension in my characters’ lives to see what they’ll do.
Q. The piano carries huge amount of weight and significance and I wondered what a piano might mean to you.
I love the piano, and it’s one of my regrets that I’ve never learnt to play – haven’t given up all hope yet! We always had a piano when I was a child and my father used to play. He couldn’t read music and played by ear. It seemed like magic to me. But I did think carefully about the object the family would argue over. I wanted to write about inheritance, but I didn’t want it to involve money. It needed to be something that had emotional, psychological and symbolic significance. I’ve heard people say they’ve argued about a watch, a painting, a favourite vase or ornament, which might have little monetary value, but carries with it a wealth of memories and connections. My mother fell out with her half-sister when she didn’t receive her father’s walking canes which had been promised to her. When I hit on the idea of a piano, I knew I had the answer, and luckily, with it came the title of the novel.
Q. Did your original first draft start with this beginning?
Yes, I knew I wanted to start with the father’s death. I think a death can be a hugely disruptive event in a family, unsettling the status quo and opening up fault lines in relationships that might have remained otherwise concealed, or at least papered over. I’m interested in the power struggles that exist in even successful relationships. The family can be an intense microcosm of wider relationships, and I wanted to explore how these power struggles might be heightened in the vacuum created by a death.
Q All of your characters are very convincing and I wondered how you achieve this as we want to know what happens to them at the turn of every chapter. Do you have a well-tried method for getting to know your characters so well? Or is this a secret?
I’m glad you think the characters are convincing, Becky. I do try to get to know them well, both before and during the writing process – it’s a constantly refining and developing thing. I like to know their back story, their relationships, their dreams and fears. I also try to root them firmly in the plot. In both my novels, I’ve found that initially I had characters whom I had thought about intellectually, that is they provided a contrast with another character, or they played some function in the novel, but during the writing, I discovered I didn’t know them well enough, or they weren’t significant enough to the plot, and I had to do further work on them.
Q. Secrets are an important aspect of the novel. Why did you want to write about secrets?
I find keeping of secrets a fascinating aspect of human behaviour. Why do we keep secrets? I suppose lots of us tell ‘white lies’ to oil the wheels of social interaction, but I’m not really talking about those sorts of secrets but the bigger ones when something major is kept hidden. I imagine such secrets are kept originally to protect the people we love, but I believe they can have a corrosive effect. George Orwell said ‘If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself, piling thought after thought on top of the secret.’ One of the themes of ‘the Piano Player’s Son’ is that secrets rarely die, however long they are hidden, and they will emerge at some stage with the power to poison the present and the future. When a secret is revealed, I think it’s often the fact that the secret was kept that does the damage, rather than what was actually hidden.