Friday, 15 August 2014

The Calgary Chessman

On Familiarise Friday I'd like to introduce you to Yvonne Marjot, a fellow Crooked Cat author, whose novel - The Calgary Chessman - launches 16th August!

Yvonne has allowed herself to be put in the interview spotlight so that we can all get to know her. Let's get started with that... 

Hello, Yvonne- it's lovely to have you visit. Your bio states that you were brought up in New Zealand but now live on the island of Mull. How long have you been living on what is termed, in song, as ‘The isle of Mull is of isles the fairest’?
Hello Nancy. I’ve lived on Mull for thirteen years now – the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place. I was born in England and lived most of my life in New Zealand, but Mull has become my home. ‘An t’Eilean Muileach, an t’eilean adhmhor’ – ‘Isle of Mull, beautiful island’, as the original Gaelic has it.  

Is there a huge difference in climate and terrain between your erstwhile part of New Zealand and Mull?
One of the things I loved when I first moved here (after spending several years living close to the M25 motorway in Kent) was how much Scotland is like New Zealand. I found a beautiful place that spoke to me, and a friendly, open society that was much more like the one I’d left behind in NZ. Of course, a lot of Scots settled in NZ and they have had an impact on the culture there.

The Highlands of course can be cold and bleak, but here on the west coast the climate is cool and moist, with a scattering of glorious days in the summer and odd spots of snow in the winter – very much like the climate of Wellington, where I used to live. The biggest difference is that Mull is much less windy!

If not too nosey, tell us 3 more things about your daily life and how writing fits into it.

I write in my spare time. Since I work full-time and have two teenagers, you’ll appreciate that generally I don’t have any spare time. I find writing to be a very good strategy for avoiding housework!

Sadly, social networking, sharing my writing experiences with others, and looking at funny pictures of cats are all tempting ways to avoid writing.

I have a three-week period in the summer when my sons are away, and a further week over Christmas. These are the times when I devote myself to writing. I try to treat it as an alternative full-time job. For those precious weeks I eat, breathe and sleep words. Often I use my working weeks as a chance to do research reading, or to write short stories or poems, and save up the novel-writing for free weekends and holidays.

You’ve had poetry published, but is The Calgary Chessman your first published novel?
The Calgary Chessman is the first novel I have had accepted by a publisher. So far, I have written four novels, but TCC was the first of them to be completed.

What do you think are the main differences between writing fiction and poems- apart from the obvious length?
For me, there’s a fundamental difference in my approach to poetry and to writing fiction. The poems are a conversation I have with myself. They can be quite emotional, and the idea of other people reading them makes me feel vulnerable. In a sense, I am sharing something deeply personal, and to publish them is a risk.

My novels are different. They are written specifically for others to enjoy, and it’s my task as an author to make sure they are as pleasurable to read as possible. To that end I’ve invited criticism, both from other writers and from readers. Although my stories spring from my experiences they are not autobiographical, and I can separate myself emotionally from my characters (although I do become very fond of them as I write).

How long did it take for you to write The Calgary Chessman to a final draft stage?
Well, that’s the $64,000 question. I wrote the first words of the story back in 2003, although at that stage it was just an extended short story and I had no idea about the existence of my main character’s son, her family life or the adventure she was about to experience. Unlike some of my short stories, this one stayed with me, and I found myself having other ideas that might relate to my heroine, Cas, and gradually the novel took form. It didn’t become a complete full draft until 2009, and it has gone through a complete rewrite since then, to become the book that Crooked Cat will publish in August. 

Your fictional heroine, Cas Longmore, sounds a lonely and homesick character. Do you find a yearning to be back in New Zealand as well?
That’s one of the aspects of Cas that is semi-autobiographical. I’m not very like Cas – it was interesting to write about someone who was quite different from me – but we share a love of home and a sense of nostalgia for it. It’s much more difficult for Cas, of course, because her grandparents still live in NZ, and she feels torn between their needs and those of her son.

It looks like research featured quite a bit during the writing process. Do you have any techniques you can share with us for effective researching?  Or maybe your favourite sites, or books?
I love researching a new book. I’m probably not the first writer to admit that I enjoy the research part almost more than the writing part. I’ve always enjoyed reading books that teach me something along with the story, and I was determined that the historical, geological and archaeological background of The Calgary Chessman would be as accurate as possible. At the back of the book, I’ve published a list of the most readable and enjoyable of my sources, in case readers want to know more.

Are you particularly interested in the Viking era in history, or are your interests general?
Since I was very small I have been interested in archaeology, especially anything earlier than the mediaeval period. There’s a moment in the novel where Cas describes her class laughing when she says she wants to be an Egyptologist when she grows up. That is exactly what happened to me at Primary school. I find a tiny bit of Mesolithic flint far more interesting than any number of Elizabethan brick patterns. The Calgary Chessman started me off on the process of writing stories with an archaeological component, but the sequels look at other periods of human history. That said – I love a good Viking.

I think I'm a bit like that, too. I love the Victorian era but there is just something about the really ancient peoples that gets to me as well. Was there a particular event which gave you the plot for The Calgary Chessman?
It was one of those classic moments, really. I’d only been on Mull for a few months, and had already fallen in love with Calgary Bay. While on a visit to my parents I watched a TV programme about the British Museum’s ‘Top Ten Treasures’, one of which of course is the Lewis Chessmen. That night I had a nightmare in which I was walking at Calgary Bay – the usual kind of thing, where there’s something unseen behind you but you just can’t seem to get away. When I woke up, instead of focusing on the nightmare aspect a sleepy part of my brain said ‘What if I found one of the Lewis Chessmen at Calgary Bay?’ Instantly I knew it would make a good story.

Does the novel fit any particular genre, or sub-genre?
I find it very difficult to define a genre for the book. It tells a complete archaeological story, but not a mystery – the puzzle of the chess piece unfolds, but I don’t give the reader enough clues to work it out beforehand. There’s not enough love for romance, and only a frisson of erotica. It looks as though Literary Fiction is the best fit. If it was up to me, I would call it an archaeological romance, but my use of the word romance is quite an old fashioned one.

What would you say are the important aspects of the novel which make The Calgary Chessman unique, and made Crooked Cat Publishing decide to publish your story.?
The form of the book is quite classic: over the course of the novel, our heroine solves a mystery (which is complete by the end of the book) while also telling us something about herself, her life, her family and friends. The story ends on a questioning note: Cas Longmore definitely has more to tell us.

I think that the plot is original enough to be appealing, and also that Cas Longmore herself is a strong, interesting character. I hope that people will read her, and want to know more.

Are you working on another novel at present?
There are two further novels in The Calgary Chessman sequence. Since signing off on the final edit of TCC, I’ve begun the process of revisiting its sequel, The Book of Lismore. I pillaged The Book of Lismore for material to create the version of The Calgary Chessman that Crooked Cat are about to publish, so now I need to write some new material. The archaeological story in the sequel is a bit more mysterious, Cas Longmore’s life gets more complicated, her son gets into even more mischief, and there’s another beautiful Scottish location. It’s going to be fun.

That sounds wonderful, Yvonne. I look forward to reading them. Here's a bit about The Calgary Chessman. 

On a windswept beach on the Isle of Mull, Cas Longmore is walking away loneliness when she unearths a mystery in the sand. To Cas, torn between Scotland and her New Zealand home, the object seems as odd and out-of-place as herself.
Intrigued, she begins to search for its origins, thinking it will bring a brief respite from isolation. Instead, the Calgary chess piece opens the door to friendships and new hope. Her son, meanwhile, brings home his own revelation to shake her world.

Buy from Amazon

Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on an island off the West Coast of Scotland. She has a Masters in Botany from Victoria University of Wellington, and a keen interest in the interface between the natural and human worlds. She has always made up stories and poems, and once won a crate of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). In 2012, she won the Britwriters Award for poetry, and her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published in 2014 by Indigo Dreams Publishing.
She has worked in schools, libraries and university labs, has been a pre-school crèche worker and a farm labourer, cleaned penthouse apartments and worked as amanuensis to an eminent Botanist. She currently has a day job (in the local school) and has teenage children, and would continue to write even if no-one read her work, because it’s the only thing that keeps her sane. In her spare time she climbs hills, looks for rare moths and promises herself to do more in the garden.
You can follow her work via the Facebook group The Calgary Chessman, or on the Wordpress blog The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet. (The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet)

Yvonne Marjot @Alayanabeth (Twitter)

Best wishes for your launch of The Calgary Chessman, for all  of your future writing, and thank you for taking time out to visit today.


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