The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Carolyn Mathews

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Carolyn Mathews


Summary: Sue doesn't encounter too many books which keep her reading long after she should be asleep but Transforming Pandora was one. When author Carolyn Mathews popped into Bookbag Towers we had quite a few questions to ask her.
Date: 28 January 2013
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue doesn't encounter too many books which keep her reading long after she should be asleep but Transforming Pandora was one. When author Carolyn Mathews popped into Bookbag Towers we had quite a few questions to ask her.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Carolyn Mathews: I see women, mainly. But when I trialled excerpts from the book, the males in the group were quite happy to read it. They didn’t shout, ‘Chick-lit, head for the hills!’. I’m sure it will appeal to the baby boomer generation because the heroine is an older bird. More of a hen than a chick, really.

  • BB: What was the inspiration behind ‘’Transforming Pandora’’?

CM: When I left teaching, I thought I’d try my hand at something other than material for language learners. My first efforts were a bit off-beam – some dodgy poetry and a self-help manual. It wasn’t till the autumn of 2010 that I had an overwhelming urge to write a novel, so I joined a writing class to get my work critiqued by strangers. (Friends and family are usually too kind to be objective critics.) There was some resistance from a few members of the class to the spiritual element, but for me this dimension was essential because I wanted the book to be more than just a story. I wanted it to appeal to the reader’s heart and soul.

  • BB: I loved Pandora - particularly the teenager. She spoke to me and seemed so real. Dare I ask if there’s anything autobiographical about her?

CM: It has been said that first novels, written in the first person, are usually autobiographical. I’ve certainly drawn on familiar locations and scenarios: I was a convent schoolgirl, worked in a nightclub on the Costa Brava, and have attended numerous Mind, Body and Spirit workshops and events in my time.

But the character of Pandora isn’t based on the eighteen-year-old me; she’s much more reflective about religion than I was when I was that age. It took me some years to come to the conclusion that if I ever I had to choose one, it would be Buddhism. And my mother wasn’t flighty, like Frankie. On the contrary, she was always there for us, and I still miss her.

  • BB: How did you manage to evoke the seventies so well? You don’t look old enough to have been there, but you have all the nuances. Is it a time you think of with affection?

CM: You’re very kind – but I actually got married in that decade. We moved into a small flat with an orange ceiling and purple walls, mercifully not in the same room. Our car was a little black Austin A30 which we covered with flower stickers. When I got pregnant with my second son, my husband exchanged his suit and commute to London for a police uniform in leafy Hertfordshire so we could get a decent-sized house. The first thing we did was paint one of our bedroom walls purple. It made us feel at home.

I think of it as as a happy time, personally, but money was in short supply until Maggie Thatcher hiked up police pay in 1979 and life got much easier...

  • BB: I sense that you are far less of a sceptic than I am about raising a spirit. Should I be more open to the idea? What sparked your interest in spirituality?

CM: Anyone who’s been brought up in a religious environment is open to ideas of the supernatural, so even if they no longer practise their family’s religion, their brains are hard-wired to be responsive to the esoteric. My interest was nurtured by my Irish Catholic mother who loved reading her horoscope and having her fortune told. Even my Anglo-Irish agnostic father read the tealeaves, an art taught to him by his family’s housekeeper!

I suspect your reluctance to buy into ‘raising a spirit’ is because a lot of so-called ‘spirituality’ smacks of the seaside crystal gazer, intent on deceiving the gullible and parting them from their money. I don’t believe that anyone can tell the future successfully; they can only predict a possible outcome. With free will, people can change their minds and therefore change a possible future. It’s a good thing, and quite understandable, that people are sceptical.

I believe it is possible for some gifted individuals to tap into (channel) a body of sacred knowledge, to improve and uplift the spiritual health of the planet. I can’t see a convincing reason for any other ‘spirit raising’ but this. This is the spirituality I am interested in, and connecting with one’s Self/soul/psyche (the noun doesn’t matter) by sitting quietly in simple meditation, is a good way to keep healthy.

  • BB: I thought that the plot of ‘’Transforming Pandora’’ was deceptively complex. How long did it take you to write the book? Did it require a lot of research?

CM: It took nearly two years from starting it to being accepted for publication. Working with two time frames did cause complications. After a couple of drafts I sent it to a literary consultancy to see if it worked. They advised me to look at the chapter sequence. So I rejigged some of the chapters, clustering them together, and added a couple of new chapters at the beginning, to set the scene more.

As for research, the internet makes life so easy for checking simple facts, like when the UK went decimal (1971) – I didn’t want Pandora’s father giving her a ten shilling note if it should have been a 50-pence piece. And Enoch’s pronouncements are pretty much standard New Age beliefs. I did go to Brighton for a day to get a feel of the place for chapters 19/20. On the whole, it was more a question of checking what I was already familiar with, rather than finding out

  • BB: Does reading matter to you? What are you reading at the moment and which book has most influenced you?

CM: Since I’ve been writing, I’m afraid I’ve done less reading. But I’m likely to have an MBS book on the go. The last one I read was The Power of Modern Spirituality by William Bloom which I recommend for down-to-earth people – like your good self!

The non-fiction book I’ve started and haven’t finished is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I agree with everything he says so far about religion – that much of it is superstitious nonsense, historically incorrect, with punishing, vengeful gods. But we differ in that he doesn’t believe in the supernatural at all. I wish there was another term for ‘God’ because it’s been so devalued by religions waging war, committing atrocities, etc, in their god’s name. That’s probably why spiritual writers often use terms like ‘Source Energy’ or ‘Spirit’ or ‘All That Is’.

Where novels are concerned, I love Marion Keyes and I’ve just finished Anybody Out There? It’s about a woman who wants to get in touch with her dead husband. I read it after I’d written mine and (deep sigh of relief) there’s no similarity in the plot. The book that’s most influenced me is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s described as ‘A course in discovering and recovering your creative self’ and it definitely kick-started my creative writing engine into life.

  • BB: Where and how do you write? With or without music?

CM: I have a study with a PC and a laptop. When I start a piece of writing, though, I like to sit in a different room and start if off in longhand. It just doesn’t seem to flow so well if I start writing directly via the keyboard. Once the words begin to flow, it’s usually okay to transfer to the computer. Any time writer’s block descends, I go back to longhand to get on track again.

I usually write without background sound – I’m not from the generation which did its homework with heavy metal raging in the background.

There were a few songs I used to play during the writing of Transforming Pandora when I wanted to evoke a certain mood. At Last by Etta James was one of them. The chapters where Enoch figured were often written to the accompaniment of mantras sung by Hein Braat, whose deep, rich voice has a wonderful resonance. You can listen to them without being distracted by the words, because they’re in Sanskrit.

  • BB: You’ve got one wish. What’s it to be?

CM: That all readers feel better after reading Transforming Pandora – transformed and uplifted, in fact.

  • BB: What's next for Carolyn Mathews?

CM: I’ve started the second in the Pandora series. This one’s set in 2008, so there’s only four years of her life to catch up on. Like the first, it starts with a recent death, but this time there’s a mystery following the burial, which she attempts to solve. When I was planning it, I found myself sketching a young man and a donkey and, sure enough, up they popped in the first chapter. I plan to write at least one more Pandora book after that. Then I’ll see what life and inspiration bring.

  • BB: Good luck with all that, Carolyn - and I'm intigued as to what has been happening to Pandora!

You can read more about Carolyn Mathews here.

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