How entwined are your own personal memories with Elise’s story in The Cry of the Go-Away Bird?
Hmm, this is always a tricky one to answer – the book is fiction, but I have drawn extensively on my own memories and experiences, and those of my friends and family, to create Elise’s story. This makes the narrative and my life a little like a set of Christmas tree lights that have been sitting in a closet for a year – knotted and twisted and fiendishly difficult to disentangle.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I have wanted to be a writer ever since I knew what a story was. In that way, I think I am very lucky – I never wondered what I wanted to do with my life (although I did sometimes wonder if I would be able to do it!).
Can you pinpoint a turning point for your writing career when it all started coming together?
I think it was the moment when I realised that I had to rewrite The Cry of the Go-Away Bird before it would be good enough to submit. It was heartbreaking but also invigorating to slice and hack into the words I had laboured over, and to restructure and re-imagine the whole thing. I knew it was the right decision, and it was an important lesson for me to learn as a writer. And I signed with an agent only days after submitting the rewrite.
How long did it take to write The Cry of the Go-Away Bird?
It took me about nine months to write the first draft, three months to write the second and then another three months to rewrite it pretty much from scratch! Once you factor in all the editing time (my own edits and my publisher’s) and the copy-editing, the entire process took almost two years. The publishing industry is a slow-moving land mammal, and you have to be patient.
What was the hardest thing about writing The Cry of the Go-Away Bird?
- Reliving some of the more difficult events that inspired the book.
- Just learning how to write a novel! I had written ‘novels’ before – several – but The Cry of the Go-Away Bird really taught me how to construct a story brick by brick (or Bird by Bird, if you read Anne Lamott!) in a way I had never before truly understood.
- Pushing through the times when I thought that it was the worst book in the world and I was a terrible person for writing it. These feelings are pretty universal among writers, thankfully, and never really go away (not-so-thankfully).
- Querying! Anyone who has gone through the process knows how devilishly difficult and discouraging it can be.
Having said all that, I LOVED writing the book just as much as I struggled with it.
How long did it take you to get an agent / publishing deal?
I started querying for this book in September 2008, signed with my agent in the following April and signed with my publisher (Harvill Secker, a division of Random House) in June. I rewrote the book during this process, though, based on agent feedback and my own improved perspective, and it was a very different book in June than it had been in September.
The Cry of the Go-Away Bird hits the bookshops in February 2011. How will you celebrate the occasion?
I have a tradition of always buying a new vintage dress to celebrate momentous occasions in my life, so I will have to ferret about London for my Book Launch Dress! My editors are also taking me and my agent out for drinks a few days after the launch, which will be so much fun. I can’t wait. (Although I am sure that, as well as celebrating its release, I will also be hiding under a duvet cover cowering in terror for some of the day, as well!)
What can we look forward to with your next book?
Well, I started out intending to write a historical novel about the Second Chimurenga (also known as the Bush War or the Liberation War) in 1970s Zimbabwe, but I ended up writing a book about witchcraft, black magic, family and reincarnation. My books never listen to me!
You have a flair for vintage clothes – what era most captures your imagination?
Thank you! That’s very kind. I particularly love the 1950s for its feminine glamour and the fun prints and colours that were popular at the time. I like nothing better than a really, really full skirt, perfect for twirling! It makes me feel like a character in a Technicolour musical.
What is your favourite item and why?
There are several that hold special sentimental value, and every vintage item I own has a story – which is why I love vintage so much! My husband bought me a beautiful white pencil dress for our anniversary that I wore when I first met with my publishers – that is a precious one. I also have a red polka-dot dress (pictured above) that has been with me on many adventures, and a gorgeous orange one that I found for a few pounds in Oxfam; these two never fail to lift my spirits and make me feel optimistic and energetic.
Picture the scene. You are curled up with your favourite comfort read, favourite drink, and favourite snack to hand. What are they?
Ooh! Lovely. In the morning it would be coffee, toast-and-Marmite and a Terry Pratchett book. In the evening it would be white wine, chocolate and some kind of fat, engrossing historical saga.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
The book is the hardest part. Work really, really hard to make the book the best it can be before you even start worrying about publication. Be ruthless! And, when you are confident in your work, be persistent. And patient. And drink lots and lots of coffee.
Thank you, Andrea!
The Cry of the Go-Away Bird is out on February 10th. To read more about it, please visit Andrea’s blog A Cat of Impossible Colour; the blurb has definitely pinged my intrigue.
Also, if you have time, pour yourself a coffee and read Andrea’s short story How to Kill a Dead Man. You know that pleasure you get when settling down with a story and realising you are in an author’s very capable hands? Read it and you'll know exactly what I mean. It’s a fantastic feeling and ever since I have been anticipating her first novel – not long to wait now! Good luck with it all, Andrea!
Photographer credit for the top picture: Mark Guerra