I’ve mentioned before some of the lovely people you can meet on Twitter – and today I’m really pleased to introduce you to another. Rose Alexander’s first novel, Garden of Stars, was published for kindle by Carina on 25th July, and I’m rather excited by this one – I’m really looking forward to reading and reviewing it in November. Let me share the story:
The Alentejo, Portugal 1934
I am Inês Bretão and I am 18 years old. Now that I am finally an adult and soon to be married, I feel like my real life is about to begin. I have decided to document everything that happens to me, for my children and my grandchildren…
As Sarah Lacey reads the scrawled handwriting in her great-aunt’s journal on a trip to Portugal, she discovers a life filled with great passion, missed chances and lost loves – memories that echo Sarah’s own life. Because Sarah’s marriage is crumbling, her love for her husband ebbing away, and she fears the one man she truly loves was lost to her many years ago…
But hidden within the faded pages of the journal is a secret Inês has kept locked away her entire life, and one final message for her beloved niece – a chance for Sarah to change her life, if she is brave enough to take it.
See why I’m excited? This one has “a book I’ll love” written all over it. And I’m delighted to welcome Rose to Being Anne to tell us more about her life and her writing…
Hello Rose, and welcome to Being Anne – would you like to introduce yourself to everyone?
Hi, I’m Rose, I’m absolutely thrilled to be featured on Being Anne – Anne herself is an inspiration for all the support she gives to writers, as well as being a charming and friendly person in what can be a very intimidating world when you are a debut novelist like me! (Thanks, Rose!) As I say, Garden of Stars is my first novel and it’s been a long, hard slog to get to publication. All I really want now is for people to read and enjoy – I hope it will be a book that gives readers pleasure and lots of food for thought. I like books that stay with you and hopefully Garden does that.
I know from your blog that telling me too much about the inspiration for Garden of Stars might give away too much of the story – but tell me more about the setting, and why you love the Alentejo….
I spent quite a lot of time in Portugal during university holidays, and a friend and I went to Lisbon to do a TEFL course after graduating and were there for about three months in the end. I absolutely fell in love with the country and the people. Melides in the Alentejo will always have a special place in my heart. My friend and I met a bunch of local young people in a bar, as you do when you are 20-something, and every weekend we would go to Melides and wild camp in the dunes behind the beach. It was a magical time that I will never forget. I’m also fascinated by the unique flora and fauna of Portugal – particularly the majestic cork trees and the wildlife the cork lands are host to. The life-cycle of the cork oak runs through the novel as a metaphor for love, loss, hope and new beginnings.
Were you able to influence the cover? It’s gorgeous…
I sent through covers of books that I really like to give the designer some ideas. One thing I’m not at all keen on are curly, swirly fonts so I passed that information on as well. I have to admit to being totally bowled over by the cover when I first saw it. I really, really love it and think it is absolutely perfect for the book.
Did you always have a secret hankering to write fiction? And when you decided to do so, did you simply sit at your keyboard and write?
I always wanted to be a writer and my work was always read out in class and featured in the school magazine and that sort of thing. But I didn’t have any confidence in myself. I even wrote a book – it was about a fox running from the hunt, as I remember – and sent it off to a publisher, but I did it in secret because I thought that if I told anyone, they’d just laugh at me and tell me that I was stupid to even think I was good enough to be an author. It’s taken me a long time to realise it but I’ve suffered from depression since a very young age, and was badly affected in my teenage years. I’m much better now but it’s true when people say that the ‘black dog’ is always there. I don’t think I’ll ever totally get rid of it. I’m hugely envious and astounded by people who write great books in their twenties and thirties but I had to recognise and deal with the depression before I was able to begin my own writing career. One of the few benefits of being a bit older when you get started is that you have lots and lots of life experience to draw upon. Garden of Stars took a long time to write because of all the other stuff I had going on, and has had several different incarnations. This final published version is very different to how it started out. Now I’m much more focused, and clearer about what I really want to say, so writing my subsequent books has been a lot more straightforward.
Tell me a little about your path to publication as a fiction author…
I was going to say that my path was a typical one but then I realised that I don’t know what a typical path to publication is! I did a lot of research on how to get published and followed all the instructions in the books and on the agents’ websites, sending off the first three chapters etc etc. I got a full manuscript request in my first round of submissions but ultimately that agent didn’t take the book on. But I managed to squeeze a few lines of feedback out of her and, armed with that, rewrote the book. Second time around I got lucky and succeeded in being taken on by Watson, Little. This then got complicated as the agency had a lot of changes in staffing so I kept having to start again with a new agent. However, eventually it all came together and we got the two-book deal with Carina UK.
And you’ve retrained as a teacher – and have a family to fit around too. When do you find time to write?
In all honesty, and without meaning to sound like a martyr, I just never stop. I needed a job with a steady income in order to support my family and I thought about teaching because it’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I feel passionate about the ability of education to change young lives and I liked the idea of being involved in it. So I applied to the extremely competitive Teach First programme and got a place. It is a brutal way to train, though, especially when you are a mother. The vast majority of the participants are in their twenties and unencumbered which makes it a lot more manageable. You teach a full timetable from day one, with only six weeks’ training over the summer, added to which I was placed in one of the toughest, most badly run schools in London. It was truly gruelling.
Add to that the fact that our balcony ceiling fell in shortly after I’d started and we had to move out of the house into temporary accommodation whilst the house was fixed! Now I’m fully qualified and work at a great school in Islington – it was amazing this August to find out that every single one of my year 11s had passed both English Language and Literature GCSE, which was a fantastic achievement for them and blew most of their minimum target grades out of the water.
The idea behind the teaching was to have the holidays to write in and that is mainly when I do get down to work. I wrote the majority of my second book on a family holiday last year; I was tapping away at the dining room table whilst everyone else was drinking wine (not the children, obviously!) by the pool. I try to get home from work by 6pm and do a couple of hours writing in the evening, and at least half a day at the weekends but it is very hard to do that in the midst of a hectic term. My school has been amazing, though, and has given me two weeks a year unpaid leave so that I have more time to write.
The point is that if you want something to happen, you have to make it happen. So I simply have to knuckle down and get on with it.
Planning, writing, editing, getting ready for launch – what’s your favourite part of the process? And what do you find the most difficult?
Writing. Writing is the fun bit and all the rest is what you have to do to make the writing work.
You have a simply wonderful website I’d urge everyone to take a look at. Something you enjoyed putting together, or just a necessary part of being an author nowadays?
I am absolutely not a technical person – I learn to use gadgets on a ‘need to’ basis. So when I was one of the first videojournalists in the country, working at Channel One TV, I learned how to use a camera and sound recording equipment, and I subsequently learned how to edit on Final Cut Pro. But I’ve never actually understood how any of this stuff works and I have to get my 9-year old to put the TV onto iplayer for me! I did the website because I felt the book deserved one – I built it myself with the Wix tool which I found the most user-friendly and just worked it out by trial and error. Perhaps because of my career in TV, I’m a very visual person, and I always think in pictures. I love illustrated books and I think it’s a real shame that adult novels don’t include illustrations. Why can’t we have pictures, too? The website is an opportunity for me to display lots of images related to the book which I hope people will enjoy browsing, so in that sense, yes, I really enjoyed it. And now I’ve started it, I’m enjoying writing my blog, too. I find google analytics absolutely fascinating – the fact that you can see where your site has been accessed from, how long people have spent on the site, their journey through the site. I’m getting quite obsessed – and wondering how and why it’s proving popular in Iraq.
What writers do you particularly admire? If someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you really like them to mention?
I suppose I really identify with writers such as Maggie O’Farrell, Rose Tremain, Helen Dunmore, Rosie Thomas. (Is it a coincidence that there are two ‘Rose’ based names there?) I’d be honoured to be thought of in the same bracket as them. In terms of authors from previous generations that I admire, these would be Margaret Atwood, Rebecca West, Nadine Gordimer and Daphne du Maurier. Someone gave me Doris Lessing’s Martha Quest novels as a teenager and I found them hugely influential, similarly Angela Carter. Reading The Magic Toyshop changed my life.
And what’s next for you? Another book on the way?
Several more books. The second book for Carina will feature greed, jealousy, passion and poison. Ready and waiting to go to publishers is a psychological thriller, plus I’ve got tons and tons more ideas for whenever I get the chance to write them. To help me on my way, it would be great if as many people as possible write a review for Garden of Stars – good or bad, reviews are an author’s lifeblood, especially when you are new (and fighting Amazon’s tendency to randomly delete them!).
Thank you so much Rose – I’m really looking forward to reading and reviewing Garden of Stars, and I wish you every success with it and all you do next.