Thursday, July 21, 2016

Q&A Session with Author Rachel Crowther

Today I’m excited to share with you a Q&A Session with Author Rachel Crowther. Rachel Crowther is the Author of the new book ‘The Things You Do for Love’ coming on August 11th. ‘The Things You Do for Love’ is perfect for women’s fiction readers and for those who are looking for a truly exhilarating book. Find out more about this new read and the author!

About the Book:

'A wonderful page-turner of a novel about the complexity of female life, by a new writer who
- Fay Weldon

An elite surgeon with a brilliant but philandering husband, Flora Macintyre has always defined herself by her success in juggling her career and her marriage. Until, all at once, she finds herself with neither.

Retired and widowed in the space of a few months, Flora is left untethered. In a moment of madness, she realizes there's nothing to stop her running away to France.

But back home her two daughters - the family she's always loved, but never had the time to nurture - are struggling. Lou is balancing pregnancy with a crumbling relationship, while her younger sister, Kitty, begins to realize she may have to choose between love and her growing passion for music.

And even as the family try to pull together, one dark secret could still tear them all apart...

"The very best sort of fiction that makes you really MIND about those people who you have only just met but whose existence throbs with vitality." Juliet Nicolson, author of A House Full of Daughters understands it all too well. You can have it all, but only if you're prepared to pay the price.'

The Q&A:

What was the inspiration for The Things You Do for Love?

How women juggle work, families, relationships and in some cases other important things (like writing!) has always been an interesting topic for me – in fact, it’s more or less the central preoccupation of my life, both in theory and in practice.

For me, writing about the choices and compromises women make is part of the way I try to make sense of life, and although most of my friends are still very much in the thick of looking after children and/or ageing parents while managing demanding jobs, and in some cases challenging marriages, I’d been thinking for some time about what highly successful and overstretched women might do when they retired.

That was the starting point for the novel, really. That and the related question about mothers and daughters and how their relationships change as the daughters grow up and start to face some of the same challenges as their mothers. I wanted all along to make this a multi-generational novel, in which we see things – such as Flora and Henry’s marriage, and Lou and Kitty’s childhoods – from both perspectives.    

Some authors say that they know how their stories are going to end before they even start writing. Is this true for you?

That’s definitely not true for me. I’m a scientist by training, and quite well organised and analytical about my writing – I keep track of my novels in rather scientific-looking tables as I go along – but (rather weirdly, perhaps) I’m absolutely not one of those novelists who plans the whole plot out in advance. I’m rather in awe of people who do that – but I also think I’d find it rather boring to know exactly what was going to happen from the outset.

I start out with characters and situations and questions, and the questions keep multiplying faster than I can answer them for most of the time I’m writing: I simply don’t know the answers until they come to me, and often that’s worryingly late. But somehow they always appear in the end. I once went to a talk by Andrew Miller, who said you write the first draft to get to know your characters, and the second draft to make sense of what they do, and that was very reassuring.

There’s always a bit of a sense of danger as you set out, not being sure whether the whole thing is going to fall into place, but for me that’s part of the fun – and I think you just have to trust the process and keep going, a bit like you do as a reader. I think the difference between writing a novel and reading a novel is a bit like the difference between reading a novel and watching a film. In each case, both experiences are fun, but the additional time and effort you put in is more than worth it for the additional pleasure!

What has happened to the characters in the book since you finished the novel – are they still in your head?

My characters always stay in my head – certainly the ones who’ve been in novels, and often the ones from short stories, too. They feel like real people: sometimes I wake up in the night thinking about one of them, and it takes a moment or two before I realise they’re fictional characters, not friends or relations.

A few weeks ago, I went back, for the first time in years, to a place where we used to live, and where I’d written a crime novel (which was never published, but which lots of my friends read at the time). As we were walking down the street recalling the people we used to know there and wondering what had happened to them, I found myself thinking about the protagonist of that novel. It was rather nice to know that she was still there for me to pick up and think about even now.

In the book, Flora travels to France. Is there a particular reason for this? Do you have a special connection with France?

I do love France, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time there over the years. French is the only foreign language I can speak at all competently, and I’ve probably visited and stayed in as many different and varied parts of France as of Britain.

I like setting novels in places I know, but The Things You Do for Love has a particular link with France, since it first took shape in my mind when I was on holiday there a few years ago. We stayed in several different places, including a sweet little gite in the garden of a house that belonged to an English couple in their sixties. The woman was called Flora, and although she is nothing at all like the Flora in my novel, I knew that a village like theirs was the right setting for this novel I’d been thinking about all summer, and I decided that Flora’s name was perfect for the main character. 

Would you say that authors often base their characters on real people they know or have met? Do you do this?

I really don’t do this, mainly because I find it almost impossible. Of course characters sometimes resemble real people, or more often have a mixture of traits and characteristics from several different real people, but I’ve tried once or twice to base a character properly on someone I knew and I found it terribly constraining. You have to think all the time about whether the real person would do or say such and such, whether they’d ever get themselves into this situation, whether they’d react like that – and all of that bogs down the plot, and wrecks the glorious freedom of writing a novel.

I also find that characters won’t be tied down to a predetermined notion of who they are: writing about them is more a matter of finding out about them and getting to know them than dictating what they’re going to be like. Even if you start out with a rough idea, you find yourself veering away from it pretty quickly, and discovering things you didn’t expect. And that’s what you need: you need characters who have their own internal consistency, and who belong in the world of the novel, not real people you plonk down like cardboard cut-outs in a fictional setting.

What is your favourite book, and why?

I like lots of books, but my all-time favourite is Persuasion by Jane Austen. It’s unsurpassable both as a story and as a piece of writing: you know you are in the hands of a genius from the first sentence. The characters are vivid and varied and evoke powerful emotions, the plot is unbearably sad and then unbearably happy, the portrait of early nineteenth century English society is fresh and compelling. It would be hard to care more deeply about any character than Anne Elliot, and Jane Austen manages brilliantly the trick of making a novel which focusses on a small section of life address much bigger and broader questions – about self-determination, whether virtue is rewarded, how different women really are to men, and what matters most in life: money, love, health, adventure, freedom. The fact that Persuasion was published posthumously is poignant too.

Would you recommend creative writing courses to anyone who aspires to become an author?

I would certainly recommend creative writing courses to anyone who wants to write, but I’m less sure about recommending them as a route to ‘becoming an author’. I did lots of creative writing courses over the five or six years when I was still working as a doctor and was desperate to find the time and space and focus to write. I enjoyed most of them, and in certain ways they were useful, but I never saw them as a route to publication, and I think going into them for that reason that would be a mistake – partly because no course can promise to turn you into a publishable author, but mainly because, in my humble opinion, writing is more important than ‘being an author’.

The first, and in many ways the best, creative writing course I did was an Arvon week with Sarah Salway and Jean McNeil. I’d written quite a lot already – in fact, I’d just won a prize in a short story competition – but even so, that week felt like a revelation. It was partly the stimulation of the writing exercises and the feedback from the tutors; it was partly having a whole week with nothing else to do but write; it was partly meeting a dozen other people who were in exactly the same boat as me – but the most important thing I learned that week was that writing was really, really important to me, and whatever else happened, I was going to go on doing it for the rest of my life.

I’m no athlete, so this might be a terrible analogy, but it seems to me that writing is a bit like running. Other people can help you train, and give you useful tips about what to eat and how to get fit and what challenges to set yourself, but in the end it’s your own hard work (and a degree of natural aptitude) that matters. And most people run because they love it and feel better for it, and perhaps enjoy entering races to pit themselves against other people, not because they think they’re going to win an Olympic medal. I’m not among those who believe that running improves everyone’s life, but I’m perfectly prepared to believe that writing could.

What would you say is the best thing about being a writer?

The best thing about being a writer – with apologies for what might seem an unhelpful answer! – is writing. For me, there’s nothing to beat the pleasure it brings. And that goes for every part of the process: the excitement of the first tingling of an idea, the initial drafting that spills it all out on paper (or screen), the endless revising and editing that turns it into something worth reading.

It’s hard to explain to a non-initiate how thrilling each of those elements is – imagining something, sketching it out, then knocking it into shape. It’s hard to explain, too, what you’re doing it for. It’s certainly not the satisfaction of sitting back admiring the finished product – however much I’ve loved writing something, and however proud I am of it, I’m itching to get on with the next project as soon as it’s finished, or even before. (I’m not one of those orderly writers who has a decent gap between novels: rather like children, I always have at least two or three on the go, at different stages of development.)

Nor is there one particular stage that makes the rest worthwhile: in fact, each of them have their frustrations as well as their pleasures. When the idea is germinating, there’s the anxiety that you’ll lose sight of the spark that first appealed to you, or that you won’t be able to see it through into anything remotely resembling a novel. When you’re drafting, there’s a sinking feeling that the writing isn’t good enough, or isn’t going in the right direction. And when you’re editing, there’s a niggling sense that what you’re doing isn’t really at all creative, and that anything that takes this much chopping and reshaping is never going to have any sparkle. But somehow the whole process is utterly compelling and irresistible, and I can’t imagine living without it.      

Is writer’s block a real thing? If so, how do you tackle it?

Back in the days when I had very little time to write, I used to scoff at writer’s block. I remember being in a workshop once with someone who was finding it hard to decide whether he’d write better if he’d already been to the gym that day, or whether having the gym as a reward to look forward to would make his writing time more productive. I was incredulous: you mean, you’re choosing to spend time in the gym when you could be writing? You’ve got time to write and you’re not getting on with it as fast as your typing fingers can carry you? Me, I have to make the most of every minute I have! I don’t have time for luxuries like writer’s block!

But as I began to have a little more time for writing, I began to understand. If you’ve got all day every day to write (and that’s still not me, I fear) you’re not going to be actually writing every minute of every day. You need thinking time, planning time, digesting time – even panicking, despairing time. If you spend most of the week waiting for the glorious empty hours you’ve carved out to write, you’re more likely to hit the ground running, but even then you may not be able to pick up the thread at once. If you’ve had to break off to edit something else, or to deal with a crisis of some kind, you might find it difficult to immerse yourself in whatever you’re writing again – and sometimes, in the middle of a long project, the whole thing just feels stale and flat and worthless, and you just can’t see the point.

So I think there are several different kinds of writer’s block, and they have different remedies. If you’ve lost your place, going back to the beginning and reading through from page one again often helps you to work your way back into it. If you’ve written yourself to a standstill, maybe that’s the time for a dog walk (or even, if you’re so minded, the gym). If you’re in the doldrums, writing something else might help – or even leaving the place where you’re stuck and leaping on to another point in the book, an episode you’re more excited about. But in the end, I take a pretty brisk tone with myself: if you’re serious about writing, then write. Write anything – get some words down – and it’ll help you move forwards.

Do you have a favourite book about writing?

I’m afraid I don’t: I own lots of books about writing which have been recommended to me over the years, and now and then I take one on holiday with me, thinking it might have useful things to say, but I’ve never actually managed to read any of them. I’m sure that’s my own failing, but in the end I find I’d rather read a novel than a book about writing novels.

And that brings me to a more useful point: I once, marvellously, spend an afternoon listening to Anne Enright talking about writing, and told us that for each novel she’d written, she’d had a particular novel by someone else to hand all the way through – a sort of totem, or guide, or reference point, I think. I haven’t followed that advice exactly, but I have found it very helpful to delve into other people’s writing when I’m struggling with my own. Not to copy them, or to look for anything in particular, but more to remind myself what I’m trying to do, and why it’s worth the effort.

About the Author:

Rachel Crowther qualified as a doctor and worked in the NHS for twenty years before succumbing to a lifelong yearning to write fiction, previously indulged during successive bouts of maternity leave. She has an MA in Creative Writing with distinction from Oxford Brookes, and a string of prizes for her short fiction. 

Her first novel, ‘The Partridge and the Pelican’, was published in 2011 and was a Tatler ‘sizzling summer read’. ‘The Things You Do For Love’ is published in August 2016 and has been called 'a delight of a read' by Fay Weldon, 'the very best sort of fiction' by Juliet Nicolson (A House Full of Daughters) and 'a richly textured tale of life and love' by Richard Mason (The Drowning People).

Rachel has five children, two mad dogs and an abiding passion for music, art, cooking and travel, both in Britain and further afield. She currently lives in Surrey.

For more information about Rachel Crowther please visit her website. Or visit her on Facebook and Amazon.  

I received this book from Bonnier Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

No comments:

Post a Comment