Category Archives: author interview

Interview with Duncan Weller

Standard

Duncan Weller in his art

Duncan Weller is a writer of children’s books, adult fiction and poetry.  He is also a visual artist who shows his work regularly.  He lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and travels often to get ideas and images for his books.  He won two of Canada’s top awards (Governor General’s, Schwartz) for his picture book, The Boy from the Sun.  You can find him online at duncanweller.com. And check out his artwork at the Vinyl Listening Station at Waverley Library!

Shauna Kosoris: So what came first for you: art or writing?

Duncan Weller: Children are quite happy to draw until they learn to write. The interest in writing supersedes drawing because words more easily express ideas and feelings than pictures. I kept drawing as I learned to write to satisfy an itch that I can’t explain. According to my mother, my first spoken word as a one year old child occurred when looking at a sundown over the Ottawa River. I said, “Pretty,” and not another word for three months. In my twenties I thought of myself as a visual artist. I was getting paid for my art long before my writing, but today I don’t distinguish between the two as powerful twins.

In university, you were originally in Fine Arts. Why did you decide to switch to English?

I wanted to learn about the history and methods of creating children’s books and other forms of literature. And at the time the Fine Arts Departments across North America emphasized modern art, which has value for some, but wasn’t my thing. The philosophical underpinnings of modernism was too subjective for my taste and Fine Arts departments completely ignored the potential of popular culture.There’s nothing wrong with the traditional functions of art when those traditional functions are used progressively to dramatically enrich a democratic society. And humanism is at the core of English literature which applies not only to visual art, but to cultures the world over. That emphasis, of art with a mission beyond aesthetics, ideology and the self struck me as more meaningful and useful.

Do you normally write or illustrate your books first? A Starship by Duncan Weller

Stories are movies in my mind, complete with settings, plot and characters long before they are organized into a format using words and images. In order for others to enjoy my books, movies on paper, I have to make the computer keyboard come atonally alive with the laborious part of organizing words and sentences into a meaningful story enhancing and being enhanced by the illustrations. It’s a complicated balancing act, so I make notes, a good outline and/or a story board. So again, the writing and illustrations come together. Hundreds of stories were memorized by griots or bards who passed down stories orally for thousands of years. I’m not that clever, but I have entire plots and ideas for novels worked out in my head where not a sentence has been formed, not a drawing made.

What is your favourite artistic medium to work with and why?

Watercolour is amazingly versatile and perfectly suited for illustrating children’s books. With the right paper and techniques, watercolour effects can mimic the texture of skin, bark, cloth, steel, clouds, water, etc. in wonderful ways. Oils are my second favourite. A story I completed called Lara Wood, yet to be printed/published was done in oils and alkyds. I used a crackle medium to imitate tree bark. It looks awesome. Painting faces with oils is the best way to go if you want to take your time and blend skin tones nicely, along with creating setting effects, like skies and atmospheres. For the books I’ve used all sorts of different mediums and plan to use more in the future.

In your books, you’ve written both prose and poetry. Do you have a preference for one or the other?

Prose. It’s so much easier. And safer. Poetry is hard to write and dangerous. An incredible number of poets commit suicide. This is because poets often look deeply inwards, searching for bigger truths in the well, reaching beyond the rejuvenating properties of the drinking water and heading straight for the rocky bottom. Also, the subjective nature of poetry and lack of financial support makes the life of a poet pretty hard. At its best poetry can be the most perfect form of human expression so I look forward to writing poetry for future children’s books. I look deeply, but I don’t plumb the depths of my own being for the rocky bottom. I’m not all that interested in ultimate truths. I believe there is some kind of order to the universe, and I have a few ideas about how it works, but I wouldn’t dare to take myself too seriously. I leave these depths to scientists and philosophers and try to look at the outside world as an observer with a heart. And because I’m sensitive I like to keep the poetic impulses to a minimum. I’ll live longer this way.

That’s fair. I know you’ve made videos of some of your children’s books; are you still working with film at all?

Occasionally I work on painting backdrops that may one day be green screened into a short film I want to make. And I’d love to make animated shorts and short films, leading up to making a feature film one day, but films get made by teams and require lots of management and money. So I’m sure I’ll do a few more small projects, maybe one next year.

The Ugg and the DripAs both a writer and illustrator, you must get pulled in so many different directions artistically.  How do you decide on the project you will focus your attention on?

As a writer, painter, designer, publisher, promoter, and salesperson I have to balance too many jobs with paying for rent and food like anyone else. So I take on commissions occasionally to earn some quick money. My book projects are eventually more profitable, and more so if I can find an agent and a good publisher this year. It’s expensive to print a book on my own, and will put me in debt for a while, but will eventually earn me good money. Despite the complications, choosing a project or starting a new project comes from feeling inspired or just getting bored with painting in one medium. Sometimes it’s a sudden rush of emotions that are connected with a story I love that I just can’t wait to work on. It’s also about timing and situations, some just too hard to explain.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’ve got three visual art commissions that will pay the rent. In my spare time I’m working on three different novels with lots of interesting characters and situations: We Play You (for adults) is about an artist who has his work stolen by a gallery owner. He discovers that the gallery owner is connected to an investment company that steals art from artists the world over. Punch-Out and The Search for the Ugg are two middle readers for kids. The Ugg story will have over 80 small illustrations. I hope to have Tiger Dream, a new picture book, completed this year.

So what book or author inspired you to write?

As a teenager I read nearly a novel a day, everything from Farley Mowat to dozens of science fiction authors, along with all the required books in high school, enjoying the Russian authors, Shakespeare and George Orwell. In University I was a big fan of the English Romantic Poets, Roald Dahl and the political writings of many American journalists, especially Tom Wolfe who blew up the writing world decades ago with his dramatic writing style. These days I read Ian Rankin and lots of political articles. I am looking to get back into reading a greater variety of novels by joining a book group.

What books influenced your children’s books?A picture from Girl from the Moon

For children’s books I had a few favourites like Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, books featuring Mr. Ben Red Knight, Graham Oakley’s church mice, a couple books by Dr. Suess, Jack Ezra Keats (Goggles! was my favourite), and a few oddball books from Europe including the strange imagery in Eastern European books of folktales. Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was my absolute favourite because the allegory applied to all sorts of strange adult behaviours. Most often I was disappointed as a child with children’s picture books. I felt the authors and illustrators had very little imagination, playing it safe, especially when compared to the amazing imagery in movies and television which also had a big influence on me. The Tom and Jane series that my mother got me as a young child made me feel ill. These books and many others were so bad I thought adults were robots who had no idea that children had feelings. I didn’t want to grow up to be an adult. For a while I thought adults were another kind of animal. At the age of nine a school librarian recommended we read the picture books with gold stickers on their covers. After I read over twenty books with gold stickers I told my classmates that books with gold stickers were the worst. It was about this time that I gave up on picture books and began reading comic books. I recall how disappointed I was when I made this as a conscious decision. At seventeen I thought I could make a ton of money writing good books for children because so many of them were terrible. In my early twenties I discovered Roald Dahl which later had a big influence.

Is there a book you think everyone should read?

For anyone interested in the visual arts I would recommend Learning to See by Alan Gowans. It’s out of print, but old copies can be ordered from Amazon and found in secondhand book shops in British Columbia. Gowans was an art historian who taught at the University of Victoria. He offered an alternate history of art that is amazingly coherent, practical and useful for artists if they ever feel confused about what art is for – about the amazing things that art can do for people.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m reading a book by Keli Goff called Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence. It’s one of many books I’m reading about race relations in order to improve the allegory for a story called Tiger Dream. I want to show children that it’s okay for us to eat, dress, talk and express ourselves differently because underneath the human dress (culture) we are all biologically the same. Our variety of cultures make the world an amazing place. I have to do a lot of reading for this story to better develop the allegory and ensure I’m representing other cultures accurately and positively. My research for Tiger Dream began with a trip to Ghana, which was made possible by a Chalmers’ Art Fellowship Award through the Ontario Arts Council.

Duncan Weller's books

Interview with Ruta Sepetys

Standard
Photo of Ruta Sepetys by by Magda Starowieyska

Photo by Magda Starowieyska

Ruta Sepetys is the New York Times bestselling author of Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy, and Salt to the Sea. Born and raised in Michigan, she grew up in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. She currently lives in a treehouse in the hills of Tennessee. You can find her online at rutasepetys.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your newest book, Salt to the Sea?

Ruta Sepetys: My father’s cousin was involved in the refugee evacuation of East Prussia and was granted passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff. By a twist of fate, she did not board the ship the day it sailed. She shared the story with me and that inspired me to write about it.

How fortunate! Your novels are all historical fiction; how much time do you typically spend on research for them?

I typically spend three years researching each novel. I know it seems like a very long time, but it goes so quickly!

What was the most interesting fact you discovered while researching the Wilhelm Gustloff?

There were so many interesting and surprising things I discovered, but one that stays with me is that it’s estimated that during World War II, over 25,000 people lost their lives in the Baltic Sea.

Wow! On your website, you say that while researching your books, you interview people who have experienced the event you’re writing about, then you combine their stories into one character.  Have you always used this method to make your characters?  

Yes, I generally interview and research the background of dozens of people and then weave elements of all of them into one character. That allows me to represent a larger human experience.

Are any of the characters in Salt to the Sea based off of real people, or are they all amalgamations of people you have interviewed?

The main character of Joana was partially inspired by the story of a Lithuanian nurse who fled during the evacuation, but then I quilted together elements from several other witnesses as well.

All three of your books are set between 1940-1950.  Why does that decade appeal to you?

I’m drawn to stories of strength through struggle and the journey of finding meaning through hardship. The war and post war period are full of experiences of hope, courage, love, and loss.

So what are you working on next?

I’m currently working on a novel set in 1957 Madrid, during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain.

Good luck with that!  Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

There were many authors and many books, but as a young child I was incredibly inspired by the work of Roald Dahl. His books are so full of creativity and imagination, of innocent young people at the mercy of unsavory adults. I still cherish my copy of James and the Giant Peach.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I love Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It reminds us that even if suffering is unavoidable, we alone choose how we cope with our suffering.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading research materials for my new book, so I’m reading Interrogating Francoism by Helen Graham. Once I’m finished with research, I can’t wait to read Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman.

 

Salt to the Sea cover

Interview with Amor Towles

Standard

author picture of Amor TowlesAmor Towles was born and raised in the Boston area. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University. An investment professional for more than twenty years, he now devotes himself full time to writing. His first novel, Rules of Civility, was a New York Times bestseller in both hardcover and paperback. Towles lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children. You can find him online at amortowles.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your newest novel, A Gentleman in Moscow?

Amor Towles: Over the two decades that I was in the investment business, I travelled a good deal for my firm. Every year, I would spend weeks at a time in the hotels of distant cities meeting with clients and prospects. In 2009, while arriving at my hotel in Geneva (for the eighth year in a row), I recognized some of the people lingering in the lobby from the year before. It was as if they had never left. Upstairs in my room, I began playing with the idea of a novel in which a man is stuck in a grand hotel. Thinking that he should be there by force, rather than by choice, my mind immediately leapt to Russia—where house arrest has existed since the time of the Tsars. In the next few days, I sketched out most of the key events of A Gentleman in Moscow; over the next few years, I built a detailed outline; then in 2013, I retired from my day job and began writing the book.

A Gentleman in Moscow seems rich in historic details, particularly concerning the Metropol Hotel. What sort of research did you do for the book?

Rather than pursuing research driven projects, I like to write from areas of existing fascination. Even as a young man, I was a fan of the 1920s and 1930s, eagerly reading the novels, watching the movies, and listening to the music of the era. I used this deep-seated familiarity as the foundation for inventing my version of 1938 New York in Rules of Civility. Similarly, I chose to write A Gentleman in Moscow because of my longstanding fascination with Russian literature, culture, and history. Most of the texture of the novel springs from the marriage of my imagination with that interest. For both novels, once I had finished the first draft, I did some applied research in order to fine tune details. In the case of A Gentleman in Moscow, I gathered firsthand accounts of life in the Metropol from an array of prominent people including John Steinbeck, E. E. Cummings, and Lillian Hellman. You can survey these accounts at amortowles.com.

Having researched all of these firsthand accounts, are any of the characters in the novel based on real people?

None of the novel’s central characters are based on historical figures, or on people that I have known. That said, I have pick-pocketed my own life for loose change to include in the book such as these three examples:

The thimble game that the Count plays with Sofia was from my childhood. My great grandmother was a Boston Brahmin who lived until she was a hundred in a stately house. When my cousins and I visited her (in our little blue blazers), she would welcome us into her sitting room. After the appropriate amount of polite conversation, she would inform us that she had hidden several thimbles in the room and that whoever found one would receive a dollar—prompting a good deal of scurrying about.

When I was a boy of ten, I threw a bottle with a note into the Atlantic Ocean near summer’s end. When we got home a few weeks later there was a letter waiting for me on New York Times stationery. It turned out that my bottle had been found by Harrison Salisbury, a managing editor of the Times and the creator of its Op-Ed page. He and I ended up corresponding for many years, and I eventually met him on my first visit to New York when I was seventeen. It so happens that Salisbury was the Moscow bureau chief for the Times from 1949 to 1954. A few colorful details in A Gentleman in Moscow spring from his memoirs; he also makes a cameo late in the novel, and it is his fedora and trench coat that the Count steals to mask his escape.

Finally, the scene in which the tempestuous Anna Urbanova refuses to pick up her clothes, throws them out the window into the street, and then sheepishly sneaks out in the middle of the night to retrieve them, was a scene that played out between my parents shortly after their marriage. Although, it was my mother who wouldn’t pick up her clothes, and my father who threw them out the window. I’ll leave it to you to guess who went out in the middle of the night to pick them back up.

What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?

Initially, I imagined that the central challenge posed by the book was that I was trapping myself, my hero, and my readers in a single building for thirty-two years. But my experience of writing the novel ended up being similar to that of the Count’s experience of house arrest: the hotel kept opening up in front of me to reveal more and more aspects of life.

In the end, a much greater challenge sprang from the novel’s geometry. Essentially, A Gentleman in Moscow takes the shape of a diamond on its side. From the moment the Count passes through the hotel’s revolving doors, the narrative begins opening steadily outward. Over the next two hundred pages detailed descriptions accumulate of people, rooms, objects, memories, and minor events, many of which seem almost incidental. But then, as the book shifts into its second half, the narrative begins to narrow and all of the disparate elements from the first half converge. Bit characters, passing remarks, incidental objects come swirling together and play essential roles in bringing the narrative to its sharply pointed conclusion.

When effective, a book like this can provide a lot of unexpected satisfactions to the reader. The problem is that the plethora of elements in the first half can bog readers down making them so frustrated or bored that they abandon the book. So, my challenge was to craft the story, the point of view, and the language in such a way that readers enjoy the first half and feel compelled to continue despite their uncertainty of where things are headed. Whether or not I succeeded in doing so is up to you.

Can you comment a little more on that diamond structure of A Gentleman in Moscow?

From the day of the Count’s house arrest, the chapters advance by a doubling principal: one day after arrest, two days after, five days, ten days, three weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, one year, two years, four years, eight years, and sixteen years after arrest. At this midpoint, a halving principal is initiated with the narrative leaping to eight years until the Count’s escape, four years until, two years, one year, six months, three months, six weeks, three weeks, ten days, five days, two days, one day and finally, the turn of the revolving door.

While odd, this accordion structure seems to suit the story well, as we get a very granular description of the early days of confinement; then we leap across time through eras defined by career, parenthood, and changes in the political landscape; and finally, we get a reversion to urgent granularity as we approach the denouement. As an aside, I think this is very true to life, in that we remember so many events of a single year in our early adulthood, but then suddenly remember an entire decade as a phase of our career or of our lives as parents.

That’s very true. Why did you decide to write A Gentleman in Moscow as your follow up to Rules of Civility?

When I was deciding what to do after Rules, I picked A Gentleman from among a handful of projects I had been considering. In retrospect, I see that my choice was probably influenced by an unconscious desire for change, because the two novels are a study in contrasts. Where the former takes place over a single year, the latter spans thirty-two. Where the former roves across a city, the latter takes place in one building. Where the former is from the perspective of a young working class woman on the rise, the latter is from the perspective of an aging aristocrat who has lost everything. And where the former is virtually free of children and parents, the latter is very much concerned with generational relationships.

So what are you working on now?

Last year, Viking/Penguin contracted with me to publish my next two novels; now I just have to write them. I like to carefully design my books, beginning the writing process only once I have an extensive outline. I am still in the process of outlining my next book, but I suspect it will follow three eighteen-year-old boys on their way from the Midwest to New York City in the early 1950s…

I’d like to finish up with a couple of quick questions on what you read. What book or author inspired you to write?

I began writing when I began reading in first grade. Since then, the two practices have proceeded in parallel. Read, Write, Repeat. That said, probably my three favorite novels are Moby Dick, War & Peace, and 100 Years of Solitude.

And what are you currently reading?

For the last thirteen years, three friends and I have met monthly to discuss a novel over dinner. We generally work on projects over many months. Right now, we are in the process of reading 8 Philip Roth novels focused on those involving his alter ego, Zuckerman.

book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

Interview with Paul Gooding

Standard

picture of Paul GoodingPaul Gooding enjoys poetry from the Victorian to the modern age, especially Tennyson, Frost, and Andrea Cohen. He’s the contact person for the Writers’ Circle, who meet on the last Wednesday of the month in the Waverley Auditorium. For more information on Writers’ Circle, please call him at 807-345-8513.

Shauna Kosoris: How did you get involved with Writers’ Circle?

Paul Gooding: Through a library ad. I was put in touch with Irene Warmenhoven, who edited the first anthology, Voice of Thunder, in 1998. I believe that they had existed prior to the first anthology.

For new members, it doesn’t matter if you’ve written a little or a lot, you can bring what you have and we’ll celebrate and read it. Everyone is welcome. There are no authorities. Everyone has their own thoughts on the piece. Everyone is welcome.

It’s wonderful that Writers’ Circle is so supportive. Other than that support, what is the most positive thing you have gotten out of being a member?

I think it’s the experience of seeing my work in print to a wider audience. To more than just fellow writers. The Writers’ Circle books were placed in the Thunder Bay depot of local works. That was instigated by Ken Boschcoff. I don’t know where it is located but it is the mayor’s collection of books.

That’s very exciting! You were on the editing team for Thunder on the Bay, the Writers’ Circle’s 4th anthology. Who else worked on that with you?

Thunder on the Bay was edited by Joan Baril, Michele Tuomi, and I. Martin Hicks assisted in editing as well (he’s since passed on). L. Keith Johnson was the guiding light to that one. Each time we met he kept a record of who came to the meeting. He was a massive contributor to everything.back cover picture of Thundering

The last anthology, Thundering, has a picture of all our contributors. Keith is third from the right.

Your bio in Thunder on the Bay and Thundering says you started writing after taking a course in Victorian Prose & Poetry. Why did that course inspire you?

It was an era of poetry that appealed to my mother. She got me several Tennyson books. I find the music of the poetry very enticing. I had to imitate it. The professor of that course was Dr. S.R. MacGillvary.

Was that here at Lakehead?

Yes. There’s another teacher, Claude Liman, who also inspired me. He’s since left town.

Have you always written poetry, or have you tried prose, too?

I tried prose in high school. I’ve written several academic papers. But poetry really. I’ve been in several poetry groups besides Writers Circle. My friends and I test each other. It’s lots of fun.

What is your favourite poem form to write and why?

I think variations on sonnet form, 14 lines. But the order of the lines isn’t given much prominence. Whatever I can fit into 14 lines. I’m not a strict follower. It takes a lot of skill. A sonnet is 14 lines, 3 quatrains, and a couplet. I don’t adhere to it strictly.

In terms of interests, I think also in terms of influences: Robert Frost. Andrea Cohen.

Why those poets?

I like their voice. I can feel them speaking to me directly and enjoy sharing their poetry. Sharing common interests.

How long does it take you to write a typical poem?

Probably no more than 30 minutes. I don’t write a lot. I write when I feel like it. Not interrupted. 30-40 minutes generally.

What was your first published poem?

I think the poems in Voice of Thunder. That was back in 1998.

So what are you working on now?

Right now, I’ll be giving a presentation to Writers’ Circle on William Wordsworth sonnets. That will be the last week at Waverley in May.

Good luck with that! Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading. What poet first inspired you to write?

I’d say Tennyson. Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He represents an isolated individual speaking for his age. An isolated individual who can remain true to his individual self.

Is there a book you think everyone should read?

Just read anything, really. If you get a copy of Victorian Poetry and Prose, it has major poems and essays.

Stuart Mill -essays
Carlyle -essays
John Henry Newman – essays

Victorian poetry still satisfies. I’ve been writing poetry since 1998 and it still provides challenges, examples, flights of fancy. It’s an escape from the mundane world to a higher reality. It lifts everything up to a higher dimension.

And what are you currently reading?

A book called The Crimes of Paris. It’s about the theft of the Mona Lisa and the criminal underworld of Paris. It’s got larger than life characters. From before Sherlock Holmes.

I also read a book called The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.

thundering cover

Interview with Michelle Krys

Standard

author picture of Michelle KrysMichelle Krys is the author of Dead Girls Society, Hexed, and Charmed. When she’s not writing books for teens, she moonlights as a NICU nurse. She lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, with her family. You can visit her online at michellekrys.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write your newest book, Dead Girls Society?

Michelle Krys: Ideas rarely come to me organically. I often have to go after them with a club, which is what happened in this case. I knew I wanted to write a book with the mystery and intrigue of Pretty Little Liars, but with a fun competition element à la Panic by Lauren Oliver, so I sat down and brainstormed ideas until I landed on something I liked. Not very romantic, but if I waited around for ideas to strike me I would probably write a book a decade.

Hope, your heroine with cystic fibrosis from Dead Girls Society, seems very different from Indigo, the cheerleader heroine of your first series.  Where did you get the ideas for these very different characters?

Indigo’s personality is one of the first things I knew about Hexed. I wanted to subvert the gothic witch stereotype, and having the protagonist be a popular, sarcastic cheerleader felt like the natural first step.

With Dead Girls Society, I really wanted to explore what it would be like to be a normal teenager in a lot of ways, experiencing all the normal teenager things, like love and angst and a desire to push boundaries and rebel, while also living with an incurable illness that really limits your experiences.

Dead Girls Society takes place in New Orleans, while Hexed is in LA. What’s the appeal of using big American cities for your novel settings?

I mentioned that one of my goals with Hexed was to subvert the gothic witch stereotype. Besides making the protagonist a popular cheerleader, I thought it would be fun to use a setting that most readers wouldn’t normally associate with witchcraft. Sunny L.A. seemed like a great fit for that. As for Dead Girls Society, I got the idea for the setting while roaming the French Quarter in New Orleans while attending a writing festival. I just fell in love with the rich, vibrant culture of the city.  

You wrote your first book while on maternity leave.  Was it difficult fitting in writing during that time?

Not at all! My son slept 12 hours through the night and took 3-4 hour naps during the day. His incredible sleeping habits are actually what prompted me to try my hand at writing. I found myself with all this free time, and I figured there would be no better opportunity to write that book I’d always been thinking about.

Wow, that’s incredibly lucky! Did your writing routine change once your maternity leave was over?

Definitely. Fitting in time to write became much more of a challenge. After coming home from an exhausting 12-hour shift and then putting my baby to sleep, all I wanted to do was collapse on the couch. This meant that all my writing was restricted to nap times on my days off, which were few and far between as I was working full-time then. One thing I will say is that, though challenging, the rigid schedule did force me to be very focused and driven. Now that I’m part-time at work and enjoy long stretches of days off between shifts, I find myself procrastinating a lot.

Why do you like writing YA books?

I could say something very noble about using artwork to provide teens with the tools to tackle a time of great upheaval (and that would also be true), but mostly? It’s fun, and it’s what I like to read.

That’s totally fair. I read in an interview with you in the Walleye that your first book was rejected.  Have you ever reused or reworked elements of that book into something new?

I’ve brought it out from time to time, but it’s very much a first novel. No redeeming features whatsoever. The book was great for a learning experience, and that’s it. It’s pretty humiliating to look at!

That’s too bad. But at least it led you to better stories! What are you working on now?

I have a few different projects on the go. A middle grade set in the east coast of Canada, a YA psychological thriller, and an adult contemporary romance. I like to dabble on a few different projects before I decide which one I want to spend my time on.

Good luck with whichever one you choose to develop! So what book or author inspired you to write?

The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Say what you will about the problematic elements of the book, but the series completely swept me away. I can’t remember another time I connected with a book as deeply. It perfectly captured the thrill and innocence of falling in love for the first time. When Edward brushed Bella’s arm, I felt the drop in my own stomach.

It’s amazing how different books can speak to us so strongly! Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

The first book that comes to mind is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which is a graphic novel about a boy whose mother is dying of cancer. It’s utterly brilliant and heartbreaking and beautiful, all the more so when you discover that the original concept was created by the author Siobban Daud, who died of cancer before she had a chance to write the book.  

That sounds amazing; I’ll have to check it out. Finally, what are you currently reading?

I just finished a wonderful YA novel about a female gladiator in the Roman Empire, called The Valiant by Lesley Livingstone, and now I’m reading Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones, which is a Labyrinth retelling by way of The Sound of Music. So far it’s dark and gritty and romantic and exactly up my alley.

book cover of Dead Girls Society

Interview with Claire Fuller

Standard

clairefuller-68-2-copyClaire Fuller is a writer and an artist who lives in Winchester, England. Her debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction, has been longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, nominated for the Edinburgh First Book Award 2015, and was a finalist in the American Booksellers Association 2016 Indies Best Book Awards. Her second novel, Swimming Lessons, was published in January 2017. You can find her online at clairefuller.co.uk.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your new novel, Swimming Lessons?

Claire Fuller: A couple of things started it. A piece of flash fiction that I wrote about a man on a beach and the things he finds washed up there. And a project I did with my husband before we were married, and when he had his own flat. We decided we would write notes to each other and hide them in each other’s houses – love notes, I suppose. When he packed up his flat to move in with me, he found all the notes I’d written to him, but seven years later there are still two notes somewhere in the house we share together.

I noticed that some of your descriptions in the book (for example “smelling the khaki colour of unwashed hair” on pg 51, “cigarettes the colour of wet bark” on pg 261, and “the place still stank of burning, the only smell that was pure black” on pg 287) were very synaesthetic. These descriptions always occurred around Flora. Did she have synaesthesia?

Flora does have synaesthesia. I wrote one of the descriptions without even thinking about it, and someone in my writing group pointed it out, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to go with, especially since Flora is an artist. I don’t have synaesthesia but I think I do see non-visual things visually. I was trying to explain to my husband the other day about how I see decades: the 1960s and 1970s are vertical, the 1980s change to horizontal, with the 90s at an incline of about 30 degrees. He had no idea what I was on about!

Wow, that’s interesting; I hope that will make its way into your writing one day! But now I have to ask – why did Flora love wandering around naked?

Hah! Flora’s a bit of a free spirit, don’t you think? She doesn’t care what other people think of her. Being free of her clothes makes her feel liberated, when actually she isn’t free at all of her family’s history.

And her family’s history is so important in Swimming Lessons, as half of the story is told through the letters Ingrid wrote to her husband about their marriage. Did you always know you would be telling the story in this way?

Not at all. The story started from Gil’s point of view and I got to about 30,000 words before I realised that it was wrong, and deleted half of it. Now Gil’s point of view is only the prologue. I decided I wanted to hear from Ingrid, but because in the present she has disappeared, I started writing a letter from her to Gil, and they just continued.

I’m so glad they did – I absolutely loved Ingrid’s letters. Thinking of things I loved, I thought your short story “Emily, Baker and Me” was fantastic. Do you still write short fiction?

Thank you! I do still write a lot of short fiction – short stories (I recently won the Royal Academy & Pin Drop short story prize) and flash fiction. I’m part of an online group called Friday Fictioneers where a photograph is posted online each week and writers around the world each write a 100-word story inspired by it. It’s great for honing writing skills, and anyone can join in.

Friday Fictioneers sounds like a lot of fun, and congratulations on your win! You’ve written a blog post from a year ago about your writing process. Has your process changed at all since then?

It hasn’t changed much. I’ve now finished the first draft of my third novel, and the only thing that was different to the process I described in that blog post is aiming for a particular word count each day. I stopped doing that when I was about half way through and just made sure I wrote something new each day. Making sure I had 1,000 or 800 new words each day was too much pressure, and too often I found the next day that they were bad words. It was better to aim for fewer, better words.

Your bio on your website says you studied sculpture at the Winchester School of Art. Do you still make sculptures?

I’m not doing much at the moment. It feels like writing is my creative outlet, although sometimes I do a bit of drawing.

That’s fair. What are you working on now?

As I mentioned, I’ve just finished the first draft of my third novel. My literary agent gets to read it first, and she and her colleagues have given me some broad ideas for improving it, so now I really want to get back to it and write another draft. It’s still too early to say what it’s about, mostly because I don’t know how to explain it without it taking three pages!

Well I can’t wait to read it, whenever it’s done. I’ve just got a few more questions for you about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

I’m not sure a particular book or author inspired me to write, but there are plenty I would like to write like. The ones that spring to mind are We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and Legend of a Suicide by David Vann.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

No, I don’t think there is. We all like different books, different authors, different genres, and that’s just fine. I’d just like everyone to read, full-stop.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading The Lonely City by Olivia Laing. I’ve only just started it, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s non-fiction about loneliness and how that’s reflected in the lives and work of some particular artists.

cover of Swimming Lessons

Interview with Peadar O’Guilin

Standard

Picture of Peadar O’GuilinPeadar O’Guilin grew up in beautiful Donegal in the far northwest of Ireland.  These days, he lives in Dublin where he toils day and night for a giant corporation.  You can find him on Twitter by following @TheCallYA.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write The Call?

Peadar O’Guilin: I have always believed that one idea is never enough to make a good novel — you need at least two. Everything grows from the interaction of these concepts. The first piece of inspiration I had for The Call was an image of somebody disappearing in a crowded room. I imagined their clothing falling to the floor and I wondered what had happened to them. I knew it had to be something bad, I just didn’t know what. I guess a lifetime of reading mythology and folklore finally broke through to the surface because I used the Irish mythology I’d grown up with to supply the answer. Our version of fairy tales are weird and beautiful and quite unlike the ones that are more common in the rest of the western world. Nobody could fail to be inspired by them, in my opinion.

I completely agree!  So why does the Call last exactly 3 minutes and 4 seconds?

I wanted it to last three minutes so that any witnesses would be on the edge of their seats and counting down all the way, terrified of what might come back. The extra four seconds are there for no reason other than the fact that life isn’t very neat.

That’s fair.  How did Nessa, a girl with weak legs, become the heroine in a story where the teens have to run for their lives?

I always pick heroes for my stories that everybody else expects to fail. They put her in a box, they dismiss and pity her. But Nessa is not the type to lie down and I love her for that.

You said you “picked” Nessa. Were there other characters you were debating about making the protagonist?

No, there were no other characters before Nessa came into existence. All of the others materialised in response to her. I “picked” her, in the sense that I knew I would need somebody that others would consider useless. My main characters are often thought of by others as a “waste of resources” and a “waste of time”. But, like all of us, they have enormous value that society is in danger of squandering.

All of the teens had such different adventures in the Grey Lands.  How did you decide on what each of them would go through?

I never do a lot of planning in my novels. I want to be every bit as surprised as the readers by what happens. When I sat down to begin each “Call”, I didn’t always know if that character would live or die, or what would happen to them. This is why I wrote it in the present tense. I wanted to feel the unpredictability of the story that I was creating. And you’re right — I knew I had to be very careful to make all of the stories wildly different from each other. To do anything else would have quickly bored the readers.

So which character’s Call surprised you the most?

There were quite a few that surprised me. I didn’t know Cahal would turn out to have an inner decency. I didn’t know Chuckwu would do what he did. And I really didn’t expect what happened to Emma. I could say more, but… spoilers!

Emma’s Call was probably the most surprising one for me as a reader as well.  Outside of the whole idea of being Called by the Sidhe, I found the Sidhe’s world to be quite fascinating.  Where did you get the idea for the Grey Lands?

The Sídhe needed to live somewhere awful so that their desire for vengeance would be bottomless. So, I designed a world that would be the opposite in every way from the home they lost: The Many-Coloured Land. I took away the colour they loved so much. I left them no animals, so that they had to create their own out of pure hatred.

The Grey Lands and the Bone World of your previous trilogy are both very brutal settings.  Why do these types of worlds appeal to you as a writer?

It’s all about increasing the stakes. The greater the threat, the more heroic the characters have to be to overcome them and the more we, the readers, fear for their safety and root for their success. At least, that’s how I feel.

So what are you working on now?

I’m working on a sequel to The Call. I have no name for it yet and don’t plan on writing more than two books in this series. I have plenty of other stories in my mental queue for when that’s done.

How exciting – I can’t wait to read that sequel! Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

I’ve been writing stories my whole life — at least since the age of five! So, I can’t remember what book first got me started. But the one that made me passionate about world-building, has to be The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Reading that the first time was like having a bomb go off in my brain with lights flashing and trumpets blaring. It changed everything for me.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I think the book everybody should read is the one that will do to them what The Lord of the Rings did to me. However, that book is different for every reader. Please, read whatever you love and feel no guilt about it. Sure, you need to study whatever books your school demands too, but in your own time, you should be free in every sense of the word.

And what are you currently reading?

Kid Got Shot by Simon Mason. It’s a YA mystery with fantastic characters. I loved his previous novel, Running Girl.

cover art of The Call