Today I’m pleased to welcome Rosy Thornton to the blog. Rosy is the author of The Tapestry of Love, More Than Love Letters, Ninepins and Hearts and Minds and her latest book, a collection of short stories entitled Sandlands, is published by Sandstone Press on 21 July 2016.
Rosy kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Sandlands.
Sandlands (due for release by Sandstone Press on 21st July) is my first venture into short story-writing, after publishing five novels. The stories which make up the collection are all set in and around the same small village in coastal Suffolk, and share many common themes as well as one or two minor characters: the natural world, wildlife and the relationship of people to their landscape, and also how the past can make itself felt in the present in various unexpected ways. Some of the stories are ghostly or magical; some are poignant and sad; one or two are (I hope!) funny.
2. Where did the inspiration come from for the short story collection?
That’s an easy one! I was brought up in Suffolk but have lived for the whole of my working life over in Cambridge, where I am a university lecturer in law. Then, four years ago, I moved back to my home county (at least whenever I’m not required to be in Cambridge to teach!), in the village of Blaxhall where my stories are set. Maybe I’m biased, but I find it a uniquely beautiful place, with its rich farmland and water meadows, ancient forests and open heaths, its salt marshes, dunes and shingle beaches. There is also something haunting about a landscape so apparently timeless, where the sense of history – of past generations of feet walking the same lanes and pathways – is constantly present. And I hope I have captured some part of that atmosphere in the book.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I never plan at all – not even with longer fiction. But the particular joy of a short story is that it needs no grand, complex structure, with story arcs and character arcs and carefully woven sub-plots and the rest. One key idea (a thought, a mood, a memory; some small paradox, perhaps, or a strange juxtaposition), a weekend at the laptop and you have your story all complete, at least in first draft form.
4. You have written both short stories and full length novels. What do you think are the benefits to both formats? Do you think that writing compelling prose that is tempered with brevity in short stories helps with writing novels?
Benefits for the reader, I assume you mean? Well, the joys of sustained immersion in a created world, of engagement with a set of characters over the course of a hundred thousand word novel are unmatched, I think. But short stories have their own special pleasure, and for me it often lies not so much as what is said as what is not: the white space necessarily left around the text in terms of both back story and what-happens-next, the loose ends left untied, the implications suggested but unexplored. I think a good short story can give the reader’s imagination enormous scope to roam.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Writing stories is what I do to relax, and escape the rigours of my day job as an academic lawyer. Research and legal writing are a big part of my job – articles and casenotes for the legal journals, the occasional monograph – so I had spent twenty years writing and publishing before I even thought about turning my hand to fiction. When I did, it was a revelation: no double-checking of every fact, no need to cite authority for every proposition, no footnotes! Suddenly, I was allowed to make stuff up – and it was gloriously liberating.
But I also enjoy long walks in the Suffolk countryside with my two crazy spaniels, Snuffy and Ted – often writing scenes in my head as I go!
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Hmm, tricky one. I’d say my favourite book (in common with many others) is probably Pride and Prejudice, or perhaps Persuasion. But they are both short, and I know great swathes of them by heart in any case, so that would be a waste. I think I’d have to go for something weightier… so I’ll say Middlemarch, which I already love but I know would yield even more to enjoy on repeated re-readings.
7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all of the Q&As you have taken part in what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Because Sandlands is set in a real village – and, what’s more, the village where I live – I wish someone would ask me, ‘Are any of the characters in the stories based on anyone you know?’ So that I can reply, most emphatically, ‘No!’ I live in terror that my neighbours will imagine themselves to be portrayed in the book and take mortal offence. But honestly, folks, it’s just fiction – I mean nothing by it, I made it all up!
Rather more seriously, it does concern me that it might seem fearfully presumptuous, having lived in a village for five minutes, to write a book as if you own the place. That is really not my intention. I make no claims to any special understanding – I am still very much a newbie, skating the surface of what there is to know about the area. Everyone’s experience of a place, I always think, is different. And all I aim to do in Sandlands is to share my personal version of Blaxhall, based on my own relationship with the village and its very special landscape.
Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.
Thank you very much for inviting me along, Janet!
About the book:
“From the white doe appearing through the dark wood to the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud as a poignant symbol of happier times, the creatures of the Suffolk landscape move through Rosy Thornton’s delicate and magical collection of stories. The enigmatic Mr Napish is feeding a fox rescued from the floods; an owl has been guarding a cache of long-lost letters; a nightingale’s song echoes the sound of a loved voice; in a Martello tower on a deserted shore Dr Whybrow listens to ghostly whispers. Through the landscape and its creatures, the past is linked to the present, and generations of lives are intertwined.”