Interview : Rosie Garland
We chat to award winning author Rosie as her second novel, Vixen, has just been released in paperback. The follow up to her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Palace of Curiosities, the book is a great read and one for your reading list.
Your second novel Vixen has recently been released on paperback. What’s the book about?
The year is 1349. In an isolated village deep in a forest in the south west of England, the arrival of a mysterious young woman – the Vixen – turns the lives of the villagers upside down.
I am fascinated by times when the world was on the cusp of massive change. 1349 was the year the Black Death struck England. Its shadow could be seen advancing across Europe. I wanted to capture that sense of a deadly, inescapable force heading your way.
Are isolation and loneliness things that you personally fear?
Not any more.
But I’ve had my share. I spent my teenage years in Devon, which was not a good place to be in any way ‘different’. It wasn’t just about sexuality – anything that wasn’t marriage and 2.4 children (preferably with one on its way by the age of 16) was regarded as deeply suspect. I yearned for escape and counted the days till I was 18 and could escape.
Photo credit : Rachel Saunders.
Your debut novel ‘The Palace of Curiosities’ was very well received and is adored by many people. What were you feeling ahead of the release of Vixen last year?
As my follow-up novel, it felt like the ‘difficult second album’ on occasion. Vixen is a different book to ‘The Palace of Curiosities’ and not just in the 500-year time shift.
I have a nasty inner critic – Mavis – who never ever says anything nice. She kept whispering that the reaction would be a sneering ‘Ok, so people liked ‘The Palace of Curiosities’. They aren’t going to like Vixen.’
Luckily, that hasn’t been the case.
I’ve blogged about Mavis here.
Photo credit : Booka Bookshop, Oswestry, Shropshire
How did you feel when Vixen began receiving lots of great feedback and was dubbed ‘Best for Historical Fiction fans’ in Grazia’s Summer reading list?
I’ve been astounded by the great response! Here’s a snippet from the amazing review in Diva: ‘Poetic, surprising and ultimately deeply moving, Vixen will have you hooked faster than it takes to drink a jug of ale and – unlike ale – it will stay with you long after you’ve reached the final page.’
“I have a nasty inner critic – Mavis – who never ever says anything nice. She kept whispering that the reaction would be a sneering ‘Ok, so people liked ‘The Palace of Curiosities’. They aren’t going to like Vixen.’ Luckily, that hasn’t been the case.”
How important are magazine and online reviews to you?
Very and not at all, if that makes any sense.
Positive reviews are wonderful; I’d be lying if I said they weren’t. I’m extremely lucky to have had nothing but – so far. I won’t let them go to my head. I’d hate to become one of those people who are so puffed up about themselves they believe their own publicity and are a complete nightmare to be around. After all, a review is a personal opinion and nothing more.
Do you think your books would adapt well to the small, or big, screen and how would you react if this idea was brought to you?
I would be delighted! Seriously, I’d do my massively uncool happy dance.
“I had great teachers who encouraged me to write. I produced my first novel aged nine: a science fiction extravaganza featuring rockets and sharks.”
You’re a big advocate of local book stores. Why do you think it’s so important to shop local and support the independent book stores?
I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it matters when yet another indie or queer-friendly café / club / shop closes down and is replaced with a faceless retail chain. Who wants to live in a neighbourhood where the only option is Starbucks?
Oh yes – and indie stores pay their taxes and treat their staff like human beings. Next!
We’re seeing many local libraries close due to cuts. How important do you think public libraries are and did they play a part in your own dreams to be a writer?
It frightens me when folk say we don’t need libraries ‘because everything’s online and free’. Er – no it isn’t. Libraries are far more than a repository of books. A positive childhood memory is the Saturday trip to the local library. I explored new worlds, learned new things, thought new thoughts. It was the beginning of a love affair that’s still going strong. It was National Libraries Day recently. Here’s my love letter.
Photo credit : Jonathan Bean.
You take part in lots of literary events and book tours. Are these something you enjoy?
I love doing readings. Maybe it’s connected to happy memories of being read to as a kid. Before I could read, I was hooked by the magic of words.
Sure, I understand not every writer enjoys live readings, but I get a buzz when I can communicate and share my stories. If that encourages and enables others to tell theirs – that’s even better. We need to get our work out there, even when the mainstream world tells us it is uninteresting, weird, or just plain wrong. Especially when the mainstream world tells us that.
“I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it matters when yet another indie or queer-friendly café / club / shop closes down and is replaced with a faceless retail chain.”
Did you have any literary role models growing up? Were you encouraged to follow your dreams at school and at home?
I had great teachers who encouraged me to write. I produced my first novel aged nine: a science fiction extravaganza featuring rockets and sharks. With pictures. All of that was fine till I started exploring the more macabre / queerer side of life in my teens. The encouragement evaporated and was replaced by disapproval.
Luckily, I was a stubborn brat and kept going.
It was International Womens Day on 8th March. Is there a female in your life who has inspired you the most in your career and/or personal life?
That is such a difficult question. Impossible to answer!
I guess the first of many inspirational women was my grandmother. She always had time to read stories and listen to mine. We shared a love of splashing in puddles and climbing trees. She accepted who I was and didn’t force me into being something I wasn’t.
You’re also the lead vocalist of The March Violets. We’d love to know more about the group and what you have planned music wise for 2015?
Singing is one of life’s particular pleasures. The March Violets is unusual in having a male / female duo fronting the band – Si Denbigh and myself. We reformed in 2007, thinking we’d do a one-off reunion gig. But hundreds of fans turned up and made it very clear they weren’t going to let us go away again.
This year we’re playing Europe and the USA. In 2014 we toured the West Coast from Seattle to LA. It was incredible – we had such a wonderful welcome. The plan is to head to the East Coast in 2015 with the new album, ‘Made Glorious’. Keep an eye on the website at www.marchviolets.com
Photo credit : Mel Bradley.
Novel number 3. When can we expect this? Will you be exploring any new genres or themes?
I’m working on it – slowly! I’m at that early stage where it’s a tangled heap of words. I go through phases of thinking it’s complete rubbish. Luckily I have an encouraging editor at HarperCollins.
It’s set just before WW1 and revolves around family secrets. Once again, I’ve been drawn to a period of upheaval; specifically that moment shortly before enormous changes take place. I view those times rather like an indrawn breath, held and not released.
“It frightens me when folk say we don’t need libraries ‘because everything’s online and free’. Er – no it isn’t. Libraries are far more than a repository of books.”
What’s next for you?
I’m busy on a number of projects, which suits me fine. I’d get bored if I was only doing one thing. The trick is to get that number right…
The book tour for the paperback release of ‘Vixen’ is ongoing through March and April. There’s the new novel to get on with, plus The March Violets tour mentioned above. If that wasn’t enough, I’m treading the boards as Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen. Plus I’m writing new poetry, in particular, a sequence of narrative poems inspired by the two years I worked as a teacher in Darfur, Sudan. Truly a stranger in a strange land.
So – 2015 is already busy. I love the fascinating projects that come into my life! One that’s very exciting is being invited to co-curate the John Rylands Library Literary Gothic exhibition in Summer 2015. And I am headlining Polari Literary Salon in June – wow!
Rosie’s most recent book Vixen is available to buy now in hardback and paperback. You can also download the book if that’s your thing. Published by Harper Collins.