Jane Rusbridge, author of The Devil’s Music talks about new book ROOK, Sussex & working as a team.
WBNW – Your first book, The Devil’s Music was full of family secrets and nostalgia. What can we expect from your new novel ROOK?
JR – Untold stories interest me: the secrets people choose to keep; a point of view which may go unstated in a newspaper story; mysteries which can’t be solved because we don’t have enough information – but we try to solve them anyway. The ‘underside’ of things draws me.
Family stories are also intriguing, aren’t they? The way memory exerts its own powerful changes on stories passed down through generations, leaving the ’facts’ of what happened lost somewhere in the telling.
So, yes, ROOK involves family secrets – but also historical mysteries. The novel, set in Bosham, explores some of the local traditions, folklore and stories associated with the Saxon church there, including ancient myths surrounding the burial place of Harold II. As well as highlighting recently theorised ‘hidden histories’ of the Bayeux Tapestry, the narrative also reveals the previously untold personal stories of three women, past and present, and the connections between them.
Though the main story is set in the early 21st century, the past is a strong presence. As for ‘nostalgia’, which I take to mean a yearning for the past, the main character Nora is trying to obliterate her recent past. It’s her mother Ada who yearns to return to her more exotic youth, and perhaps also Miss Macleod, a local historian, whose mind is preoccupied with the events of 1,000 years ago which we visit briefly as she tries to uncover details of a burial which took place in 1066.
WBNW – How would compare writing your second novel to your first?
JR – In some ways the second, with the input of professional editors at first draft stage, was easier. In others – the pressure of deadlines – it was harder.
WBNW – Sussex clearly has had an affect on you and in a positive way. Is there somewhere that inspires you the most?
JR – The pebbles, sand and sky of the Sussex seascape are all part of my sense of personal identity, probably because I’ve lived most of my life close to the sea. I grew up in Bexhill-on-sea, where we had a beach hut. Childhood summers were spent playing on sand, pebbles, rocks and breakwaters in all weathers. I then lived for 30 years in the Witterings, West Sussex, and wrote The Devil’s Music in a house just across the road from the sea. Walking along a Sussex beach at low tide is where I feel most at home.
WBNW – The covers for both novels are beautiful! How much control did you have with these?
JR – I’m glad you think so – I love them too! Bloomsbury run cover ideas past their writers, but ultimately the final say is up to them, and I believe it’s all linked to sales and marketing priorities.
However, when my editor told me Bloomsbury were considering a photographic cover for TDM, I asked if we could send in some photographs my daughter, Natalie Miller, had taken on Wittering beach after reading the climax chapter of the novel. Bloomsbury loved them! Cover designer Sarah Moss used several, on both the hardback and the paperback versions of TDM.
For ROOK, we sent in some photos Nat took of rooks when we were on a rooking trip together in Norfolk. The cover designer, Greg Heinimann, used one of her shots in the final design.
WBNW – How would you describe your writing process/style?
JR – My process is chaotic, organic rather than analytical. Flannery O’Connor says, ‘A writer watches for the extraordinary magic that lies in the everyday. A writer is always quietly looking and thinking. Not willing inspiration but just being open to the world.’ That’s the process I aim for.
I’d rather leave comments on my ‘style’ for others to make, but what I can say is the role of imagery in suggestion is important to me, the ‘show, don’t tell’ approach.
WBNW – What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
JR Research, and the magic of synchronicity when apparently separate preoccupations suddenly come together in what the writer Aminatta Forna has described as the ‘perfect storm’.
WBNW – If you could recommend one book to be read (apart from one of yours), what would it be and why?
JR – No, I’ve thought about this one and simply can’t recommend just one book! Everyone needs to read as many books and as broadly as they can, because reading enriches our lives.
WBNW – Paperback or E-book?
JR – Paperback. I’m thrilled that ROOK is one of 6 launch titles from exciting new literary imprint, Bloomsbury Circus, who aim to make their books ‘more desirable and collectible than ever.’
JR – Our connection, which began a few years ago through the MA in creative writing at Chichester University, is very important to me. We were all first published around the same time. Entering the unknown world of publishing together, we found it helped to share stories, celebrate successes and support each other through the variety of confusions and minor hiccups which accompany the start of any new career. Three years on, we still do all that, and it’s vital to me because the ups and downs of the writing life are not necessarily something non-writing friends or partners understand.
It’s also great fun! I enjoy the events we do together, and I relish the opportunity to work as a team, rather than in a solitary way.
Many thanks for your time, Jane.
We wish you the best of luck with the release of ROOK.
To visit Jane’s own website click here.
Visit Nat’s Flickr photo album for more incredible rook pictures here.
Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneRusbridge