It’s a real delight to welcome Leslie Tate to Being Anne today: you may remember that I reviewed a section of his imaginative autobiography, Heaven’s Rage, just over a year ago (you can read my thoughts again here). Leslie’s latest novel, Violet is now available – signed copies via Leslie’s website, via Amazon UK in paperback, with the e-book available here.
The passionate, late-life love of Beth and James begins in 2003 on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister.
Telling stories runs in Beth’s family, so she keeps up with her friends, following their efforts to find love in a soulless, materialistic world. But Beth’s own passion for giving and commitment is pushed to the limit as she and James struggle with her divorce problems, each other’s children, and life-threatening illness. In the end, tested by pain, they discover something larger than themselves that goes beyond suffering and loss…
Let me hand over to Leslie – to tell us more about Violet with a lovely piece exploring “what’s in a genre”…
Books are sold in packages. On the outside they are shiny shop windows; inside they’re arranged in sections with signs and labels pointing the way. If the shop’s online then unseen assistants are steering you to the ‘right’ department where the products are neatly set out to help you ‘know what you’re looking for’. So the book shop browser is looking for the titles she/he has heard of, the nerdfighter wants TV books to act as badges, the book group choose from the competition shortlists, and we’re all conditioned to believe that we know what we want and kept safe and happy under the umbrella of brand and genre.
My new novel Violet isn’t so easily labelled. If I had to pigeonhole it, I’d call it literary, meaning that it’s cross-genre, character-driven and language-led, with its own distinctive style. It begins with a story written by my main character Beth when she was eight, called ‘The Girl Who Began Again’, before switching to her meeting, at 50, with teacher and garden designer, James Lavender. From then on, Beth’s backstory alternates with her wildly romantic love affair with James. In the words of the blurb: ‘The passionate, late-life love of Beth and James begins in 2003 on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister…’
So is it Romance? Not really. It doesn’t have a HEA (happily ever after), strong males, glamour or unexpected plot twists. Yes, there is a dark prince, Beth’s ex, whose lurking presence inspires Beth’s Bluebeard’s-Castle-type story, ‘A Housekeeper’s Tale’; and there’s a teen-talk story, full of vampires and dysfunctional American families, written by Hannah, Beth’s step-daughter. But if Violet does belong to a category, perhaps it’s lyrical realism, mainly because the novel is written in close third person, examining the intimate detail of a modern relationship. On the other hand, the book also contains sub-genre writing, including texting between lovers, a parent-teen dialogue set out as a play, dream sequences and sixty pages of Beth’s diary in the second part of the book when she’s ill.
An elegy to Beth wasn’t what I’d intended when I began writing. A doomed lovers’ tale felt like a something out of the past, but in the end it forced itself on me. That’s probably because fiction has its own conventions and adds to life rather than mirroring it. And the ‘overheard’ style of a diary allowed me to enter Beth’s mind, mixing memories with reflections, making it more about a state of being than its physical manifestations.
The final part of the book begins with James’s heartfelt, self-questioning, and ultimately therapeutic letter to his dead wife; continuing with tributes to her from old school friends, work colleagues and fellow-spirits.
But the ending, when it came, surprised me, transcending genre and passing through to the ‘other side’, where Beth sees all the characters from outside and inside, embracing even Conrad, her evangelical ex, with an author’s stereoscopic view. In afterlife she retells her father’s story, ‘The Girl Who Didn’t Like Her Name’, writes a valedictory letter to James and ends with Hannah’s picture-book ‘The little boy looked up at the grey sky’, written for Beth and echoing her own story that started the book, ‘The Girl Who Began Again’.
So the story is driven by the characters passing through extreme states, the vehicle is language in all its hybrid forms, and if ‘Violet’ has a genre it’s Relationships.
Leslie, thank you – I’m every bit as intrigued by this one as I was by your autobiography, and wish you every success with it. Let me share some reviews too…
Violet is a captivating novel narrated through letters, diary entries, instant messages, poems, and other writings that create a multi-textured depth to the storyline. Leslie Tate’s fluid, musical sentence structure, vivid use of imagery and description, and skilful storytelling bring to life a memorable protagonist in the character of Beth Jarvis, an imaginative and sensitive woman. A pleasure to read! – Beth Copeland, Pushcart Prize nominated poet & winner of the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize
Leslie Tate has a beautiful turn of phrase and this work is threaded with elegant descriptive passages. The central characters are instantly likeable, and the reader has a quick and affectionate bond that hooks right from the opening pages. – Dawn Finch Trustee, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Children’s Writer & Librarian.
In the UK, you can buy signed copies of the first novel in the trilogy, Purple, through Leslie’s website.
The paperback and ebook are also available via Amazon UK.
You can buy signed copies of the second novel, Blue in the UK via Leslie’s website
Amazon UK has paperback copies of Blue here.
You can buy signed copies of Leslie’s trans memoir Heaven’s Rage in the UK through his website.
Amazon UK also has paperback copies of Heaven’s Rage here.
About the author
Leslie Tate studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and has been shortlisted for the Bridport, Geoff Stevens and Wivenhoe Prizes. He’s the author of the trilogy of novels Purple, Blue and Violet, as well as his trans memoir Heaven’s Rage, which has been turned into a film. Leslie runs a mixed arts show in Berkhamsted, UK, where he lives with his wife, multi-talented author Sue Hampton. On his website he posts up weekly creative interviews and guest blogs showing how people use their imagination in life, in many different ways.