Wednesday 22 November 2017

A Conversation with Rosie Fiore

Rosie Fiore was born and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She studied drama at the University of the Witwatersrand and has worked as a writer for theatre, television, magazines, advertising, comedy and the corporate market. She has lived in London since 2000.

Rosie has published several novels to critical acclaim: This Year's Black (Struik 2004), Lame Angel (Struik 2006), Babies in Waiting (Quercus 2012) and Wonder Women (Quercus 2013).  Isabella was published in August 2016 by Allen & Unwin.

What She Left was also published by Allen & Unwin in August 2017. 

Helen Cooper has a charmed life. She's beautiful, accomplished, organised - the star parent at the school. Until she disappears.

But Helen wasn't abducted or murdered. She's chosen to walk away, abandoning her family, husband Sam, and her home.

Where has Helen gone, and why? What has driven her from her seemingly perfect life? What is she looking for? Sam is tormented by these questions, and gradually begins to lose his grip on work and his family life.

He sees Helen everywhere in the faces of strangers. He's losing control.

But then one day, it really is Helen's face he sees...

We thank Rosie for taking part in our Conversation and wish her lots of success with What She Left and also with her forthcoming novel, The After Wife, written as Cass Hunter which is due for release in March 2018.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I’ve worked as a jobbing writer, first in theatre, then in TV and as a copywriter and journalist, for more than 25 years. I’ve been plugging away, writing novels in my ‘spare’ (ha ha) time for many years. I am definitely not one of those shiny, ‘snapped up and turned into a bestselling celebrity’ stories… I was lucky to get a small publishing deal in my native South Africa for my first book, This Year’s Black in 2003, but it took another four years to get an agent, and nine years and four books to get a UK publishing deal. It’s taken me fifteen years and nine books to be able to give up my day job (I work in marketing in a university), and become a full-time novelist. I start in January!

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

There is simply no greater joy. Imagine the pleasure and anticipation you feel when you’re reading a ripping, thrilling story. You pause and wonder, “What will happen next?” and your brain fills with ideas and questions. Being a writer is like this, but infinitely better, because you get to decide, and answer the questions. It feels like the ultimate freedom, with the biggest canvas in the world.

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

Sam Cooper, the main male character in What She Left was a difficult and complicated man to write. He’s a widower with two small children, and now his ex-wife has disappeared. Very quickly, we find she’s gone willingly. I wanted readers to feel sympathy for Sam (as they should, he’s had an awful time of it), but also to show the diverse and subtle ways in which people can be ‘takers’, using other people for their own needs. He’s appealing on the surface, but I wanted readers to develop a creeping sense of unease about him. Responses to him have been very varied… some people like him, some wanted to stop reading they hated him so much. I’m on the fence… he is very handsome, after all…

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I live in London, and that’s where my books are set, by and large. I love this city with all my heart… the enormous diversity in every neighbourhood, tube carriage and high street delights me. Londoners, mostly leave each other alone or absorb and enjoy the diverse cultures around them. I hope that my books reflect some of that… a place of acceptance and openness.

I feel a responsibility to tell stories that express the things that are most important to me. I am a feminist, and so I always try to write female characters who are as complex, competent and diverse as the women I know. I also resist writing cardboard cut-out male characters (you know the romantic fiction trope of ‘this is the bad one she learns from, this is the good one she ends up with). I make a real effort to include more women as minor characters: it seems a small thing, but in a sequence in my most recent book, the main character’s mother ends up in hospital, and he encounters the emergency services. The paramedic, the police officer and the doctor he encountered were all female, which, in the real world, is as likely as the opposite. However it’s easy to default thoughtlessly to the male in writing.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Oooh, that’s a hard one. From my teenage years, Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. The book spoke to me so powerfully when I was 16 – his dry, thoughtful assessment of those around him still stay with me. All these years later, I still remember the wonderful quote about his old teacher:

“After I shut the door and started back to the living room, he yelled something at me, but I couldn't exactly hear him. I'm pretty sure he yelled "Good luck!" at me, I hope to hell not. I'd never yell "Good luck!" at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it.

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

On this grey November day, I think I might go for a five-star hotel in the Maldives! In all seriousness though, many years ago I spent Christmas in a beautiful cottage in Mousehole in Cornwall. The kitchen window looked out over the sea, with St Michael’s Mount in the distance. I have always dreamed of being able to sit at that kitchen table, looking out over the changing sea and writing.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

My new author crush is Elizabeth Strout. I am working my way through her books, but her first novel, Amy & Isabelle, is one of the most complex and finely-wrought pictures of a mother-and-daughter relationship I’ve ever seen. Also, pretty much anything by Margaret Atwood, obviously!

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

Creative writing professor and novelist Colum McCann wrote a simply brilliant article in the Guardian about writing. Nothing I say will equal his salty and practical advice.

“You have to put in the time. If you are not there, the words will not appear. Simple as that.

A writer is not someone who thinks obsessively about writing, or talks about it, or plans it, or dissects it, or even reveres it: a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.

Good writing will knock the living daylights out of you. Very few people talk about it, but writers have to have the stamina of world-class athletes. The exhaustion of sitting in the one place. The errors. The retrieval. The mental taxation. The dropping of the bucket down into the near-empty well over and over again. …."

“Just keep your arse in the chair. Arse in the chair. Arse in the chair.

Stare the blank page down.”

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

What She Left came out this year, and it’s getting some good reviews and causing some debate, which was my hope!

March next year sees the release of The After Wife, which I have written under a pseudonym, as Cass Hunter, for Trapeze. This promises to be my biggest commercial book yet, and we have sold rights in seven countries across the world, along with an option for a film in China. It tells the story of Rachel, a brilliant robotics scientist, who dies suddenly. It transpires that she has spent the last few years building a humanoid robot, which is her double. It is her final wish that the robot goes to live with her bereaved husband and daughter.

I absolutely loved writing this book – the research into robotics and human-robot interaction was fascinating, but ultimately it’s a love story – it’s about coming to terms with bereavement, and about what makes us human. I am working on a couple of near-future speculative fiction ideas as follow-ups to The After Wife, as well as a play. Now I am going to write full-time I hope to write two books and a play a year. 

You can follow Rosie on Twitter: @rosiefiore

No comments: