In the spirit of the three novels, soon to be four, published by our Author of the Month, I decided to go through a couple of rituals before sitting down to write the questions for the interview with the kind Vanessa Greene.
I started by brewing some tea, loose leaf. Instead of going for the usual mug, I chose to go with a truly vintage cup given to me by my grandmother (it belonged to my great-great-great-[…]-grandmother). Then I found myself looking at plane tickets to Greece (already bought quite a few to England this year), you know, to get even more in the mood, but alas, my tea leaves advised me not to. It’s my newest hobby, reading tea leaves, and I take Aunty Flo’s interpretation dictionary very seriously (how appropriate is the name though?!). Anyway…
Without further ado, here is the interview with the wonderful Vanessa Greene. Enjoy!
Infusões d’Alma (I): After being a book editor for nearly eight years, what exactly inspired you to write your own?
Vanessa Greene (V): I was ready for a change. I’d read and enjoyed a lot of stories in those years working in publishing, and every manuscript taught me something about storytelling. I’d just turned thirty, and I suppose that was a nudge for me to revisit my childhood dreams and put pen to paper myself. I went out to Argentina, and Buenos Aires proved to be the perfect place to get creative – it’s a place full of writers, where suddenly anything’s possible.
I: What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your novels?
V: That you only have limited control over what happens in the story. If you spend long enough getting to know the characters, they pretty much do what they please.
I: You tweeted a while back that you were writing your first strand from a male point of view. How was that experience?
V: I loved it. My new novel, The Little Pieces of You and Me, is led by two female characters, but we also get an insight into one a man who becomes very important to one of them. Stepping into his point of view was the only way I could really explore the mysteries of his present and past. It was a good challenge and hopefully I’ve pulled it off!
I: There’s a certain feeling of safety in your first two novels. In the third one though, the walls are literally falling apart. Even though it was difficult to get them back up, in the end they didn’t just settle down inside. Do you feel more daring as a writer now?
V: This is a really interesting question. Yes – with The Beachside Guesthouse I took Iona and the other women into some challenging and quite dark places, and in The Little Pieces of You and Me I do the same. It felt like a natural progression to deal with more complex themes, and thankfully readers have responded positively to the change. I feel both books have been less ‘safe’ for me as a writer, too – I’ve got closer to my own personal experiences – good and bad – and trusted in the process more, really writing from the heart. I cried a lot writing both, which I think is generally a good thing!
However, I think safety is something that will always have a place in my novels. The heroines might end up in unexpected, sometimes unsettling places – but they will always have that feeling of safety and security that true friendship brings.
I want readers to feel that they are in safe hands when they read my books, and to give them an escape from real life, but with characters who are real, and who they can connect with. We all watch the news, and hear things about the world that can be very distressing – we pick up a novel looking for something different.
I hope that my books show that even in an unpredictable world there are still plenty of ways to create a good life – that happiness is often about the small things, cultivating your friendships, being part of a community, finding the right relationships and engaging with creativity.
I: I like how it feels like we are growing with your characters, even if they are not the same. At first we were strangers meeting over a tea set, then we were out exploring tea rooms and attending weddings in France, and in The Beachside Guest House we are old friends coming back together. Where are we headed next?
V: My new novel, The Little Pieces of You and Me, is about a young woman, Isla, whose life changes in the space of a day. She’s always had a list of goals, and presumed she’d achieve them all – but then that certainty is taken away from her in an instant. Her best friend, Sophie, steps in to help her see she’s still the strong, capable woman she always was – and together they work through Isla’s list and find ways to do all the things she’s dreamed of. Along the way, Sophie’s life also changes in ways she could never have expected.
I: Your books are on my best friends shelf. Which ones are on yours?
V: I really like the idea of a best friends’ shelf. I have some beautiful hardback editions of Virago Modern Classics on mine. My first job was at Virago, as an editorial assistant, and I have very happy memories of getting to know the wonderful female authors on that list, like Zora Neale Hurston and Angela Carter.
I: Were you to share a tea set with two of your favourite characters, which ones would you choose?
V: I think I’d choose Iona and Rosa from The Beachside Guesthouse, and Isla and Sophie from my new book. These are the women who have a lot more to say about their future and I’d love to hear about their plans.
I: I know it’s definitely way too early to talk about retiring (I still have a lot of space on my shelves), but would you consider opening a beachside guest house? I would be totally in.
V: I’d love to do this! Right now I’m very settled and happy in north London, where I grew up. But I’m something of a nomad at heart – I’ve lived in various places in Latin America and being part of a different culture, and bringing something to it, is a great buzz – even better in good company. Let’s pencil it in for forty years’ time.
I: Thank you so much. I really can’t wait to read your next book!
V: Thank you for having me 🙂