Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow Honno Press author, Carol Lovekin, whose debut novel ‘Ghostbird’ is described as ‘Charming, quirky, magical’ by Joanne Harris, and has just been nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize.
(You can vote for your favourite Not the Booker HERE)
Welcome to the blog, Carol, and can I first ask you where the original inspiration for Ghostbird came from? Did you always see it as having a ghost as part of the story?
Years ago when I first came to live in Wales I read the Mabinogion, the earliest collection of prose literature in Britain compiled in the 12th century from an earlier, oral tradition. The story that most appealed to me concerned Blodeuwedd, a woman created from flowers to serve the political ends of men. (The Mabinogion is of its time and deeply patriarchal.) For a transgression deemed a ‘betrayal’ Blodeuwedd is cursed by being turned into an owl: “I will not kill you … I will do what is worse: I will let you go in the form of a bird … you will never show your face to the light of day…”
My response was to question why it would be considered a curse to be turned into a bird. Able to fly, Blodeuwedd could escape her persecutors. This was the seed and it settled in the back of my mind for years until I was ready to reclaim it.
Cadi came first – my central character. I conjured her from somewhere and the ghost of her little sister attached itself to my imagination in much the same way as she attaches herself to Cadi. In the beginning the ghost was only ever intended as a gentle soundtrack to the story. It was my astute editor, Janet Thomas, who spotted that Dora’s ghost needed her own distinctive voice. She had to inhabit the book and not simply hang about in the shadows. Once I’d written her story in isolation and threaded it into the main narrative I realised I was writing a proper ghost story.
The village community feels very real, is it based on an actual village, or is it an amalgamation of communities (or maybe totally made up?)
There’s a village a few miles from where I live that oozes a sense of magic and mystery. It’s the kind of Welsh village about which people nod and say, ‘Oh yes, it’s a bit weird there…’ A mist-laden, mysterious place then, with its share of ‘characters…’ As part of my job description, I’ve embellished and subconsciously drawn on memories of this and other villages to create the one in Ghostbird. I decided to leave it as the nameless ‘Village’ because I wanted it to be a character in its own right, and allow people to see if they could guess where it is!
I loved all the different characters, did you plan them all from the start, or did some muscle their way in as you went along?
Cadi presented herself fully formed (and in full agreement with me as to the wrongness of Blodeuwedd’s supposed fate.) I knew Cadi. I knew what she looked like, her frustration, her quirks and personality. Writing a fourteen year old girl was less of a challenge than I thought it would be. And I quickly came to know her aunt Lili and Violet, her mother, too. These three were there from the beginning and at the centre.
The rest turned up. (I killed off an innocent postman en route. He was rather nice but sadly, destined for the dead darlings file.) One character changed a lot – another was completely unplanned. Once she arrived and presented her credentials, I gave her a cup of tea and let her stay.
I’m glad to hear it – and commiserations on the nice postman. Talking of killing your darlings (ouch), can I ask how you found find your first experience of the editing process? Was it what you had expected? Do you feel it has changed you as a writer?
Mind-blowing! No! Yes! Janet and I began the process of editing Ghostbird after one of Honno’s invaluable ‘Meet the Editor’ events, before the book was accepted for publication. She liked my story enough to take me under her wing. Initially, I was simply stunned by how insightful she was. Her generous comments were often tagged with a firm ‘but.’ As we progressed it quickly became a tick-box exercise, because everything she said was right and made sense. I did my homework, redrafting until it was time for the ‘big girl’ editing and where the real work began.
Oh, yes, I can identify with that, having been through the same process with our mutual editor, the wonderful Janet Thomas. That is so true!
Although I often found it overwhelming, it was another part of the process and an exciting learning curve. Close, line editing is about letting go – negotiating cuts and changes in creative content that on the face of it can break a writer’s heart. Once I read the final result however, I was blown away. That was another lesson: a book is only as good as its editor. If you are fortunate enough to work with the best, your heart won’t break, it will burst with joy! (Copy edits are another thing altogether, Juliet and frankly, terrifying. Who knew there was so much red ink in the world?)
Copy edits … (hives off into a corner, traumatised).
Being published validated me. In a way it gave me permission to write with a bit more confidence. Writing my second book took me a lot less time. Having been well edited once facilitated the process. I had more tools at my disposal and hopefully, I’ve made fewer errors.
Yes, I agree. I think that’s hard to see, the first time you experience a good editing process that it is a learning process, and nothing will be quite as hard again. I’m glad you found it like that, too – and I’m already looking forward to your next book!
You are very active on social media, is that something that came naturally? Do you have any advice for anyone starting out?
My feeling is, so long as I play nicely and mostly stay away from politics, social media is a useful tool. I ignore the stupid and embrace the positive. Facebook and Twitter have been the making of me as a writer. I’ve met some amazing and genuinely supportive people who have had a massive impact on my book’s small success.
I don’t give advice as such. Watch how the big name writers you admire do it. Be wise with your words. Be kind – and reciprocate the kindness of others.
Can I ask what are you working on now?
My second book – another ghost story – is currently with my editor. I’m now working on my third. Stories know if what we’ve written is the right one. With a bit of distance I’ve been able to work out what this one is really about.
And finally – congratulations for being nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize. How did it feel when you found out?
Thank you very much, Juliet. Like I was dreaming?! I’ve heard of the ‘Not the Booker’ of course but it wasn’t on my radar. I operate at a very low-key level with regard to accolades. Inside, I’m fluttering and obviously appreciative but because I’m genuinely happy to have been published at all, things like this feel as if they’re happening to someone else.
To be nominated by a reviewer and blogger of Anne Williams’ calibre, is an honour. She reads enormous numbers of books, many of them wildly successful. That she picked Ghostbird is what means so much to me. Anne’s support for my book is an on-going blessing. I’m up against stiff competition and unlikely to make the long list but that’s not the point – I’ve been nominated and it’s enough. (I did eat lemon meringue ice-cream with my daughter to celebrate!)
That sounds like the best celebration to me! Thank you, Carol for answering my questions and for the lovely photos – and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Tenby Book Fair this September.
You can buy Ghostbird from Honno HERE,
Amazon UK HERE
and Amazon US HERE
Somebody needs to be forgiven, somebody needs to forgive …
Nothing hurts like not knowing who you are.
‘Carol Lovekin’s prose is full of beautifully strange poetry.’ Rebecca Mascull, author of The Visitors and Song of the Sea Maid.
Nobody will tell Cadi anything about her father and her sister. In a world of hauntings and magic, in a village where it rains throughout August, as Cadi starts on her search, the secrets and the ghosts begin to wake up.
None of the Hopkins women will be able to escape them. Her mother Violet believes she can only cope with the past by never talking about it. Lili, Cadi’s aunt, is stuck in the middle, bound by a promise she shouldn’t have made.
But this summer, Cadi is determined to find out the truth.