Author In the Limelight: Rena Rossner

Rena

I’m really happy to welcome Rena Rossner today. She’s an agent at Deborah Harris Literary Agency and an author who lives in Jerusalem. Her amazing (and unutterably attractive!) novel The Sisters of Winter Wood (a magical tale of secrets, family ties and fairy tales weaving through history) is published by Orbit and released on 27 Sept. 2018.

sisters winter wood

Isn’t this book beautiful? Rena’s incredibly busy but I was lucky enough to catch a quick interview with her, after reading a thread she wrote on Twitter (and pinching it, with her permission):

Tracey: Hi Rena. It’s great to have a chance to chat with you again. We go back a few years to the days when we were both posting chapters of our WIPs on the writers’ website, Authonomy (now defunct.) I was thrilled and delighted when, as a novice writer, you invited me to join your LitFic forum, on which we all took turns to have our work critiqued by fellow members ‘under the spotlight’. After a year or so, a small group of us joined together to follow our own imaginary yellow brick road in search of agents or publishers. You helped us all with a spreadsheet of agents  and plenty of querying advice.
We all met up in autumn 2012 in the Peak District. (RIP Judith Williamson.)

yellow brick road crew (2)

Since then, Rena, you’ve gone on to become a world-travelling agent for the Deborah Harris Literary Agency. I’ve enjoyed meeting up with you several times at the London Book Fair and I love to keep up with the goings-on of your family online; like me, you are the mother of several children, and I see from your online pictures that yours are growing up as quickly as mine!

As you write your second (‘nth!) novel – to a deadline – I’d like to invite you to share your thoughts on your writing process.

Rena: Thanks, Tracey. I’ll share something about writing: it sucks. No. I’m just kidding. It is life-giving. It is why we do this thing called books. It is everything. Also: sometimes it really sucks. Getting the perfect beautiful scene you have in your head onto paper can be excruciating.

Tracey: Does being a literary agent help?

Rena: Yes. I’m glad that I’m an agent who is also an author. Because I know how hard it is. But I also know that everyone’s process is different. For example: maybe YOU actually really do love the writing process. I personally love the rewriting process.
It’s not just that my first drafts suck. It’s more than that. My first drafts aren’t books. They are piles of bones. And only when I finish with all the bones can I go back and figure out which bones are missing and what goes where until I make a skeleton. And then I start again.

Tracey: I like the way you describe the process as organic – i.e. flesh and bones – and describe both the pleasure and pain as equally necessary elements of building a book.

Rena: It feels that way. Next I need to add the sinews and the muscles and the organs. The blood flow. And then I start again. Then there’s skin. Then hair. Then facial features. But right now I’m growing bones and it’s the part I hate the most. I like making things pretty. And this is not pretty.

Tracey: It’s not?

Rena: No! Me writing a new book is excruciating. It’s pain. It’s not fun.

Tracey: So why do  it?

Rena: I write because only in rewriting am I able to make the body of the work match what is in my head. And I have to start somewhere. I hate this part of writing because it’s ugly. But I don’t know any other way to do it.

Tracey: Tell me more about your methods of pinning a WIP down on paper.

Rena: I’ve been thinking so much about process. Wondering how I can enjoy this more. And I realized that part of what I enjoy is the research. Yes, it’s falling down rabbit holes and feels like procrastination. But only in research do I make connections b/w all the threads in my head.

Tracey: So how do you solve your mental torment when writing a new book?

Rena: I’m always learning to embrace my process. It’s hard. Especially now that I’m writing a book on a deadline for the first time in my life. But I keep reminding myself: these are just bones. Nobody sees the bones.

Tracey: Nobody Sees the Bones sounds like a great novel title (*makes note*)

Rena: I tell myself that none of what I’m writing now will show. Nobody will ever see this part. Maybe none of these words will make it to the final draft…it helps me keep going. Putting one word in front of the other, even if I know that they are all wrong. But that’s just me.
Anyway. That’s what I have to share. That’s my wisdom from the past painstaking month of trying to grow the bones of my next book. Growing bones is hard. But if I don’t do this part I won’t be able to get to the next part. So I keep going.

Tracey: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, Rena. Personally, I’ve learned so much from watching you progress through the stages of becoming an incredibly accomplished writer and renowned agent over the past eight years or so. I can’t wait for your novel to be released in September. We’ll have to try and meet up again next year and I can buy a signed copy directly from you. But first, I may have to treat myself to a sneak-peak on Kindle…

 

 

 

Another Rebecca News!

AR eBookPaper

I’m excited to announce that Another Rebecca (originally published by @InspiredQuill in 2015, will be re-released with a brand-new cover by @wildpressed in September this year.

AR meme

Here’s the blurb:

Rebecca Grey can’t shake off the hallucination she had while in hospital, but her alcoholic mother Bex is too wrapped up in the ‘Great Grief’ of her youth to notice her daughter’s struggle to define dream from reality.
The two of them lurch from one poverty-stricken situation to another. But why does an old woman she has never met believe she is Rebecca’s grandmother, and why did Bex swear to stop living when she was only nineteen?
Another Rebecca is a family story of secrets, interdependency and obsessive love.
Another Rebecca was inspired by the painting ‘There is no Night’ by Jack B. Yeats.

INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
Tracey Scott-Townsend on ANOTHER REBECCA

 

1) Comparing the writing of my second novel, Another Rebecca with my first, The Last Time We Saw Marion?

The seeds of both novels were sewn in 1989 when I lived alone in a flat in Hull. I was between two long-term relationships and in the third year of my art degree. I did a lot of writing as well as painting. The Last Time We Saw Marion was a novel from its inception, but Another Rebecca began as a short story, inspired by the painting There is No Night by Jack B. Yeats.
I began my full-time writing career in 2010 when my job as a teacher ended. By this time I had married for a second time, after being a single parent to my four children for ten years. I resurrected the 1989 draft of The Last Time We Saw Marion and completely re-wrote it. While the completed book was doing the rounds of agents and small presses, I started to develop my short story There is No Night into a second novel which became Another Rebecca.
Writing, rewriting and several rounds of edits of my first book had taught me that for me the production of a novel to the standard that I want it to be is a long process

I learned along the way by experimentation and whatever feedback I could glean from multiple rejections of The Last Time We Saw Marion. In writing Another Rebecca I had more experience and also some highly professional input, such as a workshop with one of my most-admired writers, Audrey Niffenegger.

2) Family is an important theme in my writing.

I am a product of the things that have happened to me, the decisions I’ve made and the actions I’ve taken. Childhood is a deeply buried influence in anyone.
I believe I’m susceptible to some degree of synaesthesia: a name would always conjure a colour in my mind’s eye and a picture, a snippet of music, a smell or a touch evokes memories in the same way that a film is brought on screen at the touch of a button.
I resurrect memories from my childhood onwards and dissipate them into plot lines. New characters are born from the cells of the disappeared versions of me and my past.
I am a daughter, a sister and a mother. I’ve experienced losses and gains in all of these roles. Because my novels are essentially about the human condition; family, in whatever form it occurs, cannot help but be an important theme to me.

3) Narrative voices.

I tend to use more than one narrative voice in my novels. Initially Another Rebecca was told exclusively from the close first-person perspectives of Rebecca and Bex. But the reader could only see and know what these two claustrophobically intertwined characters were telling us and there was too much story to be told effectively in this way. So I brought in Jack, Rebecca’s father, as the third first-person narrator. He also steps back and gives us a wider view of the character of Bex in the past which helps to give us the full story.

4) The settings in Another Rebecca.

The book is set in England and Ireland. Skegness, where Rebecca lives at the beginning of the story, was my local seaside town when I lived in Lincoln. Rebecca then moves to a caravan in a Lincolnshire village which is based on the real village of North Scarle where I lived in a caravan when I was Rebecca’s age. My father built a house on the site.
Rebecca visits her aunt in County Leitrim, Ireland, where my sister lived for a long time. Then Rebecca goes to live in a fictional house in the village of Newtown Linford in Leicestershire. I have been camping with my children in this district for more than 20 years, so I know the area well. It’s on the edge of Bradgate Park. This is the home of Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen of England, who appears to Rebecca in the park and gives her some salient advice. I’m familiar with the location because I go to a camp in some adjacent woodland every year, and we always take a walk through the village to the park.

IMG_0039

Holly Bidgood – portrait of a young author by Lana Christon (@Authorpa44)

IMG_5529 (2)

Holly Bidgood is the author of The Eagle and the Oystercatcher. Holly enjoyed writing from a young age, but it wasn’t until she was 18, and after a fleeting visit to the Faroe Islands that Icelandic culture and history began to influence her work. Now living in a community in Scotland with her husband and two young children, her values of community and creativity are clear within her writing. (Learn more about Camphill Community towards the end of this post.)

Though she grew up in Derbyshire, Holly has always had a love for and been drawn to the sea, and this only furthered her interest in Iceland. So much so that she went on to study – and graduate with a First Class Honours Degree – Icelandic at University College London and at the University of Iceland where she learnt the Icelandic language. She developed her interest in Nordic cinema, literature, and culture, which is very clear in her first novel.

From her time in countries such as Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands (where her first novel is set), Holly says that landscape, wilderness, and closeness to the elements influence her writing. The Eagle and the Oystercatcher features all these themes but also the themes of friendship, loss, and social change during the 1940s. The Eagle and the Oystercatcher was released at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on the 23rd August, 2016. A five star review on her GoodReads page calls the book ‘Beautifully written, with a captivating story.’

Holly values community and creativity, as she herself lives in a Camphill Community, in a shared house with her husband, two very young children and five adults with special needs. With 23 centres across the UK, the community includes schools and colleges, where individual abilities and qualities are recognised and nurtured as the foundation for a fulfilling life. They also specialise in helping those with learning disabilities, however they state that they see no difference between the carer and the cared-for.

The Camphill founding values have a spiritual core of essential humanity, and each of the residents has a unique destiny to fulfil. This ethos has been at the heart of the Camphill Movement from the moment it was set up in 1940, expressing these values through building communities that ‘preserve and promote the dignity and potential of each member, with Camphill being a life choice, not a placement. It feels a perfect fit for Holly and her family.

holly signing

Holly’s debut novel ‘The Eagle and the Oystercatcher’ is available on Amazon and in various bookstores now.

From The Eagle and the Oystercatcher

In April 1940, two British Destroyers sail into the harbour at Tórshavn. From that point onwards the lives of the Faroe Islanders are irrevocably altered. Eighteen-year-old Kjartan blames the war for taking away the last remaining member of his family. At the same time he struggles with intense feelings for his best friend Orri. While they puzzle over the true identity of the herbalist who lives on the spiky slopes of the islet Tindhólmur, miraculous recoveries of the sick begin taking place all over the islands.
There is one person above all others that Kjartan and Orri wish to be made well again, but when this finally seems to be happening, the war deals them its cruellest blow yet.
Peopled by a cast of characters worthy of Dickens, The Eagle and The Oystercatcher resonates with the evocative bleakness of the Faroe Islands, coloured by rain and snow. With her skilful writing, the author adeptly conveys the everyday details of the islanders’ lives.

‘The destroyers were bigger than any manmade thing I had ever seen, and I was gripped by a shivering sense of dread to think that man could assemble something so large and commandeering; that man should feel the need to. They dwarfed our little fishing boats into primitive insignificance – their masts now matchsticks, their sails tissue paper – and they did not just fill the vision, these cold-blooded destroyers, they grasped the soul.
Destroyer: that was the day I learnt that English word, and I remembered it instantly. Magnus’s English was limited – the little he knew he had picked up from trading with Scotland – but even he knew that word. He spoke it with a fragile caution, as though the sounds themselves might be dangerous, and the typical Faroese spin on the letter ‘R’ rolled off his tongue, through his beard and into the cool, dense air. Orri and I watched it curiously, that snippet of new knowledge, opening up a world that even then seemed dark and confusing. We could see no reason to trust it.’

TEaTO 1

Buy The Eagle and the Oystercatcher here

Here’s a tantalising snippet from Holly’s second, as yet unpublished novel set in Greenland:

‘We cut small pieces of the whale’s nourishing skin and chewed contentedly, savouring the goodness of this mattak: I could taste it now, feel its toughness between my teeth. Never before had I tasted it so fresh.
The world around us had fallen into a tranquil stillness, serenity in the wake of a life taken, a struggle ended. The only sound was that of our voices and laughter, carried upwards and lost in the vastness of the broken pack ice and the blue, empty sky. My cheeks stung pink from the cold.
I had feared that the son of a white man would find no solace with those whose arctic blood ran pure. But at that moment I knew who my people were. If only it could have lasted; if only I could have stayed forever in that most wonderful, archaic of places where each life draws sustenance from another and the world moves in harmony.
If only I had not had to return home to find my own mother – loveless, lovelorn stranger – sprawled, like the narwhal, on the cold floor. Intoxicated to the eyeballs she stared at nothing, for her eyes were clouded over and her body lay lifeless. This creature did not speak to me of graceful, ancient beauty.’

Holly describes her writing progress at the moment as “spectacularly slow” due to her work in the community and her two toddlers, but she’s determined to finish her second novel and send it out into the world to join the first. We shall just have to wait with bated breath!

Follow Holly Bidgood on Twitter:Holly Bidgood

Follow Author PA

Follow Tracey Scott-Townsend