Tag Archives: fiction

Interview with Claire Fuller

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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

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Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

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cover of Swimming LessonsSwimming Lessons is the second novel by English author Claire Fuller. I was lucky enough to get an advanced reading copy of the book to review for our readers.

Swimming Lessons is a story within a story about a passionate but troubled marriage and its aftermath. Ingrid Coleman wrote letters to her husband, Gil, and hid them in his collection of books before disappearing, presumed drowned. In the present day, Gil sees a woman who looks like his wife and has an accident attempting to chase after her. His two adult daughters, Flora and Nan, return home to care for him. Flora, who never believed her mother was dead, desperately wants to know what happened to Ingrid; she doesn’t realize that the answers to so many of her questions lie hidden within the books around her.  

I loved Fuller’s descriptive passages, especially the ones detailing the world as Flora sees it (for example, “cigarettes the colour of wet bark” on pg 261). I found Ingrid’s letters to be absolutely fascinating, making Ingrid very alive and present throughout Swimming Lessons, even though she wasn’t physically there. Her letters overshadowed the present-day story about Flora, Nan and Gil for much of the book. But I also loved how the letters gradually became connected to the present more and more as the book progressed.

Swimming Lessons was a fantastic read that was extremely hard to put down. The book is expected to be published in early February – keep an eye out for it in our catalogue! We’ll also have an interview with Ms. Fuller here on this blog on February 1st, so stay tuned for that!

Interview with Jean E. Pendziwol

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Author Picture of Jean E. PendziwolJean E. Pendziwol is the award-winning author of eight published children’s books.  Her debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, will be published in 2017 by HarperCollins; her latest children’s book, Me and You and the Red Canoe, will also be published in 2017 by Groundwood Books. You can find her online at http://www.jeanependziwol.com/.

Shauna Kosoris: Your writing career began with the publication of the picture book No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons), which was published in 1999.  What inspired you to write this book?

Jean E. Pendziwol: My writing career actually began a few years before that. Prior to having kids, and continuing on a casual basis after they were born, I worked as a freelance writer, mostly for trade publications. I researched, wrote, photographed and did editorial coordination. Having young children re-exposed me to children’s books, and in particular, picture books. I love the format – the partnering of images and text, the challenge of working within a limited number of words, and, especially at that time, the ability to hold a story completely in my head before I even put pen to paper.  No Dragons for Tea was inspired by my daughter.  At that time, she was extremely afraid of fires, and more so, by fire alarms. I was concerned that she didn’t have the necessary tools to respond in an emergency situation and searched out resources. What I found were a number of books about fire safety that were all either didactic or frightening. With the help of our local fire prevention officer, Brian Berringer, I came up with the idea for the book. I was thrilled when Kids Can Press wanted to publish it! I was fortunate in that it was timely, relevant, accessible and engaging and it carried an important message.

I love that it spawned a whole series of engaging safety stories for children, too!  Right now you’ve published eight picture books, with another one tentatively scheduled for release next year.  What is the appeal of writing for children?

I love the challenge of writing picture books. There is a misconception that because the stories are short and for children that writing them is a simple task. It’s actually one of the hardest genres to get published in, which I fortunately didn’t know at the time I headed down that path. Several of my picture books are poems, and while written for children, have a universal appeal. Once Upon a Northern Night in particular has touched many people.  I love that my stories speak to people in an intimate way. And because I value and respect children, I want to create something for them that is valuable and respectful.

What’s the hardest thing for you when writing a picture book?

There are so many audiences to keep in mind. The audience for the story is a child, but it also needs to speak to the adult who will be making the decision to buy or borrow the book. Picture books are most often read out loud, and read many times over, and as a writer, these are things I need to consider.

Your debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, is due out next summer.  What made you switch your focus from writing children’s books?

I haven’t. I love and will always love writing for children; this is just another branch of the same writing tree. When I first started working on The Light Keeper’s Daughters, I intended for it to be for middle grade or young adult readers.  But as the characters began to take shape on the page and the themes and plot evolved, it settled into a story more suited to an adult audience. I was also at a point in my life where I was able to devote time to a more involved, lengthy writing process necessary for a novel-length story.

Has it been hard switching from writing for children to writing for adults?

For me, writing is always a learning process. Skills applicable to children’s writing are also important for adult writing; keeping the audience in mind; respecting the reader; ensuring that the voice remains consistent; and keeping the pace appropriate. I think my tendency to be a concise writer has served me well in my work for children and that has carried over to my writing for adults as well.

What can you tell me about your new novel?

The Light Keeper’s Daughters features two fascinating women, Elizabeth, who is elderly, blind and living in a senior’s home, and Morgan, a teenager completing community service hours for spray-painting graffiti. They are drawn together after the discovery of journals penned by Elizabeth’s father when he served at Porphyry Island as lighthouse keeper nearly sixty years ago. As they decipher the musty words, they realize they are connected through Elizabeth’s enigmatic twin sister, Emily, their lives shaped by the harsh Lake Superior environment and the secrets kept by a family for a lifetime.

I look forward to reading it next year!  So what are you working on now?

I’ve got a few projects on the go, some for children and some for adults… This, that and another thing. 🙂

Fair enough.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I grew up sailing on Lake Superior, so had plenty of time for reading. Interestingly, I never envisioned myself being a novelist, although I always loved to write. Some of my favorite books included the Mary Stewart series about Merlin and King Arthur (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills), Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M Auel), Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Ken Follet. As a young child, I read Enid Blyton, and had A.A. Milne read to me.

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

I think that’s a difficult question – readers are so diverse, which is wonderful. Not everyone likes the same kind of book. Some of my favorites (other than the ones noted above) include To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield), Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie, Ina Rilke), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), Skellig (David Almond) and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls. Oh, and Because of Winn Dixie (Kate DiCamillo) – pure genius in my opinion.

And what are you currently reading?

I just finished The Illegal (Lawrence Hill), I’m reading Fifteen Dogs (Andre Alexis), and have Amy Jones’ We’re All in This Together on the list.  I’m also re-reading some of my favorite middle grade books, looking at them from the perspective of a writer, including The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis), Coraline (Neil Gaiman), Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls), and Holes (Louis Sachar). And, of course, Because of Winn Dixie.

Cover Picture of Once Upon a Northern Night

Interview with Alexander Kosoris

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Alexander KosorisAlexander Kosoris is a novelist and book reviewer who was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He attended the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto between 2006 and 2010. After graduating, he moved back to Thunder Bay, where he now lives with his lovely wife – as well as the majority of his relatives – working as a pharmacist.  Lucifer is his first book.  You can find him online at kosoris.com.

Lucifer is the well-known story of an angel rebelling against God, but it is set in an office building with God as the CEO.  What inspired you to write it?

Alexander Kosoris: I honestly can’t pinpoint the exact reason. I remember Lucifer beginning around when a friend committed suicide and I really started giving my beliefs, my outlook on life, thoughtful consideration, at least more actively than up to that point. Perhaps it was therapeutic, my way of coping; I don’t know.

So why the office building?

Biblical concepts seem hard to visualize for me, so I felt it would be interesting to relate such processes to real-world parallels. I chose an office setting for a few reasons. Firstly, Heaven seems to have a clear caste system. At least from the brief glimpses we’re allowed into Heaven from Biblical stories, people and angels don’t seem to be created equal, and everyone seems to know exactly where he or she stands. Breaking such a notion down to an office-building structure encapsulates this fact very cleanly, with angels being unable to act effectively without heading to different levels and managers for approval.

Such a setting structure also relates to God’s mysterious methods. Think of stories in the Bible, such as Eve being created from Adam’s rib, when God seems to have the ability to just create a human from nothingness. Now, extrapolate this concept to the entire creation of Man, the Earth, and the entire universe, as well as the physical laws governing the universe, and God utilizing His office full of angels to make such things. Does He need to use an office of angels for this creation? No. Is it a matter of testing angels to see what they accomplish? Is there actually a point to the process, or is it merely for His amusement? Don’t expect an explicit answer; He works in mysterious ways.

That’s true, He does.  Lucifer starts out very light-hearted and then gets more serious as it goes. Was this intentional?

Very much so. I wanted to have fun with the concept, but I always had a plan to try and tackle some heavy ideas as it went on. Whether I succeeded or not, I wanted to do more than just tell a story; I wanted to make something that was meaningful to someone.

You ran an Indiegogo campaign to help Lucifer get published. What did you learn from that experience?

Perhaps, that promotion is hard? I suppose I would have learned that sooner or later, but it was good to get it out of the way before the book even came out. I also learned to pick my battles. There were a lot of decisions that went into that campaign that I disagreed with, but most of them weren’t significant, so they really weren’t worth any argument. I can be a stubborn man, however; I clung to the issues that I felt could make or break my writing career at this early stage, such as halting the campaign for months while my friend fixed the terrible original video that was made, and shall never be seen by human eyes again.

That was definitely worth it; the video that you have now is hilarious!  You did a series of Lucifer readings around Thunder Bay during the spring, including one at the Brodie Resource Library. How did they go?

They ranged from horrendous – “no one showing up” horrendous – to wonderful, where I had the privilege of participating in some engrossing discussions after-the-fact.

That’s unfortunate that no one showed up to some of them.  But I’m glad to hear that others were much better!  Along with the readings, you also conducted a writing workshop back in February at the Waverley Resource Library entitled “Writing With Evocative Prose.” Why did you choose to speak about this topic?

I was noticing trends in the writing I was reading and enjoying around that time: all the stories were able to evoke a strong, emotional response from me. Because I’m interested in writing on a very analytical level, I wanted to delve deeper and find out how these authors were so successful in doing so. Once I discovered applicable strategies for writing, it struck me as a topic that would be very useful to both writers wishing to improve their craft and readers who want to understand literature in an absorbing way.

Are you planning on doing any more readings or writing workshops in the near future?

I’ve been organizing readings whenever and basically wherever I can. (I’ll be reading next on August 17th at the Two Harbors Public Library, followed by CommuniTea and Coffee on August 22nd.) It can be hard to fit these types of events into my work schedule, but I’m lucky to be working with people who have been hugely patient and accommodating. Writing workshops are different beasts entirely; I love doing them, but they take a lot out of me. The last one took a solid month of preparation, so I’m assuming I’d only be able to commit to one a year.

Good luck!  What are you working on now?

The working title is Going Home, and it’s about a man who crash-lands his spaceship, crossing paths with a terrible monster as he makes his way home. It’s turning out to be a great deal more grotesque than Lucifer, which makes me a bit worried that people who passed on Lucifer because of the name will be horrified if they decide to give this one a chance.

I guess that will come down to marketing; hopefully Going Home’s eventual blurb will help to avoid that problem.  Let’s finish this up with a few questions about books and reading.  What book or author inspired you to write?

The biggest influence to me has been Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut; it really changed the way I looked at telling a story. I think I owe a lot to Christopher Hitchens as well; he taught me to utilize language to its fullest potential.

And what are you currently reading?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick; it’s absolutely fabulous.

Lucifer cover

Lamb: the Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s childhood pal

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This is definitely not the most politically, or religiously, correct book I have ever read…but it is one of the funniest and most enjoyable (especially when I found myself laughing out loud on the Toronto subway system and getting very cautious glances from fellow riders).

This was the first of Christopher Moore’s books that I read and have sinceLamb: the Gospel according to Biff, Christ's childhood pal found his brand of witty and dry humor working its way into my heart as a consistent favorite. This novel is told from the perspective of Biff, the very sarcastic and easily distracted best friend of Jesus. Biff has been raised from the dead and is being held hostage in a modern hotel room by a television obsessed angel who will not let him go anywhere until he completes his task of documenting all the adventures, knowledge, and perils he shared with Jesus.

With a very loose tie to traditional tales of the life of Christ, Biff’s story accounts for the years in which little is known of Jesus’ activities and travels, and paints a very different image from that which most of us are familiar (think mythical lizard demons and martial arts training in the desert). I recommend this book to practically everyone and anyone who has ever asked for a suggestion on what book they should read next. I will be eternally grateful to the friend who introduced me to this wealth of ridiculousness and hope that others will benefit from its quirky beauty.