Today, I’m delighted to welcome Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn back to Virtual Book Club, an interview series in which I put questions to authors about their latest releases. If you’d like to pose a question, you’ll have the opportunity to do so at the end. (There’s also a giveaway to look forward to!)
The Broken Road is Lindsay’s third novel. Unravelling was published on 2010, and came second in The Rubery Book Award in 2011 and won the Wishing Shelf Independent Book Award. The Piano Player’s Son was published by Cinnamon Press in 2013, after winning their novel writing award. Lindsay also writes short stories and flash fiction, which have been published in various anthologies. She has an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University, and combines writing with her work as a creative writing tutor.
Lindsay, thank you for accepting my invitation to take part in a blog interview.
Thank you for asking me, Jane. I’m delighted to be on your blog.
Q: We’re going to be talking about your new release, The Broken Road, but can I start by asking if you’ve always felt driven to write?
Yes, I wrote my first stories in exercise books when I was a child. I was an avid reader, and that drove my passion to create stories and characters. I immersed myself in that imaginative world.
Q: You’ve had considerable success in terms of awards, but can you take us back to your first recognition as an author?
I received a lot of positive feedback from agents for my early novels (ones that find themselves stuffed in a drawer now!) Although I wasn’t taken on by an agent – so it couldn’t strictly be called success – the number of comments on the quality of my writing and the compelling nature of the stories made me believe in myself as a writer.
Q: We already know that you teach creating writing. Is that a distraction from your own writing or does it add another element to it?
I have learnt a huge amount about the craft of writing through teaching. I enjoy exploring different techniques and researching the best examples. One example is John Gardner’s discussion of psychic distance – how close to the character is the narrative perspective? I understood so much more about viewpoint from that.
Q: I know you write contemporary fiction. What can readers expect?
I’m interested in exploring personal relationships, particularly the tensions and tangles of family dynamics and their power struggles. I like to put my characters into difficult psychological situations and explore how they cope. Sometimes it feels heartless, but the harder the dilemma for the character, the more interesting the resolution will generally be. Both Ollie and Louise, the main characters in The Broken Road have to confront challenges in their personal and working lives, while at the same time dealing with the trauma of past events.
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Q: I’m intrigued by the title. At what point during the writing process did you decide on it?
It took me a while to find the title. The book had a false start and I had to unpick two narratives which were competing for space – two feet trying to fit into the same sock. Because of this, I took a long time to find the heart of the novel. Then I heard one of my ex writing students singing The Broken Road, and I knew I’d found my title. One of the characters refers to the song in the novel. And the icing on the cake – my student, who has a beautiful voice, came to the launch and sang The Broken Road!
Q: What is it about your novel that you feel makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?
It asks challenging questions about family relationships, and the extent we owe loyalty to them. In today’s culture we’re encouraged to believe we can achieve whatever we want to if we work hard enough. But what if what we want is in direct conflict with what our family expects of us? Do we follow our own dreams regardless of who we might hurt in the long run?
Both my previous novels have been read and enjoyed by book groups, some of which I’ve been able to visit if they are close enough to where I live. Others have emailed me to say how much discussion the novels generated. I always produce a list of suggested questions for book groups.
Q: Was the decision of how to structure the novel obvious?
The Broken Road is told from two third-person viewpoints, Ollie and Louise’s. They alternate, and we learn not only what’s happening in their own lives, but about the decisions each takes which have an impact on the other person. We find out how events in the past, in which both were involved, have had a devastating effect on each of them. The narrative is split fairly evenly between the siblings, but Ollie’s probably dominates as his perspective opens and closes the novel.
Q: You’ve mentioned the opening scene, and you’ve kindly given me permission to include it in this piece as a little taster. Now seems like the right time to meet Ollie.
If Ollie had been a lark, things would have been different. He envied larks: the glow of sainthood flooded their lives. They caught the worm; they got things done. If Ollie had been a lark, he’d have been up hours before his mobile buzzed at nine o’clock. He’d already have been for a run, dashed off half a dozen paintings, and made breakfast for Jess and Flo. But Ollie was an owl, not a lark, so he reached a hand from under the duvet, slammed the phone into silence and went back to sleep.
He was sorting through the paintings stacked in the hallway when it rang again. He let himself dream of good news. That new gallery in Highgate might be offering him an exhibition. Or there was a chance the American customer had come good and wanted to commission more of his Hampstead Heath scenes. He studied the painting in his hands: an avenue of lime trees in Alexandra Park. Sunshine pierced the canopy of leaves, spreading a lacework of light on the path below. He’d painted it during a period of inspiration last summer. Jess had loved it: ‘Hey, that’s good!’ she said. ‘You’ve got your magic back.’ She’d kissed him, the sort of kiss she used to give him when they first met.
A dog barked in the street below. A hacking, insistent noise, like a consumptive’s cough. It dragged him away from that summer day made forever idyllic by his painting. Traffic noise from the Holloway Road rumbled through the open window in the kitchen; a magpie screeched in the gardens behind the flats. The mobile had stopped, but rang again almost straight away. He propped the picture in front of the others and ran into the bedroom, snatching the phone from the chest of drawers.
Q: So, Ollie is an artist. Was that something you knew a lot about or did you have to research it?
Ollie paints watercolours, and much as I would love to paint, I’m hopeless at it! I read a lot about technique and colour, and I went on a watercolour for beginners’ course. What always worries me is not what I learn, but what I don’t realise I should know. There might be a gaping, obvious hole in my knowledge.
The other area I had to research was running a hotel. There is a family-run hotel in the town where I live, and the owners were very generous with their time and advice.
Q: Where is The Broken Road set and how did you decide on its setting?
The novel moves between London, Plymouth and Venice. London and Plymouth are two opposing environments, the city and the sea, with Venice providing an escape, emotionally as well as physically. The story centres round a family-run hotel, and I wanted the hotel to look onto The Hoe in Plymouth, where there was once a famous hotel, The Royal (now luxurious apartments). The view across the bay is breathtaking, and that’s an important part of the novel.
Q: Has setting the novel in a place that you know so well changed the way that you feel about that place?
I love the area more than ever. While I was writing, I felt closely involved with the setting, and one of the main characters, Louise, spends a lot of time staring out to sea across the beautiful Plymouth Sound: The storm had left behind a canopy of clouds, puffy as pillows. Colour had leached from the sea, and waves rippled across its surface, scuffed up by the cool breeze. White foam, like soap suds, flared out from behind the ferry as it crossed the bay. Louise sat at the open-air café on the promenade and sipped her coffee. Her eyes reached for the Breakwater. This view was in her soul: her comfort, her security, her future.
Q: Which scene did you find the most challenging to write and why?
The most challenging scene to write was the one where Ollie, his sister Louise, his father, and his daughter, Flo all come together in a painful confrontation. In fact, so much so that I chickened out at first. I originally had Ollie meet his father when no one else was there. His sister only heard what happened afterwards. I knew this was a cop-out, and I’d lost a lot of the drama as a result. Eventually I made myself rewrite the scene. It wasn’t easy because I had four characters to deal with, but it became much tenser with the additional interaction. Having eleven-year-old Flo there, also added another layer of tension.
Q: Regardless of genre, what are the elements that you think make a great novel? Did you consciously ensure all of these are in place?
I think a great novel is one where the characters touch your heart and linger in your mind after you’ve finished the book. Where the plot is compelling, and you have to keep reading. Where the setting is integral to the characters and the story, so that you feel you walk the streets with them and see the world they see. Where the writing is strong and confident, but its cleverness doesn’t shove itself in your face. I certainly tried to ensure all these elements were in place in The Broken Road, but it’s up to my readers to have the final say!
Q: What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?
I want them to continue thinking about the issues and dilemmas raised by the books; to wonder how they might behave in a similar set of circumstances. But most of all, I want to have touched their hearts a little. I want them to have looked inside the characters’ lives, and even though the characters might be flawed, to feel affection and compassion for them.
Q: Finally, how do you feel when you have finished writing a novel? Are there any particular characters that you have found it hard to let go of?
I always struggle to let go of my characters. Living with them for so long makes it hard to accept that they are gone from my life. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post called Pining for my characters. With The Broken Road, I miss Ollie and worry about what’s happening to him and Flo, his young daughter. I didn’t always allow them to be in the novel, but I so want them to be happy.
You’ve also very generously offered three copies of your book as a giveaway.
Yes, but I’m afraid I have to limit the offer to the UK as the cost of posting a book abroad is prohibitive. The books will go to the first three readers who leave a comment saying that they wish to enter the giveaway. (Please leave your email address!)
Q: Finally, where can we find out more about you and your work?
And I will also consider visiting book clubs in person if practical (I live in south Worcestershire, on the borders with Gloucestershire and Warwickshire) or by Skype. Any book clubs who would like a reading guide can contact me.
Remember, if you enjoyed this post please share it. If there’s anything else you’d like to ask Lindsay, leave a comment. (Don’t forget to mention if you are entering the giveaway).
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And if you’re an author and would like to appear on Virtual Book Club, please fill in a contact form.
Written on February 4, 2016 at 11:03 am, by Jane Davis
Categories: Blog, Homepage, Virtual Book Club | Tags: Author Interviews, Book News, Bookclub, contemporary fiction, Creative Writing, Indie Authors, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, new fiction, On writing, Self-Publishing, The Broken Road, The Rubery Book Award, Virtual Book Club, Wishing Shelf Independent Book Award, Writing life
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