Thursday, April 7, 2011

Heaven Sent: Where do our heaven sent words go?

I'm delighted to welcome British author Xavier Leret to my blog today. He has a fascinating tale to tell of how his novel Heaven Sent came about. I read the novel last week and found myself transported to the dark side of Bristol, England, seeing the world through the eyes of an amazing teenager. Read on to see what Xavier has to say about writing it. Then go out and read the book!

You can find my review of Heaven Sent here on

Over to you Xavier...

When I began Heaven Sent, it was a eureka moment, not in the sense that I had cracked something profound like light speed or the secrets to eternal life, I just knew that I had started my first novel. I hadn't set out to start it. It wasn't like when I wrote plays. I would announce that my theatre company was going to tour a play and it would be about this or that, and then I would write it. Heaven Sent didn't begin like that. I just wrote a thousand words. That thousand words were about sixteen year old Carlo, except that then he was fourteen. In that thousand words were three sentences where Carlo, a lad from an extremely religious background met a girl called Daizee, whose step father sold her to sailors from out the back of his van when she was just three years old.

None of that first thousand words made it into the novel, even though at the time I thought they were a brilliant thousand words. But what I thought was really special was Daizee and Carlo. Carlo was like everything that I wanted to be but didn't have the courage to be. And Daizee – well I just saw her through his eyes and she was dazzling. She was everything that would scare the hell out a parent. Crude, guttural, hard and yet vulnerable – though she would only show that side to Carlo. But more than this, she understands life. She knows that nothing is what it seems because she has been abused by the upright as well as the lowly.

Two weeks later I had sketched out what I thought the story would be. Then of course the characters decided to take over the narrative. Daizee and Carlo taught me how to write the book. They were very patient. They let me veer off on tangents and experiment in style. They let me have two or three years off when I wrote other plays or made a couple of movies – though they were talking to me constantly – Daizee especially. She was in my ear all the time. When I wanted to give up she would curse me, calling me all sorts.

Just after Christmas a year ago I sat down to finish the story, nothing was going to get in the way. I hadn't touched it for a year and I was angry at myself for not completing it.

Back then I thought Daizee and Carlo would have an equal presence. I wanted it to be equal. It took me half of last year to realise that actually it was really Carlo's story. Not to denigrate Daisy - I had written huge passages of her back story, that were shocking and disturbing – some of it I still think is extraordinary, but it was too much for most readers. And it wasn't very present, it was in the past and a story needs to move forward. I had written her stuff as first person narrative, she spoke directly to the reader and because it was so disturbing it was alienating. Heaven Sent is dark as it is, but to have added in that detail would have put off too many readers. So I/we compromised. Also during this last year I cut all the work of the five previous years. That was difficult.

Daizee's accent is thick Bristolian. Bristolian is almost like another language. I began to experiment with the accent over the summer and found that it made me experiment with her vocabulary. Using the accent gave her a very clear poetry and rhythm. I loved the way that visually it stood out from the page. It makes Daizee appear from out of this world. I think also it immediately makes people prejudiced against her – which is how most of the characters in the book are when confronted by her. She is difficult to understand and her accent will suggest to many that she is trash. But not to Carlo. And because he listens and loves... then perhaps...

About the author.

Xavier has written ten plays and directed numerous others, won a Stage Award, a Millennium Award and was commissioned by the International Festival of Perth to write their Millennium show. He has written/directed two feature films, Mine ('Breakthrough Movie' LUFF 2007) and Unarmed But Dangerous (Anchor Bay 2009). HEAVEN SENT is his first novel. Xavier lives in a quiet spot of the UK with his wife and three children.

Heaven Sent is available where ever ebooks are sold.


Helen Ginger said...

Daizee sounds very intriguing. And your description of writing the book makes me think of you as an artist, putting together a piece of art.

Xavier said...

Hey Helen, that's a nice thing to be described as. For me the whole process is about layering the text. You begin with the characters, you stumble about trying to find the plot and then you shade in the backgrounds. language is a wonderful thing. Bit of me does wish I had been a painter though, I always always terrible at drawing, whereas my younger brother had a bit of talent - used to do my head in!

sarah said...

first...the title is great and the book sounds very intriguing.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sheila and Xavier .. what an amazing post - so interesting and fascinating to read. As Helen says - intriguing ..

Xavier .. love the way you then comment on the process ..

I must check if you have a blog ..

Sheila .. now I can see where more of your memories are coming from - thanks for commenting on my A - Z Challenge posts .. it's fun!

Great to meet Xavier too .. cheers Hilary

Xavier said...

Hi Hilary

Yes, I do have a blog. I publish stories and things up there so don't really write about process - perhaps I should - maybe I will start. My blog is At the moment actually the front page is scrap bok of reviews and things for Heaven Sent - which is a bit lazy on my part.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Xavier .. thanks for replying .. RSS to you .. and networked signed up - not sure what that does .. but I'll find out.

Looks to be a good blog - serving its purpose for now ..

The process of writing a play, art, story telling etc etc .. is all so entwined - not being a writer I'd never thought about it .. but on my blog are three posts about a lady who wrote about Hooke - who's just been acknowledged as a major player (he was curator .. but Newton hated him) in the Royal Society and just been reinstated to his rightful place after 300 years ..

I just found the whole thing so interesting .. a) Hooke as the English Leonardo, then b) Siobhan coming onto the blog and commenting .. then she added to her information .. it was/is great - as she'll do more .. and c) the web interaction with the blog etc etc ..

If you enter Hooke into the search the three posts come up .. I think you'll find them quite interesting ... though I'm hoisting my own petard here - one's allowed to occasionally - is one not?

Cheers Xavier .. and thanks Sheila for introducing us ... good to meet stimulating writers and bloggers .. lovely being here .. Hilary

Xavier said...

Hey Hilary

I'm not sure what the network blog does either. I'm signed up to a few and I check them every now and then - so I guess that must be it.

I will check out Hooke. Newton managed to really rub people up the wrong way. The first Royal astronomer spent his life, night after night mapping the stars in order to publish his definitive works only for Newton to get it published it early and incomplete because he needed it for his work. The poor Royal astronomer bought every copy and burnt them. What was his name?

What's the url to you blog?


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Xavier .. live and learn slowly in my case! It's

Flamsteed .. so Newton really was an unscrupulous "bu**er" as I so described him ..

I didn't know that bit of information .. interesting ... thanks for adding it to the pot.

I was going to say but forgot .. not sure if you'd like to do something for my blog - once you've had a look and the A - Z is over? Or send some info - I can add to in some way or other .. you'll see it's very eclectic ..

Cheers - Flamsteed .. well now! - Hilary

Xavier said...

Hey Hilary,

Flamsteed! The only reason I know this is because I took my daughter to the observatory at Greenwich. Completely fell in love with the place. Newton cared about one thing - his work. Selfish, self centered and probably a bit of a b'stard - but he changed the world - so I guess that forgives him.

I'd love to do a guest on your blog. MY email xav (at) xavieleret (dot) com


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Xav .. the only reason I know was because Wiki told me!

Great re the post .. but I think you'd better check the blog first!

Cheers .. Hilary

PS Sheila .. would you like to change this to the Xav and Hilary blogspot?!!! Sorry we seem to have taken over ..

Xavier said...

I did check your site. I should have said, I like it. How's your mum doing?


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Xav .. just emailed you .. the one here isn't quite right!

Mum's 'fine' .. ie this is her last chapter - not an easy one for either of us .. 4 years on .. thanks for asking .. I usually do a postscript note on each post .. but have stopped for the A -Z challenge .. brings another dimension in ..

Thanks re the blog - I hope my email got through? Cheers ..Hilary

maryrussel said...

I love it when the characters take over. Yours sound fascinating and well developed.

Maria Papadopoulou said...

This sounds very intriguing-the title absolutely rocks!Whose idea was that by the way? Xavier, I will visit your blog.