I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Sandlands today with a Q&A.
Sandlands was published yesterday by Sandstone Press and is Rosy Thorton’s first venture into short stories.
Rosy Thornton is a Fellow and Tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and a lecturer in Law at the University of Cambridge, with specialisms in housing law, charitable trusts and feminist legal studies.
She has published five novels, including NINEPINS (Sandstone Press, 2012) with which she won the East Anglian Book Awards prize for fiction, and Sandlands is her first short story collection. She divides her time between Cambridge and a home in the Suffolk sandlings.
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise Sandlands in 20 words or less.
Sixteen stories set in one Suffolk village where, as the seasons turn, the landscape reverberates with echoes of the past.
What do you think a short story gives to the reader that a full-length novel doesn’t Rosy?
By its nature, a short story shows only a brief, intense snatch out of the lives of its characters. The history of their pasts, their wider web of social interactions, their hopes and dreams and all their what-comes-next can only be hinted at, or suggested in broad strokes. For readers this leaves a wealth of space for interpretation and imagining – to fill in the blank spaces for themselves.
What was the inspiration for your book?
Five years ago I acquired a home in the village of Blaxhall in coastal Suffolk where Sandlands is set. The countryside round about is rich in its variety: rolling fields and ancient woodland and heathery lowland heath, salt marsh and estuarial flats that widen to meet bars of shingle, and the sea. I have two spaniels, and walking them through that landscape every day along the same lanes and forest tracks, I was invaded by a sense of timelessness, of pathways trodden many times before. Which set me to thinking about the feet that had walked those ways, and about the slipperiness of time, and how the past can make itself felt in the present in so many unexpected ways. It made me think of ghosts and memories, of love and loss. And that is how the stories took hold.
If you could choose to be one of your characters in your book which would you be? And why?
One of my favourite stories in the book (entitled ‘All the Flowers Gone’) was inspired by the sand catchfly, a rare flower species that favours the light, sandy soil of this area of East Anglia. Its seeds can lie dormant in the earth for years or even decades, before awakening to germinate when the ground is disturbed – like long-buried memories, rising to the surface in the turmoil of grief.
The story tells of three generations of women: a young botanist in the present day, recording a reappearance of the sand catchfly at a disused air base; her mother, a peace campaigner in the 1980s, passing a flower through the wire to a young American airman; and her grandmother, working in the kitchens at the base in the 1940s and in love with a British bomber pilot. If I could be anyone in the book I think I’d be the granddaughter, Poppy, uncovering the secret sorrows of her grandmother’s past.
Who would you cast in the role of your character if your book were optioned for a movie?
To play the botanist, Poppy, in ‘All the Flowers Gone’ I’d choose Emma Watson, since I shall always think of her as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, and Hermione was good at herbology!
Do you have a theme for your book covers Rosy? Who designs them?
It’s a common misconception among readers to imagine that authors get to choose the covers for their own books. Of course, authors are not usually designers, and may have no eye for such things, nor be aware of all the complexities involved in the ‘packaging’ of fiction. Long gone are the good old days of the plain Penguin covers, with all titles looking alike within their genre: orange for general fiction, red for drama, green for crime. So it’s a job for the professionals, and is as much or more about market positioning with the bookshops’ buyers as reflecting the content of the book.
When, with my first four novels, I was with a large commercial publisher (Headline Review, an imprint of the Hachette group), my work was packaged very much as ‘women’s fiction’, if not (at the beginning) chick lit. My covers were all pinky pastel shades, festooned with cartoon hearts and flowers. My current publisher, the wonderful Sandstone Press, is a smaller, independent outfit, and it’s been a joy to have more involvement in the choice of cover design. I have liked the look of both the books I’ve done with them to date – but the cover of ‘Sandlands’, with that gorgeous, enigmatic, horizontal owl, is my favourite by far.
I absolutely love it. There’s something about that sharp, unblinking amber eye. ‘Take me off the shelf and open me,’ he’s saying. ‘I dare you!’
Panster or plotter?
As a novelist I’ve always been the pantsiest of confirmed pantsers, starting out with only the very vaguest notion of where my characters might take me, and allowing them to lead the way. But curiously, I’ve found it is very different with short stories. They are so compressed, usually so homogeneous in terms of the ideas they explore, that I’ve had to have the whole thought process worked through in advance – been certain of my themes and characters and where the thing is going, at least, if not of every twist and turn in getting there.
Have you joined any writing groups Rosy?
I certainly have – although only ever the virtual kind.
I would never have begun to write at all, let alone had the confidence to finish a novel and try for publication, without the support of the brilliant friends I’ve made through a number of online writers’ forums. My first, very tentative, steps in creative writing were on a fanfic forum – called ‘C19’ it was devoted to Victorian classic fiction and costume drama of that period – where, chapter by chapter, I wrote a full-length pastiche sequel to Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South! The encouragement and feedback I received from fellow fanfic writers there was simply amazing. Since then, I’ve been a member of several other co-critiquing forums, including WriteWords and the now-defunct Litopia, and I am still a member of a couple of writers’ groups on Facebook. <<Waves to the Book Frisbees>> I find that the understanding, support, wisdom, perspective and shared expertise of groups like these are absolutely invaluable to my writing endeavours. I genuinely can’t imagine doing it at all without my online writer friends.
Finally Rosy, are there any tips you could share with new writers that have worked well for you?
Don’t listen too closely to the voices in your head which tell you that you’re useless, a fraudster and a charlatan who couldn’t write a shopping list. We all have them. At the beginning mine used to whisper that I have no imagination. My primary career has been as an academic lawyer – I lecture in the subject at Cambridge University – and lawyers, the voices told me, are famously boring and pedantic, who can analyse and reason but never make things up. Even now, with five novels and a short short collection behind me, the voices tell me with each new book that this time I’ll be found out, and exposed for the impostor I am. So my advice would be to close your ears to these naysaying demons. What do they know? Put them behind you, sit down, and write!
Thank you for being my guest today Rosy.
Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
From the white doe appearing through the dark wood to the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud as a poignant symbol of happier times, the creatures of the Suffolk landscape move through Rosy Thornton’s delicate and magical collection of stories. The enigmatic Mr Napish is feeding a fox rescued from the floods; an owl has been guarding a cache of long-lost letters; a nightingale’s song echoes the sound of a loved voice; in a Martello tower on a deserted shore Dr Whybrow listens to ghostly whispers. Through the landscape and its creatures, the past is linked to the present, and generations of lives are intertwined.
Stop by the other hosts on Rosy Thornton’s tour.