Author Rosie Fiore: Hooking the Thread

CatchingTheCometsTailThis week, Catching the Comet’s Tail features author Rosie Fiore. Her second novel, Wonder Women, is a brilliantly observed, multi-layered story about three women at a crossroads in their lives. Through her engaging, realistic cast of characters, Fiore tackles important issues such as motherhood, marriage, female friendship and ambition. Rosie has two children and is addicted to coffee; she is, therefore, my kind of woman. I suspect she may be yours too.

rosie_fiore

Rosie on creativity and the creative process…

“It’s a funny old thing for me, the process of creating… a combination of sheer drudge and moments of breath-taking inspiration. But the best way I can describe it is as a slow, endless percolation of ideas, experiences, things you’ve heard. It’s that percolation that slowly knits itself into stories. Sometimes it’s clear which elements have led to which stories, sometimes it’s not, and then it’s as surprising to me as it would be to a reader. I always imagine my mind as a pond (I know… go with me). I dip my hand in and swirl it around, and when I am lucky, I hook a thread with a single finger. If I pull slowly and carefully and well, the whole net of the story will rise beautifully to the surface. It’s in there. I just need to let it come.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early inspirations?

“My father painted and played the piano, my mum was wonderful with languages, and we were all encouraged to pursue our interests and grow. They were hugely supportive. My parents (and to a certain extent, my teachers at school), recognised me as a writer long before I did myself. I wanted to be an actor. I found writing to solitary and even though I knew I had a talent for it, I shied away from it for years.

I had to argue quite hard to get the chance to study drama at university, not because my parents didn’t support it, but because they wanted me to be able to earn a living. But I did get to go, and found the Drama Department at Wits University a fertile and exciting creative playground, I learned so much there, and I am proud to number many people from my years there as close friends. Creative giants all of them.”

How long did it take to write Wonder Women and can you recall the first spark of inspiration? 

“Wonder Women is my fifth book, and was definitely the easiest to write. The first draft simply poured out. I couldn’t type fast enough to get it down. It took the first five months of last year, and then I spent the second half of 2012, revising it with my agent and editor. I came up with the idea on the day I finished Babies in Waiting, because the themes of women balancing work and family made it such a logical follow on from the plot of Babies.

I knew which issues I wanted to cover in the book, and before I began, had a clear idea of my main characters, but as always, as I wrote and they developed and gained detail, they took some slightly different routes. Charlotte van Wijk, who edited the manuscript, gave wonderful advice in the later drafts on fleshing out some of the relationships, and making them much stronger.

When is a book finished? Finishing is always the hardest thing to do. I really don’t like stories where all the ends are neatly tied up. I like to suggest some possibilities, but keep the options open. A few reviewers have said they felt Wonder Women needed another chapter, but it was very much my intention to leave all the characters with choices and allow the reader to decide what they thought might happen. I’m not one for a “happily ever after” scenario.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what, if anything, blocks it?

“Coffee. Coffee is my friend, Seriously, I am badly addicted. It began when my small son was a baby who didn’t sleep. He is now nearly four and still not a great sleeper. Coffee (and carbs) became the only way to get though the day. I’m better at the carbs, but making a pot of coffee and sitting down with a cup is a vital part of the writing ritual.

What stands in my way? Stuff. Life. Paying work (I’m a freelance copywriter), that needs hours of time and attention. Children. Housework. Facebook. Twitter. One can always find time, even if it’s at 11pm, but keeping enough clear headspace can be a challenge.

Writing novels is officially the most fun I have ever had with my clothes on. There is nothing I would rather do. Sometimes there are parts of the job (line-editing for example), that can be tedious, and going over and over the same manuscript can make you lose the will to live, but I try not to lose sight of the miracle that I am actually a published novelist, and what a joy the whole thing is.

As for being blocked, a friend who is a journalist once said rather sniffily, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block”, and I think for hacks like him and me, that’s true. I write every day for a living, and I have for twenty years. I have to produce or I don’t get paid. I take that “Dammit, get something… anything on the page” attitude into my novel writing. As long as you keep going, things tend to resolve themselves.”

Where do you most like to be when you write and do you have a routine?

The ubiquitous coffee cup...

The ubiquitous coffee cup… Rosie’s desk

“I usually write at my desk at home, in our living room. My husband is an IT engineer so I have a good PC with a massive monitor. My desk (pictured) is always a mess though, piled with papers, pens, and often toys that three-year-old Ted has brought to me as I sit there. When I need a change, I find it hugely useful to go to a coffee shop to write, although I abhor this new-fangled modern tradition of offering Wi-Fi everywhere. The best reason to write in a coffee shop (besides the good coffee), is to avoid procrastinating and surfing the Net. I am quite superstitious about the coffee shops where I’ve done good work and love to go back there – the Caffe Nero in Edgware is a total winner. I also did some fabulous work in the little cottage in Cornwall where we had a holiday in March. Breath-taking sea views, peace… and zero Internet (seeing a pattern here?)

I tend not to play music, but I am quite oblivious to noise, happy to write while my family watches TV or chats. I can tune it out.

Like most writers, I also have to work, and I have to care for a three-year-old, so I carve the novel-writing hours out day by day. Sometimes I’m lucky and get to work in the morning when Ted is at nursery, but more often than not, I won’t get to write till he’s in bed. When doing a first draft, I write 1200 words a day, every day, no exceptions.”

Is there a collaborative element to your writing process?

“I write alone, but my husband Tom is an utterly invaluable support. He brings drinks to me when I am writing late at night, listens to me wrestle through plot points, makes great suggestions and loves me though every stage. I’m proud to say Wonder Women is dedicated to him, because it wouldn’t have been written without him.

Also, with any book, you end up writing about things you know nothing about, and people are always so amazingly helpful. From the woman who talked me through her children’s clothing business to the friend who told me about studying at Goldsmith’s in the 1990s, and the colleague of my husband’s who helped me choose an authentic Indian Hindu name for a character, I salute them all.”

Please share a special object that connects with your writing.

Fiore's Quartz Coaster“This is my quartz slab, which I use as a coaster for the ubiquitous coffee cup. It comes from a happy family trip to the Natural History Museum. I think it’s beautiful, and it is the same colour as the amethyst in my engagement ring. So to me it stands for love, connectedness, family, and coffee. Yup. That’s all the important stuff.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master?

“Here’s my secret wish… I wish I could dance. I am five foot ten and clod-hoppingly clumsy. I started ballet and dance at sixteen, much too old to gain any real skills, and while I did it at university, was never any good at all. But in my dreams… oh, in my dreams I am a petal on the wind, or a petal in Artem Chigvintsev’s arms when I get to go on the writers’ only version of Strictly Come Dancing. Seriously though, I do still do some acting (amateur only), when I get the chance, and I sing in a choir. And I love to cook.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity?

“Bloody children. Time-thieves the lot of them. And heart thieves. And teachers of wit and emotion, and challengers of patience… On a practical level, being a parent makes creating much harder, just because I have less energy and time than I might have as a non-parent. But on a visceral level, I think it makes me a better writer than I would have been. My sons (Matt who is 20 and Ted who is 3), made me into a grown up. I believe they made me a less selfish, more compassionate and better version of myself, and that gives me more depth and experience to write from. Then they stole all my sleep and most of my waking hours. Sigh.”

What are you working on next?

“I am maybe halfway into a first draft of a new book, tentatively titled Were Those the Days. It’s about memory and nostalgia, about the narratives we create around our past, and how we use those to define ourselves and our present. But what if the people from your past come to get you, and those people don’t remember things in quite the same way? And what if what you believed in for all those years was just plain… wrong?”

You can find out more about Rosie on her website www.rosiefiore.com  Twitter @rosiefiore  and Facebook Rosie Fiore.

Rosie Fiore Wonder Women Wonder Women, published by Quercus, is available now on Kindle. You can also pre-order the paperback here.

Artist Ylva Kunze: Chance and Control

CatchingTheCometFinalWelcome to Catching the Comet’s Tail, a series of interviews with writers, artists and musicians discussing creativity and their creative process. This week,  I spoke to Swedish contemporary artist Ylva Kunze during her first London show, Artist in Residence. Her canvases, informed by the woods and lakes of her childhood in Småland, are deeply affecting, filled with kinetic fervour.  It was no surprise to me to discover that her name, Ylva, means ‘she-wolf’ in Swedish.

Ylva KunzeYlva on creativity and the creative process…

“For me, creativity is an urge that I have to act on. It’s a total body feeling, something I get if I see something that inspires me. I immediately want to act –  to experiment – there is a sense of urgency about it, like with everything in my life!  I don’t know where the urge comes from, but when I’m involved in the process of making a painting, I do sometimes wonder where the feeling begins. If, for some reason, I can’t get to my studio when I have the urge to create, I can put the feeling on hold and tap back into it. It’s a sense of wanting to try – like I am desperate to start the journey, the process. For me, creativity is about ‘finding out’ and the origin of it is not in my brain but my body. The urge might be to explore colours or experiment with the medium I am putting on the canvas. I never feel any fear around my process as it’s the actual doing that makes me creative –  it’s the doing that makes me discover new things.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early inspirations?

“Creativity was all around me as a child, for example, my dad made all our furniture. It’s a very Swedish way I think, this idea of making things; you don’t employ someone, you do it yourself. In school we studied textiles and woodwork from a young age. My mum has a studio and still paints. My childhood home was full of paintings, and my grandma, who was from Vienna, went to art school in the early 1900s. Her father was an architect who the worked on Vienna’s famous opera house and mixed in Art Nouveau circles.

However, I never thought I would be an artist ~ perhaps it was something to do with being in Sweden in the 1970’s, but I just didn’t see art as my path and didn’t discover it until I was in my 20s. I was traveling a lot, living in Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm and  Gothenburg before I came to London. I was living in a squat with musicians and meeting artists, and decided to start a foundation course in art at Chelsea. That’s when I painted for the first time. I still have my first painting. It was a dead animal project; three pig heads!

My grandma was one of my earliest artistic inspirations but I also remember, when I was about 10 years old, being blown away by the vastness of the paintings in the Louvre in Paris. It was the sheer size of them that took my breath away – a strong bodily sensation that I remember very clearly.”

How long have you been working on Artist in Residence and is the final result what you originally planned? 

“I found my painting voice about ten years ago. This process of placing canvases flat on the floor, using buckets and buckets of paint, mixing the paint with glue and the way I drag the paint across the canvas has been with me for some time. This show, Residence, took around two years to complete. A few paintings came about at the last minute and were still wet while I was hanging them.

It’s important to me to know the space I am showing in because I plan canvas sizes and the way I want the finished show to look. Hanging the pieces is a very important part of the process for me, and original concepts will change according to the space.”

How do you know when a painting is finished?

“I get a gut feeling when a painting is finished. I feel exhilarated. It makes me excited and that feeling is the whole reason for painting in the first place.  A painting is done when I feel a sense of unity with it.”

Who, what or where always inspires you?

“Walking in the the vast, raw woods in Småland inspires me; the beauty of the heavy snow glimmering on the tree branches; hearing my footsteps crunching the snow or swimming in a lake with just the sound of the birds and my arms stroking the water. That tranquillity, emptiness and space, rawness and simplicity, is a necessity for me. Being separated from it influences my work. To create, I have to sweat and get my whole body involved so the worst thing for me is to be still. I often do body painting where I’m heaving paint around physically, it’s very kinetic process for me.”

Is there a collaborative element to your creative process?

“When I am painting, I am a very private person so I never have anyone watch me while I paint, but the hanging of a show is a different matter. I love having people to bounce off at that stage and having my representative (Sarah Smith) has been fantastic for me. I needed that support otherwise I’d probably still just be in my studio not showing anyone anything! I am confident as an artist but wasn’t that confident about showing my work in London until I started to collaborate with Sarah.”

Ylva Kunze: Overalls and ClogsWhere do you most like to be when you paint and do you have a routine?

“My time is limited because I am a mum, but generally I turn up at my studio and plan what I’m doing, then I mix the paint which is a very meditative part of my journey. Painting grounds me, quietens me down. When the actual painting process begins, I like to have loud music in the background, XFM radio playing indie rock. I find the energy of London more conducive to painting than the Swedish countryside although my work is completely informed by the latter. The first thing you are told as a child in Sweden is, “Don’t go out into the woods because you will get lost like Hansel and Gretel… you will disappear.”

In my studio, I need complete freedom to make a big mess. I use so much paint, there are huge puddles of it everywhere. The photo on the left shows my overalls and my clogs literally clogged with layers of paint. My environment allows me to lose myself, just like I was warned not to as a child, in the smell of the paint, the music I play, and the paint itself.

It can be frustrating having to stop painting to pick up my children, but I have to look at it positively. I am a daytime person now but before children it was different. I have bad days and good days, but I can bring it on… I can bring on the she-wolf!”

Please share a special object that connects with your painting.

Boken om Lyckan

“This is a book my grandma gave me in my late teens when I was on a journey in my life. She was a fantastic person; at 85 she was wallpapering her own walls, a total inspiration. She wrote a special message inside it and it means a lot to me. Boken om Lyckan means ‘The Book of Happiness’. It makes me feel like my grandma is still here and reminds me of her inspiring character.”

Are there other creative art forms you wish you could master?

“There’s nothing I want to do other than paint, but a nice singing voice would be good! I used to dance a lot… that and horse-riding are other art forms I love.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity?

“Becoming a mum made me much less self centered. It changed my work in that I didn’t care so much about what people thought. I was less afraid to try new things once I had been through childbirth.  I did some of my best work when I was pregnant and have photos of me, huge, in my studio painting frantically. I did some really key pieces at that time. John Cage said, “When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas…” Motherhood gave me perspective, it helped me leave all those voices behind.”

What are you working on next?

“I am just breathing right now. I am going to carry on where I left off, ideas are brewing. I definitely have things that I need to do.”

You can find out more about Ylva on her website www.ylvakunze.com.

Motion II Ylva Kunze

Motion II

Ylva Kunze: Artist in Residence is showing at the C99 Art Project Gallery, 99 Chamberlayne Rd, Kensal Rise, London NW10 until 9th May.  Open Monday-Friday 10-5, Saturday 10.30am – 5pm, Sunday 4pm-7pm. Contact 0208 969 6154  Furthermore, a limited edition range of clothes using Ylva’s paintings from British label Me and Thee is available from www.lovekr.co.uk.

Elizabeth Fremantle: Tea, Toast and Not Losing Your Head

CatchingTheCometFinalWelcome to Catching the Comet’s Tail, a series of interviews with writers, artists and musicians discussing creativity and their creative process. To launch the series, I am delighted to welcome English author Elizabeth Fremantle. Her first novel, Queen’s Gambit, based on the life of Henry VIII’s sixth wife Katherine Parr,  had me gripped from the first page until the last. I happen to know that, not only is she a gifted writer, she is also a demon at Scrabble. 

Elizabeth on defining creativity and the creative process…

Elizabeth Fremantle

Author Elizabeth Fremantle

“I am pragmatic about creativity. I am not of the view, for example, that I am the catalyst for some mysterious alchemical process. For me writing (and I’m talking here about the production of extended pieces of fiction) is more craft than art; it is something you teach yourself to do and it improves with practice. Certainly there are character traits that suggest a propensity for the craft, all rather dull, I’m afraid: discipline, a desire for solitude, swottiness and the ability to consume vast quantities of tea and toast, because when you are on a roll the last thing you want to do is come over all Nigella. No amount of talent can compensate for hard work but it is true that some people have an extra something that just makes them better than everyone else (not me, I might add) but even those people have to work hard. If I have a muse at all, it is the accumulated knowledge from all the books I have ever read and resides in an unwieldy and unreliably accessed conglomeration in my head.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early inspirations?

“In my family ‘creative’ was what you were when you were not ‘academic’ and it meant that your education didn’t really matter; I was not considered ‘academic’. Reading was my refuge from an eccentric family and an effective mask for my social inadequacy. I read anything I could get my hands on from Jean Plaidy to Somerset Maugham, via Gerald Durrell and Agatha Christie. Often when I finished books I would start them all over again immediately. The only thing I ever wanted to become was a writer because I saw it as a way to create worlds for people to inhabit, who felt they didn’t fit in the actual world; but not being ‘academic’ made me believe it would never be possible. In my thirties I thought ‘sod it,’ and went to university. It turned out I was ‘academic’!”

How long did it take to write Queen’s Gambit and can you recall the first spark of inspiration? 

“I had written a number of novels, none of which had found a publisher and was beginning to think that perhaps I didn’t have what it takes to be a novelist. I was writing intense, writerly stories about young, messed-up posh girls, despite knowing that there was no market for such things. It was a colleague, a literary scout for whom I worked, who suggested I think about who I was writing for. It occurred to me only then to think of writing the kind of books I have always most enjoyed reading rather than the kind I thought I ought to write. I was intrigued by Katherine Parr because she was the wife everyone thought was rather dull and yet she was the one who survived. The more I researched her the more I realized that she had been miscast by history and I felt compelled to explore her story in fiction. Once I started, I was on a mission; it took me about eighteen months and I did really create the book I set out to write, which is actually more difficult than it sounds. I don’t know if you ever know that a novel is finished; in my case I simply have to decide that I must stop tinkering. There is not a passage I read in the ‘finished’ book that I don’t still want to change.”

Who, what or where always inspires you?

“My inspiration is most usually derived from reading but sometimes I will wander round an old building or look at a view or a portrait and the ideas begin to pop into my head. For example I was at a wedding the other day in Richmond Park and, driving through the deer park to get there, my mind started firing off. Once we were there I was mesmerized by the view from the back of the building, a landscape blurred by rain that I imagined had changed little in five hundred years. It is at moments like that when my characters begin to make themselves heard. Sometimes it flows and sometimes it doesn’t, there is no rhyme or reason to it.

I don’t believe in writers’ block. I have good days and bad but it’s just a job and the world would come to a halt if everyone else decided that they couldn’t do their job because they weren’t ‘feeling it’. I did say I was a pragmatist.

I write completely alone. It works better for me that way. I do, however belong to a writer’s group, the function of which is more moral than editorial support. It is necessarily a solitary business being a novelist, and sometimes it’s helpful to know people who are striving for similar ends. When you start banging on about your characters as if they are actually people in your life, they are less likely than your regular friends to glaze over, or think you’ve lost your marbles. I never, ever show my work to friends or family until it is ready for publication (which seems to annoy lots of people) but I have one or two trusted editors who give me notes on earlier drafts.”

Elizabeth's writing desk

Elizabeth’s writing desk

Where do you most like to be when you write and do you have a routine?

“I definitely work best at my desk with all my reference books around me and an internet connection to fact-check as I go along. I like silence and my dogs sleeping at my feet. I’m not very good at being portable. Comfort and warmth are key and the best thing about being a writer is that you can go to work in your pyjamas. I often think people are disappointed when they meet me because I used to be a Vogue fashion editor and I am never wearing the kind of thing they expect – its always a version of pyjamas really.

I’m absolutely a morning person but can, and do, work in any moment when the desire arises. I have been known to sit at my desk after a night out, having had one two many glasses of wine, and start thumping away at the keyboard – see above mention of wedding in Richmond – sometimes this produces diamonds but often drivel. When I am writing a new draft of something my rule is to write a minimum of 1,000 words a day. I am very strict about this and it suits me perfectly. I rarely sacrifice other things to write as there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.”

Please share a special object that connects with your writing.

“I bought this miniature (see picture below) to celebrate my first publishing deal and though I don’t invest it with any kind of talismanic powers, it does remind me of the joy I felt when I knew I was going to be earning my living doing the thing I love best. It is a Victorian copy of a Nicholas (who is in my next book) Hilliard original of Mary Queen of Scots by George Perfect Harding.”

Victorian copy of a Nicholas Hilliard original of Mary Queen of Scots by George Perfect Harding.

Victorian copy of a Nicholas Hilliard original of Mary Queen of Scots by George Perfect Harding.

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master?

“I’m hopeless at everything else though I did make a couple of rather good human beings once.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity?

“I really have absolutely no idea, though being a single mother has made me very time efficient.”

What are you working on next?

“Queen’s Gambit is the first of a Tudor trilogy. The second book takes place a few years later in time and though I don’t revisit any of my protagonist’s stories, there are a few minor characters who reappear. Queen Jane’s Shadow (out in May 2014) tells of the two younger sisters of the tragically executed Lady Jane Grey, one of whom, Lady Mary is a four foot hunchback. In the period physical deformity was regarded with great suspicion and often linked to the demonic in people’s minds, so Mary’s perspective on the court is coloured by this. Lady Catherine is the capricious beauty of the family and in love with the idea of love, something that eventually becomes her downfall. I intertwine their stories with that of a female court painter, Levina Teerlinc, who was remarkable in that she was earning her living from her work in a time when women rarely set foot beyond the domestic arena. It is all set against the backdrop of the turbulent and bloody Tudor succession.

The third novel, which I am working on now, focuses on the life of the ‘decadent’ Penelope Devereaux who scandalised the late Elizabethan court.”

You can find out more about Elizabeth on her website www.elizabethfremantle.com Twitter @LizFremantle Facebook Elizabeth Fremantle.

QGcoverQueen’s Gambit is available now in hardback, published by Michael Joseph.

Next week’s Catching the Comet’s Tail features Swedish contemporary artist Ylva Kunze talking creativity, kids and paintbrushes. Please follow #ctct on Twitter.