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Rosie Thornton’s Sandlands Launches Today!

by Richard Sutton on July 21, 2016

It’s always enjoyable for me when an author I’ve known and interviewed has a new book to release. Especially if the writer has a particularly compelling style and insightful ways of illustrating the human condition in their work.

I’ve known UK based author Rosy Thornton for some years now, having first made her acquaintance in a somewhat reserved writer’s forum some years ago, where her generous nature gave writers struggling to find their voice (like me…), more confidence and skill.  I needed (and still do…) all the help I could get, and Ms. Thornton’s patience and knowledge came as a welcome surprise. My surprise grew out of my own insecurity and little or no real knowledge of the work of most of the other members or writers, in general. I had no idea that she was a respected fellow, lecturer and tutor in the subject of Law, at Cambridge, or that she had lots of readers who appreciated each new book as it came into the world.

My first reading of Ms. Thornton’s writing was her award-winning  fifth novel Ninepins, set in the lonely fen country of Cambridgeshire. It was moving and very revealing of her characters’ internal struggles and the illusions we spin to protect our fragile hearts. My 2012 interview is posted here. Ninepins got under my skin and eventually helped inspire my own characters’ emotional development. I was very pleased to hear that a new book was due for a launching and even more pleased that the author had time to do the interview.

Richard: Rosy, I’m so glad you could join us to discuss your soon-to-be-launched Sandstone Press collection of short stories, Sandlands.

Author Rosie Thornton

Author Rosie Thornton

Rosie: Hello. Richard. It’s lovely to be here and so kind of you to invite me. And thank you, too, for that very generous introduction. You’ve made me feel quite nostalgic for our old co-critiquing days in the writers’ forum!

Richard: From my reading of Ninepins, I learned of your profound connection to the natural world and I’m glad to see that the stories in Sandlands will be expressing more of that connection. Were these tales conceived as parts of a larger whole, or did they spring to life independently?

Rosie: The very first story was just a story – an idea that came to me when walking in the woods near my Suffolk home and noticing one pure white doe among a group of roe deer. I found myself looking out for her every morning, whenever I glimpsed the deer, and she reminded me of an old French legend, about a young woman condemned to roam the woods at night in the shape of a white doe, until she is accidentally shot by her own huntsman brother. The legend made me think of bereavement and loss – especially of a sibling – and also of the guilt that comes with loss.

Anyway, I wrote that one, and it was so deeply rooted in the countryside of Suffolk, those woods and fields, and I thought, this place – this landscape and its wildlife – could be the subject and the setting for many different stories. So I wrote another one, and another…. and soon the idea of a collection was born.

Richard: If you were to choose another setting in the countryside you love, for another novel, what would seem the most evocative location?

Rosie: Hmm, that’s a tricky one. I have already set three books in areas that are close to my heart. This current collection in the sandlings of coastal Suffolk, Ninepins (as you’ve said) in the flat grey fens around Cambridge where I live in the working week, and an earlier novel, The Tapestry of Love, which used for its backdrop the remote Cévennes mountains of central France. Where is there left to write about? Well, one idea which has preoccupied me for some time is to write a book set by the sea. The village where the tales in Sandlands all unfold is just a few miles from the coast, and the nearby shingle beaches do feature in one or two stories. But to set an entire novel in some run down, half-forgotten seaside town, its salt-bleached paintwork gently peeling… That notion certainly appeals.

Richard: In Ninepins, you use the device of a single mother, her daughter and a girl who many would consider a “Charity Case” interacting in a very remote, work-intensive setting. The conflict seemed very immediate, yet somehow almost ethereal. It was quite trick to pull off. In Sandlands, can we expect similar sleight of hand?

Rosie: That’s a really interesting perspective on my writing, Richard. I think you’re right that I like to shift the ground from under my readers’ feet – to root my narratives in the everyday and comfortable, the daily round of cups of tea and talks around the breakfast table, but then to introduce some darker or more dangerous sense, of threat or loss, the unexpected, the ghostly or the magical. I think there can be power in that contrast – our cozy and familiar world, shot through by a current of something ‘other’.

In Sandlands, that ‘other’ is often the tug of the past – past lives and loves, past tragedies – breaking through into the present in various unanticipated ways.

Richard: The inescapable past permeates much of my own work, too, as does the Natural world. Wildlife of all kinds are especially close to my own heart. Our own home on Long Island resembles not the expected manicured landscape, but rather a deep woodlands forest, very welcoming to all animals. Can you describe your own interests regarding the Natural world and how they influence your work?

Rosie: You make me want to visit Long Island! My beloved Suffolk, evoked in Sandlands, is a landscape of great variety. British people tend to think of all the eastern counties as flat and unvarying, but within a five mile radius of the village where my book is set you’ll find rolling farmland bounded by ancient hedgerows, thick deciduous woodland and lowland heath purpled over with heather, salt marshes and shingle beaches. The fauna are varied too, and nine of the sixteen stories in the collection take one particular animal, bird, insect or flower for their central motif: from fox to barn owl, nightingale and curlew, from the dune-flowering sand catchfly to a rare species of butterfly called the silver-studded blue.

Sandlands cover high resRichard: “God,” someone said, “is in the details.” There are so many unique and beautiful living things, it would be very hard hard not to be inspired by them, constantly. I see that kind of inspiration in Sandlands’ standout cover. I really love it.   I would imagine that your academic career has also provided unique opportunities for your development as a fiction writer. Are there any mentors whose work influenced your need to write? How did you writing voice evolve?

Rosie: Well, I’m not sure that my university career (lecturing and writing about law) has exactly provided direct opportunities for the development of my fiction. Rather the opposite, I’m tempted to say – a full-time day job does tend to get in the way of having the time I’d like to write novels and stories! But of course, there are many, many people who have encouraged me with my fiction, including colleagues at the university and, perhaps most especially, my students. They are delighted to encounter a lecturer who doesn’t just live and breathe law, and writes books that people might actually enjoy reading!

More concretely, I do think that twenty-five years as an academic lawyer have helped me to develop a precision in my choice of words, and a forensic eye for context and meaning in the way words are employed. And those, I think, are ‘transferable skills’ (as they say), as useful for conjuring a fictional scene in exact detail as for framing a watertight legal argument.

Richard: I’ve had “what-ifs” and story interests circulating in my head since I was a boy. Making the commitment to write seriously and actually complete the longer forms has enabled me to finally engage in pursuits I’ve wanted to follow since childhood. It’s also provided me with rather less-expensive therapy and demon-exorcism as well. Has your own work provided unexpected benefits or psychic healing?

Rosie:  Oh, absolutely! I think most writers secretly write as therapy, at least in part. It’s no coincidence that many of the stories in Sandlands deal in some way or another with bereavement or loss – and that my beloved dad died in 2014 when I was in the early stages of writing the book.

Richard: Sorry to hear that. Loss can be an incredible motivator though. One of my own recent books was written really as a conversation I’d always wished to have with my own Dad. I like to think he’d have really loved it. Finally, shifting gears, can you give us a short description of Sandlands that will whet our appetites and loosen our wallets?

Rosie: I really don’t think I could do a better job than my lovely editor, Moira, who wrote this blurb for the back cover of the book:

“From the white doe appearing through the dark wood to the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud as a poignant symbol of happier times, the creatures of the Suffolk landscape move through Rosy Thornton’s delicate and magical collection of stories. The enigmatic Mr. Napish is feeding a fox rescued from the floods; an owl has been guarding a cache of long-lost letters; a nightingale’s song echoes the sound of a loved voice; in a Martello tower on a deserted shore Dr. Whybrow listens to ghostly whispers. Through the landscape and its creatures, the past is linked to the present, and generations of lives are intertwined.”

Richard: That does the trick, as does the excellent comment about the breadth of your work on the front cover by Jenn Ashworth.  Thank you for spending your time with us today. It’s been a real pleasure.

Rosie: Thank you, Richard. The pleasure is all mine!

Rosie Thornton’s books to date, include:

More Than Love Letters (Headline, 2007)

Hearts and Minds (Headline Review, 2008)

Crossed Wires (Headline Review, 2009)

The Tapestry of Love (Headline Review, 2010)

Ninepins (Sandstone Press, 2012)

Sandlands (Sandstone Press, 2016)

Her author website is here: http://www.rosythornton.com

and she welcomes new readers to ‘friend’ her on Facebook here:

https://www.facebook.com/rosy.thornton

For review copies or press information, please contact Sandstone Press publicity officer, Keara Donnachie (keara@sandstonepress.com)

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Readers’ comments are always encouraged. If you’d like to ask or discuss anything pertaining to her work, leave your comment here…

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