An Interview with Caroline Smailes.
The genesis of Caroline's book is an interesting one, since it owes much to the internet and blogging. She has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about both her first book, IN SEARCH OF ADAM, and her two new publications.
Caroline Smailes was born in Newcastle in 1973. She moved to the North West to study English Literature at Liverpool University, before going on to specialise in Linguistics. A chance remark on a daytime chat show caused Caroline to reconsider her life. She enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in September 2005 and began to write IN SEARCH OF ADAM.
Caroline lives in the North West with her husband and three children. Her debut novel IN SEARCH OF ADAM. was published in June 2007, selling out of its first print run within ten days.
C.D. Do you have any connection with snails?
C.S. Erm … my mother craved them when pregnant with me. They’re quite a Maltese specialty, served in a spicy tomato sauce.
C.D. What is your proudest moment?
C.S. Personal, being a sense of survival. Professional, the launch party of IN SEARCH OF ADAM.
C.D. Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
C.S. Yes (cringe), I watched a lunchtime repeat of Richard and Judy. They referred to someone as a ‘nearly woman,’ implying that she was an individual who never quite did what she stated that she would. I was having my lunch and was struck by a realisation that I was a ‘nearly woman.’ I’d been saying that I wanted to write, that I would write a novel, but I was doing nothing about it. I was studying a PhD in linguistics, yet no longer enthused.
I decided (after a few email exchanges with a friend) to commit to writing, not wanting to spend the rest of my life telling people that I ‘nearly’ wrote a novel. Within the following two weeks, I gave up my Ph.D. and enrolled on an M.A. in Creative writing.
C.D. What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
C.S. I’ve seen and heard far too many sad things. It’s hard to rank them in a specific order. My instinct is to say the voice a child who has been abused. The loss of innocence, of stolen childhood, has to be amongst the saddest that I have heard and seen.
C.D. If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
C.S. This alters daily; today I’d say my name. I’d prefer to be more exotic sounding like Anastasia or Lola or Trixibelle. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably say my face. I’d love to have several identities and altered looks.
C.D. What is happiness?
C.S. An abstract noun, often spelt incorrectly.
C.D. What is the first thing you do when you get up?
C.S. I’m a creature of habit. I put on my glasses.
Questions about Caroline's work.
C.D. How did you get published?
C.S. I finished In Search of Adam and launched my blog and website in August 2006, mainly to try and seek advice about how to write a synopsis and letter to an agent. I’d been blogging for three weeks, when Clare Christian from The Friday Project stumbled onto my blog. She requested my manuscript and within three days I had a publishing contract. This sounds very easy and straightforward, but the year before this I’d given up a Ph.D. in my second year of study, favouring an MA in Creative Writing over a Ph.D. in linguistics. I’d committed to writing and had completed In Search of Adam during the first year of my M.A.
C.D. Can you tell me a little about the themes and origins of your novel IN SEARCH OF ADAM.?
C.S. Suicide, Sexual abuse, self harm, eating disorders, love, loss, redemption. Am I selling this as a cheery read? The story develops through a number of thematic threads, aiming to present an authentic depiction of the consequences, of the spiral after sexual abuse. The themes are layered with religious and fairytale imagery, hoping to illustrate loss of innocence and confusion surrounding the existence, or rather identity, of a God who allows others to harm innocent children.
As the novel is told from a limited first person perspective, I utilised the white space and altered fonts to add stress, emphasis of voice or adjusted mood within the presentation of the words.
C.D. Please would you tell me a little about your new novella, DISRAELI AVENUE?
C.S. When writing In search of Adam I was rather meticulous (some would say anal) in my preparation. The main character (Jude) lived on a street of 32 houses. I developed detailed back stories for each of the characters, within each of the houses. I went as far as detailing car registrations, front door colours, ages … I liked the detail.
The back stories were sometimes referred to within snippets of gossip, but mainly used to maintain consistency. Disraeli Avenue has been born out of the back stories. I have produced 32 flashes, 32 stories working my way along the houses within Disraeli Avenue. The stories and characters weave together and also into, or rather echoing, In Search of Adam. Disraeli Avenue will be released as a free download, with voluntary donations going direct to the charity One in Four.
C.D. What does this charity do?
C.S. One in Four is an organisation run for and by people who have experienced sexual abuse or sexual violence. They offer unconditional support and advice to those who need it. They’re a small charity, so I know that all donations will make a difference, will be significant.
C.D. What made you make the decision to donate the proceeds to charity?
C.S. A number of people have reacted to IN SEARCH OF ADAM., they have identified with the abuse that the main character experienced. The number one is four, that one in four individuals will have experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of eighteen, is alarming. After writing In Search of Adam, after hearing reactions and after realising how lucky so many are to have survived, I knew that I wanted to find a way to give something back to those whose lives have been touched by abuse. The charity One in Four was suggested to me by a blog reader. I will not be charging for the e-book, rather offering the option to give a voluntary donation.
6. C.D. How is the publishing process in producing an e-book different from publishing a conventional novel? In particular, how does it affect you as a writer?
C.S. So far the process has been similar to that of a conventional novel, but clearly a lot quicker. I finished the first draft of the novella at the end of December. Clare Christian (from The Friday Project) read and edited the story mid January. I then contacted the typesetter (Wordsense Ltd) who had worked on In Search of Adam and she agreed to work on DISRAELI AVENUE, free of charge. The first proofs were produced within a week and are currently being read. I also contacted SnowAngels and they produced a front cover, again free of charge. I wanted to maintain a consistency between the format of In Search of Adam and Disraeli Avenue, so was thrilled that professionals were willing to support my need to complete this project.
The process lacks production and financial restrictions, so has been a lot smoother. I have been involved creatively, writing front cover briefs and in direct contact with the typesetter, so this is a very new creative experience. I have maintained all rights, not signed a contract for the novella, so there would be a possibility of it being morphed into another form (current thinking being a monologue play of sorts) and, of course, there is no financial gain. I will not be making money from the free download, which will be available from February 18.
7. C.D. As well as DISRAELI AVENUE you have another novel coming out in July called BLACK BOXES. Are the themes similar to those of your first book, IN SEARCH OF ADAM?
C.S. I guess that the recurring shared themes in my work flow as loss, neglect and growth or perhaps redemption. Black Boxes is a very insular novel, a monologue that is crying out for performance. There are two voices heard, a mother and a daughter. The story stems around the mother’s (Ana’s) monologue which spills details of her life, her loss and her inability to exist within the present day. The monologue is then interrupted by the daughter’s (Pip’s) voice, a diary which offers details of the neglectful existence that she and her brother (Davie) are enduring. Then, finally, there are sign language drawings, the communication between Pip and Davie, included to show the silence, Davie’s inability to voice his distress. I guess that all of my writing has focus on voice and voicing.