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My First Time...with Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott was born and raised in Houston, Texas, before eventually coming to call London her adopted home.

She has studied screenwriting at the University of Southern California, been honoured by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a Finalist for the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, and in 2006, Kelleigh was the recipient of the Abroad Writers’ Conference Fellowship in Provence, where the germ of an idea for a book about Truman Capote’s betrayal of his Swans was born; a decade of research and gestation later, her debut novel Swan Song was born.

The winner of the 2015 Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel, Swan Song was also shortlisted for the 2015 Myriad Editions First Drafts Competition, the 2015/16 Historical Novel Society New Novel Award and the 2016 Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize.

So she's quite good at writing, then,

It's our pleasure to welcome Kelleigh to The Riff Raff on Thursday August 9th...

Here's the blurb for Swan Song...

'They told him everything. He told everyone else. 'Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely. 'In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.'

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

It’s a bit of a two-beat journey. Growing up in a tradition of Southern colloquial storytellers, I’ve always been drawn to Capote. I read the Clarke and Plimpton biographies early on and became fascinated by mentions of the powerful, vulnerable women in Truman’s life – his ‘Swans’.

This led me down a rabbit hole of research, where I discovered that each possessed the qualities of novelistic heroines – mid-20th century Kareninas or Bovaries. In 2006 I was in a villa in Provence having received a fellowship for a Tolstoy screen adaptation I’d written, and was inspired by authors present (Michael Ondaatje, Russell Celyn Jones, Alan Lightman) to try my hand at prose fiction.

That pivotal summer, I realised that writing a novel about the tragedy of Capote-and-Swans was something that I’d been working towards all along.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?

That it would take as long as it did to get right.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Research – which is for me both springboard and crutch.

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing it?

We had an unusually challenging series of typesets.

Each pass my husband would read the new draft aloud while I checked the master… all 471 pages. After the third go, I felt like I was morphing into the protagonist in The Shining, going quietly mad over a manuscript. (I did lose it slightly during that two-month period… luckily the marriage is still intact!)

Best thing about writing your book?

Living with my imaginary friends for 10 years. Restoring the individual voices to a group of women who have been in many ways lopped together by history, and paying homage to Truman’s prose techniques via my own.

And the worst?

Fearing that I’m missing the sheer joy of the experience as a result of my own perfectionism.

Go-to writing snacks?

Liquid snacks – I’m a beverage junkie. I have iced coffee practically on an I-V drip when I’m working… and nothing rewards a long writing sesh quite like a Negroni.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Unexplored histories.

The book that changed you?

One is too tough. (Ten would be tough!) Up there are John Fowles’s The Magus, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, and all things Joan Didion.

Your pump up song?

It changes with what I’m writing. For Swan Song, Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me and Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing were on heavy rotation.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?

Capote, naturally! But let’s make it a three-martini lunch.

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get published?

Find the team that believes in your voice, beyond the first book. It’s a long game, and you want to surround yourself with a tribe of champions who ‘get’ what you hope to accomplish and who will be there for you through highs and lows. Writing is a solitary act; publishing is a collective endeavour.

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