Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sarah Bryant - guest blogger of the month

We're delighted to welcome Sarah Bryant to the blog. Sarah's latest novel, The Other Eden, is an atmospheric, page turning Gothic novel. Here she talks about how she came to write it.

"Ask me to explain why I wrote my other books, and I’d be able to give logical answers, complete with socio-political commentary and all those things that make writers in interviews sound erudite (or at least like they’re in control of their work!) But ‘The Other Eden’ is different. I suspect that’s because I’ve been writing it since I was eleven years old.

Back then, writing wasn’t a vehicle for a message, or even a particularly conscious effort. It was mostly a way to explain things to myself, also a place to put the things that didn’t seem to belong anywhere else: images that haunted me, music that moved me, dreams that I couldn’t decipher.

And so ‘Eden’ is part all of those things, but its foundation is no doubt Eleanor’s mansion. It’s a real house, improbable as that may sound. Far from a shadowy Louisiana backwater, it’s situated in a rather prosaic suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. The topiary is there, as is the lake – it’s where I learned to swim. As a child, that house and garden fascinated me. I’d met the real owners – a nice, elderly couple, about as mysterious as the local librarian – but I couldn’t help imagining more esoteric inhabitants for their home, ghosts among the weirdly-shaped evergreens, madwomen wandering the weedy paths and surrounding woods.

None of it took shape, however, until the morning I looked up from a canoe floating in the middle of the lake, to be blinded by the sun reflecting off of the windows of a house on the hill on the far shore. It was a dark, late-Victorian glower of a house, all shadows and angles and dark surrounding trees. It quickly grew into an obsession, partly because I had failed to notice it for so many years, primarily because no one seemed to know much about it. So I began writing its story in the back of a school notebook.

I finally finished a coherent draft when I was sixteen. It had the same title, a few of the same characters and themes, but not much else in common with what’s now sitting on the shelf in Waterstone’s. The single publisher I submitted it to had the good sense to reject it. I toyed with re-writes over the next few years, but I didn’t come back to it again in earnest until I was half-way through university, when a flat-mate gave me a recording of Chopin’s G-minor ballade.
I’d heard it – who hasn’t? – but for the first time, I really listened to it. The irresolution of its primary theme reminded me of Eleanor’s search for answers which continually elude her. Once again I found myself thinking about those two brooding mansions of my childhood. I listened to the piece some more, studied the score, read about it. That’s when I learned that Chopin had stories in mind when he wrote the ballades, but that he’d never related or recorded them.

That was ‘Eden’s moment. Each of my books has had one; maybe every writer’s does. It’s a kind of epiphany, when some serendipitous word or image or strain of music or slant of light – it can be anything, really – collides with my mess of ideas, and crystallizes them. In that moment, I know what the book is all about. It’s like I’m looking at the whole of the story as something that already exists – that’s always existed, independently of me – and all that’s left is to write it down.
Did I say ‘all’? The moment is the easy part; the rest is invariably a long haul. With ‘Eden’, it was particularly long. Before Snowbooks made it my second UK publication, I wrote two other books, moved from Boston to Edinburgh, got married and even, briefly, saw ‘Eden’ in print as an e-book (via a major US publisher whose venture into electronic literature flopped spectacularly not long after my book came out).

I don’t know what made me take it up again after that; there just seems to be something about it. ‘Eden’s always in my head, always expanding and evolving. I can’t leave it alone. It can’t leave me alone. Call it mania or nostalgia, as long as it’s there, I’ll be writing about it."

Sarah Bryant, May 2007

Thank you, Sarah, that was fascinating.

The Other Eden is available from bookshops in the UK and online from Amazon by clicking here

Sarah's previous novel, Sand Daughter, is also available.

"This is an epic filled with emotion and rich with atmosphere" - Historical Novel Society

You can find it in UK bookshops or on Amazon by clicking here

To find out more about these and other similar books from Snowbooks, visit the Snowbooks website by clicking here


Anonymous said...

Greetings, Sarah, from a fellow 'snowflake'. Fascinating interview which I really related to as the book I'm now working on began 9mercifully unrecognisably!) when I was about 14 or 15.
Sarah Bower

Caffey said...

Gothic! Love them. Really a joy to meet you and read about your book! So this one is available in US?