Sunday, 9 October 2011

Author Spotlight: Rosie Alison

Dear members,

This post provides a deeper insight into our latest book club pick, "The Very Thought of You". In Chick Lit Central the author provides a descriptive account of how this story came about, her thoughts and her feelings for that time period.

Writing a First Novel
by Rosie Alison

It’s a peculiar experience, putting a novel out into the world. Particularly a personal, heartfelt novel such as "The Very Thought of You." For me, it was a long, solitary and secretive process to excavate this novel, my first: I wrote it on and off over eight years, after work, once the children were asleep, late at night. I never dared to take time off from my day job to write; I feared that pressure to deliver would have spiked my fragile private writing bubble. So the novel had a slow gestation and naturally I was delighted when I finally finished it and found a publisher.

But I had very mixed feelings about publication: a part of me longed for the book to find readers – yet at the same time, I dreaded discovering that those readers might just be left cold or puzzled or irritated. To begin with, I was euphoric whenever anyone wrote a kindly blog, and sliced to the marrow if someone disparaged it. And my novel seems to have attracted both passionate readers and contemptuous ones. I’ve learned to be philosophical that any novel which attempts to tackle romantic feeling will divide people – but I have to respect, too, those readers who picked up the book and either disliked or misunderstood what I was attempting to do.

My guiding instinct was to write a story about love. The longing for an intimate other is surely the most abiding universal impulse, and I wanted to explore different kinds of love – not just romantic love, but two people reaching out to each other in some way. "The Very Thought of You" is a book in which most of the characters are holding the thought of somebody in their heads and hearts. I’ve tried to tease out that invisible thread which runs between potential lovers – delving into how love takes root and evolves, all those elusive staging posts. The heart of the novel is an adult love affair, and much of the time I was trying to get inside these two lovers as they feel this unspoken connection between them, but don’t know whether it’s their delusion or not. This affair is framed by the more unusual story of a young evacuee, Anna, who develops her own complicated attachment to one of her hosts, which endures through her life in unexpected ways.

Although this novel begins and ends with Anna (the evacuee), in many ways, the novel actually grew around her host Thomas Ashton. Thomas undergoes many reversals of fortune – yet he’s sustained by his abiding capacity for love, which becomes an act of faith for him, even after his lover has died. I wanted to write about a character who is emotionally disconnected or blocked at the beginning – but who finds himself transformed by love, which endures despite his loss, in (I hope!) an inspiring way.

Anna Sands, the displaced child, has a different fate. Unlike many evacuees who were deeply scarred by their wartime experiences, she seems a lucky survivor. She ends up at a beautiful house, with kind teachers, safe from the war. And yet in the absence of parental love, she develops an inappropriate attachment to one of her teachers which skews her emotional development, with unexpected repercussions right through her life. She ends up as one of life’s emotional witnesses, stranded on the sidelines of other people’s lives, always hankering after a relationship which could never be hers. It was this notion of becoming a witness – somebody with a face always pressed against a window, instead of joining in – which interested me in Anna. For me, that’s the poignancy of the Raymond Carver poem which I chose to preface the novel – that everyone longs to be ‘beloved’, yet some people are fated not to be, often unable to escape the long shadows of childhood.

Attempting to write romantic fiction is a high wire act: what for some will be heartfelt, for others will be cloying. I’ve noticed some people find my prose too purple, while others find it too detached. My own hope is that it can express heartache and longing in a way which is consoling for at least some readers. Kafka wrote that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us,” and that was very much the case for me, it took me a while to crack through my own ice, and realise that I wanted to write as deeply as I could about human longing. When friends ask me what kind of book I’ve written, I describe it as a torchsong – perhaps that’s why I chose a song title. But it’s definitely not a book for romantic pragmatists.

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