The critics will probably hate SHEILA QUIGLEY’s moneyspinning debut. But as
Brian Donaldson discovers, it takes more than the brickbats of bookish types to
get her stomach churning.
ifc. as the hoary adage continues to insist. starts
at 40. Don‘t worry if you haven‘t won the
lottery. met the partner of your dreams. been hypnotised on stage or whatever it is that people have to do before they die these days. there’s still time. But what if you‘re in your mid-50s and the Sunderland council estate you‘ve lived in for the last three decades is doomed for demolition? Well. maybe your literary agent will give you a call to let you know that a major publishing house has outbid its rivals to snap up your words. And all for a cool £300.000. Sounds ludicrous. but for one 56-year-old mother of four and granny of eight. it became a real life fairytale.
‘That was giddy.‘ booms Sheila Quigley. the subject of this extraordinary story which has charmed even the most cynical of critics. ‘It started on the Monday and it didn‘t linish until the following day. It was £l00.000 at the teatime when it closed and I got no sleep thinking about that sort of money. Then the next morning. it was £200.()()() and by the afternoon it had gone to £300.000. That was giddy that: it was a giddy. giddy day. l was in a trance. as if I was one step behind watching something happening to somebody else.‘
And while these things usually happen to other people. Quigley had few doubts that one day her knight in shining PR armour would deliver her from the clutches of nasty demolition men. ‘I always knew it was going to happen but it was a dream that it would happen this way.” she admits. ‘My dream was just to get published; I would have been thrilled to bits and doing hula hoops if I
thought I could get an ordinary deal. I'd send off
my stuff and just wait for it to come back to send it on somewhere else. I used to just think. “Ah well. tough luck. you‘ve missed out.”
104 THE LIST 18 Mar <l Apr 2004
‘I WAS IN A TRANCE, AS IF I WAS ONE STEP BEHIND WATCHING SOMETHING HAPPENING TO SOMEBODY ELSE'
And should you reject the chance to read her lucrative debut Run for Home. what would you be missing out on? Like her literary idol Stephen King. Quigley is of the opinion that keeping the pace up and the pages turning is paramount. Her tale starts with a man literally running for his life. knowing that his end is nigh. Fast forward l6 years to the present day and a teenage girl is having a leisurely jog across the
same murderous ground. unaware that members of
her family are set to be sprung out of their contentment by evil inﬂuences. Chuck in a female detective with her own troubled family and bodies minus their heads cropping up across the area and you have all the ingredients of a contender for the Boris Starling/John Connolly crown of horribly readable bestselling gore.
‘I don't like stories which take four or five pages to describe a rose.‘ she notes distancing herself further from the literati who will no doubt hate her book. ‘You can't please everybody in the long run and obviously there‘ll be some people who don‘t like it; I‘ll probably be gutted when I hear the criticism. and I‘m steeling myself for it.’
Quigley‘s life as the bold matriarch of a big Sunderland family has her cut out for coping with nasty words chucked at her by ivory tower literary editors. But a boat trip to Norway. which turns up on the BBC‘s Imagine documentary due for airing in mid-May. had more of an impact. ‘The camera crew came with us for that and it was the voyage from hell. I‘m pretty positive they’ve got me hanging over the side of the ship vomiting and me saying. “What the fuck did I write that book for?”
Run for Home is published by Century, Wed 24 Mar, £9.99.
Putting debut writers under the microscope.
This issue: Rupa Baiwa
Who she? She is the 27-year-old author whose ﬁrst novel. The Sari Shop. has already led to her being compared favourably to Rohinton Mistry and Anita Desai. Baiwa was born and continues to live in Amritsar. and her debut emerged from the bones of an award-winning short story.
Her debut Set in her native Amritsar. The Sari Shop is the deceptively simple tale of an innocent young man. Ramchand. with no ties and few connections. He works in a traditional sari shop by day and lives alone in a small. bare room in a dirty, noisy street. On being despatched by his employer to take cloth to the home of a rich bride in a fashionable part of the city, Ramchand is inspired to spruce himself up and hit the books. rekindling his long dormant education. Expanding his horizons does not have the desired effect on Ramchand‘s life, however, as he is forced to recognise the conuption and injustices around him. while confronting his own personal demons.
Any good? Bajwa's novel is told in beautifully clear, yet highly evocative prose and fully captures the heat and dust. brawling and barnies of Indian city life as well as the stringent, constrictive nature of the class system. While the writing is compelling and the observations quietly subversive. the story has the timelessness of a fable.
First line test ‘Ramchand had overslept. waking up only when the loud noises of a brawl in the street below had jolted him out of sleep.‘ (Allan Radcliffe)
I The San‘ Shop is out now, published by Viking, priced £12.99.