Friday 4 April 2014

Author Interview ~ Rebecca Mascull.

Today I'm thrilled to welcome the lovely Rebecca Mascull to the blog in an author interview. Rebecca is the author of The Visitors, which I've just started reading and loving so far!

Connect with Rebecca: Blog ; Twitter ; Facebook

Tell us about yourself!

I’ve just had my first novel The Visitors published in January by Hodder & Stoughton. This follows 12 years of writing novels, submitting to agents and publishers, and a long line of rejections! I used to teach in schools and colleges and I continue to work as an examiner. I’m a mum to daughter Poppy and partner to Simon. We live by the sea in the east of England.

What was the inspiration for your debut novel, The Visitors?

I worked with deaf students when I was teacher training and was fascinated by the different ways in which they communicated and accessed the curriculum. I shared a bus journey with one student, James, and we had a conversation on a notepad where he taught me what it was like to be deaf. I also saw a TV movie when I was a child about Helen Keller and was captivated by the idea of what it would be like to have no sight and hearing. When I came to write this book, I wanted to set it at a time when the first attempts at educating the deaf-blind were beginning to be made, yet the majority of deaf-blind children were treated as idiots. I wanted my character to fight against that.

What is your writing process?

I start with the germ of an idea – it can be something from a dream, or an image that pops in my head, or something I see from the train or hear on the radio. At some point, it will start knocking at my door and demanding to be heard. It can be a premise – a ‘what if..?’ situation, or could be a scene involving two characters in a quandary. It’s all rather mysterious and it’s tricky to analyse it fully. You just go with it once it comes to you. My sub-conscious works on it and eventually details of the plot begin to unfurl like a rug. That’s when I grab a new notebook and start jotting things down. Then I tend to decide on a setting and start to research that time and place, as well as the themes or issues surrounding the story. For The Visitors, this would be Victorian Kent, deaf-blindness, hops and oysters, and the Boer War. Once the research is about half-done, I write a synopsis and then get cracking on the actual writing. I mostly write during the school day, when the house is empty and quiet.

Are you working on a new book at the moment and if so, can you tell us a bit about it?

I have just finished the main draft of my latest novel. I can’t say too much about it as it is being looked at right now. But suffice to say it is set in the eighteenth century and is about a female scientist.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your writing journey?

The most difficult part has been the years of rejection by agents and publishers before I finally achieved my goal, which was to secure a publishing contract with a major publisher for my novel. I wrote 3 novels before The Visitors, all of which secured agents and 2 were submitted to publishers, all without a deal in the end. That whole process took over 10 years and that was very dispiriting. There were times when I was close to giving up, thinking I was fooling myself and that it would never happen. It was my partner Simon’s support for me, and his belief as well as that of certain friends and family and my super agent Jane Conway-Gordon who said – you will make it! – that kept me going. And finally, in 2012, The Visitors got a publishing contract with Hodder, and it was all worth it. But it’s not been easy!

The most rewarding aspect of your writing journey?

One of the best bits is actually finishing each book. The feeling when you’ve completed a project you have been working on for years, when you’ve achieved what you set out to do, and created something new and separate from yourself – that is a wonderful moment. The day we found out that Hodder had said yes was also bloody marvellous! And reading good reviews of The Visitors has been a fantastic experience, that a reader out there ‘gets’ it, that it has moved them and meant something to them, that a character you created is out there in the world. That’s a privilege and a pleasure.

Who are some of your favourite authors to read at the moment?

I don’t have much time to read novels throughout the year, as I’m either reading research books for the next novel, or I’m writing the book itself, during which time I don’t read any novels at all as I’m worried I’ll be influenced by the novelist I’m reading. So there’s a brief window in between each project where I read novels voraciously! And I tend to read a lot of older stuff, as I love the quaint and interesting language use of writers from the past. However, my reading habits have developed a lot since I got my publishing contract. My lovely Hodder editor, Suzie Dooré, gives me new books to read – and some of these have been books I’d never have picked up and these have really opened my mind to being more adventurous with new fiction. For example, the book cover of ‘Where D’you Go, Bernadette’ completely put me off that book, but when Suzie gave it to me I read it all the way home on the train and days after and could not put it down till it was finished. I absolutely loved it. Now I’ve started looking at other contemporary fiction with a broader mind and discovered some real gems. It’s also been lovely to make contact with other debut authors and read their work too, such as Katherine Clements, Martine Bailey and Louise Walters. I loved their books and it’s been a delight to talk with them and share our books with each other, as well as with my good friend YA author Kerry Drewery. We always share our first drafts with each other and that’s wonderful too. So I’m glad to say my tastes are broadening. However, my all-time favourite authors currently remain Margaret Atwood, Charles Dickens, the Brontës, Raymond Carver, JD Salinger, Amy Tan, Isabel Allende, amongst others.

Name one book that you have read that you would love to have written yourself, and why?

Oh gosh, that is a difficult one. Probably something which has stood the test of time and is absolutely universal, yet is a marvellous work of a singular imagination – perhaps Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird, or Great Expectations or Wuthering Heights. Those books will never, ever die and will speak to new audiences forever, I think.

Physical books or ebooks?

Both, I think. They have their place and their uses. E-books are very useful and can encourage more people to read. But I do believe that physical books won’t go out of fashion, as they are such beautiful objects. Beautiful books on a shelf are just a joy, and I can’t imagine us losing that wonderful feeling of holding a brand new book in your hand and opening up the pages to experience new worlds on the page. It’s a special kind of magic which just isn’t the same on a screen.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to become an author?

Persevere. If you want to secure a traditional publishing contract, you will probably go through many rejections. It may well take years. Some writers choose different routes, including self-publishing. Some will achieve their dream very quickly, others may never make it. There’s as many ways to be a writer as there are writers. But whatever your aim is, you just have to keep going, keep writing, keep reading and sharing your writing with others. Keep prodding the gatekeepers who are stopping you from progressing to the next level – the agents, the editors, the reviewers, the readers – keep making connections and reminding the world you are here and your work is worth reading. And work, work, work. Read, read, read. Good novels don’t just happen.

Anything you’d like to add?

Just to add that the hardback and e-book of The Visitors are available now, whilst the paperback is coming out in July. And if readers enjoy the book, please help by putting a review on Amazon and Goodreads – it’s so useful to writers and we appreciate it hugely!

Thank you so much for your interesting questions, Sophie!

Purchase links: Amazon ; Waterstones ; Hive

Thanks for joining us, Rebecca!

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