1. How did you come up with the title?
The central image of the book is of two sisters, Helena and Lizzie, sitting on their bikes in a concrete suburban garage with nowhere to go, pedalling backwards so their feet move, but they remain stationary. They are escaping their mother and the grey drizzle outside, but their only freedom is in their heads. The younger sister, Helena, uses her vivid imagination to escape her surroundings, Lizzie cannot do this. She is all too aware of where she is, that she is going nowhere. She looks longingly at Helena who seems to be able to transform her dull life.
2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The sisters, pedaling backwards, giving an illusion of movement with no result, became the main metaphor for the book and, to some extent, part of a message I was trying to put across as well as explain to myself. All the characters are struggling to find ways of living in the worlds they have created or have been created for them. Lizzie admires her imaginative, talented sister who seems to be speeding off into a golden future. But large expectations can lead to large disappointments and leading a frantic life can result in little progress. All Helena’s work still leaves her with a flat as empty and bleak as the concrete garage of suburbia she was so desperate to escape. Lizzie’s lack of belief in her own judgement and abilities lead her to sleepwalk through life, she is led by her husband’s need to ensure against failure to the extent that they lose their unborn baby. Faced with huge loss, Lizzie has to be able to work out for herself a way in which to face the world. To find moments of pleasure when loss and disappointment fade.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
I try to make my characters and the events they go through as realistic and consistent as possible. I use what happens in my own life to consider how someone with a different character or in a different situation may have acted. This is not a true story, but I hope there are a lot of truths in it.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
My characters and the setting come to me first. I don’t always know the ending of the book or quite how events will unfold. I follow my characters almost as if they were actors that I am guiding across the stage. This book has come out as I think it was supposed to. There is an aching sadness and bleakness in much of the story that I almost wish wasn’t there, but it is.
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Starting a book, the first page is always difficult. Thoughts and images have sat for months in my head. I have written scribbled notes and sometimes whole paragraphs have sounded out in my brain. But that first sentence on a blank screen takes a leap of faith. It is up to me to make the book real, to create something from nothing. Exciting, but frightening. There is also the fear that the story cannot sustain itself, that the plot or the characters will fade and become less credible. But when it all begins to take shape, it is a wonderful feeling and there are days when I can’t sit still after writing a few sentences. The other hard part is what to do when the novel is finished. Handing it over to the first person to read and pass judgement, can feel agonizing.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Because the book is character rather than plot driven, it feels as if anything can happen. I make myself very sensitive to the characters as they develop and explore their lives, so I learn along with them. Writing sparks sensory memories of things forgotten from childhood, smells, tastes, feelings. Exploring a character’s mind is a way of exploring your own, of turning yourself inside out to see what is there and hopefully there are seams of something valuable rather than nuggets of fool’s gold.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I always enjoyed creative writing, even as a child, and at school in South Africa we were given a lot of opportunities to enter competitions for fiction and poetry. Aged eleven I had a piece published in a newspaper and I remember my father reading it out loud and feeling very proud. I knew then that, if I could, I would always write.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
A.L Kennedy the novelist form Glasgow probably ranks highest on my list of favourites. I prefer the short stories to the novels, but she is completely unafraid to peel the outside layers of ordinary lives and people. She removes barriers and everyday situations are transformed into something intense. She made a very interesting analogy between bullfighting and writing. The bullfighter is trying to provoke a reaction from the bull, just as the writer is trying to draw the reader closer. There is something very intimate in the relationship. That hit when the reader experiences something profound and almost physical.
9. Tell us your latest news.
I am editing my new novel, Picking Apples, at the moment. There are a few adjustments to be made, but I am very excited about it.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Once the book is written, it is no longer in my control. I feel grateful to people who read with care and take the time to find their own reactions to the story and its characters. The book is there to be read and every time this happens it takes on a new life.
About the Book
I behaved badly at that first supper. That’s what my parents thought. They didn’t say, they wouldn’t, but I could see it in their stiffened faces.
On a bleak, muddy island in the Blackwater Estuary, Lizzie struggles to come to terms with the loss of her sister and unborn child. Hemmed in by an ineffectual but well-meaning husband, and her aloof parents, the things that are said and left unsaid on this strained, strange holiday threaten the complex family ties linking mothers and fathers to their daughters.
Will Lizzie’s marriage survive the double tragedy? Will her family pull together or break apart under pressure?
A compelling and poignant exploration of one woman’s grief, this debut novel moves us to ask ourselves how well we really know those with whom we are most intimate.
Prices/Formats: $0.00 (free) ebook Smashwords, $0.99 ebook Kindle
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publisher: QRL Publishing
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Buy Links: Smashwords (free), Kindle
About the Author
Julia Russell was born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa. Educated in Paris and Oxford, she now lives in Cambridge UK with her daughter.
Links to connect with Julia:
Tribute Books Blog Tours
Put our promotional experience to work for your book.