The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Monica Carly

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Monica Carly

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Summary: Here at Bookbag we were lucky to read The Golden Thread before it was published - and even luckier to be able to chat to Monica Carly about how she came to write the book.
Date: 3 January 2012
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Here at Bookbag we were lucky to read The Golden Thread before it was published - and even luckier to be able to chat to Monica Carly about how she came to write the book.

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

Monica Carly: The more mature woman inevitably pops up in front of me – maybe because I am one myself! This view of my readership may be misleading because I know younger women enjoyed my first novel – and even some men! Even so, since I concentrate mainly on emotional tensions and look into characters in some psychological depth, I feel that my readership is more likely to be female. It is a woman thing to be absorbed by feelings – whereas generally men prefer facts. I know this categorises rather, but after all, there's no getting away from the fact that the sexes are different.

  • BB: What inspired you to write the The Golden Thread?

MC: The idea came to me – and these ideas have a habit of coming in the middle of the night – of a situation that could totally destroy the love between sisters. I have heard people say: 'Oh, so-and-so hasn't spoken to her sister/brother for years' – which seemed to me an extraordinary situation and one I could hardly fathom. What could possibly happen that it necessitated such drastic action? So I set about trying to invent a situation, which would not be a straightforward betrayal, but have a big element of misunderstanding in it so that one player in the story would not be able to understand why it had happened, whereas the other would think it completely obvious.

My favourite author is Jane Austen, and her books are full of situations where misunderstandings cause unhappiness, or sometimes her characters have secrets which lead to other characters jumping to the wrong conclusion. She wrote of the society with which she was familiar – but it seems to me to be pretty similar to what happens today – it's just that the settings are different.

  • BB: Claudia Hansom was a splendid head teacher. Was she based on teachers you remembered? Did you enjoy school?

MC: I did not consciously base any of my characters on anyone. However, when I look back, I remember in my senior school we were ruled over by a small, grey-haired but excessively fierce Scottish spinster who had us all trembling in our shoes. To be summoned to her room was a terrifying ordeal. Yet on the rare occasions that she took a lesson we loved it, because she could make the subject matter come alive.

It never occurred to me at the time to see her as a 'whole person', nor to wonder what her background might be – as a school child all you see is the person in her role as headmistress. Looking behind the outer façade that people show you is perhaps something that comes later in life.

Then there was the head teacher at the school where I took my first teaching post. Again she was a dedicated single woman, but she did bring a certain warmth and humanity to the job. I admired her, realising her proficiency, but was aware of a line that you did not cross. There was an aloofness about her that always kept her relationships with the rest of the staff purely professional. Perhaps something from both these women has crept into Claudia Hansom.

As for enjoying school – yes, I did – most of it, perhaps because I was allowed to concentrate on the arts at rather too young an age – subjects I enjoyed and did quite well at. The result is that now I am totally ignorant of anything in the worlds of physics or chemistry, which I think is rather a pity. My last six years of schooling took place in Kingston, Jamaica, because my father took up a post there, so perhaps the most valuable part of my education was growing up in a mixed race environment. I enjoyed this and made good friends.

  • BB: I remember reading and enjoying Fraser's Lin which was published in April 2009. How long does it take to write a book?

MC: The actual writing probably takes a year to a year and a half. I am not one who is easily satisfied. I keep trying to improve – and fresh ideas come while I'm in mid flow.

  • BB: 'Fraser's Line' was the story of a man's discoveries of the secrets his wife kept from him during her lifetime, but 'The Golden Thread' revolves around Claudia Hansom, the headmistress left with an empty life after retirement. Do you prefer putting yourself in the mind of a man or a woman?

MC: It is probably easier to see life through a female character's eyes, since I can empathise with that. And in 'Fraser's Line', even though the central character was a man, I did keep changing the point of view throughout the book, so that sometimes the action centred on one or other of the daughters, and sometimes on the elderly mother, or the sister. This variety of point of view meant I didn't actually stay with Fraser for too long at any one time.

  • BB: You did that very cleverly, Monica. I sense a theme of dysfunctional families! Do you feel this is one of the great problems of the modern age?

MC: Yes and no. No because I think there have always been problems in families (back to Jane Austen again) and yes, because the problems are still there. There will always be tensions in family circles because this is the environment in which there is the greatest level of security, and therefore those within the circle can be most truly themselves. What may be concealed from friends and acquaintances may be far more difficult to hide from people we are close to both physically and emotionally. The growing pains of young people may stretch to breaking-point the love of their long-suffering parents, but that is what the family is for – to provide support and protection until finally the young fly the nest. But even when that has happened the bond continues – and sometimes, so do the problems. This is why the family circle is such a rich feeding ground for authors.

  • BB: Do you enjoy reading? Which books do you prefer and do you still have any books from childhood?

MC: Reading is very important to me, but sometimes the opportunity is lacking. One of the best parts about going on holiday is being able to read for long periods without interruption. Mainly I read novels, but I like them to be historically set (such as those by [[Category:Alison Weir|Alison Weir) or to be based in a geographical area that is unknown to me, such as The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, so that I learn something from the atmosphere and descriptions. I also loved Alexander McCall Smith's The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The humour is wonderful.

From my childhood I have a book of verse with the title The Muse Amuses. I used to read the poems aloud to myself, loving the flow of words and the rhythms.

  • BB: Where and how do you write? Is writing the 'day job' and if not do you wish that it was?

MC: I'm now retired, so in theory I have the time to write when I want. In practice I have been a full-time carer for my husband, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, for several years. His condition has been deteriorating over the past few months, requiring more and more of my time and energy resources, leaving me with little space for writing. So I have had to fit it in wherever a gap appears – but my mind has remained active, and while doing the laundry I can think out the next chapter!

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

MC: I read recently of an author whose stories 'chill the heart'. My wish is that my stories will warm the hearts of my readers.

  • BB: I think you've done that already, Monica. What's next for Monica Carly?

MC: As The Golden Thread is on the point of being launched I hope to become involved in some publicity activities, such as book signings. Meanwhile book no. 3 is going round and round in my head …

  • BB: And we can't wait to read the result, Monica! Good luck with the writing.

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