Author Interview: Rosy Thornton
Today, as a rare treat, I’m very pleased to welcome Award-winning, English author Rosy Thornton to Saille Tales, to discuss her fifth novel, Ninepins. In November, Ninepins was selected as the winner of the highly respected East Anglian Book Awards Prize for Fiction. I found the quality of the writing set Ninepins into a genre all its own.
Rosy, I was swept away by the dominating
landscape and setting in Ninepins. Was there a personal story behind your
choice of setting? I suspect that the fenlands* where ‘Ninepins’ is set have always been lurking in my blood – both my parents were brought up in a fen landscape, though slightly further up the map of England, in Lincolnshire. I resisted their pull for many years, not only as a writer but physically, too; I find the emptiness and the huge, dominating skies a bit bleak, to be honest, and swore I’d never live there, sticking to the city of Cambridge, where I teach at the university. And actually, when we did begin house-hunting outside the city we hit upon our current location in the fens by accident, mixing up two villages with similar names. (Not a very good advert for a pair of Cambridge academics, is it?) But once I was settled here, the place crept under my skin, and it was only a matter of time before it infected my writerly imagination, too.
Besides, there is a rich history of literature set in this area. I wonder if your readers know Dorothy L Sayers’ classic murder mystery, ‘The Nine Tailors’ – or Graham Swift’s wonderful ‘Waterland’? (If not, they should go away and read them at once!)
I’m sure our readers will appreciate your recommendations for further exploration in this evocative cradle of English letters. Would you place setting considerations high on your list of story components when
you write? How does your setting compare, say with the main characters in your work? It’s funny you should ask that, because most of my novels have begun with character. I usually start with some notion of a central female character, and the germ of the conflict which will provide her story. But with Ninepins it was different. This time it was certainly the setting which came first, followed closely afterwards by a sense of the atmosphere and themes of the story, which seemed to flow naturally from the landscape itself: ideas of the elements, of fire and water, earth and air, and of breath and breathing, of flooding and drowning.
Writers often come up through all kinds of levels of instruction and academic learning. There are lots of rules associated with writing fiction, but not all apply to every work of fiction. Were there any rules
you consciously set aside when you began writing Ninepins? For someone who teaches Law for a living, I am extremely rule-averse when it comes to creative writing! Maybe it’s the contrast that is precisely the attraction – writing novels is such a liberating experience compared to academic legal argument, which is so pedantic and rigorous and laden with footnotes. I write novels for enjoyment, as relaxation, so I don’t want to be hidebound by another set of rules. OK, so twenty years of writing non-fiction for publication probably means I have absorbed the basic tenets of grammar, punctuation and coherent structure – but that’s where it stops. I refuse to excise every second adverb simply because the creative writing textbooks tell me I should.
The whole “show v.s. tell” discussion pops up everywhere fiction is discussed, yet I feel lost without some narrative writing in any story. How do you know when enough is enough, without resorting to info-dumping and other shortcuts that can slow down a read? I don’t tend to think about the problem much, to be honest – my writing is pretty much instinctive. But like any rule of writing, the one that says ‘thou shalt show and not tell’ is only a guideline and must be subject to exceptions.
I guess, if pressed, I’d say that my general approach is to get in as close as possible to the characters and the story as I can. I tend to write in concentrated, sometimes almost cameo, scenes, depicting the interaction of my characters in fine detail, and including backstory or explanation only where this is naturally part of my viewpoint character’s response to what is happening. I don’t really worry about the infilling bits of the story, which I feel I can usually trust the reader to supply for herself.
Your characters’ interactions are very honest and accessible. I especially appreciated Laura’s inner conversations. Her doubts and guilt seem to be an almost universal mother condition among the women in my own life. Was her journey mirrored in your own life or lives you’ve had contact with? That’s a lovely thing to say – thank you! As you may have surmised, I am a mother of daughters – as well, of course as the daughter of a mother. And much of the mother-daughter tension which plays out in my books – ‘Ninepins’ perhaps more than any other – draws upon those experiences. I also just think that worrying about your kids – whatever their age – is the natural condition of all parents!
What is next for you? What can your readers look forward to? I have to admit that there is no new novel in the pipeline at the moment. Having only embarked upon the writing of fiction in 2005 at the grand old age of 41, and thereupon having written and published five novels within the space of seven years, I feel in need of a rest. It’s partly to recharge my creative batteries, but also to try to get some proper legal writing done, before I get fired!
Visit the author’s website : http://www.rosythornton.com/
* The English fens comprise a wide area of naturally occurring wetlands, marshes and boggy country lying north of Cambridge along and into the interior near England’s eastern shore. These areas, having been drained long ago, now account for the most fertile agricultural land in England