Wednesday 4 May 2016

Q&A with Vanessa Ronan, author of The Last Days of Summer

TITLE: The Last Days of Summer
AUTHOR: Vanessa Ronan
PUBLISHER: Penguin Ireland


Amazon - Goodreads

She can forgive. They can't forget.

After ten years in the Huntsville State Penitentiary, Jasper Curtis returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters. Lizzie does not know who she's letting into her home: the brother she grew up loving or the monster he became.

Teenage Katie distrusts this strange man in their home but eleven-year-old Joanne is just intrigued by her new uncle.

Jasper says he's all done with trouble, but in a forgotten prairie town that knows no forgiveness, it does not take long for trouble to arrive at their door ...

Hi Vanessa. Can you tell us a bit about your debut The Last Days of Summer?

THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER begins as the convict, Jasper Curtis, is released from the Huntsville State Penitentiary to move in with his sister and her two young daughters far out on the Texas prairie. It is a story about a dark soul coming home and how this affects the family and the community. Told from four different points of view, it explores the aftermath of crime more than the crime itself, while simultaneously examining themes of forgiveness, redemption, and revenge.

Did you always want to be an author? Have you been writing from childhood?

When I was three I had a black notebook I filled with squiggly lines. I brought the notebook to my mother and very proudly told her, “Mommy, I just wrote a novel.” I didn’t know the alphabet yet (oddly enough I always forgot the letter V) but my mother swears that every time I read my “novel” to her I read the same story, word for word, as though I knew what each squiggly line meant. Nearly everyone in my family writes. I think a part of me always knew that I would, too.

The Last Days of Summer has quite a dark theme running through it. Which aspect of the book did you know first, the bit that inspired you to write the book?

The Last Days of Summer started as a short story while I was a creative writing student at the University of Edinburgh. The summer before that, I had been traveling with my brother when a news report came on the radio discussing the upcoming release of a criminal institutionalized for many years. The report said that the convict showed no remorse and, it stated that, upon release, he was due to move back to his hometown—the same small town where his crime had been committed. My brother and I looked at each other and said, “Wow. What happens next? What an interesting place to start a story!” Months later, when I needed material for the constant flow of short stories we were required to write, I remembered that conversation. I knew early on that I wanted the novel to be character driven. The dynamics of the family also fascinated me, and I felt it was important to tell the story from all sides.

The book is told from various POVs – Jasper, Lizzie, Katie and Joanne’s – did you have a favourite character to write?

Not really, no! I enjoyed getting to switch between their different viewpoints. As I mentioned before, it seemed very important to explore this story from all angles. Had I been “stuck” in any one character’s mind, I think it would have been a much harder story to tell with compassion. I quite enjoyed creating and exploring each character’s psyche. They became very real to me during the four years they developed in my head. In fact, so much so that, as the characters grew and gained strength, they took on a surprising independence I didn’t expect—each one said or did things at one time or another that I hadn’t planned. But I felt I had to ‘go with it’ each time because that was what Jasper would have done or Joanne would have said, so who was I to stifle their voices?

Character development was something I found really interesting in your debut. How much planning do you do for your characters and do you find it easy when writing to change characters and get into the mind and mentality of a different person?

My characters are always with me, lurking in the dark corners of my brain. They develop quite a bit there, in the back of my mind as I go about my usual routine. In terms of planning, I write down a bit of each character’s backstory, just for myself, so I know their history. I usually don’t plan too far ahead though, and I like to let both the characters and the story develop naturally. Allowing room for spontaneity is definitely an important part of my creative process. When it comes to switching between the character’s minds, I usually (though not always) will only write from one POV per day. When I start writing I often close my eyes and visualize I am the character. I think, “Where am I now? What am I doing?” My scenes then unfold from there. It takes a little while when I’m done writing for the day though to fully transition back into the present moment! Sometimes it feels like I’m looking in two worlds at once.

Do your own travels inspire the settings in your writing?

The years of my childhood spent living of the edge of the Texas prairie deeply impacted my descriptions in THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER. But, I believe that the more cultures and aspects of life one has the opportunity of absorbing, the better. Ever since I was a child I loved watching people. My characters come from everyone I’ve watched—this idiosyncrasy borrowed from this stranger here, this turn of phrase overheard out of context there, etc. As storytellers, I think we gather up all the oddities we witness in life and sift through them—or at least, that’s what I do! I feel very lucky that my travels and the varied places I’ve lived have given me a colourful world to observe.

The Last Days of Summer is a highly compelling read that I’m sure many people will be reading this summer, but what books are you looking forward to reading over the coming months?

I was recently given a proof copy of Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent. It’s not out until July but I loved Unravelling Oliver, so I can’t wait to see what she’s done next! I also am a big fan of Jonathan Safran Foyer’s earlier novels and look forward to reading Here I Am when it’s released this Autumn.

If you could dine with three other authors, dead or alive, who would they be?

I’d love to dine with Cormac McCarthy, and the (recently deceased) poets C K Williams and Franz Wright. Why? Because they are three of my biggest inspirations and have been since I was quite young.

How are you planning to celebrate publication day?

Probably with a happy dance. Or two.

Can you tell us anything about your next book?

My second novel is set deep in the back woods of the Appalachian Mountains. It is another dark tale told from multiple perspectives, set into the fringes of society.

The Last Days of Summer will be published by Penguin Ireland on May 5, 2016.


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