The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Sandy Hogarth

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Sandy Hogarth

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Summary: Rebecca enjoyed The Glass Girl by Sandy Hogarth, an exploration of the psychological effects of sexual trauma and relationship betrayals. She had quite a few questions for the author when she popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Date: 8 October 2015
Interviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

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Rebecca enjoyed The Glass Girl by Sandy Hogarth, an exploration of the psychological effects of sexual trauma and relationship betrayals. She had quite a few questions for the author when she popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.

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

Sandy Hogarth: A woman, probably 30plus, who is excited by stories that explore real life relationships. These inevitably include love, trust, betrayal, and all of things that make us who we are.

Someone who wants an exciting story line with twists and unexpected surprises. Love is sharing a book you love. I want to share The Glass Girl.

  • BB: Why did you decide on the time period 1975 to 2003?

SH: It is a period I know well and a time when social mores began to change. I had to use 1975 (or earlier) when attitudes to illegitimacy and abortion were very different to now. It was Ruth’s youth, her religious background and the social mores of the time that had to make the case for her running away. Fleeing: purblind, a path I might regret forever. Plus, a really important factor, her fear of hurting her betrayed and depressive mother. In Ruth’s words: I knew what her eyes would look like. Dead.

  • BB: There is a subtle political undercurrent to the book, what with Ruth getting involved with the Labour party. How did you see historical events and political shifts shaping the personal incidents in Ruth's life?

SH: The 80s and 90s were exciting political times, especially for women, with the election of Margaret Thatcher and the subsequent ascendancy of the Labour Party. Plus other events where women played a crucial role: CND and the Greenham Common camp and protests. I wanted Ruth to be a bit of a rebel and politics was one of the ways of finding herself, getting over her loss and taking on the world, although I always imagined her as feisty if fragile.

  • BB: What does the title signify about Ruth?

SH: The title relates to the glass figurine on page 57, an exquisite glass girl, a dancer with a straight back and proud posture… a brittle beauty… it carries the desert within it. It is given to Ruth by an old man in the desert, a glass blower who has lost his son. Ruth is in the Australian desert, seeking healing from her own loss. It is symbolic of wonder and the sand of the desert, and represents the vulnerability and fragility of the young Ruth.

She carries it with her everywhere and it is there, at the very end.

  • BB: The aunt–nephew relationship between Ruth and Ben ends up being one of the most stable in the book. Why do you think theirs is one of the more enduring bonds?

SH: Ruth’s relationship to Ben is important and central. In part he is a surrogate for her daughter Clare. He is young, innocent and, I hope, lovely. Ruth’s relationship with him is honest and uncomplicated unlike her troubled relationship with his mother, her sister Alexis.

There is an important twist in relation to Ben. You will have to read The Glass Girl to find out.

  • BB: Like Ruth, you once undertook academic study into power and trust. How has your research informed your fiction?

SH: Power is loosely defined as making someone do something they wouldn’t otherwise do. The Glass Girl opens with Ruth’s rape and the rapist’s words, Say thank you to your sister for me.

Later she is abused by her uncle, as is her sister Alexis. Alexis’s abuse is the greater exercise of power and trust, as she remains her uncle’s ‘princess’ throughout the novel.

Power and trust are inherent, to some degree, in all relationships. My doctoral research examined these concepts operating between large organizations but the underlying theory is the same for individuals. In The Glass Girl they are particularly important in the relationships between Alexis and Ruth and, of course, the uncle, and later in the book, between Ruth and her lover Daniel.

Power does not need to be exercised to exist and Ruth’s depressive, bookish mother plays a powerful and unknowing role in Ruth’s decision to flee.

I used my academic research in the way all writers do, part of my own life experience. For about five years I worked (and did serious exams) as a wine buyer for a group of nine London Food stores. I had great fun smashing Daniel’s valuable wine collection.

  • BB: Australia and England are important locations in your life, as they are for Ruth. How have you tried to do both places justice in your novel?

SH: I love lonely places. That is why I live in the Yorkshire Dales. But I was born in Australia and return frequently. On my last visit I crossed three deserts – by coincidence, The Little Sandy, The Big Sandy and one less memorable. This was the inspiration for the desert scenes. There is little to beat lying in a swag at night gazing up at the incomparable, non-light-polluted southern sky.

I love writing about location (my next book features the Scottish mountains). They are characters in their own right.

  • BB: The novel has heavy themes of sexual trauma and family betrayal. What are some of the healing forces at work in Ruth's life?

SH: The abuse by the uncle takes over Alexis’ life and her ability to make lasting meaningful relationships. Ruth moves on. I don’t think we ever fully understand the impact of abuse but the healing forces of the desert where the weak (animal and man) do not survive play a part. It is tough and Ruth’s fragility is underlined by the glass figurine. Her greatest regret is that she cannot make amends with her mother.

And, as I mentioned earlier, Ben is also a strong healing element.

  • BB: Without spoiling the ending for your readers, do you see the rift between Ruth and Alexis as irreparable?

SH: Definitely not. That is the meaning of the book’s last sentence.

Alexis has lost her son to a large extent. She is in New York and I give a hint about what may be keeping her there. Ben goes to Australia. But, in the end, for Ruth, they are sisters. Another secret there.)

  • BB: What's next for Sandy Hogarth?

SH: A number of readers want a sequel to The Glass Girl. The most interesting would be more of Alexis’ story. How does she find a way out of her troubled life? The wicked sister’s story. There probably will be a sequel but not until I finish the novel I am half way through: Is Heaven Safe?

This is Alice’s story. We meet her in the 1950s, as a young girl, shooting rabbits with her part-time father, who not much later abandons her. At 40, Alice has a son, Adam. Adam has Asperger’s and is accidentally killed aged eight. Alice seeks revenge on the driver of the car by plotting to kill her son when he is eight. But it is not straightforward. I love twists and surprises.

Readers may like to know that some of the elements of The Glass Girl mirror my own life in reverse. I fled Australia for the same reasons as Ruth did (but not the same family) and my daughter was adopted in the UK. This also has a happy ending. Some years ago my daughter found me. As Ruth says, ‘I was her mother once’. And I now also have two lovely grand daughters.

  • BB: Thank you for telling us that, Sandy - and thank you too for taking the time to talk to us.

You can read more about Sandy Hogarth here.

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