Today, I’m delighted to welcome Rosaline Riley 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.
Rosaline was born and grew up in Lancashire. She now lives in South London, near Streatham Common. In between, she has lived in North London, Birmingham, Bristol and Solihull.
For many years she was a literature tutor in the Lifelong Learning Department at Warwick University where she specialised in teaching 20th century and contemporary novels, both on the university campus and in outreach locations around the area. For her this was a dream job. What could be better than studying novels with groups of interested readers?
When she moved to London in 2006 she began writing seriously, attending courses at Birkbeck College and the Faber Academy. To date, she has written two novels – The End of the Road and, the book that is the subject of today’s interview, Clad in Armour of Radiant White, which has been awarded the Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence.
She is now embarking on a third novel.
Q: Rosaline, perhaps you can start by telling us, have you always felt driven to write?
All my life I considered myself to be a writer, but my ‘writing’ took place almost exclusively in my head, rather than on paper. This was a habit that started in childhood. I wanted to be a novelist, not a short story writer, and there was a problem – where would I get enough paper to write something as long as a novel? Yes, my mother might buy me an exercise book (one of those red Silvine ones with the multiplication tables on the back) but they only had about forty pages in them. Even with my smallest handwriting, I knew that just one wouldn’t be enough, and I felt sure that any demand for . . . how many more? . . . certainly a lot . . . would be met with an unsympathetic response!
So I began ‘writing’ in my head – which had its advantages. Whenever I got bored with a story, or felt inspired with new ideas, I could abandon my work-in-progress with impunity. There was no wasted paper to feel guilty about.
I found that the best way to do this ‘writing’ in my head was when I was doing something else with my hands, and so I spent many childhood hours batting tennis balls against walls whilst composing my stories. (As a consequence, my ball skills are excellent – even to this day!)
Once the bat-and-ball method ceased to be feasible, I did turn, first to pencil and paper, and then to a typewriter, but I never came anywhere near to finishing anything. I always let life and family get in the way.
For many years I worked as a literature tutor in the Lifelong Learning Department at Warwick University, teaching the novel to mature students. The longer I did this – reading and studying other people’s novels – the more I knew that I really ought to write one of my own, before it was too late. Moving to London in 2006 meant I had to give up this teaching, and so, without a job, I had no excuses left. I’d already started Clad in Armour of Radiant White. Now I had to finish it.
Friendship, religion, sexual awakening, love, loss and longing.
An engaging – and often humorous – novel about the joys and sorrows of growing up.
Click here to Look Inside or buy
Q: Where is the book set and how did you decide on its setting?
When I was nineteen, I read D.H.Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. It was the first working-class novel by a working-class author that I’d read and I was knocked out by it. It wasn’t condescending; it wasn’t a ‘misery’ memoir. And from that moment on I wanted to write my own working-class, autobiographically based, female story.
The setting, therefore, is Lancashire in the nineteen-sixties – in two towns (Makerton and Turneley) which are fictionalised versions of the towns where I grew up and where I went to school.
Q: Tell us a little about the major areas you had to research.
Because it is autobiographically based, I relied heavily on memory. And, by fictionalising the places in the novel, I didn’t have to be totally geographically accurate. I had a lot of fun choosing ‘alternative’ names for streets, schools, etc.
Some of the historical details had to be checked out, as did calendar details, and the timing of pop records.
And, of course, old photographs were very useful.
Editor’s note: Rosaline has not confirmed that it is her on the cover of the book, but I have a very strong suspicion.
Q: Was the decision how to structure the novel obvious?
I gave a lot of thought to the structure of Clad in Armour of Radiant White. It is a coming-of-age novel that tells the story of Ellen during her secondary school years, with flashbacks to her earlier childhood. But I decided against a chronological approach.
There are twelve main chapters, each dealing with one of the twelve months of the year, beginning with September. This framework allowed me to deal with the events of the school year, the calendar year, the seasons and the liturgical calendar (Ellen, a Catholic, attends a Convent School).
But while the months are sequential, the years are not. They jump around from 1959 to 1966 when Ellen goes off to university. This non-chronological structure allows the story to unfold gradually as information is given but details are withheld until later. Similarly, it also allows for character development to be demonstrated rather than described. I wanted the reader to focus not just on what happens next but on how and why.
Each month and year is clearly signposted in the chapter headings, so hopefully it’s easy to follow.
Q: A Convent School girl myself, I was intrigued by the book’s title. At what point in writing the book did you come up with it?
The title is a line from my Convent School Song. We were ‘clad in armour of radiant white’ in the army of Christ our King!
It’s a quirky title, upon which opinions have been divided, and I did toy with alternatives – And I Always Will and A Time and a Season for example. But I settled for Clad in Armour of Radiant White because it seems very apt. And eye-catching?
Q: Definitely. Which scene did you find the most challenging to write and why?
Probably the sex scene between my protagonist, Ellen, and her childhood sweetheart, which occurs about three-quarters of the way into the book. I wanted this to be realistic – awkward, urgent, but at the same time tender and heart-wrenching.
When I was writing it, I kept getting tangled up in the logistics of how to describe the all-important discarding of clothing without sounding ridiculous or spoiling the essentially romantic nature of the scene. I kept thinking that it would be so much easier to film the scene than to write it.
Q: What were the key factors that influenced your decision to become an indie author?
When I’d finished Clad in Armour of Radiant White I tried to get an agent, but with no success. It wasn’t considered ‘commercial’ enough. So I put it aside and started on a second novel, The End of the Road. I did a Creative Writing course at Birkbeck College and then a six-month Novel Writing course at the Faber Academy at the end of which I did have a couple of agents interested in The End of the Road but (at the end of the day) they didn’t take it further. I sent it out to a bunch of other agents but it soon became clear that I was wasting my time.
So I could either give up or self publish. And, as I felt that both books were good enough, I chose to do the latter
The wise, we are told, forgive but do not forget.
But is forgiveness ever really possible when some things are impossible to forget?
Click here to Look Inside or buy
Q: Now that you’ve ventured down that route, what do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?
The feeling of being in control is very gratifying. There is no need to compromise. I can set my own objectives and time scales, and make my own choices. For example: I feel sure that had Clad in Armour of Radiant White been accepted by a traditional publisher I would have had to change the title.
Q: You’ve embarked on a third novel. Do you find yourself returning to any themes within your writing?
I find the question of themes very interesting. With both novels, I began with characters and stories. Only later in the process did I start to think about themes. With Clad in Armour of Radiant White I would say that one theme is the effect of education and religion on young people growing up in the nineteen-sixties. But fundamentally it is a novel about friendship, love and loss (and death).
Interestingly, this is also a good thematic description of The End of the Road, in relation to which I would also add the themes of betrayal and forgiveness.
The question of forgiveness, though, continued to exercise her. Who benefitted from it, she wondered, the forgiver or the forgivee? (If there was such a word?) If the forgivee was dead – which Neil was – it couldn’t possibly matter to him whether she forgave him or not. However, it might make a difference to her. If she could bring herself to forgive him – not necessarily right away, but in time – then she might rid herself of all this destructive rage. Forgive and forget, isn’t that what they say? (Them again.) But how hard it was to forgive. And how utterly impossible it would be to forget – regardless of the benefits of doing so. (The End of the Road)
Q: If you aren’t too superstitious talking about a work that isn’t quite yet in progress, what’s it going to be about?
I’ve been thinking about it for some time and have lots of ideas floating around in my head. It’s going to be set in Australia – a country my husband and I fell in love with several years ago. (We might even have to make another trip there – for research purposes!) And I suspect that its themes will not be too dissimilar from its predecessors – friendship, love, loss.
I’m at the stage now where I really need to get seriously stuck in. In the words of Nigel Watts in Writing a Novel: ‘. . . a writer is someone who writes, not someone who thinks about writing.’ Which is exactly what I keep telling myself every time I reach for my metaphorical bat and ball.
Want to know more about Rosaline?
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