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INTERVIEW: Jaclyn Moriarty, author of 'A Corner of White'

Friday, November 16, 2012

I absolutely loved Jaclyn Moriarty's new book, 'A Corner of White' and so, as always, I wanted to know more about it. 

Jaci kindly agreed to do an interview with me. Here are her answers:

Are you a daydreamer too?

I daydream so much that I am always either lost or bumping into something. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
From the age of six. 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Perth, WA, but my family moved back to Sydney when I was two so I grew up here.  I’ve lived in the US, England and Canada, and now I’m back in Sydney.  I like to see the ocean from a window, read all night, eat pancakes in my pyjamas, bake chocolate cakes, skate on frozen lakes, talk all night, and dance in the living room with my six-year-old, Charlie.  (I only really like that last one for the first few minutes: after that, Charlie changes the music, or makes me pick him up and spin him around which hurts my back, or tries to switch things to a game of musical bumps, which I have to say is not a game I enjoy.) 

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for 'A Corner of White' ?
A friend gave me the nickname The Princess KuKu Nightie.  I decided I wanted to write a story about that princess.  Years later, I drew pictures of a kingdom called Cello, where the princess could live.  The princess herself ended up on the cutting room floor, and luckily, so did the nickname. 

Tell me about how you came to use colours as a key part of the book?
I was working in a café one day when a friend stopped by.  I told him I was writing about the Kingdom of Cello. ‘Okay, so what are your monsters?’ he said. ‘You can’t have a Kingdom without monsters.’  (He’s a filmmaker and had just made a horror movie.) I always used coloured textas and pencils when I’m working so these were scattered over the table.  The monsters are colours, I said.  

Did colours come first, or Newton?
After I’d decided to make colours into monsters, I read about the science of colour and light.  That led me to Isaac Newton, and the story of him buying a glass prism at a marketplace and using it to split a beam of sunlight into colour.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Well, I’d already decided to set the book in Cambridge, England, and particularly in Trinity College, Cambridge.  When I got interested in Isaac Newton I discovered he’d been at Trinity, Cambridge.  I chose some other random famous people who’d also been at Trinity, and unexpected connections started emerging between them.   

How extensively do you plan your novels?
For my first novel, 'Feeling Sorry for Celia', I had a one-page plan and did no research at all, except to check some facts along the way.  For this book I had a 150-page plan and 30 folders of research material.
Sometimes I miss writing the old way, and when I finish this trilogy I want to write an entire novel without a word of planning. 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not so much dreams as not-quite-sleeping.  Ideas come to me when I’m falling toward sleep, or listening to music.  The whole plot of 'Finding Cassie Crazy' came to me while I was half-asleep and listening to a Placebo album. 
Oh, wait.  I just remembered that I dreamed about the essence of sadness the other night.  I used that in a description of my character’s bad day.   

Where do you write, and when?
After I take Charlie to school I walk to a local café and write ideas or plot chapters in a notebook for about an hour.  Then I come home and work in my study until it’s time to collect Charlie from school at 2.55 pm.  Most days the writing goes nowhere until 2.50 pm when it finally starts working.   So I get in 5 minutes of writing a day. 

What is your favourite part of writing?
The planning phase, before I start writing, when it feels like it’s perfectly possible that I’m just about to write a masterpiece, and I’m spending whole days in cafes drawing pictures and I can’t believe this is my job.  Also, the final third of the book, after I’ve spent months dragging some huge disaster of a book up the side of a mountain and thinking, I can’t believe this is my job,  and then, finally, it’s sort of coming together and I get to toboggan down the other side.   

What do you do when you get blocked?
Eat too much chocolate.  Run up and down a flight of stairs.  Drink a lot of water.  Cry.   Read poetry. 
How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Reading poetry and science.  Talking to people in unexpected places who do unexpected things. 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I can’t write without having a blue bowl of fruit and chocolate on my desk beside me.  

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Elizabeth McCracken, Lorrie Moore, Lisa Moore, Edith esbit, Diana Wynne-Jones, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Louis Sachar, John Marsden, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, Jane Austen, Carol Shields, Charles Bukowsi, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Rachel Cohn.  I think I stopped counting sorry. 

Diana Wynne Jones, also one of my favourite writers

What do you consider to be good writing?
When the characters keep chatting to me even when I’m not reading the book. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Don’t feel like you have to write a novel right away, and don’t be mad at yourself if your stories keep stalling and you find yourself starting something new.  Write as many quarter stories in as many different genres as you like, until one catches hold of you and makes you want to take it to the end. 

What are you working on now?
The sequel to 'A Corner of White'.  Its working title is 'The Cracks in the Kingdom'. 

If you enjoyed this, check out my interviews with Michael Pryor and Jesse Blackadder

Please leave a comment, I love to know what you think!

BOOK REVIEW: 'A Corner of White' by Jaclyn Moriarty

Monday, November 12, 2012

Title: A Corner of White
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty 
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Age Group & Genre:  YA fantasy/magic realism

The Blurb:
Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England, the World – a city of spires, Isaac Newton and Auntie’s Tea Shop.

Elliot Baranski lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello – where seasons roam, the Butterfly Child sleeps in a glass jar, and bells warn of attacks from dangerous Colours.

They are worlds apart – until a crack opens up between them; a corner of white – the slim seam of a letter.

A mesmerising story of two worlds; the cracks between them, the science that binds them and the colours that infuse them.

What I Think: 
I often tweet about a book while I’m reading it.

My tweets about ‘A Corner of White’ include ‘extraordinary, beautiful, startling’; ‘one of the most original and unusual books I’ve read in a long time’; and ‘I’m in awe’. 

It is certainly unlike any other book I’ve ever read.

‘A Corner of White’ is basically a story about parallel words – our own familiar world - and another far different and yet strangely familiar place, the Kingdom of Cello.

A crack opens up between these two worlds, and a letter slips through. Madeleine, a teenage girl living in Cambridge, finds the letter and writes back … thinking her correspondent is just a boy with a vivid imagination. She does not realise that Elliot’s letters describe a real place …

Both Madeleine and Elliot are suffering loss and confusion and the pangs of first love.

Both Madeleine and Elliott feel very alone.

Their letters build a bridge between them and their world, and, in strange and unexpected ways, help each other make sense of the mysteries of their lives. 

Jaclyn Moriarty has always had a quirky, wryly humorous style, but in ‘A Corner of White’ she reaches new heights of lyricism. There were some lines which sung with such truth and beauty that I wanted to learn them by heart.

Here’s just one:

'She felt the stars were folding into her chest; those sharp, shining, agitated pieces of excitement were stars'. 

Such a perfect sentence, saying so much with so little.

I do have to say that ‘A Corner of White’ is a difficult book to categorise. 

Although the secondary world makes it a fantasy novel, the book is without most of the trappings that we usually associate with fantasy. There are no quests, or magical beasts, or battles between good and evil. The secondary world is remarkably humdrum – despite waves of colours that sweep over the land and cause havoc with people’s emotions, and despite such extraordinary magical touches as the Butterfly Child, who brings luck to anyone who catches her.

Similarly, our own world is infused with strangeness and magic. There are troubling absences, inexplicable coincidences, and odd disruptions to what we would consider normal. 

Because the book is truly concerned with the inner lives of its two protagonists, I’d call it ‘magic realism’ rather than fantasy – yet it is so fantastical, so filled with a sense of the strange and the impossible, that it really blurs the boundaries of magic realism as well. 

I think Jaclyn may have invented a whole new genre. Fantastical magic realism, perhaps? 

Or maybe magic unrealism?

Either way, ‘A Corner of White’ is quite simply one of the most astonishingly original books I’ve ever read. I loved it!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Earlier this week, trying to define the new book by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty, I called it fantastical magic realism. 

Although ‘A Corner of White’ was set in both our world and an imaginary secondary world, a common trope of fantasy fiction, it was not really fantasy, I said, partly because, ‘the book is truly concerned with the inner lives of its two protagonists.’ 

A few people have challenged me on that, asking ‘what exactly IS magic realism, then?’

Being a brave soul, I thought I’d try, at least, to express what I think it’s all about. 

Magic realism is, I think, a genre of fiction set in our own world, in which strange, uncanny, or magical things happen in the midst of everyday events. The protagonists do not change their world, as is the case in most fantasy novels; rather, they themselves are changed as a consequence of the magic. The line between real and unreal, possible and impossible, is blurred. Life is shown to be filled with mystery and the inexplicable.

Here is one quote I found that I like, by the Mexican-American writer, Luis Leal:

‘In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.’

A few books that I have read and loved, and that I would call ‘magic realism’:

'House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende 

'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel 

'Garden Spells' by Sarah Addison Allen 

'Love in the Time of Cholera ' by Gabriel García Márquez 

'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern 

'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger 

'Chocolat' by Joanne Harris 

'Practical Magic' by Alice Hoffman 

'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafón 

'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey 

INTERVIEW: Joanne Harris, author of 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure'

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My third and final blog post to celebate Joanne Harris being in Australia (as you all know by now, she's one of my all-time favourite writers. And I get to hang out with her in Brisbane! Life is good).

Reviewing her most recent book, 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure', I said: 'The book is a pleasure to read, vivid, compelling and surprising, with lots of beautiful descriptions of food and cooking and eating, which was one of my favourite aspects of Chocolat.'

The rest of my review can be found here, but for now enjoy the interview:

How long did the book take you to write?
About 18 months. I started writing it in mid-2010, just before Ramadan.

What was the most difficult challenge you needed to overcome?
Persuading my publishers that a story featuring Muslim characters and abuse of women could be treated sensitively...

Do you ever struggle with self-doubt or fear about your writing?
Always. It comes with the territory.

Did you get to go to France for research? (if so, I'm jealous)
I go to France all the time, although all my research (if you can call it that) was done as I was growing up, on long holidays at my grandfather's house.

Did you ever have an imaginary friend yourself?
No, but my daughter did - an imaginary rabbit called Pantoufle, whom I adopted in CHOCOLAT.

Do you cook food as beautifully as you write about it?
No. I imagine things far better than I actually do them...

Do you believe in magic?
Yes, although not necessarily by its traditional definition.


BOOK REVIEW: 'Peaches for Monsieur le Curé' by Joanne Harris

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Title: Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
Author: Joanne Harris
Publisher: Doubleday
Age Group & Genre: contemporary magic realism for adults

The Blurb:
‘It isn’t often you receive a letter from the dead’

When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France where, eight year ago, she opened a chocolate shop.

But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the square little tower of the church of Saint-Jérôme like a piece on a chessboard – slender, bone-white and crowned with a silver crescent moon – a minaret.

Nor is it only the incomers from North Africa who have brought big changes to the community. Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary, is now disgraced and under threat. Could it be that Vianne is the only one who can save him?

What I Liked About This Book:
'Chocolat' is one of my favourite books and Joanne Harris is one of my favourite authors. Her novel 'Five Quarters of the Orange' will always be listed in my top 5 favourite adult books.

However, when I heard that she had written another sequel to Chocolat, I didn’t squeal with excitement and rush out to the bookshop straightaway, as I usually do when one of my favourite writers publishes a new book.

I did go to the bookshop and look at the book, wondering, weighing it in my hands. The gorgeous cover swayed me, the blurb on the back cover enticed me (a return to the little French village of Lansquenet, which had so charmed me in Chocolat … I did like the sound of that).

So I opened the book and read the first chapter. It reads, in its entirety:

‘Someone once told me that, in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.
What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.’

That’s it. The whole first chapter.

I love writers who have the courage to write such short and simple chapters.  Somehow they are always powerful.

With a growing sense of excitement and joy, I turned the page and read the next page and then the next. I was hooked. I wanted to read more. And so I bought 'Peaches for Monsieur le Curé' and took it home with me.

Before I go on and tell you what I feel about the rest of the book, perhaps I should explain why I hadn’t squealed with excitement at the news that Joanne Harris was writing another book about Vianne Rocher.
The fault lies with 'The Lollipop Shoes', which sits between 'Chocolat' and 'Peaches'. I had squealed in excitement and rushed out to but that one, but, for me, it just didn’t have the same charm and magic as 'Chocolat'. I think it may be because the story alternated between the points of view of Vianne and the antagonist of the story, Zozie de l’Alba, which not only made the story much longer but also took out the element of surprise since we were privy to her thoughts and feelings right from the very beginning and so were never left to wonder whether she was friend or foe. I was also disappointed to find Vianne not working her own particular brand of magic anymore.

I am very happy to say, though, that 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure' has restored all my faith in Joanne Harris as a novelist. The book is a pleasure to read, vivid, compelling and surprising, with lots of beautiful descriptions of food and cooking and eating, which was one of my favourite aspects of Chocolat.

It’s a pleasure to be back in the small French village that we know and love, with its cast of eccentric characters. It’s a clever twist to have Vianne’s former antagonist now one of the primary points of view, and Reynard’s character – stiff-necked, prickly, stubborn yet wanting to do good – is one of the delights of the novel.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book:
There may have been just one or two too many references to the wind changing …



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