Monday, 21 March 2011

Interview with an Author: ROSALIE WARREN

* Hi Rosalie and welcome to tall tales & short stories. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi Tracy and thanks for inviting me to your blog.
I’m an author with two books for adults published so far – Charity’s Child and Low Tide, Lunan Bay.  

Coping with Chloe is my first book for younger people – due out on March 21st and aimed at the younger end of the YA market (11+, very roughly speaking).

I grew up in West Yorkshire, lived in Edinburgh for twenty years and now live in Coventry. I used to be a university lecturer and researcher in cognitive science. I have two grown-up children and I have wanted to write all my life. I made sporadic attempts at it when I was younger but finally got down to doing it seriously when I took early retirement in 2006.


Anna and Chloe are twins. They share everything – from secrets to clothes; from fending off the school bully to dealing with their parents’ separation. Even Chloe’s terrible accident hasn’t split them apart. After all, twins have a special bond....

But Anna is beginning to realise that being inseparable isn’t always easy. Especially when no one else seems to understand that Chloe isn’t really gone; no one apart from the dashing Joe that is, who, inconveniently, seems to like both sisters.

Told through the eyes and mind of 12 year-old Anna, this is a powerful novel exploring teenage life and the grieving process.


* What inspired you to write Coping with Chloe?

I’m really not quite sure. The trigger was that I was going to the Winchester Writers’ Conference and I wanted to enter some of their competitions. I can't remember why, but I decided to have a go at one which asked for the first 500 words and synopsis of a children’s novel. As I jotted down ideas, the voice of Anna (the heroine of ‘Coping with Chloe’) came into my head and started telling me about her twin sister, Chloe. All I could do was write down what she said. I know this probably sounds fanciful, but it really did feel like that. I had no idea, when I started, what the plot was going to be.

* Without giving away any spoilers, I love the ambiguity of the story and how so much is open to interpretation. Was this a deliberate idea right from the outset or was it something that developed as the story progressed?

Something that developed, very much so, as the writing went on. I had no idea, when I started, what was going on.

*You have an MSc in Artifical Intelligence and a PhD in Cognitive Science. I find this absolutely fascinating, I wondered if you could tell us a little about it?

Artificial Intelligence may sound weird and futuristic, especially if you've seen the film ‘AI’, but in fact it’s the study of thinking, reasoning and communication, and how it may be possible to develop computers capable of doing – to some extent – these things. I found I was much more interested in the way people think and communicate than in the computer and programming side. But trying to write a computer program that can process human language soon makes you realise just how complex and fascinating language is – and how amazingly clever our brains are. I love language and soon became immersed in the meanings of words and phrases and how they depend on context and, especially, on how we speak about time. When I worked at Birmingham University I was part of a group that did research into metaphors and how they work.

* Coping with Chloe deals imaginatively yet sensitively with themes of grief, loss, and depression. How much did the qualifications mentioned above help, and influence, the book?

I think my own personal experiences – of bereavement and depression, for example – were a much stronger influence than my research work. But I’m fascinated by the human brain, how it works and what can go wrong. I love reading about developments in neuroscience and I’m sure some of the inspiration for ‘Chloe’ came from there.

* As mentioned above, Coping with Chloe, deals with several difficult issues. How important do you think it is for children to read books that deal with issues such as bereavement, broken homes etc? Do you think it helps the reader know that they’re not alone, perhaps even empowers them in living their own lives?

I think it can help enormously if children read about other people who experience similar problems to themselves. I so much wish that some of the issue-based books available today had been around when I was young. If any of my writing were to help a child to realise they are not alone and to cope a bit better, I’d be delighted. But I think it's very important that these things are handled with a light touch and, where appropriate, with humour. Children always know if they are being lectured to, and will soon close the book.

* Coping with Chloe is told in first-person from twelve-year-old Anna. Did you use memories of how you were at that age or did you get feedback from girls of Anna’s age to get her ‘voice’ as authentic as possible?

It’s difficult to be sure, as Anna’s voice seemed to come ready-made, though I did work hard on trying to get the language right. I think I probably based her voice partly on my own children when they were young, and partly on myself. I didn't deliberately go out and look for feedback from people of that age. Or not till much later.

* How long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?

June 2008 when I started, February 2010 when the contract was signed.
Lots of sweat and tears in between.

* Rewrites and Revisions: How much did you have to do throughout the writing of Coping with Chloe?

A lot! I wrote the first draft in about 2 months, but it took a lot longer to get it into a form where anyone else could read it. I revised it at least twice, then started sending it out.

I got the usual rejections, though a few of them said they liked the idea and the voice. That encouraged me to revise it further and I sent it to Cornerstones for an appraisal. They were encouraging and gave me lots of great advice.

I rewrote it yet again and started another round of submissions. I was delighted when on Christmas Eve 2009, Emma Langley of Phoenix Yard Books said she liked it and would like to see the full ms.

* During the editing process what would you say are the most important things you’ve learned and that all aspiring writers should aim for?

Never underestimate the amount of revision that’s needed, to go from first draft to something worth submitting. For most of us – it's a lot.

But also – don't put your editor’s hat on too soon. In the early drafts, your imagination should be in control. Don't worry at this stage what anyone will think. There’ll be plenty of time to revise and rewrite later.

* Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?

They more or less happen on the page, as I write the first draft – sometimes the second draft as well. Once these are done, I try to write a long synopsis, just for myself, so I have some idea where the plot is going. Then I rewrite the book again, roughly according to the plan, though I often make more changes as I go.

* How long have you been pursuing your writing ambitions and what have you done along the way to improve your writing? Have you had to deal with rejection along the way?

I always wanted to be a writer, from the age of about four. I wrote a novel when I was fifteen and another in my twenties.

When I left work in 2006 and took up writing seriously, I enrolled for a writing course at Coventry University. This was tremendously helpful and I made several good writing friends. I also joined a couple of online writers’ groups and a local writers’ group, all of which have been very supportive.

I entered competitions and was fortunate to be placed in a science fiction challenge run by Kay Green of Earlyworks Press. This led to the publication of my first novel, ‘Charity’s Child’, by Circaidy Gregory Press, also run by Kay Green.

Rejection – of course! I have an enormous box of rejection letters – and they are just the ones I didn't tear up or burn. But every now and then I got a bit of encouragement and that was enough to keep me going. Also, I think it helps that I was in the academic world for a long time, and had plenty of experience in getting grant proposals and journal articles turned down and criticised. So I should be thick-skinned by now...

* You’ve written adult novels in the past, so what made you decide to write for children? Is it a genre you enjoy reading? Was Coping with Chloe your first attempt at writing a children’s novel?

I’ve always loved children’s books and still regularly read some of my old favourites, including Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ books and Tove Jansson’s ‘Moomins’. When my children were growing up I discovered the US writer Beverly Cleary and her wonderful ‘Ramona’ series. Later I came across Jacqueline Wilson, and wished so much she had been writing when I was young. I suppose I was inspired by all of these, though I’d give anything to be a tenth as good as them.

Yes, ‘Chloe’ was my first attempt at a children’s novel. As an adult, I mean... As a child I wrote plenty of stories, mostly unfinished, about fairies, ponies and boarding schools.

* What do you think are the major differences or things to consider, if any, when writing for children as opposed to writing for adults?

I don't think it's so very different. Practical things like the length, complexity of plot and language need to be addressed, though I don't remember sitting down and thinking them through. You have to consider what is suitable for the age-group and whether the dialogue is right. It has to sound authentic without overdoing the latest words and expressions, which will soon date and can sound very forced.

* Which authors/stories did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager? How do you think they compare to the children’s/YA novels available today? What do you think children of today want to read?

See above... I loved Enid Blyton, too, though remember being aware of how the worlds she described were so different from mine. I think children today have much more choice – there’s such a variety of children’s/YA books available. But I think you can worry too much about giving them what they want. You have to start from something that interests you – something you want to read (write) and go on from there. If it’s a good story, some will like it, some won't, and that’s the best you can hope for. What publishers want is a different matter...

* What’s next for Rosalie Warren?

I’m working on two further books about Anna, following on from ‘Coping with Chloe’. I’ve also written a story about a girl called Mollie who happens to be a non-speaker. It’s called ‘The Mollie Awards’ and I’m hoping it will come out before too long.

I’m working on further novels for adults, too – a possible sequel to ‘Charity’s Child’ and a science fiction novel set in 2031 and 2222, which will take up my interest in AI and robotics and may well be ‘experimental’ in structure. And I have a novella called ‘Mondays with Marguerite’, told from the point of view of a woman with Alzheimer’s. It’s looking for a home – novellas are notoriously difficult to place.

I’m also hoping to write more books about children and young people with various kinds of disabilities.

* Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?

Read as much as you possibly can.
Write as much as you possibly can.
Write primarily for yourself – the books you want to read, either the adult you or the child inside.
Be prepared to do tons of editing, but don’t start it too soon. Listen to advice and decide which of it makes sense for you.
Believe in yourself and the stories you want to tell.
Keep a sense of humour and find yourself a good support network of other writers – no one who doesn't write can ever really understand.

* Any other comments/observations/general mind-blowing information you’d like to add?

Erm... no I think you’ve pretty much covered all I have to say. Just to say a big thanks again for interviewing me on your wonderful blog. I feel honoured when I see some of the other writers who’ve appeared on here.

 Emma Langley, Commissioning Editor of Phoenix Yard Books explains why Coping with Chloe grabbed her attention: 

Coping With Chloe was a manuscript that came out of the brown envelope and never went back in. The two main factors that gripped me in the opening lines were the unusual premise and the voice. There are other teen novels tackling both bereavement and twins, but none combining the two. The voice of 12-year-old Anna was brilliant - compelling as she is convincing, making the impossible totally plausible. And twin drama aside, I knew that Anna’s take on life as a young teen girl was perfectly pitched and would resonate with a lot of readers. I think that’s the bottom line in a publisher’s commissioning choices. Yes, the book ticks all the boxes of characterisation, plot and pace, but we published Coping With Chloe because we knew this book had a lot of readers.

Coping With Chloe was a delightfully challenging book to edit. It’s a novel about sharing a body which is actually more about the human mind – the mind of the narrator and the mind of the reader – and how and why we choose to interpret situations and experiences. Whether or not Chloe really is sharing Anna’s body, that’s up to the reader. The aim when writing and editing the book was that Anna and Chloe’s predicament could always read more than one way. In some ways, I think the paranormal/supernatural interpretation is easier for some people to deal with. The other interpretation involves facing difficult issues, issues that needed to be tackled sensitively and responsibly. We consulted a bereavement counsellor and a child psychiatrist on particular scenes in the book, and rewrote according. But I do hope it’s not too much of sad story. There is a resolution and a happier ending, honestly.

Coping with Chloe ~ a tall tales & short stories review

Coping with Chloe is a sensitive, touching, sometimes humorous portrayal of how grief and bereavement affect people differently but it's also surprisingly intriguing and this, for me, is its greatest strength. I love the ambiguity of the story, the fact that the reader can interpret Anna's experiences in different and personal ways.

Told in first-person, by 12-year-old Anna, we immediately see the world through Anna's eyes and she brings a certain sense of innocence but also insight into the way we, the reader, perceive the things happening around her. Parents may not always realise just how much younger children are aware of especially when coping with loss, or family break-down, and there's a particularly poignant scene with Anna and her dad when they go shopping for a birthday present which deftly captures the conflict inside a child - to speak or not to speak their mind.

I think Rosalie succeeds in capturing Anna's voice really well and she and her parents come across as fully-formed characters.  Interwoven within Anna's story is a sub-plot about her friend Joe, which I felt was a little rushed and could have been developed more, but nevertheless added another level. These strengths helped outweigh the slight isssue I had with the character in the park who seemed very stereotyped and the conclusion of Joe's problems but they certainly don't detract from the book in any way.

For a touching story about loss and real-life issues, told with a light, yet realistic touch, I thoroughly recommend this book but if, like me, you particularly enjoy original, quirky stories that ask questions and are open to interpretation and make you wonder... well, I highly-recommend this book.


Rosalie Warren's published adult books:
Charity's Child
Low Tide, Lunan Bay

COMING SOON to tall tales & short stories: 
An Interview with Phoenix Yard Books' Commissioning Editor, 
Emma Langley


CekaTB said...

Thank you for this, Tracy. I read Chloe and absolutely loved it. It's been a real treat to watch this novel's progress via an online writing site and I'm delighted for RW that hard work and dreams do sometimes come to fruition

Anthony Cowin said...

Great interview Tracy. It's so refreshing to hear a writer with so many ideas and projects in mind. Coping With Chloe sound like a brilliant idea and I wish Rosalie all the best of luck with it and the sequels to follow.

I'm really intrigued by the concept of the sci-fi novel too especially the mention of the experimental structure. Looks like a busy time ahead for a writer who deserves the recognition.

Thanks, Tony.

Nick Cross said...

Thanks for the interview, Rosalie and Tracy. It's fascinating to hear about a book dealing with realistic issues that can also be seen as fantastical - and a perfect vehicle to explore the duality of twins and of the human psyche.

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