Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Hiding Behind The Couch series - some stuff you might like to know

A while back, Hans Hirschi sent me a set of questions about my ongoing series, Hiding Behind The Couch. He used snippets from it in his review of A Midnight Clear, but, of course, I write long. I thought I’d share the rest of my responses, as they offer insight into where the series came from, my favourite character(s), the best order to read, and so on.
So, without further ado…

What is Hiding Behind The Couch?
Hiding Behind The Couch is the ongoing story of nine friends from high school/university and the important people in their lives. The stories are about life, so there’s love and romance, births, deaths, marriages, murder, industrial espionage, accidents, affairs, successes, failures – it’s a fictional micro-social study, and it’s inclusive. People are people, and I don’t distinguish by superficial differences, but to clarify, there are LGBTQ and heterosexual characters, as well as characters from some of the different ethnic groups that make up the rich culture of the UK.

Why did you write Hiding Behind The Couch?
Why I started writing it? Therapy.
November 2007: I was a month into a period of depression that lasted six months in all. I hadn’t written anything since finishing Champagne in 2002 (which was not the reason for my depression – depression doesn’t need a reason), and I was beginning to think it was the only book I had in me. Then I saw a blog post about NaNoWriMo, and I decided to have a go – nothing ventured, nothing gained.
But what to write? I had no idea. The only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want any of the characters to be based on real people in any way, shape or form. So, I just started writing and decided to see where it took me.
It began with Josh’s dream…a recurring dream…he was recounting it to a friend (Eleanor) at another friend’s (Adele’s) wedding. Dan was best man; Andy was in hospital following a near-fatal car crash, Shaunna and Kris were smooching at the table in front, Jess was mocking the bride, George arrived late… Nine characters? Utter madness.
But I wasn’t planning to publish it. I just needed to write.
108k later… I realised something. What I’d actually needed was a therapist, but us social scientists are a cynical bunch, so I was loathe to talk to one. I did see a psychologist back in 2007, who referred me to the women’s refuge (WTF?). How utterly pointless. I’ve seen one since (in early 2015, about my weight) who dismissed my critical appraisal of CBT which is based on teaching undergraduate psychology for 15 years as ‘she is resistant to cognitive therapies because she’s writing a novel about a psychologist’.
So if you ever wonder why Josh and Sean are a pair of arrogant, cynical buggers, it goes with the territory. Maybe it’s part of the job spec for psychologist: must be a condescending git. ;)
Ultimately, I wrote my own psychologist, but –
This is the bit where either you’ll decide I am completely insane, or…well…
Here’s the thing. In between writing HBTC #2 and #3, I wrote a short science fiction novel called And The Walls Came Tumbling Down. I say it’s science fiction; it’s posited in superstring theory, or my understanding of it, but I’m a social scientist, not a theoretical physicist.
So I suppose And The Walls... is theoretical contemporary fiction. The story is about a young man whose dead-beat existence gets turned upside down by a chance meeting with an anthropologist from another dimension. It needs a good edit, which I’ll get around to doing one of these days, but the indie-published edition is still online.
In the process of researching for And The Walls..., it dawned on me that potentially, these worlds we authors ‘create’ are not actually creations at all, but inter-dimensional incursions. Now, as I say, I’m not a scholar of whichever kind of science this is – quantum mechanics? Theoretical physics?  – but this is my interpretation/understanding.
Within superstring theory (the 10-dimensional version), the first 4 dimensions are our understanding of space-time; the 5th dimension is a world that is slightly different to ours; the 6th dimension is a plane of worlds that have the same starting point as ours – I’ll leave it there, because it’s the 5th dimension that is relevant here (this page offers a good layperson’s explanation: http://www.universetoday.com/48619/a-universe-of-10-dimensions/).
We can’t readily perceive beyond three dimensions – we struggle to comprehend the 4th (time) in anything but linear form, and our limited 3D perception effectively renders the other dimensions invisible (see Carl Sagan’s explanation of Flatland for how this works  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0WjV6MmCyM).
As I say, we can’t readily perceive those other dimensions, but there are theoretical models that support the idea that at least some of the experiences purported to be ‘ghost sightings’ or ‘channelling spirit’ may be moments of inter-dimensional perception: surplus gravity (potential evidence for a multiverse), ‘ghost’ sightings and other supernatural occurrences are theorised to be the consequence of an inter-dimensional incursion – a momentary connection between the fifth dimension and ours.
Those experiences are not dissimilar to the way in which many authors produce stories. It certainly describes my experience of writing Hiding Behind The Couch. I know the characters like I know people in the world around me. They have distinct personalities, preferences, daily routines. I have no control over the events in their lives.
At any given time, I can ‘tune in’ to their realm. I can tell you, for instance, that as I write…
  • Josh has just decided to have another cup of coffee – even for him, it’s too early to leave for work.
  • Sean is ready for work, sitting on his sofa, drinking tea and watching news on TV and talking to himself in low-level amusement/horror at world events.
  • George is already at the farm, and it’s raining. He’s taking his time, opening the animals’ stalls and giving them their morning feed.
  • Shaunna is sitting at her kitchen table, mug of tea in one hand, phone in the other, while she scrolls through her Facebook feed and slowly comes around to the day.
  • Andy is…
I’ll stop there, because of spoilers (and I could go on and on), but I’m sure you get the gist.

How many books and words (approx) are there now?
Approximately? LOL.
To be honest, if you’d asked me the same question this time last year, I would have had to take a wild guess, but with readers’ preferences shifting towards shorter stories, plus the few requests I’ve had about reading/writing order, I put the info into a spreadsheet.
To date, the series consists of 21 stories, of which:
  • 5 are works in progress
  • 7 are ‘seasons’ - think TV series with seasons consisting of run-on episodes, plus seasonal specials / character specials
  • 4 are stand-alone novels focusing on specific characters (e.g. Ruminations is Josh and Sean, Crying in the Rain is Ade and Kris)
  • 6 are novellas
  • 1 is Deb self-indulgence and irrelevant (when I crossed from our dimension into theirs)
Word count (including WIP): 1,447,820
At the end of this post, I’ve included the full list of stories, listed in both the order they were written, and in chronological order. They can be read in either of those and remain spoiler-free.

Who urged you to turn HBTC into a series, and why?
Andrea, my very good friend and editor, although she was neither of those things when she ‘urged’ me to turn HBTC into a series. Originally, we met through what was then my main job: teaching in a high school sixth-form college; Andrea was one of my students, and she’s always been an avid reader. She’d left sixth form before I started writing again, so at that stage I’d only written Champagne. She read the original edition and (thankfully) can’t remember it. First novels, man…they should be consigned to some kind of reverent cemetery of fiction, where we can leave flowers and appreciate their contribution to the world without actually looking inside the casket.
Andrea read HBTC #1 after she’d graduated uni, and I wasn’t going to publish it, or HBTC #2, but she persuaded me to publish HBTC #1, and then she read HBTC #2. Her review ended with:
All I can hope is for the possibility that Debbie McGowan might like to make this into a trilogy, or even a series that I can keep indulging in for either the rest of my own or the characters' lives!!
And I thought…I can do a trilogy. I had NO intention of going beyond that. I wrote HBTC #3, called it a day. My depression returned. The characters wouldn’t leave me be.
That was the point when the series became ongoing. Until then, I’d tried to ignore the constant bombardment of my mind with stories and events – a lot of the time, it’s only interludes, moments in the characters’ lives. My job seems to be to put it all in the right order and find an overarching plot to link it together.

Will you ever stop writing for that series?
I don’t know. I don’t plan to, but I have no conscious control over it.

Your favourite character? (I had to ask)
Hm. My favourite character changes all the time, depending on whose story I’m telling.
For the most part, it’s Sean, because he’s a bit broken but functional. He’s got ‘the Irish charm’, he’s intelligent, compassionate and imperfect. I always adore George. He’s one of the genuine nice guys – such a big heart.  Josh… Sometimes I could strangle him. He’s a pain in the arse, but I try to be patient, because George is a good role model. ;)
Jess – she’s difficult to describe. I don’t dislike her, but she’s never been a favourite. She’s not the kind of person I’m drawn to – too driven and ambitious, and a bit ruthless with it. Dan and Adele, I’m kind of ambivalent about, too; they’re very materialistic and all about the ‘body beautiful’. Eleanor – I forget about her a lot of the time, because she puts herself on the outside of the group.
I’m very fond of Shaunna. She’s sensual, fun, independent, funny. I love her optimism and strength. Kris, I like, but our similar life experiences seem to divide us (that, along with the many ideas my husband has for how Kris meets an untimely end – very entertaining, I might yet publish them as a collection!). Ade is fun. I’m slowly getting to know him better.
Andy…I have a king–sized crush on, which is surely definitive evidence that I am in fact quite, quite mad. ;)

The series, in writing order:
Hiding Behind The Couch (Season 1)
No Time Like The Present (Season 2)
The Harder They Fall  (Season 3)
Beginnings (prequel 1)
First Christmas
In The Stars Part I  (Season 4)
Breaking Waves
In The Stars Part II  (Season 5)
A Midnight Clear
Red Hot Christmas
Crying in the Rain
Ruminations (prequel 2)
Two by Two (Season 6)
Hiding Out
Breakfast at Cordelia’s Aquarium
Chain of Secrets
Those Jeffries Boys (WIP)
The Wag and The Scoundrel (WIP)
The Lost Mitten (WIP)
Reunions  (Season 7) (WIP)
The series, in chronological order:
Beginnings (prequel 1)
Ruminations (prequel 2)
Hiding Behind The Couch (Season 1)
No Time Like The Present (Season 2)
The Harder They Fall  (Season 3)
Crying in the Rain
First Christmas
In The Stars Part I  (Season 4)
Breaking Waves
Chain of Secrets
In The Stars Part II  (Season 5)
A Midnight Clear
Red Hot Christmas
Two by Two (Season 6)
Hiding Out
Those Jeffries Boys (WIP)
The Wag and The Scoundrel (WIP)
The Lost Mitten (WIP)
Breakfast at Cordelia’s Aquarium
Reunions  (Season 7) (WIP)

For more about the series, including links to buy/download*, visit:
*Season One is available for free on my website.
Beginnings and Breakfast at Cordelia’s Aquarium are also both free on all platforms.

4 comments:

  1. Glad those questions were of some use! ;)

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    1. Well, I thought it was wasteful not to use them! Plus, it saved me from ranting about injustice of some form or other. And they're great questions, so thank you. :)

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  2. I didn't realize so many were in the series. Go, Debbie! It's nice to see them in order of both when they were written and in chronological order according to the stories. Nice!

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    1. Thanks, Rick. :)

      I also fixed the overuse of passive voice in the first book (among other horrors). And the second book. Then I got better at writing (I think/hope) and editing.

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