Saffron is studying for a promising career in medicine until a horrific accident changes her life for ever. Needing to escape London, she moves to a coastal town to live with her mother. Saffron feels trapped until she meets Joe, another outsider – despite initial misgivings, they grow closer to each other as they realise they have a lot in common. Like Saffron, Joe has a complicated past that’s creeping up on his present…
Can Joe escape his demons for long enough to live a normal life – and can Saffron reveal the truth about what really happened on that fateful night? Love is the one thing they need most, but will they – can they – risk it?
I know I’ve said this before, but you’re always taking a bit of a risk when signing up to be part of a blog tour for an author you’ve never read. But I’d read some excellent reviews of Laura Wilkinson’s last book, Public Battles, Private Wars – and everything I’d read about Redemption Song (published by Accent Press on 28th January, available in paperback and for kindle) convinced me it was a book I should try. I’m so delighted I did – I found it totally stunning, and nothing could give me greater pleasure to lending my voice to others telling readers how much they loved it.
My review follows below, but first I have the great pleasure of welcoming author Laura Wilkinson to Being Anne…
Welcome to Being Anne, Laura – would you like to introduce yourself?
Thank you so much for having me; it’s lovely to be here. Me in brief: I’m a writer, a reader, a mother, a wife; a fan of ginger hair, high heels, funky clothes and almost anything that glitters. In another life I might have been a magpie. Snaffling a bargain can make my day.
I see you describe your writing as “emotional, compelling stories, fascinating characters, and ideas that make you think a little”. Are you pleased with Redemption Song in the light of that description?
In my experience there are few writers who are 100% happy with their work once it’s published. We see things we’d like to alter and improve. I read somewhere that Zadie Smith once said that the best time for an author to edit their work is two minutes before they’re due to read it aloud to an audience (I’m paraphrasing) and I absolutely agree. All I can do is ensure that the work is the very, very best I can make it at the time. So, I was happy with Redemption Song in the light of that description four months ago, but now … let’s see!
Who do you have in mind as your reader as you write? A certain background, or age group? Is your reader female?
I write the sort of books I like to read but my taste is broad and eclectic; it’s easier to say what I don’t read much of: sci-fi, procedural crime, fantasy. I imagine my ‘typical’ reader is much like me but I might be totally wrong.
I see you’re with Accent Press – so many authors I currently enjoy are! Tell me more about your path to publication…
Delighted to hear that! I began writing short stories and after modest success set out to write a novel. This eventually became Bloodmining. I entered competitions and when I was longlisted in a couple I felt that I might, just might, be onto something. I rewrote the book and entered more competitions. I made the shortlist of four. One by one the winners were announced and it wasn’t mine. I had a handful of near-misses with agents too and eventually came to the conclusion that it wasn’t to be. But there was one competition I’d forgotten about and it turned out to be the one I won. It was organised by a teeny-tiny house but they wanted to publish the novel and I am so grateful to Bridge House for giving me that first step on the ladder. Competitions were good to me and I’d urge any new writer to enter as many as possible. If nothing else they provide a deadline and some will give feedback. They can mark your progress and you never know. You’ve got to be in it to win it and tenacity is key.
Was writing fiction something you’d always wanted to do? And when the moment came, did you just sit at your keyboard and write?
No and no. As a child I only ever wrote when forced by teachers. I loved to read, but write? I’d rather have eaten my jumper. I worked as a copywriter and journalist before turning to fiction and that was fantastic training for amongst many other things writing and meeting deadlines. But the act of creation for a novel is so different. I hold stories and characters in my head for a long time before committing words to paper.
I’m gutted I’m only discovering you with your third novel – but I do plan to catch up (promise!). I know you’ve previously written short stories too. How different is the discipline required to write a novel?
A novel requires stamina, juggling skills (structure, all those characters, plots, sub plots…) and tenacity. Short stories require precision and the ability to capture a world in a flash so the discipline is very different. To be honest, I find novel writing easier and I am in awe of the best short story writers. Though I’m in awe of a great many novelists too!
And how do you write – are you fitting it round a busy life?
Yes. I work part time as an editor and mentor, and I teach too. As my boys grow up (my youngest is 12 now) I have more time but teens and pre-teens might not require so much practical support but the emotional labour is intense. That sounds a bit moany, which wasn’t my intention. My life is rich and I feel blessed to be able to spend the time I do writing. Not everyone has that privilege.
What writers do you admire? if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
Sarah Rayner, Maggie O’Farrell, Jenn Ashworth, Carys Bray, Louise Doughty. A pretty high bar. In my dreams!
And I just can’t ignore our Welsh connection can I, and the fact that it’s where we both spent our formative years ? I know you weren’t actually born there, but are those Welsh roots important to you?
Extremely. English born, I moved to North Wales when I was six and my family still live there. My step-father is Welsh and he is the man who raised me. Identity and what shapes us is something I’m fascinated by – and thematically it’s what Bloodmining explores. Many of the settings in the novel – Harlech, Shell Island, Bangor, Anglesey – were places visited for holidays as a child and young adult. And the town in Redemption Song, Coed Mawr, is inspired by Llandudno; anyone who knows the town will see this immediately. It’s another of my favourite places. I take my own boys there now, and though I live hundreds of miles away Wales still forms a large chunk of my identity.
I see there’s a new edition of Bloodmining coming in the summer. Of your three, is that book particularly special to you?
I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to revisit early work and improve it (see my response to question two!). It will be re-published by Accent Press under the title The Family Line. The book that is most special to me at any one time is the one I’m working on, but as my first Bloodmining/The Family Line will always hold a special place in my heart. Although the novel is in no way autobiographical it would be fair to say that my life experience influenced the exploration of identity in it, and what it means to be a parent. I cannot say too much more without plot spoilers, but there is an ‘inspiration behind the novel’ piece at the end which explains precisely why. Sorry to be so cryptic.
And are you already thinking about the fourth?
The fourth is already written, though there will be more work on it with my editor. It’s called Skin Deep and is scheduled for publication in March 2017. It was the novel I wrote after Bloodmining and its path to publication is a lengthy and rocky one.
The abridged tale goes like this: It attracted a lot of attention – including a place in the final of a national competition, complete with a swanky pants ceremony at the o2, hosted by Terry Pratchett – but during a painful year, one by one the seven interested parties dropped off, citing its riskiness. I put it in a virtual drawer, thinking it would be one that got away.
During a conversation with my Accent editor as he was signing Redemption Song, this abandoned novel cropped up. He said: ‘That sounds great.’ I laughed, but gave him the elevator pitch. He asked to see the MS. I thought that would be the end of it. A few days later he phoned and said he wanted to sign it. It was one of the best feelings in the world. Diana and Cal, the leads, are so close to my heart.
Skin Deep follows two damaged individuals – one psychologically, the other physically – as they try to find their place in a world obsessed with image. It’s about art and beauty, parental exploitation, ways of seeing, and love.
Right now, I’m making slow process with novel number five.
Thanks so much for having me over at your wonderful blog, Anne.
It’s been an absolute pleasure Laura – thank you for joining me. Now, let me share:
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than finding an author with a unique voice, and an ability to tell a wonderful story that captures your heart. Laura said that she writes the sort of books she likes to read – well, she writes the sort of books I love to read too. I could simply pick words out of the press release – this is a book all about love and loss, moving on with the support of friends and family, honesty and forgiveness, guilt and hatred. Powerful stuff, beautifully handled, but the one thing you don’t get from that list is how this book will make you feel. This is a book you will experience, heart pounding, stomach aching as you hope beyond hope that things will work out for characters that you’ve grown to love like your own family.
Let’s talk about those characters a little. They’re complicated, wonderfully alive, people you might know: they’re all a little bruised and damaged, hurting just below the surface, hiding secrets, just trying to get on with life. The central story is really about the two outsiders, Saffron and Joe – and it’s a story that will touch you to the heart. But they’re surrounded by other wonderfully drawn characters. I quite adored Saffron’s mother Rain, with her faith and approach to life, her love for her daughter and her emotions so visible at times: I loved her interactions with eccentric locals (Mair is simply wonderful, and just like a Welsh aunt I remember), her efforts to hold things together, her wry sense of humour and her deep capacity for love.
Other characters were so real to me too – the lovely Ceri, honest and gentle Eifion… even the lad from Liverpool who helped out on the roof job and the lady who ran the shop. The dialogue is quite exceptional – natural, unforced, real conversations that you can hear in your head as you read. And I have to say – because I know about such things – that she captures quite perfectly the cadences of Welsh speech without any of those small annoyances that can sometimes affect my enjoyment of Wales-based novels.
The setting is incredibly vivid. Perhaps it helped that I know Llandudno – sorry, Coed Mawr – well, but I could picture so vividly every scene she described. No, it’s unfair to attribute that to knowing the setting – not all the features are there in the town I know, but it’s quite wonderful, the way Coed Mawr comes alive, almost as an extra character. The author has a real gift for creating images – Joe on the roof, the bonfire outside the cottage – and I was really struck by how visual this book was, as well as being very deeply moving.
Can I say I’ve found another favourite author? Yes, of course I can. One of my books of the year? I think yes. No, that’s a definite yes. I loved this book so much – I wanted to get to the end, to see if everything turned out the way I wanted it to for these wonderful people that I ached for, but I could also have stayed in Coed Mawr for ever. This was such a special read – and so many others will love it every bit as much as I did.
My thanks to the author and Accent Press for providing my ecopy of Redemption Song for review.
Former journalist Laura Wilkinson grew up in North Wales and lives in Brighton. Alongside writing fiction, she works as a reader and editor for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, and a mentor for The Writing Coach. She has published short stories in magazines and anthologies, and novels. Public Battles, Private Wars was a Welsh Books Council Book of the Month in 2014.