Thursday 28 September 2017

A Conversation with Carol Lovekin

Photo courtesy of Janey Stevens
Carol Lovekin has Irish blood and a Welsh heart. She was born in Warwickshire and has lived in Wales since 1979. 

Her books reflect her love of the landscape and mythology of her adopted home. Her first, Ghostbird, was published by Honno (March 2016).

Carol’s second novel Snow Sisters is also published by Honno (September 2017).

Two sisters, their grandmother’s old house and Angharad, the girl who cannot leave…

Verity and Meredith Pryce live with their fragile mother, Allegra, in an old house overlooking the west Wales coast. Gull House is their haven. It also groans with the weight of its dark past. 

When Meredith discovers an old sewing box in a disused attic and a collection of hand-stitched red flannel hearts, she unwittingly wakes up the ghost of Angharad, a Victorian child-woman harbouring a horrific secret. 

As Angharad gradually reveals her story to Meredith, her more pragmatic sister Verity remains sceptical until she sees the ghost for herself on the eve of an unseasonal April snowstorm.

Forced by Allegra to abandon Gull House for London, Meredith struggles.

Still haunted by Angharad and her unfinished story, hurt by what she sees as Verity’s acquiescence to their mother’s selfishness, Meredith drifts into a world of her own. And Verity isn’t sure she will be able to save her…

We would like to thank Carol for taking part in our conversation and wish her lots of success with Snow Sisters.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

Is it too much of a cliché to say, I’ve always written, one way or another? I think most writers say it because by and large it’s true. That said, I’m not one of those who claim to have written her first novel at the age of five. (I wrote mine when I was in my thirties. It’s dreadful – don’t ask.)

I was a good deal older than most writers are when they begin their careers. In my late 50’s I started taking my writing seriously and began Ghostbird, although it took me years to complete. When I submitted the first fifty pages as part of Honno’s ‘Meet the Editor’ scheme, I was fortunate to be mentored by Janet Thomas. I owe a good deal of my small success to Janet’s kindness and professionalism.

In the world of small press traditional publishing you have to be patient. The process unfolds like slow cloud across the moon. Both my patience and hard work were finally rewarded. Honno offered me a deal and in March 2016 Ghostbird was published.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

This is an unusual question and one I don’t think I’ve ever been asked. Thank you! If I have a role it is to be authentic and write from my heart. Interesting fiction pushes the envelope. I see it as the perfect vehicle for re-telling women’s stories, in particular, myths and legends featuring patriarchal attitudes. I enjoy re-claiming them: giving women from legend and folklore their voice in modern settings, and through the lives of modern-day characters.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

When I began writing Ghostbird I didn’t like Violet, Cadi’s mother, at all. I found her unremittingly miserable. As she allowed me access to her heart, I began to empathise with her and came to realise how desperate her pain was and more importantly, where it came from. I decided that if I didn’t love her, I couldn’t expect my reader to. In Snow Sisters, I feared I was doing it again and creating another less than likeable mother. This time, in Allegra, I conjured a monster. It took a while for me to understand her too, her motives and her past. This is the thing about authentic characters. They’re like real people: they have a backstory which shapes them and it’s the author’s job to dig around and discover the truth.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Gay people are as diverse as anyone; putting them in books can be divisive! When I realised Lili, in Ghostbird, was a lesbian, I immediately knew I didn’t want the fact that she was gay to be a thing. It didn’t need explaining – I wanted it to be a seamless aspect of the narrative, the fact of her. Creating a gay character in Snow Sisters was more deliberate. Why not carry on claiming a corner of fiction for lesbians? Mine are intended to be as incidental as they are real and relevant.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Jo March from Little Women. I wanted to be her. She was the Victorian era (albeit in America) equivalent of a tomboy: a rebel and a girl who liked to write. And I fell in love with Jane Eyre too, at a very early age. I still read the book each year. Jane’s character appeals to me because she’s loyal. And like Jo March, she fights her corner.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I don’t want to go anywhere else to write! When I moved into my flat, eleven years ago, for the first time in my writing life I was able to have a study. It changed things for me on a fundamental level, coinciding pretty much with my decision to take my writing seriously and write to be published. It's my haven and I love it.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

To Kill a Mockingbird: in my view, an almost perfect novel. I couldn’t have written it though as it isn’t my experience and I don’t have Harper Lee’s skill. Virginia Woolf is my favourite author but I couldn’t have written her books either. They are hers and I think it’s a little presumptuous to image I could write as well as any of my literary idols. (Had I written To the Lighthouse or Mrs Dalloway mind, I would have made sure I used more paragraphs!)

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Read! Read everything, and do it the way Francine Prose suggests: ‘like a writer…’ in other words, critically. And get on with the writing. No one is going to do it for you. Find the hunger. Without it, you won’t make it. Never use the word ‘aspiring’ about yourself. If you are writing: unpolished, unfinished or unpublished, you are a writer. And most important of all, never give up. I am the living proof that it’s never too late!

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I have two novels in the pipeline. One is another ghost story with sisters – books about siblings have always fascinated me. Although the other one is also rooted in the Welsh landscape, it’s something of a departure featuring as it does a much older main protagonist. No ghost, no sisters and a sideways take on the selkie myth… 

Follow Carol on Twitter: @carollovekin

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