Today, I’m delighted to welcome Rosemary J. Kind to Virtual Book Club, an interview series in which I put questions to authors about the books they would like to persuade your club to read. If you want to pose a question of your own, you’ll have the opportunity to do so at the end.
Rosemary says she writes because she has to. You could take almost anything away from her except her pen and paper. Failing to stop after the book that everyone has in them, she has gone on to publish books in both non-fiction and fiction, the latter including novels, humour, short stories and poetry. She also regularly produces magazine articles in a number of areas and writes regularly for the dog press.
As a child she was desolate when at the age of ten her then teacher would not believe that her poem based on Stig in the Dump was her own work and she stopped writing poetry for several years as a result. She was persuaded to continue by the invitation to earn a little extra pocket money by ‘assisting’ others to produce the required poems for English homework!
Always one to spot an opportunity, she started school newspapers and went on to begin providing paid copy to her local newspaper at the age of sixteen.
For twenty years she followed a traditional business career, before seeing the error of her ways and leaving it all behind to pursue her writing full-time.
She spends her life discussing her plots with the characters in her head and her faithful dogs, who always put the opposing arguments when there are choices to be made.
Always willing to take on challenges that sensible people regard as impossible, she set up the short story download site Alfie Dog Fiction in 2012 and has built it to being one of the largest in the world, representing over 300 authors and carrying over 1600 short stories. Her hobby is developing the Entlebucher Mountain Dog in the UK and when she brought her beloved Alfie back from Belgium he was only the tenth in the country.
She started writing Alfie’s Diary as an Internet blog the day Alfie arrived to live with her, intending to continue for a year or two. Ten years later it goes from strength to strength and was repeatedly named as one of the top ten dog blogs in the UK in 2015.
Today, we’re going to be discussing her novel, The Appearance of Truth, which charts one woman’s search for identity.
“Following the death of both her parents, Lisa Forster has little idea of her family history, but it is only at the age of thirty, when she begins to research her family tree as part of a bet with her friend Pete Laundon, that she discovers that her birth certificate is really that of a baby who died at the age of four months old. She is faced with the questions of: Who is she? Why was she never told? And who was the baby?”
I was particularly intrigued because, based on the description, it seems to have much in common with my novel, Half-truths and White Lies.
Q: Before we talk about the book, Rosemary, please can you tell us how you came to be a writer.
I’ve always felt the need to write down what I’m thinking. If you take away my pen and paper you take away the essence of me. I am in many ways a very self-contained person. Whereas some people feel the need to tell others directly what they are doing, I simply write it down. The fact that I found others then love to read what I’ve written is a happy coincidence. Having said that, I did have a mainstream job for many years, but a big life change gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself in the writing world full-time. I’m very lucky.
Q: If you were trying to describe your writing to someone who hasn’t read anything by you before, what would you say?
I have a light and accessible writing style. In some of my work I use humour to good advantage, but can be serious when the need arises. In all my work there is an element of wanting to challenge the reader’s thinking. I want people to come away from my writing feeling that there was something more there than just a story. The Appearance of Truth poses a lot of questions, some of them pretty deep.
Q: Which is why you’d like to recommend it for book clubs.
Yes. The story is worthy of discussion on several levels. You can enjoy it at face value as a story, and discuss its literary merits or otherwise, but beyond that there are much deeper issues which will leave ample room for discussion. Right and wrong are not black and white issues and there is plenty of material to enable discussion on the actions of the characters and their impacts. Beyond that there is also a level of personal challenge in the book. ‘What makes you the person you are?’ ‘Do you really know what you believe in?’
Q: At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?
It all began with a writing exercise to write 300 words on Verisimilitude. I had to look up the meaning and there it was, ‘having the appearance of truth’. I had a different working title, but the further I went through writing the book the more that definition said everything. I chose not to use the word verisimilitude itself as there were already books of that name straying off into the philosophy field.
Q: Was the decision of how to structure the novel obvious?
No, it wasn’t. I had to think very carefully about the best way to intertwine two threads, one from the present and the one from thirty years previously. Making sure the voice and tone for each section was distinct and authentic was important. In the end I chose to write one in first person and the other in third person to set them apart style-wise. The first person being thirty years ago was easy to decide due to the deeply and closely personal events that had to be covered. By doing what I did I break some of the rules of writing, but for very good reason and completely deliberately.
Q: Where is The Appearance of Truth set and how did you decide on its setting?
I created three fictitious towns to ensure that, if there had been a similar event in history, there was no risk of the novel being linked to a news story. The towns are based on real places, or more accurately an agglomeration of places. I wanted a northern town and a southern town to draw some contrasts between their attitudes and the feel of them. Would my heroine have been a different person if she had grown up in a different place? I also drew in real places such as a town in Australia to give depth to the sections of the novel that reflect the family there.
Q: Aside from location scouting (and invention), tell us a little about the major areas you had to research.
I love researching my books. They are as much about the tiny details as they are about the big subjects. The Appearance of Truth came out of researching my own family tree. Not anything I found in my tree, just an idea that was sparked by looking at a birth certificate. Obtaining a copy of a birth certificate so easily made me think about the ability to pass it off as the real thing and the whole ‘what if?’ possibilities started to spring out of that.
I had to research whether the shops I wanted to name had existed in the 1970s and when car park pay and display ticket machines were introduced. Then there was the question of how adoptions were undertaken in the 1970s, the process, legal side, records etc. Those are all very much matters of fact, but much deeper than that was the need to research the emotional side of a baby dying. I am deeply grateful to the friends who felt able to share their experiences with me on something which for them will always be raw and painful.
Q: Which scene did you find the most challenging to write and why?
There were two scenes that were particularly gruelling. One, I won’t go into too much detail as I don’t want to spoil the plot, but the other was where the original baby dies. To write it effectively I had to put myself in the characters’ shoes. They can’t have another child and the one they do have has just died. I couldn’t have children of my own either, so it was only a short step to understanding just how traumatic the events were. I wrote much of that section with tears rolling down my face and would come out from writing feeling emotionally drained. I was lucky to have wonderful support in my husband who understood what I was putting myself through. The other section, which I will leave for when you read the book, having read it my husband found it so believable that he said to me, ‘Please tell me that you couldn’t do that?’ I couldn’t, but I can certainly understand what would drive someone else to do it.
Q: So it’s fair to say that there is a lot of ‘you’ in the book?
All fiction contains an element of biography. There are places and people I’ve known, emotions I’ve felt, actions and events that in another life might have happened if they didn’t in this one.
Q: You’ve mentioned your husband. How does your home and its environment influence your writing?
I’m very lucky. I live in a little village surrounded by countryside. I spend my days either in a light airy office, with my dogs at my feet or roaming the fields discussing plots and characters with the dogs as I walk. I am rarely stuck for inspiration and when I am, I just go for another walk.
When I’m out with the dogs and not needing to think about my own writing then I listen to audio books. In fact, I’ve decided it’s time for The Appearance of Truth to be turned into an audio book and I’m working on that now. It’s interesting, but even though it was already thoroughly edited, they recommend you read it aloud to look for all the places that don’t flow. It has amazed me how many changes I have picked up that need making before it is recorded. I shall do the exercise for future books before first publication so that I don’t have the same issue again.
Q: You’ve experimented with different genres of fiction. I know you’ve written a crime novel, for example. I wonder, do you find yourself returning to any recurring themes within your writing and, if so, are you any closer to finding an answer?
I repeatedly return to ‘What makes a person who they are?’ It’s a lifelong exploration that I will never get to the end of. I am fascinated by what makes one person a better person than another and how life’s events can turn a person in a different direction. I love exploring that very deep part of a person on which so much can hinge.
Q: You also write short stories. Have you ever started writing a short story and thought, this has the potential to be a novel?
Funnily enough the next two novels, after the one I am writing now, will both be based on short stories. The first is one I concluded needed to be a longer work when I was writing it and the other came out of a reader email. Having a reader tell me how much they wanted to know what happened next made me think. The story A Test of Friendship (which is available as a free download http://alfiedog.com/fiction/stories/free/a-test-of-friendship-rosemary-j-kind/ ) was such fun to write and given my own personal experience, not being able to have children, made me think I can really do something with the story and write a humorous novel. That won’t be until at least the end of this year though!
Q: I usually ask authors what they do when they’re not writing. You breed dogs, don’t you?
Yes, I breed Entlebucher Mountain Dogs. I’ve been working to develop the breed in the UK for the last eight years. Our first boy was only the tenth in the UK and now we’re up to sixty-nine. Shadow, our older girl is mum of twenty-two of them. I fell in love with the breed through reading about it years ago only to find there were none in the UK at the time. It gives me an excuse for quite a lot of European travel, which I love, and my dogs are a huge part of my life. I know it’s a cliché, but not being able to have children they really are my child substitutes.
Q: Who designed your book cover/s? If you used a cover designer, what brief did you give them? (Please feel free to give them a plug)
Most of my covers have been designed by Katie Stewart of Magic Owl designs http://www.magicowldesign.com/ . I give her the key details of the book; the points that matter or the story hinges on and she is able to transform those into a greater whole. She’s a writer too, which I think helps. It means she can decipher my thinking more easily.
Q: Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
A novel set in 1850s to 1870s America. It follows the lives of three orphans and the impact of their childhood bond of friendship in later life. The inspiration was hearing that when families fled the potato famine in Ireland and the revolutions in other parts of Europe, and went to American, tens of thousands of children ended up sleeping on the streets of New York and other American east coast cities. Their battle for survival, the Orphan Train Movement that sought to help them, and the radically different lives it led to, totally caught my imagination. People say the current migration and refugee situation is unprecedented, but that’s not true. It is completely mirrored in what happened in the 1850s. The parallels are uncanny.
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