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Virtual Book Club: Ivan Wainewright introduces The Other Lives of Caroline Tangent

Winner of the Selfies Award, 2022

I’m delighted to welcome Ivan Wainewright to Virtual Book Club, my occasional interview series in which authors have the opportunity to pitch their novels to your book club.

Ivan lives in Kent with his partner, Sarah, and their neurotic rescue Staffie, Remi. Before moving to Kent, he lived in North London, Leeds and Singapore.

He recently won the adult fiction category of the 2022 Selfies Book Awards, which recognise the best independently published books.

An avid music fan all his life, he’s enjoyed gigs from being packed in at The Marquee in Wardour Street through to many muddy festivals. When not writing, he can be found watching (and occasionally) playing football, running, listening to music from Chumbawamba to Led Zeppelin, arguing over politics and trying to cook. He has been an independent IT consultant for many years, working solely with charities and not-for-profit organisations.

Welcome, Ivan – and congratulations on your win! Ivan is probably too modest to mention this, but the judging criteria of the Selfies Awards takes into account not only the quality of the writing, but the production values, including the cover design, the blurb, and the creative marketing and publicity strategy. This means that it’s quite different from other awards for novels, and why winning is such a big deal. You can’t win unless all of these elements are in place. But that’s not to say that the story doesn’t come first.

“Caroline Tangent’s husband, Jon has invented a time machine so they can visit iconic gigs in history: Woodstock ’69, David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, Edith Piaf in 1930’s Paris – an inexhaustible bucket-list. Until, on a trip, one of them does something unthinkable which will change both their lives forever.”

Q: There’s a hook! Perhaps, Ivan, I could start by asking what is it about The Other Lives of Caroline Tangent that you feel makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?

There’s hopefully a combination of interesting and fun discussion points, and a chance for some good old reminiscing! There’s plenty to discuss about the characters’ decisions – why they did something and how you might react instead – plus, what did you think of Caroline’s husband? (I won’t give away any spoilers here, but I know from my reviews what some people think!). Would you stay in a particular time-period or want to come home to now? And of course: which gigs would you go back in time to see?

Click here to watch trailer

Q: At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?

A long way in. All my computer files were simply called “Time Travel to Gigs” for a long time, and all of my potential titles seemed cliché.  As the book revolves around music, I began to look at famous lyrics. I remembered Jimi Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary in which he sings “the broken pieces of yesterday’s life”, and I started playing with that. I went from “The Broken Pieces of Caroline’s Life”, “The Other Pieces of…” and so on until I settled on my final choice.

Q: Did you incorporate any real life characters into your novel? If so how?

A young John Lennon makes a brief but significant speaking appearance. I enjoyed writing that, and a number of readers have commented on it. It’s probably easier incorporating dead people because there are less legal issues with that, but I still felt quite a weight of importance to do justice to such an important figure in music history. (Just recently, my niece was talking to me at dinner about The Beatles and she said, “I read a novel in which John Lennon appeared… oh, wait, that was yours, Uncle!” and peeled into laughter 😊).

Q: Was the decision of how to structure the novel obvious?

Yes and no. With a time travel novel, you have to be conscious of what’s happening “now” in the present, and “now” but in the past. I wrote it in the first-person present tense which I felt helped because when you’re with the narrator, you are always with her in her now (other than flashbacks).

I love writing (and reading) in first person. I feel it makes me as a reader closer to the character, their thoughts are more personal, and because you can only write what the narrator knows, or they’ve been told, then there’s no turning aside as a writer to say, “meanwhile…” I think it can also make the reader feel more deeply for the narrator when they’re in trouble. However, all that can be a challenge, especially if the narrator is on their own for a while and your writing goes on for pages with no dialogue; you need the odd trick to break that up.

I did consider at one point, whether I might write the first half of the book as one person, still in the first-person, and the second half as someone else. In the end, I decided that just narrating it as Caroline built-up the tension more.

Q: I’m a walker. Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking wrote, “There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively. Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I’m far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and ‘thinking’.” If you agree, please comment on how walking help you. If you disagree, how do you unknot your thinking?

I completely agree! Although I find that I need to walk a route I know well, so that I’m not constantly checking a map. But I have frequently come up with ideas, solved challenges and created character traits when out on walks. (I also use the same trick by driving around the M25! I go from my home on one side of London to visit my mother on the other, and deliberately don’t turn on the radio so I’m not distracted and I can think about the book I’m working on).

Ivan is pictured at London Book Fair, where he received his Selfies Award.

I just want to pause here to mention the photograph from the Selfies Award ceremony. For the past two years the ceremony has taken place in an on-line event, but this year it was back at London Book Fair. Ivan is pictured with two Hannahs. Hannah Peckham, who won the children’s book category of the Selfies with Conker the Chameleon, and Hannah Powell who won the inaugural memoir/autobiography Selfies Award with The Cactus Surgeon: Using Nature to Fix A Faulty Brain.

Q: Do you believe that you write the book you want to read?

I think it helps enormously. When I thought of the core plot for Caroline Tangent, I immediately got excited and started to think about all the gigs I would like to go back in time to see, and then all the things which might happen to the characters on their journey, and I definitely wanted to read about that.

Q: A good ending should fix the shape and meaning of the whole novel. How did you make sure yours did exactly that? 

I think endings are one of the hardest parts to write: they can be too corny, too open-ended, unsatisfactory, not explain things and so on. Or continue past when the ending should be. I wanted to tie-up my protagonist’s change and core dilemma, and hopefully leave readers wondering what decision she might take until that happens. But she also had to draw on all the things she had learned from her journey to achieve what she did at the end. I’ve been very pleased that a number of readers have commented that the ending worked well for them.

Q: Like me, you’re an indie author. Do you feel there is more of a sense of community with self-publishing than there is with traditional publishing?

I’m guessing that’s the case. Although I don’t know what the community is like for traditional publishers. But certainly in the indie publishing world, almost everyone is incredibly supportive, and shares knowledge, experience, ideas and even sales figures. I’ve never felt it is competitive.

Q: Do you feel you have a stronger connection with your fans because you self-published?

Certainly I have made every effort to communicate directly with readers whenever they contact me. Whether that’s direct through an email or on Twitter, or even if they simply comment on one of my Facebook Ads. I think it has created a core of readers who are kind enough to respond positively to almost every social media post I create with news about the book.

Q: What impact do you think the Internet has had on the publishing industry in general? Is it a force for good or evil?

There’s a question and a half! On the one hand, it has democratised and opened-up the industry, so that if you want to, you can finish writing a book on Tuesday morning and it can potentially be online that afternoon! (Although I wouldn’t personally recommend that.) At a time when traditional publishers seem to be focused on celebrity authors and dead-certs, that means it is so much harder as a writer to get picked-up by one.

For readers, it’s wonderful: they can access a plethora of books and options to read on multiple platforms – not just what publishers think they want/should read. Readers can decide what’s good or bad.

But of course, Amazon is still the most powerful influencer of the self-publishing (and traditional publishing?) market with KDP, and as an indie author, you have to accept that if you want to maximise your success then you need to be on Amazon. That opens up the question as to what you think about one company being so powerful and so influential.

One can also question whether the internet has pushed down the expectation of what a book should cost, with the 99-cent book being so prevalent now. That’s unsustainable for an author who wants to make a living out of writing.

Q: What does being your own book’s advocate look like?

I’ve been thinking recently about what my next novel should be. And one of the key things I’ve realised is that if I love the idea and I truly believe that what I’m writing is good, then being my own advocate follows naturally. But if a book I’m thinking about writing is just ‘another story’, or maybe one I think could be commercial but I don’t fully believe in, then I don’t think I’d be as strong an advocate for my novels as I have been.

Click here to look inside or buy

Q: Who designed your book’s cover and what brief did you give them?

The amazing Sophie Burdess designed my cover. She has done many other book covers, including Claire North’s First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

I love that cover!

So do I. She asked me to tell her about my novel, the genre, the themes, the comp books/authors and how I wanted to present it. I also showed her a number of covers of other books I felt could represent my novel. Sophie then created a series of potential ideas which took my breath away! We then worked together to fine tune the selected design. I highly recommend her 😊.

Q: Finally, I have to ask. If you could go back in time to one gig, which would it be?

Can I cheat and say two! The reason being, that in terms of an experience, seeing Edith Piaf in 1935 Paris would be astonishing, not just for the music but being able to also visit the French capital in that era, knowing what was soon about to happen. But for sheer hedonism, it would have to be an early concert by The Who – although I’d make sure I’d take my twenty-first century ear plugs.

Want to find out more about Ivan and his writing?

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