Today I am joined by Annabelle Thorpe. Her novel, The People We Were Before, was published by Quercus in April 2016 and has had excellent reviews. You can order a copy here: The People We Were Before
First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?
Well I guess the first thing to say, is that right now – doing this sort of thing, having a published novel to talk about, is like a dream come true for me. Writing novels is what I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was a little girl. I grew up by the sea, in Sussex, always writing, and when I left university I moved to London and decided to become a journalist – ideally as a way to pay the bills while I got my first novel picked up. It didn’t quite work out like that…! But I spent most of my late twenties and thirties travelling; writing features and articles for national newspapers and magazines. It’s a very particular way of life, but I loved it; travel is a pretty powerful addiction – the more you see and discover, the more you want to see. And it’s a great way of collecting material for novels!
What inspired you to start writing?
I was so young, I honestly can’t remember! Probably Winnie the Pooh, or Enid Blyton. I started writing terrible poems and school stories when I was about six, and just never really stopped. It was just always something that was in me, that I wanted to do. I never even thought of doing anything else.
Tell me about your journey to publication?
How long have you got? It was a VERY long road. After several near-misses with agents, I decided I needed to try something different, so I applied for the Curtis Brown Creative Writing Course, and won a place on the second course in Autumn 2011. That was the turning point. I learnt so much, and although it took me another eighteen months to get an agent, I really felt I was on the road. There are still hurdles at that point; it took a while, and a lot of re-writing, to find a publisher – a lot of people were put off by the fact the book was about the Balkan Wars. And even when I finally signed a two-book deal with Quercus, it was still an eighteen-month wait until the book got published. Like I say, a long road!
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
It’s the story of a young Croatian boy, Miro Denkovic, and his family, and what happens to them during the Balkan Wars of the early 1990’s. It begins in the years before the war, when life is pretty idyllic and good money is to be made from tourism. Miro marries and has a daughter, but his decision to join the local television station in Dubrovnik as a trainee cameraman, puts him on a path that will bring him into direct contact with the conflict, and the foreign correspondents who have come to his country to cover it. From that point on, things start to fall apart. I wanted to show how a war can effect one person, one family; the emotional and physical impact of living through that kind of trauma. But although the backdrop is war, it’s very much a book about love; between husband and wife, friends, siblings and wider family. It’s about how love survives.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Lying on Brighton beach with my friend, Sara, who was my chief reader and knew the book almost as well as me. It had been called something else for a long time, but my agent and publisher thought we needed a different title. It took a while, but when we landed on The People We Were Before, we both knew it was right.
How do you plan to celebrate/did you celebrate publication day?
It was a big celebration actually; my friends and family have been an incredible source of support through the long years of trying to get published, and I wanted to share the day with them and give everyone a night to remember! We kicked off at a small bookshop in London Bridge, and then went on to café for prosecco and lots of embarrassing dancing. Even my publisher kicked up her heels. It was one of the best nights of my life.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I do. My next novel is due in in mid July, so I’m a slight panic, but I’m really enjoying being in a different world, and with different characters. This book is set in Marrakech – one of my favourite cities in the world – and Doha, and is more of a thriller. It’s very different to The People We Were Before and I’m loving writing it.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
I loved The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It manages to be both simple and incredibly clever; the basic premise is that the rate at which the world spins on its axis is slowing, by a few seconds, every day. Nights become longer, days shorter, and slowly society begins to change. It’s told through the eyes of a teenage girl, and it’s completely brilliant.
What are you reading just now? (June 2016)
I’ve just finished Old Filth by Jane Gardam, which was fantastic, really beautifully, intricately written. It’s the story of an elderly barrister, known as Old Filth, who everyone believes has led an easy, gilded life. Through the narrative, Gardam shows his traumatic early years as a Raj Orphan, and what happened to him during the Second World War. I’m also reading Midnight at the Pera Palace; a non-fiction book about Istanbul during the inter-war period, seen through the comings and goings at its grandest hotel.
Tell me about your reading habits: book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?
I’m a book girl; love everything from the feel of a book to that slight sense of dismay when you can see that you’re over halfway through a book you love. I tend to slow down from that point on. My brain shuts off in the evening though, so I’m very much a morning reader. And I’ve given up trying to read in the bath – books take a long time to dry out.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
This dates from my childhood, but I always wanted to be Jo March in Little Women. Her combination of fearlessness, humour and independence – along with an ability to write – made her a real heroine of mine when I was younger. Plus, in the most recent film version, she got to marry Gabriel Byrne! Never a bad thing.