Hi all you Quaint folks,
I thought considering today is a Thursday, why don’t we set ourselves up nicely for the weekend with a change of scene. Today we have company, and it’s someone special. Perhaps someone that you might not be familiar with, or perhaps someone that you have experienced yourself, but even if you answered yes to both, I know that you will find her answers fascinating.
The incomparable Caroline Smailes has dropped by Quaint Manor and agreed to do an interview for your reading pleasure. Trust me, guys – this is a BIG deal, I kid you not. I’m trying to think of an analogy here to put this into perspective, but all I can think of is that it’s kind of like Goliath agreeing to do an interview for David. No, wait…that doesn’t work considering how things panned out for Goliath. Okay, how about this – it’s kind of like Michael Jordan agreeing to an interview with Troy Bolton. No, wait….oh, to hell with it. Here it is. She’s very good. Go buy her books.
Q1. Caroline, thank you for agreeing to this interview. As a precursor, how would you describe your books?
Eek, a difficult one! I guess my stories are personal journeys, not my own but rather those of my characters. They’re comments on society, on human weakness, on grief, on loss, on insecurity, on parental love, on topics that others shy away from. My books are about societies where bad things happen and human beings often initially fail to cope, but mainly I seem to write books that cause reaction (be it positive or negative).
Q2. I think you are one of those authors that people will want to go out and buy ‘the next Caroline Smailes book’ because your voice is original and uncompromising…but the question is; what kind of author do YOU think you are?
(Thank you, that’s a really lovely thing to say!). I see myself as a very selfish writer. Though I cherish my readers, I really find it hard to believe that people actually buy my books. Just last week I phoned up the (lovely patient) royalty lady at HarperCollins to check my royalty statement, because I thought they’d made a mistake. I do think that this comes in handy when I write, because I block out any thoughts of anyone ever reading my words. That way, I can write whatever I want and then worry about who might read/hate me/be shocked/love me when I really really have to. I worry that any writer who tries to write to please their readers is doomed to failure and uncertainty. So I write what I feel and what I need to write, then sit with fingers crossed that my agent, publisher and, most importantly, my readers will like my work. So, you see, selfish!
Q3. Are you a slave to an idea, or do you make it work for you? Or a bit of both?
My books always start out with characters and with me having absolutely no idea about the plot. It’s all about voice to start with, then character development and then finally plot and themes. Sometimes (and I possibly shouldn’t be saying this, but…) it’s not until I’ve completed the first or second draft of the story that deeper themes or ideas begin to shine through.
Q4. One of the most original aspects of your work is the changing fonts, sizes, the juxtaposition of particular words or repeating phrases, and the whole ‘package’ of the book as if each aspect is part of an orchestra. Reading your work is a true reading experience, with different parts of your brain being called into action as you read. How much of that grew out of the genesis of the idea, and how much is purely the way you utilise words?
I’ve always been fascinated by linguistics, it was the basis for my PhD study and I used to lecture in it. With In Search of Adam and with Black Boxes, I felt that the straight written word wasn’t enough so the altered font choices and the white space provided additional shape and texture to the words.
My novels have been a development of the idea that a writer can extend their work into another area that lies between the written word and the brain (and I am aware that that sounds highly pretentious!). In my first 2 novels, I experimented with the visual text and the presentation of sound. I needed the way that the fonts looked to carry meaning that added to the words and to the context. This meant that the voice of a young girl (Jude in In Search of Adam) could be given additional texture and life through varying font size and layout. This is an ongoing process, but in novel 3 (Like Bees to Honey) I use my fonts to signal altered voice and translation and in novel 4 no altered fonts are used at all, instead the experimental elements are hidden within the words (it’s all very clever sounding!). I guess that if a reader chose to read my books in order, then they’d see just how my ideas develop and morph.
Q5. One of the things that I have said about ‘In Search of Adam’ is that when I was reading it, I felt as if I was being told a secret by the characters that no one else knew, and it is the same with ‘Black Boxes’. I really want to dive into the pages and save them. They are truly ‘speaking’ to the reader. Can I ask how the evolution of those characters came about?
Sometimes it feels like the characters write themselves. I see the images in my head and then write the scene out. It’s hard to explain without sounding insane, but my characters exist and feel real before they’re developed on paper. I often write out of order and may start a novel with a scene that ends up being near the end of the book. It’s as if I write a series of independent clips and then I join them all together. As I write the characters tend to evolve, they react to scenes and events, showing me their deeper character traits. I know this sounds clichéd but it’s genuinely the case, so for you to say that you want to ‘save’ them, well that’s a true compliment because I try really really hard not to make my characters rubbish.
Q6. Whilst my ideas and characters are drawn from a love of escapism, yours are skilful dissections of a human condition that the characters would no doubt wish to escape from. What draws you to write stories about such heartfelt issues?
Though I write about fictional characters in fictional situations, I’m drawn to reflecting authentic human emotion and behaviour. I guess this stems from a personal need for my writing to say ‘something’ and to be about ‘something’ beyond the visual impact. I often find writing a draining experience. Sometimes, I have to sink into disturbing worlds when my thoughts become the same as my characters, this can mean thinking like a victim of sexual abuse, a suicidal woman or even a child molester. I guess this shows just how much I’m drawn by a need to speak out.
Q7. Can you describe your journey prior to being published?
Back in September 2005, I was trying to be an academic. I’d returned to PhD study after the births of my three children and was all set to devote my life to linguistics. The problem was that deep down I knew that it wasn’t making me happy. I was writing in secret, whenever I could and had a character called Jude who desperately wanted to be developed. Then I watched a repeat of a Richard and Judy show, where they referred to someone as a ‘Nearly Woman’, saying she nearly did things but never quite finished them and something inside of me freaked out. I emailed my colleague and ranted about how I was a ‘Nearly Woman’ and how my PhD wasn’t what I wanted to do. Over the course of the email exchanges I decided that if I didn’t try to see if I could write a novel, then I’d spend the rest of my life wondering if I could and ‘nearly’ doing things that I really didn’t want to do.
Now when I think of the rest of the story it feels unbelievable and too spontaneous for me! Within two weeks of that Richard and Judy show I’d given up my PhD and enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing. I continued to write my novel and finished it within a year. I then started blogging and had a very basic website designed, showcasing the characters and an extract from my novel. Three weeks after launching that blog and website I was discovered by a cyber-scouting publisher who requested my full manuscript, a few days later I had a publishing contract and In Search of Adam was published nine months later in June 2007.
Q8. Can you describe a typical writing day?
I’m lucky to have 2 or 3 writing days every week. My typical day starts at 8am, when my children leave for school, and I’m to be found at my desk with a huge mug of tea (always the same mug). I then write, check Twitter, check emails, write, drink more tea, walk Oscar the puppy, write, drink more tea and rarely speak out loud. I aim for over 3000 words when writing and plod through chapters when redrafting. I stay at my desk until my children come home from school and I always leave a writing session knowing what I’m going to write the next day.
Q9. Which other writers have most influenced you?
Simple – Jeanette Winterson, Roald Dahl, Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter.
Q10. Can you offer any advice for people wanting to be published?
Never ever give up!
Q11. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m waiting to start the edits and production of my 3rd novel, Like Bees to Honey which is due to be published in May 2010 and I’m on the second draft of my 4th and most experimental novel yet, 99 Reasons Why, which is due to be published spring 2011. I’ve also got a top secret digital project to start and the thought of just how complicated it’s going to be to write is both exciting and terrifying, at the same time.
Q12. And finally…what is the best line/s that you have ever written?
“Attached In Search Of Adam. I look forward to hearing from you. Happy reading, Caroline.”
And there we are, folks. See? Told you it would be special. Caroline can be found blogging at this address: