Friday, June 15, 2012

An Interview with Rosy Thornton

Today we welcome Rosy Thornton to the blog. Rosy writes contemporary women’s fiction across a broad spectrum, from romantic comedy through social satire to more reflective work exploring women’s lives and aspirations. Rosy lives with her partner in a village in the Cambridgeshire fens where she enjoys long muddy walks with her two spaniels. 

When not writing fiction, she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge. Rosy has been an RNA member since 2009. 

Being a lawyer and writing romance couldn’t be more different. Do tell us, Rosy, what made you want to write and how you got your first break?

I never had any great urge to write, as a matter of fact, and made it as far as my forties without putting pen to paper at all (non-fiction apart). I had always thought of myself as poorly endowed in creative imagination. Things changed in 2005 when I watched the BBC’s dramatisation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic novel ‘North and South’, and was inspired to try my hand at posting some online ‘fanfic’. Within a few months I found I had completed a full-length pastiche sequel to ‘North and South’!

I managed to find an agent to represent me, and although she didn’t manage to sell that novel, I had by then been thoroughly bitten by the writing bug, and my first ‘proper’ novel, MORE THAN LOVE LETTERS was published by Headline Review in 2006.

Your latest book is Ninepins and sounds quite mysterious. Can you tell us more and what inspired you to write it?

‘Ninepins’ is my fifth novel, and its inspiration came from the landscape of the Cambridgeshire fens around the village where I live. It’s a strange sort of country, with its own particular windswept beauty, but also a sense of desolation and even of menace – not least from the omnipresent water which lurks beneath the surface of the soil and threatens to rise up and reclaim this land where no land should be. It is no coincidence that the elements – fire and water, earth and air – as well as ideas of flooding and drowning run like a thread through my book.

Did you plan the structure of the book before you started or allowed it emerge as you wrote?

I’m a confirmed ‘pantser’: I write by the seat of my pants. I begin with some characters – and, in this case, a setting – but only the haziest notion of where my narrative is going to take them. The story emerges as I write.

What point of view do you most enjoy writing: first person or third? Can you say why that is?

I prefer the flexibility of the third person, and all my novels have been written in that form – apart from ‘More Than Love Letters’, which was epistolary. I like the freedom the third person gives to narrate events from more then one point of view. Of my novels to date, only one (‘The Tapestry of Love’) sticks to a single third person viewpoint.

I have even experimented with an unfashionably omniscient approach. My campus novel, HEARTS AND MINDS, is told from the perspective of five main point-of-view characters, with snatches through the eyes of various lesser players. It was quite a challenge to write – but also enormous fun!

What tips would you give an aspiring writer on dealing with rejections, or have you been spared such set-backs? 

I have certainly had my share of rejections and set-backs: for each of my five published novels there is at least one more which has had to be consigned permanently to the bottom drawer. My advice would be boringly simply: never give up.

Are you upbeat or concerned about the digital revolution? How do you think it might affect your own career? 

I see no point in being ‘concerned’ about something as inevitable as the advance of the e-book. That said, its onward march has so far had little impact upon me personally, either as a reader or a writer. I must admit I don’t yet possess an e-reader and none of my friends and contemporaries regularly use one – I think it may be a factor of age! All my novels are available as e-books as well as in print, but to date the numbers sold in digital form have added up to the tiniest fraction of my overall sales. No doubt this will change, either slowly or with increasing speed. One nice thing about being published electronically is accessibility to readers all round the world without the expense of postage and packing.

If you could change the view from your office, what would you choose? 

I don’t have an office. Or rather, I do: I have a beautiful one in Emmanuel College from which I conduct my day job as a Law don, but I make a point of never giving way to the urge of writing fiction there. That could be the thin end of a dangerous wedge! My novels are mostly written at the kitchen table at home, with a spaniel asleep across my feet. The view is of our back garden, and there is nothing whatever about it that I would change – unless perhaps the lawn could miraculously keep itself cut short.

What makes you laugh the most?

My partner and my two spaniels – separately and in combination. Actually, many things make me laugh – old Cary Grant films; ‘Have I Got News For You’; all kinds of fiction from Jane Austen through Barbara Pym to Meera Syal and Phillipa Ashley; David Sedaris monologues; the poetry of Wendy Cope; Radio 4 comedy; re-runs of ‘Blackadder’.

If you were starting out afresh what advice would you give yourself as a fledging writer.

I think the main thing I would say would be, try not to take everything so much to heart: work hard and believe in what you do, but remember to have fun along the way. Never forget to enjoy the process of writing for its own sake.

Rosy’s latest novel NINEPINS was published by Sandstone Press on 19th April 2012. 


Ninepins is an isolated former tollhouse in the Cambridgeshire fens. There live single mother Laura and her twelve-year-old daughter, Beth, in the carefully controlled cocoon that Laura has built around them. But Beth is brittly asthmatic, lonely at school and increasingly distant from her mother. And into their lives like a brisk fen breeze comes Willow, a seventeen-year-old care leaver with a mysterious past, together with her social worker, Vince. Laura must decide: what does Vince want of her, and she of him? Is Willow dangerous or vulnerable, or maybe a little of both? And are all Laura’s painstakingly constructed certainties about to come tumbling down like ninepins? 

Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us today, Rosy. We wish you continuing success with you new book. 
Best wishes, Freda


 Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk

13 comments:

Cara Cooper said...

I don't know the Cambridgeshire Fens at all but this made me want to know more. Good luck with your new book the themes sound fascinating!

Rosy Thornton said...

Thank you, Cara! Love them or hate them, the fens are certainly atmospheric. And there is a long literary tradition of books set there, from 'The Nine Tailors' to 'Waterland'. And crime fiction, too - does anyone know Jim Kelly's brilliant books, set around Ely and King's Lynn?

Lesley Cookman said...

i shall have to buy Ninepins, Rosy. It will no doubt immediately evoke memories of my old home village, Mepal, and its tollhouse. Lovely interview.

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

I need to encourage Ninepins to climb my MT TBR after reading this interesting interview.

Rosy Thornton said...

Ooh, I know Mepal well, Lesley. I have often enjoyed a riverside glass of something fortifying at the Three Pickerels!

Toni Sands said...

Really enjoyed reading your interview, Rosy. I've read two of your novels and look forward to reading Ninepins.

Rosy Thornton said...

Thanks, Lindy and Toni!

Anonymous said...

Good bits of advice, Rosy - best of luck with the book. Sam x

Rosy Thornton said...

Thank you, Sam.

Anna Jacobs said...

I enjoyed your interview, Rosy, and I love the cover of Ninepins. Must go and hunt it down.

Happy writing!

Rosy Thornton said...

You're very kind, Anna!

Jan Jones said...

Lovely interview, Rosy. I know exactly what you mean about the Fen landscape. The membrane between now and past millennia is stretched very, very thin.

Fabulous cover for Ninepins. Hope it does well.

Rosy Thornton said...

What a lovely way of expressing it, Jan! Anyone can see why you write hist fic!