Happy Wednesday!! A late post from me today after a manic day at work!! But I’m delighted to welcome Stephanie Bretherton to Meet the Author. She’s talking to us about her debut novel, Bone Lines, being inspired by her Mother, doing some serious forward time travelling and bumping into people in unexpected places…..
Speculative Fiction (crossing over from hist-fic to sci-fi and lit-fic to cli-fi!)
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I was born in Hong Kong and then spent some formative years in Southport, Bristol and the West Indies. I’m hugely grateful for all those experiences, but they did give me a bad case of itchy feet! I have since lived in many different places. I now split my life between London, Exeter and Cornwall (with a yearly visit to family in Sydney) so remain something of a nomad, but as long as I can get to a coastline before too long, I’m happy.
I have always worked with words in one form or another, be that ‘storytelling’ or ‘communications’ but publishing my debut novel came later in life. I started my own PR company 20 years ago, so I write for a living, but also in that time I’ve kept the purely creative juices flowing by dabbling in poetry and writing a couple of novels. My first attempt received some encouraging rejections, but, ultimately, I’m glad it wasn’t published because it was trying to hard to be ‘commercial’ and I don’t think it truly reflected me, whereas my debut, Bone Lines, which came out in September is the book that I most wanted and needed to write.
What inspired you to start writing?
My mother always loved reading and telling a good story (or a racy joke!) and she was a great letter writer, so I think that’s what first nurtured my love of words, but it was probably the first A+ I achieved for a school composition that gave me the buzz that’s never gone away.
I think the compulsion to write is about needing to capture certain thoughts and feelings, or wanting to explore the human condition, or celebrate the beauty of our world, or find a way to make sense of its madness? Most humans have a need to express themselves one way or another, I suppose we gravitate to the method that suits our skills and personalities best?
How many books have you written and published?
As mentioned, my only published novel is Bone Lines, which came out in September last year, and which has exceeded my (very modest and managed) expectations for debut fiction from an unknown author and an indie press. It was briefly a Kindle bestseller in its categories in January and has garnered some lovely reviews and reactions, plus it’s allowed me to call myself an ‘author’ (a lifelong ambition) and to take part in some inspiring events at bookshops and festivals. I’ve also had a short story called Human Error published in a literary magazine and I am now giving that away for free here for sign ups to my newsletter. I’ll also be holding a draw for all subscribers on the book’s birthday (19/09/19) with 3 signed paperbacks up for grabs, plus one special extra prize.
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
Well, of course, it has to be Bone Lines– and it probably always will be, though I do hope to keep growing as a writer. But I put eight years of love, sweat and lost weekends into that book and for all its (hopefully forgivable) ‘debut’ flaws, I think it will always give me a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement.
How do you choose the names of your characters?
That’s a very interesting question! I think sometimes they arrive naturally as you visualise a character and a name seems to wrap around them like a cloak. At other times you might be looking for something that subtly reflects who they are, or where they are from, or you need to give that name a particular meaning or significance.
For example, although she is nameless within her own narrative my prehistoric character in Bone Linesneeded to be assigned a name by the team of scientists studying her remains in the book’s present-day narrative.
Her bones are found in Kenya and, when I began writing Bone Lines, Barack Obama had just become President and I knew his paternal grandmother was from Kenya, so I googled her name which tunred out to be Sarah. That seemed rather appropriate, as it also has a kind of ancient and ‘biblical’ feel to it and the character is meant to be one of our earliest ancestors.
Which of your characters would you want to be stranded on an island with, and why?
Oh that’s easy – definitely ‘Sarah’, my prehistoric heroine, as she has some mad survival skills! The heart of her narrative is how she manages to stay alive, on her own, on a marathon journey of migration away from a natural disaster and towards an intuition of sanctuary. She would definitely be my desert island diva – though I’m not sure how much use I would be to her? Other than looking out for the ‘great-birds’ in the sky that might rescue us and writing ‘SOS’ in the sand!
Who is your favourite author and which of their books is your favourite, and why?
That’s a really tough question! I don’t think I have just one favourite but I am a big fan of Margaret Atwood, and of her books, The Blind Assassin is my favourite. But I’ve also read and loved many books by John Irving, Annie Proulx and Kate Atkinson – and for a dip into the darker heart, Cormac McCarthy. I think The Roadis a literary masterpiece. But my first favourite author was Jean Plaidy. I consumed all her historical novels as teenager. Then the books that most shook my world when I moved on from Jean Plaidy were Wuthering Heights, The Power and The Glory, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Perfume and the Dune series.
What is the first thing you can remember writing?
Well, I’ve mentioned the junior school essay (which was about my dog, a rescue from the back of restaurant in Hong Kong!) but before that probably I would have scribbled a paragraph to my grandmother in Liverpool at the end of one of my mother’s letters to her from Hong Kong. Most likely something about swimming. You couldn’t keep me out of the water as a kid.
What other jobs have you done other than being an author?
I’ve done many jobs from waitressing through university to working on charter yachts in the West Indies during my holidays from college and from reading the weather report on Hong Kong television to editing a ‘culture’ magazine and from a brief stint on screen at HTV Bristol to running my own PR company.
If you could get in a time machine and had one chance to travel, where would you go? (Backwards or forwards!)
Much as I love history and how great it would be to get some answers to some particular questions, I do love sci-fi and very much want to know what’s ‘out there’ – so it would have to be forward to a time when I could undertake some serious space travel!
If you could have one conversation with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Probably one of the great scientists or philosophers or spiritual teachers, as I do have a lot of questions about what makes us who we are and how we live our best lives. So anyone from Lao Tzu or the Buddha to that lovely carpenter fellow, or from Alan Watts to Carl Jung or Einstein – although now I think about it, it would have to be Charles Darwin, to whom my genetic scientist character in the modern day narrative of Bone Lineswrites letters as a form of working out what she is thinking and feeling.
What are your favourite things to do?
Walking on a coastal cliff or a beach, meditating, or chilling out around nature and trees, watching sunsets, spending time with my partner, the occasional trip to the theatre of an art gallery, watching a brilliant movie or escapist box set on a wintry eve, and of course reading – and writing!
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
I have this odd habit of bumping into people in unexpected places. I ran into one of my (now) best friends when we were just getting to know each other at university and had no idea of each other’s summer plans – then we found ourselves randomly walking down the same street in Manhattan at the same time! Then another university friend chased after me on a street in Hong Kong while she was stopping over during a yacht delivery from South Korea to Bali – and after an impromptu dinner, I ended up packing in my job, hopping on board and going with her! There have been many similar coincidences and encounters.
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
Don’t give up hope, don’t get distracted, don’t think you don’t have any ideas, or that you’re not good enough to publish – you only get better at writing by writing and you have to turn the tap on for the creativity to flow. And it’s not all about getting published, writing is hard work with no guarantees so make sure your heart is in whatever you are writing.
But also, don’t be put off by the first 1, 2 or 20 rejections. There is luck, yes, and if a chance comes your way then grab it, but there’s also patience and persistence. Don’t let the naysayers or the gatekeepers discourage you from doing what you love. But do your research, manage your expectations and work with and listen to professionals, especially editors, though do keep trying to find the people who really get you and what you’re trying to do!
Name one book you think everyone should read?!
I don’t think there are any ‘shoulds’ when it comes to reading. Read what inspires you and fires your imagination, stirs your soul, feeds your curiosity, challenges your preconceptions or perceptions, soothes, moves or entertains you. And you’ll only find out what that is by trial and error. I have a reading list of stratospheric proportions, but I try not to let it bully me – I tend to read the book that, for whatever reason, comes into my hands at the right time.
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
A young woman walks alone through a barren landscape in a time before history, a time of cataclysmic natural change. She is cold, hungry and with child but not without hope or resources. A skilful hunter, she draws on her intuitive understanding of how to stay alive… and knows that she must survive.
In present-day London, geneticist Dr Eloise Kluft wrestles with an ancient conundrum as she unravels the secrets of a momentous archaeological find. She is working at the forefront of contemporary science but is caught in the lonely time-lock of her own emotional past.
Bone Lines is the story of two women, separated by millennia yet bound by the web of life. A tale of love and survival – of courage and the quest for wisdom – it explores the nature of our species and asks what lies at the heart of being human.
Although partly set during a crucial era of human history 74,000 years ago, Bone Lines is very much a book for our times. Dealing with themes from genetics, climate change and migration to the yearning for meaning and the clash between faith and reason, it also paints an intimate portrait of two extraordinary characters. The book tackles some of the big questions but requires no prior or special knowledge of any of the subjects to enjoy.
Bone Lines stands alone as a novel but also marks the beginning of the Children of Sarah series.
Where to buy: Amazon UK or Waterstones online, Hive.co.uk or order from your favourite bookshop!
Thanks so much Stephanie for this brilliant interview! I love hearing more and learning about authors, and your debut novel sounds fab! I’m excited for you that it’s the start of a series too. Your advice to your younger self, I’m sure will inspire many new/aspiring writers too!
Any questions for Stephanie, then drop her a line and make sure you subscribe to her website to keep up to date with news and giveaways!
Have a wonderful evening my lovelies