Theresa Le Flem on Writing ‘The Sea Inside His Head’

The Sea Inside His Head A daughter of the artist Cyril Hamersma, Theresa Le Flem was raised in London and married at nineteen. After having three children in quick succession she trained as a hairdresser, took up pottery but ended up working in a factory to pay the bills. After her eventual divorce she married again in 2006. Finally, having the support of friends and family, and with her children settled in New York and Kent, Theresa is able to follow her passion for writing and express her strong views about social injustice. She is an avid listener of Radio 4 and a keen gardener, growing all of her own vegetables. The Sea Inside His Head is her first novel.

In this interview, Theresa tells us where her ideas come from and how she goes about writing a book.

Where did the idea for The Sea Inside His Head originate from?

When the idea for The Sea Inside His Head first came to me, it was Christmas Day 2006, and I was sitting by a roaring coal fire. Feeling so happy and secure, my thoughts turned to the past when my life was far from easy. The atmosphere of the old mining-village came back to me, and I remembered not so much the tension of the miners’ situation but the peace of the churchyard nearby. It was the contrast of the anxiety, poverty and aggression associated with the strike, set against nature, in all her timeless freedom, which gripped me. A phrase came into my mind, I reached for my notebook and I was away!

What sort of process do you follow in your writing? Do you plan in advance?

I don’t plan at all until I get to know my characters, and they themselves create the novel. I have glimpses of scenes and I write these on scraps of paper and lay them out – like stepping stones – across the floor. Then I move them around until I have the plot. Writing fiction gives me freedom to re-visit the past and meet characters who might otherwise be just faces in a crowd. I can wander through rooms I remember as a child, and recall arguments from a safe distance. Writing acts like a scrapbook for my memories. It’s also a great healer… I hardly ever watch drama and shy away from violent scenes on TV and film because I don’t like being on the receiving end of someone else’s imagination. But when I’m the one in control it’s not scary. My writing is very visual.

Once an idea for a book strikes me – just a feeling, an atmosphere, or anything really – I begin to research and the bare branches gradually produce buds, leaves and send down roots. It’s a three dimensional organic experience. I use books for research mostly, although the internet is useful. But without having faith that there is a reader out there, who will read what I’ve written, I don’t think I could write. I need to voice my imagination, but more than that, I need to know someone is out there listening. I can easily imagine The Sea Inside His Head as a film.

What books do you read in your spare time?

I read mostly classics, my favourites being D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. Their portrayal of characters is just stunning.

The Sea Inside His Head is published on 30 April 2012 in hardback and is available now to pre-order with a 30% discount for a limited time only.

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2 thoughts on “Theresa Le Flem on Writing ‘The Sea Inside His Head’

  1. Theresa’s novel is a joy to read. It is beautifully written and – unlike so many new novels – the editing is nigh-on perfect (I didn’t find a single typographical error – very refreshing!). Exploring the problems surrounding the characters in a (fictional) village during the miner’s strikes, we soon learn about their lives as if we are there in the room at each scene. Being a first time novelist, Theresa Le Flem walks a fine line between the emotional and sentimental, achieving a high order of depth through showing scenarios to the reader as if we were there experiencing it.

    The descriptions are the thing I liked most of all because it seems so difficult, these days, to find a newly published book with just the right balance of metaphors and similes – beautifully thought out and poetically justified – painting pictures with words that take you into the story and the place along with the characters. Events in chapter three are so excellently expressed they provide a good foretaste for what’s to come.

    Next in preference during my read was the dialogue. Each character’s voice was well defined without overdoing the colloquialisms, profanities (hardly any), or slang. All the characters are very naturally different and you never got in a muddle with who was who.

    There was a real dilemma for Bradley, the main character, and various other problems for some of the other characters – I became anxious for him and for his sister and his wife, wondering how it was all going to end or indeed if I was going to be dreadfully upset. Yes there is conflict, violence, hardship contrasting with sensual moments and deep yearning; the plot twists and turns, moves quickly with some surprises but is compelling too. There is never any gratuitous language or violence. I learned a lot about a striking miner’s life – perhaps any striking worker – and I think this novel is a veritable tribute to those hard times.

    • Praise in such detail is praise indeed! Thank you for reading my novel with such sensitivity and understanding. Yes, I agree it reflects the dilemma facing any striker; also it illustrates how the anxiety about rising debts and poverty can tear a couple apart. I’m glad you enjoyed the dialogue – those voices I originally heard in my head have sprung to life on paper. Many thanks for your comment.

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