(Cross-posted with TaniaWrites)
Those of you who read this blog know that what makes up most of my reading these days are short stories, both for pleasure and for review for The Short Review. I write short stories and I love them, but, as I argue whenever I get the chance, I also love a good novel, something that keeps me up at night, something that pulls me into its world.
Fiona Robyn's The Letters, published by Snowbooks, did just that. A story about love, family, parenting, friendships, isolation, community, creativity, history, society, and so much more. I was surprised by how much I took to Violet, the main character, from the first page. I think what attracted me and then kept me reading was that Violet is a very real character, she is flawed and she - and the author - don't make any attempt to hide her imperfections, be they in the realm of motherhood, as a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend, a member of the local community. Everything here feels genuine, and not only that, there are no pat answers, no simple solutions. This is all of life's messiness, in these pages, and there is something both beautiful and compelling about that.
I am delighted to be hosting Fiona today as part of her "The Letters" Virtual Book Tour as she (virtually) travels around in her little red bus. A little bit about Fiona: she is a writer and blogger living in rural Hampshire, UK, with her partner and two cats (Silver and Fatty) and her vegetable patch. She blogs about the writing life at Planting Words and has a delightful second blog, a small stone, where she records minute details about her day to, as she explains "help me pay proper attention". She invites others to contribute small stones at A Handful of Stones. "The Letters" is her first novel, two more are following on in quick succession, more on that later.
Tania: Hi Fiona, and welcome! Colours seem to play a very important part in The Letters, the most obvious example being the name of the main character (Violet), and her cat (Blue), but I noticed many, many colours throughout the book. I also noticed from snooping through your Facebook profile photos (!) that your hair seems to have change colour several times. What role does colour play in your life?
Fiona: Well spotted! I had pillar box red hair at Uni, then pink, then blue, then I shaved it all off... Funnily enough I have a couple more colour-names to come - Rose in The Blue Handbag, and Red (my Russian portrait painter) in Thaw. I think it's fair to say that I'm a pretty visual person, and so I suppose noticing colour is a part of 'paying attention'. My 'a small stone' blog is a part of this practice, and although colour features strongly, I also try to notice smells, sensations, sounds...
TH: How do you think you got treated differently when your hair was a different colour? And, tying this in, spuriously (!), how would you feel about them if your characters were called different names? Was it always Violet and Blue? Do you somehow "see" your characters in colour? F: Mostly my bright hair went down well - old ladies would often compliment me on it at bus stops. It took a lot of upkeep, though, and my pillows kept getting stained! Violet is called Violet because of her violet eyes, and she was always Violet - as Blue was always Blue. When I'm getting to know my characters, it feels like it's a matter of uncovering the truth about them, rather than making it up - their names come very early on, and I might try a few out before I find their 'real' name, a bit like Rumpelstiltskin! T: Since you've mentioned another story... let's go with that: what kinds of books do you like to read? What are some recent favourites? The Letters begins with a Yeats quote, are you a fan? F: I don't know Yeats very well - I have big holes in my 'classical' literary education - I tend to read contemporary poetry and novels. I read a lot of non-fiction - a lot of books about Zen Buddhism, and stuff about nature. The Book Of Silence by Sara Maitland and The Wild Places by Robert McFarlane are recent favourites. I've read more novels recently (I don't tend to read novels while I'm writing one) and just finished Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball - he's visiting Planting Words next month as a part of his blog tour. It was a beautiful, moving novel and I'm still carrying the main character around in my head. T: Isn't it wonderful when the character stays with you? I found Violet compelling from the first page, and very real, especially her feelings about motherhood and her own mother. How was it writing her story? Did you discover more about her as the novel progressed? Were you surprised by some of the things that happened? F: I'm glad you thought so. I did discover more about her as I wrote, and there were a few surprises - there always are when I'm writing fiction. I do enjoy spending time with my characters, and when I think about them after I've finished writing the book it's almost as if I'm remembering a friend from real life who I don't see any more. T: You are publishing three (yes, three!) novels this year, I believe... are you finding time to write along with all the book promotion? What is your next project? F: There are three novels coming out with Snowbooks, but I did write them over the past five years so I'm not that prolific! I haven't had the head space to write this month, what with all this touring and 'being a proper published author', but I'm hoping to get back to it in a few weeks time. My current novel is about a 13 year old geeky boy called Joe who visits his aunt in Amsterdam - I'm off to Amsterdam in August for a bit of research. What a wonderful life. T: That doesn't sound wonderful, why don't I do research? Hmm! Thanks so much, Fiona, for stopping by. If you have any questions, feel free to ask Fiona by posting a comment here. Visit FionaRobyn.com for links to the rest of the tour and more information about The Letters and Fiona's other writings.
- Coming next week: From letters to space-time, one of my favourite topics. Sue Guiney pops in to talk about her novel, Tangled Roots, which has just come out in paperback, and which has a physicist as a main character that Sue based on John Cusack. I think this book was written just for me! Sue will be here on April 2nd, prepare your questions!