Do you remember reading Mizz, the nineties-esque teen magazine, that advised teen girls on virtually every aspect of their life, on a fortnightly basis? I do. But I digress: I remember seeing a feature with Rowan Coleman-about Dyslexia and her novels. I got to meet her earlier this year, and am ever so grateful to her, for taking time out of writing her next book, to answer a few questions. (Thanks also to Tess Henderson, her publicist at Ebury.) For clarity, I have also added some additional remarks alongside my questions, to make this a more fluent, conversation-like exchange.
Hello Rowan, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Often, you talk quite openly about being a writer with Dyslexia. How has your experience of this shaped you as a writer?
I think it shapes me in oblique ways, maybe the way I structure sentences, use words. Dyslexics are visual and lateral thinkers, which contributes to my voice. It also means I need a really good edit!!
“I LOVE QUEEN!!!!!”
-Rowan Coleman, Mademoiselle Interview, on loving the rock Band, Queen.
That’s quite fair enough! Would you ever consider writing about the condition for a book?
I’ve thought about it, but I’m not sure yet how to go about it in an engaging and meaningful way. I do like supporting The Quick Reads charity though, getting quality adult fiction to people with literacy issues.
Additionally, you sometimes choose quite upsetting issues for a book; why did you choose AD for The Memory Book?
I met an elderly couple in my local supermarket. The lady was quite distressed as her husband had gone to get something he’d forgotten. I chatted to her and she told me her husband was coming, but she didn’t always remember what he looked like. Later just before I left, her husband thanked me and told me that she might forget what he looks like, but she doesn’t forget that she loves him. It started there. AD is a terribly cruel and destructive disease, but always in the middle of it you find ordinary brave heroes battling for the people they love. I like to write about ordinary heroes.
How did you go about structuring how somebody with Alzheimer’s thinks and feels?
I read quite a bit of first person accounts, which gave me the confidence to try. In the early stages of AD there seems to be a disconnect between internal and external communication skills. After that it was like any type of first person characterization, taking a leap of faith and putting yourself in another person’s shoes, and imaging what it might be like.
Well, I think you did that quite effectively: Was this hard?
Yes, hard to get a voice that felt authentic to me and to readers. In the end though I think Claire is one of my favourite characters ever.
Similarly, how did you begin We Are All Made Of Stars?
Running! I took up running, (slowly) and the idea for Stella came out of that. I wanted to set the book at night, and so gradually her character formed around the idea of being a night nurse. This collided with my interest in hand written letters and a book was born! I did research at my local hospice, and now I regularly lead creative writing workshops there and on the area, with patients, relatives and staff.
“I met an elderly couple in my local supermarket. The lady was quite distressed as her husband had gone to get something he’d forgotten. I chatted to her and she told me her husband was coming, but she didn’t always remember what he looked like.”
-Rowan Coleman, Mademoiselle Interview, about The Memory Book
Will there be a sequel?
There is a tiny little sequel. Not sure when it will be available, keep your eyes peeled.
*Punches air in jubilation to self* What are you currently working on?
My new novel. This is my longest ever write, because it’s very complicated! Nearly there though.
Could you take us through your daily routine as a writer?
Get up, coffee, dog walk, coffee, desk, Twitter, coffee, write, write, write, coffee, write, write, write, go home, wine.
“You never know what you can do until you try – the single biggest reason first novels don’t get published is because they don’t get written! Give it a go. ”
-Rowan Coleman, Mademoiselle Interview, her advice for writers.
What is essential for you to do when writing a book?
Get in the zone. I can spend a long time skirting round the edges, but to get it done I have to be in it.
For anyone who wished to follow in your footsteps, so you have any advice?
You never know what you can do until you try – the single biggest reason first novels don’t get published is because they don’t get written! Give it a go.
Random: What is your favorite rock album? (We talked about Queen, essentially in memes, on Twitter.)
I LOVE QUEEN!!!!!
I love A Night At the Opera also Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi.
But mostly Queen. I would like Brian May to adopt me.
Thanks once again to Rowan Coleman and Tess Henderson. Click here to buy Rowan’s latest novel, We Are All Made Of Stars.