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This blog was featured on 09/24/2018
Louise Candlish on Using Podcast In Her New Novel
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
September 2018
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
September 2018

This guest post comes from our September guest editor, Louise Candlish. With her new book available now, she dove into why she used podcasts in Our House and the ways in which it helped her story. 

We all remember where we were the day we got hooked on the ‘Serial’ podcast. There are, at the last count, over 80 million of us who have downloaded Season 1, Sarah Koenig’s dissection of a possible miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of classmate Hae Min Lee. I was late to the party, it had been recommended to me countless times and I’d resisted. ‘Are you serious? I’m far too busy to listen to twenty-three episodes of this!’

Then, in my kitchen, a list of chores to hand, I listened to Episode 01. And 02. And 03. Soon I was carrying my iPad around the house, even when I used the bathroom. For two or three days, ‘Serial’ was the air I breathed, Sarah Koenig’s the only voice permissible to my ears.

When I came to plot my domestic suspense novel Our House, my US debut, I still had the rhythms of ‘Serial’ in my head. The word that kept coming back to me was persuasive. Adnan, Jen, Jay: they couldn’t all be telling the (whole) truth and yet they were each so persuasive. The spoken word is incomparably direct and immediate, it’s filterless and I wanted to harness that somehow for the written word. So I decided I would present my character Fi Lawson’s story as an interview given for a true-crime podcast called ‘The Victim’. Her testimony would then be transcribed for the reader.

I worked hard at the details, removing jarring repetitions of questions and prompts, and even including the split-second timings of Fi’s passages (her account is interwoven with her estranged husband’s Bram’s confession). I tasked my husband with the timing job. He began by reading sections aloud and timing them manually, but after about an hour he said, "Screw this", and found an app to do it for him. Of course, whenever you think you’re being clever, you are always setting yourself up for a fall and it wasn’t long before I landed face first in mine: during the editing process, which involved five or six drafts, every time I made a change to one of the transcribed passages, I had to adjust the timings of all those that followed. Insane not to have thought of that first and left it until the polished, copyedited draft to add them! But this is what happens when you experiment with structure: you’re a rookie, an amateur. By the time you’ve mastered it, it’s time to move on.

Early on in the writing of Our House, it struck me that readers might find Fi annoying at times, in the way some people find Gwyneth Paltrow annoying. She has instigated a bird’s nest custody arrangement with Bram (when the separating parents take it in turns to live in the house with the kids) and in her eagerness to consciously uncouple, she’s almost willfully oblivious to his criminal behavior. I’m a big Twitter fan and I love the way users live tweet when watching TV, so I included some tweets from those following Fi’s Story on ‘The Victim’ podcast. I wanted to voice what the reader might be thinking: "I feel so sorry for her!", "If he was my husband, I’d castrate him!", "Hang on, is she really this clueless?" This was fun to do and, I hope, helpful to read.

Since delivering that final draft, passages of Fi’s testimony have been recorded by several actors – and by me – for various books podcasts and radio chat shows, as well as for Penguin’s superb website ourhousethebook.com, which is a brilliantly authentic sampler of ‘The Victim.’ There are also two full-length versions for the audiobooks: the actors inhabiting the characters of Fi and Bram with uncanny skill.

I love audio. I associate it with the dead of night, the lullaby in my ear when I can’t sleep. I love the Old Hollywood stars of ‘You Must Remember This’, I love the British radio soap ‘The Archers’, I love the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, I love old BBC dramatizations of classics by Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Edgar Allen Poe. Like most other writers, I also love sitting in cafés or on trains and eavesdropping on the people behind me (that’s an important detail: you mustn’t be able to see these people, you need to picture them for yourself). My ears are always open – and that’s one of my first tips to new writers. Who knows what will find itself on your page, re-imagined and re-purposed.

Writers, readers, listeners, viewers: we’re all in this together.

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