Rowan Coleman released her next book, The Summer Of Impossible Things, just two days ago. It stands out from all of her previous works. Here, I emailed her a few questions, in order to find out more. (Thanks also to Tess Henderson.)
Since the last interview, you’ve written and are about to release a new book, The Summer Of Impossible Things. What was the inspiration behind it?
Quite a few inspirations, but I suppose mostly I have always wanted to write a time travel novel. It’s a concept that is endlessly fascinating and inspiring, the idea that you can experience another time, and perhaps alter the future. And at around about the time I started to think about this I kept seeing and reading about one particular place and time, Brooklyn 1977. So it felt like the universe was telling me something.
The Summer Of Impossible Things is largely based in Brooklyn, USA. How did you go about adding in the authentic detail?
I went to Brooklyn, and spent a week there, and I’m so glad I did. My idea of Brooklyn was quite different from the reality, and the location of Bay Ridge had its own character too. I learnt a lot, took about 1000 photos, talked to anyone who would talk to me and walked in the footsteps of my characters, finding the locations and charting them on a map. I went during very hot weather so it was great for recreating the sense of the 77 heatwave.
A theme explored throughout the book is ‘love conquers all’. Do you agree, and if so, why?
I don’t think love automatically conquers all, but I do think if it’s driven by passion, courage and great determination it’s a universal force can surmount almost anything.
Asides from the latest book, do you have any other books currently in the works?
I am now working on the next book, but I can’t tell you anymore about it yet!
What are your tips for success?
Hmmm I don’t know. I never really feel like I’ve achieved it! But I do believe in working hard, being persistent and pushing yourself to be better.
And finally, one random question: if any actor could play you in a biopic of your life, who would you cast and why?
Haha!! Oh, um….. Rachel Weiss. So me but thin, and beautiful, married to James Bond and with Brown eyes!
Click here to buy The Summer Of Impossible Things.
A little while ago, an email arrived in my inbox; Katarina West has written a new book, about a middle aged Cinderella-esque woman who has the chance at a second life. It was released yesterday, and as part of the ‘blog tour’, I emailed Katarina a few questions about the book.
Hello Katarina, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
No, thank you! It feels great to be back.
Initially, what was it that made you want to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always been composing stories in my head. Maybe that was the reason, that ability to create a world of your own.
What was the inspiration behind your new book?
I had this middle-aged woman in my mind who is discontented with her life and dreams of another kind of life. An angel hears her prayers and swaps her body with a Hollywood A-lister. So now she has beauty, youth and fame – and not only, for she falls in love with a gorgeous thirty-something man. He adores her… but would he still adore her if he knew who she really was? That was my first question, the thing that made me want to write The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice. Then the whole question of humans and angels snowballed, and my upcoming book grew into a feel-good fantasy series. It is called Angel Aid, and as I said, The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice is the launch book of the series.
How do you start writing for your novels?
Drafting, drafting, drafting. It is my weak point – before I have the story written down once, I am perennially anxious and worried.
Was this informed by any personal experiences?
No, not really. I just want to tell stories.
Did it require any research?
Less than my two previous books. But still every writing project entails a myriad of background work. Those little details that you must check, and checking them will require plenty of time.
Do you have any new projects in the works?
I’m writing Book 2 in the Angel Aid series. So, my protagonists will be back!
What are your tips for anyone who wishes to follow in your footsteps?
That’s a big question. If I had to squeeze any piece of advice into a few words, that would be to write and read as much as possible.
Random: Which do you prefer- apple or pear?
Both… I love fruit. I couldn’t live without it!
The Thousand Tiny Miracles Of Living Twice is out now; click here to buy on Amazon. And click here to see Katarina’s website. Or you can see my reviews of her first two novels: ‘Absolute Truth For Beginners’ (Click here) and Witchcraft Couture (Click here)
If you’re a regularly reader, you’ll know that I live to investigate Sylvia Plath; the confessional poet has been of great importance to me since I read The Bell Jar at thirteen. Recently, Doctor Gail Crowther has written the book, The Haunted Reader And Sylvia Plath;I spoke to her to find out more about it.
Hello Gail, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
You have recently written a new book, The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath. What inspired you to write this book?
I suppose the interest came from my own personal attachment to Plath which I formed when I was 13. I love so many writers, but my reading relationship with Plath feels quite unique and I increasingly noticed this seemed to be the case with other people too. I grew more curious about what was going on at that convergence between reader and writer, and the subsequent nature of the relationship that developed. So I decided to try and find out a bit more about it. This involved carrying out primary research over a number of years, using a method I called creative autobiography, to discover what sort of attachments readers had with Plath. I was especially interested in those who formed strong attachments, and the results of that research are The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath.
What do you think is the relevance of Freud when analysing people such as Plath?
Well my book does not actually analyse Plath, but rather her readers. I was so resistant to using Freud at first because, as a feminist, I really struggle to get beyond some of the problematic gender politics in his work. I explored other psychoanalytic theorists and other concepts such as projection and introjection. I also looked more generally at theories of reading and fandom. But as soon as I read ‘Identification’ by Freud as well as ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ and Narcissism’, I realised that constructing a framework from his theories was going to best help me explore what was going on.
Did your impressions of Plath change at all?
Not really, though I was really pleased to discover just how powerful and positive a role she plays in peoples’ lives. She is a real constant, and despite the often stereotypical depiction of Plath in popular culture as a suicidal misery, readers who become attached to her see a very different Plath – they see a vibrant, funny, insightful Plath…which of course she was.
I think Plath herself and those who read her and become attached to her, have had a very rough time indeed. The fact that the expression the ‘Cult of Plath’ is used says it all really. I do think in recent years a revision is taking place and hopefully Plath will emerge from this as a more rounded cultural figure. Certainly the publication of her Letters over the next year or so will make a massive difference to how she is understood. Her voices in those letters are astonishing – multiple, playful, serious, anguished, hilarious, teasing, passionate, stroppy. Once Plath becomes fully recognised for the woman she was, I think (hope) this positivity will transfer to her readers too.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
Yes. I have one more Plath piece to research and write which will be an essay for a forthcoming book, Sylvia Plath in Context (edited by Tracy Brain). This will explore Plath and religion, an area that is surprisingly under-researched I think , given all that imagery in her poems. Then hopefully around May a book I co-wrote with Peter K. Steinberg will be released, called These Ghostly Archives, sharing our archival experiences and delights. When books get published in quick succession it seems like they must be speedy projects, but The Haunted Reader took almost ten years to research and publish, and These Ghostly Archives is the product of eight years of research – so these things take time before they actually appear in print.
Then I have a couple of non-Plath projects bubbling away, but I also hope to give my writing brain a little bit of a rest. Though not for very long.
Random: what do you prefer-heels or flats?
In my head, heels. In reality, flats.
Thank you very much to Gail for answering my questions. Be sure to visit her website by clicking here, and to buy a copy of the book by clicking here.
*Thank you to Kerry Hood and Jodi Picoult.* I love to read good writers. That's probably a defining characteristic. Any way, at about age twelve, I sat down to read Vanishing Acts ; And, after, I had to read anything Jodi Picoult wrote. I read Vanishing Acts, My Sister's Keeper, Keeeping Faith. Any way, I was allowed to ask her a few questions, in conjunction with the new release of her new novel, Small Great Things. (SPOILER: It's a great book!) Growing up, did you aspire to be a writer? One of my first memories is of getting a library card. My mom was a huge reader, and every week she’d come home with a stack of books, and all I wanted was to be like her. I started reading at age 3, and I was so excited when, for my birthday, I got a reading lamp that sat next to my bed, so that I could read before I went to sleep at night. I was a voracious reader, and I remember several children’s books that were special: “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Umbrella,” “Little Blue and Little Yellow.” As I got older, I started inhaling the All-of-a-Kind Family chapter books, and the “Little House on the Prairie” series. I remember wanting to be as kind and calm and beautiful as Mary, but realizing deep down that I was probably a lot more like Laura: headstrong, messy, and too smart for my own good. As for wanting to be a writer – yes, I think so, writing was always something I loved doing – but it probably was Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, and her fantastic imagining of a different world, that made me wonder if it could do it. You’ve also released Small Great Things, your most recent book; why did you choose the topic of racism? I have known I wanted to tackle the race and prejudice issue for many years now, but I didn’t have the framework until a couple of years ago. I did know I wanted to write from the point of view of several characters - a Black nurse, a skinhead father and a defence lawyer, a women who, like me, and like many of my readers, was a well-intentioned white lady who would never consider herself to be a racist. First, I read many books by social justice educators, and enrolled in a social justice workshop. I listened to an Asian-American woman recount her love/hate relationship with eye liner, because of her features; I heard a Black woman say that she had to put on a mask every day just to act the way white people needed to her act. I left in tears every night as I came to see that I was not nearly as blameless as I thought I was. I then sat down with women of colour who overlooked my ignorance and graciously shared their successes, failures, hopes and fears. There was the young Black mother who recounted her panic after police shot yet another unarmed Black youth. She showed me pictures of her beautiful baby, and asked how she could possibly keep him safe forever. A poised, brilliant college graduate told me how whenever she rode the subway, she carried a Vassar water bottle, which she would prop on her knee as if it to say, “It’s safe to sit beside me.” I also interviewed two former skinheads for hours. They explained to me what white supremacists believe, described some of the violence they had personally inflicted, and told me how the movement has changed its approach since its heyday in the 1980s. Now, skinheads let their hair grow out and dress like us — and they don’t run in violent crews in inner cities. They are connected on the internet, and spreading hate in local communities, posting flyers meant to incite fear. Here is the grievous mistake I had made for the majority of my life: I assumed that racism is synonymous with bias. Yet you could take every white supremacist and ship him off to Mars and you’d still have racism in the world. That’s because racism is systemic and institutional…and yet it is both perpetuated and dismantled in individual acts. Of all my books, this one will stand out for me because of the sea change it inspired in the way I think about myself and how far I still have to go in terms of racial awareness. Will there ever be a sequel? It is not currently in the plan! For those wishing to follow in your footsteps, do you have any advice? If you want to write … DO IT. Many people have a novel inside them, but most don't bother to get it out. Writing is grunt work - you need to have self-motivation, perseverance, and faith… talent is the smallest part of it (one need only read some of the titles on the NYT Bestseller list to see that… :) If you don't believe in yourself, and you don't have the fortitude to make that dream happen, why should the hotshots in the publishing world take a chance on you? I don't believe that you need an qualification to be a writer, but I do think you need to take some good workshops. These are often offered through writer's groups or community colleges. You need to learn to write on demand, and to get critiqued without flinching. When someone can rip your work to shreds without it feeling as though your arm has been hacked off, you're ready to send your novel off to an agent. There's no magic way to get one of those - it took me longer to find my wonderful agent than it did to get published! Keep sending out your work and don't get discouraged when it comes back from an agent - just send it out to a different one. Attend signings/lectures by authors, and in your free time, read read read. All of this will make you a better writer. And – here’s a critical part – when you finally start to write something, do not let yourself stop…even when you are convinced it’s the worst garbage ever. This is the biggest caveat for beginning writers. Instead, force yourself to finish what you began, and THEN go back and edit it. If you keep scrapping your beginnings, however, you’ll never know if you can reach an end. Small Great Things is out on 22nd November. (Click here to pre-order.) Jodi is also on a book tour: click here to see her schedule.