With a 2010 election looming, "Broken Britain" is once again in the headlines with commentators blaming society or, the individual. Simon Lelic's debut, Rupture (Picador, January), will be a topical novel, dealing as it does with the aftermath of a school shooting in north London.
This time the perpetrator is not a teenager but a teacher and the subsequent investigation reveals a grim picture of bullying among the pupils, and the staff. The story is related by many voices— some witnesses to the crime— as the central character, a young policewoman, tries to piece together what happened and uncover the circumstances that have driven the teacher to commit such an act.
Rupture is not Lelic's first attempt at a novel although it is the first to be published. He had previously completed a novel entitled Our Life Beyond which he sent to literary agents picked out, in time-honoured fashion, from the Writers & Artists' Yearbook. Of the feedback he received from agents he says: "It was all quite positive. Good but not good enough was what they were basically saying, which was generous I think, looking at it now."
Accepting that the fate of Our Life Beyond was to be "my creative writing course for myself" rather than a published novel, the inspiration for Rupture came from a newspaper article about a US college professor who shot one of his colleagues. This set Lelic thinking about bullying from an adult perspective. Initially a short story, "it started with the first voice in the first chapter" — a police interview with a pupil who was bunking off at the time of the shooting. Lelic took seven months to write the first draft of a full-length novel.
Avoiding the pigeonhole
The second time around Lelic was more successful, signing with agent Caroline Wood of Felicity Bryan. Rupture was sold at auction in September last year.
"It all happened so quickly," he recalls. "One of the agents I spoke to warned me that it could take a year, two years even for a publisher to respond so [to go] from that to it selling within three weeks at auction..."
Picador beat five other interested parties, paying a reported five-figure sum. Lelic observes that a number of publishers "saw it as a crime novel, which I didn't set out to write. I was wary of using a DI as the lead character because you perhaps automatically get pigeonholed in that genre. There's nothing wrong with that but it was a book about bullying rather than a book about a detective inspector in my head."
Lelic read history at Exeter University, then completed an MA in European Studies and a postgraduate diploma in journalism. He worked for the Ark Group, a business-to-business publishing company, on various trade magazines "trying to feed the urge within me to write".
"It worked for a few years but then got to the point where I needed to break free of those constraints and just focus on the writing."
A series of happy coincidences enabled him to leave journalism and London in 2005 and take over the family import/export aluminium business in Brighton his father set up. It was a move that enabled him to start taking his writing seriously and dedicate more time to it.
"[My father] was getting to the point where he wanted to retire. I was at the point where I wanted more time to write," he says. "We came to the arrangement that I would take on the family business and he would take a step back."
It was an arrangement that worked, he says. "Being my own boss allows me the time to prioritise as I will, so let the business go to ruin as I redraft a chapter," he jokes.
- Dickinson leaves S&S for Hodder crime and thriller role
- Simon Lelic pens teen thriller for HCG
- Louise Welsh | "If somebody said you can't do this because you're crime and this is what crime means then that would be a problem"
- Headley and Hamdy to launch London crime and thriller festival
- Second chance