Welcome to the blog today, Vanessa Couchman! She is the author of the rather wonderful The House at Zaronza, published by Crooked Cat Publishing and zooming up the charts on a daily basis! Find out what inspired her to write it, as well as a bit about Vanessa herself, and her writing process – I have to say, her idea of what a perfect day would be certainly appeals to me too. For more information, all the links to her books/blog/Twitter etc are at the bottom. Take it away, Vanessa…
What are the main ideas or themes in your book?
The main theme of The House at Zaronza concerns roots and homeland and how deeply we are influenced by the culture we grow up in. A secondary theme is the place of women in patriarchal societies such as Corsica, and the way in which this slowly started to change in the early 20th century, particularly as a result of World War I.
Tell us more about the main characters and their dilemmas.
The main character is Maria Orsini, the daughter of a bourgeois family in a Corsican village. She and the local schoolmaster have a secret relationship, of which her family would have disapproved. Maria wants to marry her schoolmaster but her parents want her to marry a cousin to keep the family possessions together. Her plans to avoid this are thwarted by circumstances and by the actions of someone close to her.
At the beginning of the novel, Maria’s goal is simply to lead a more interesting life and escape the deadening boredom of life with her parents in the village of Zaronza (an invented name). Later on, she engages in a quest to recapture her lost love.
And the location – what is it about Corsica that inspires you particularly?
A lot of my stories are set in France or Corsica. Location and a sense of place are very important in my writing – and to me personally. Corsica is almost a character in its own right in The House at Zaronza and a lot of people have remarked that it comes over strongly.
Corsica in particular inspires me for two main reasons. First, it has a savagely beautiful mountainous landscape, set in the Mediterranean, with picturesque perched villages. It’s a place to which I keep returning. Second, it has a fascinating history and a unique culture, which provide plenty of material for stories and novels.
How do you go about writing a novel? Do you start off with an outline or plot as you go?
Somewhere between the two. I like to have an outline before kicking off, but I know that it may well change along the way, so it can’t be too rigid. And sometimes I just like to see how a particular scene will develop from an idea.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finding the time to do it! I run my own business as a freelance writer and so my fiction has to be fitted in around that. At the moment, people are throwing work at me, which poses a dilemma, nice though it is to be in demand.
What are you working on currently?
A sequel to The House at Zaronza, set mostly during World War II. It follows some of the characters and their reactions to the Occupation during the war.
What advice do you have for less experienced writers?
I’m not sure I would describe myself as experienced, since I took up writing fiction only five years ago. But I have two main pieces of advice. First, read a lot and read widely. You learn a huge amount from other authors and their writing. Second, be persistent. Writers have to live with rejection on a daily basis. We all hate it, whatever we might say, and growing a thick skin isn’t easy. But work at honing your skills, take on board other people’s criticism of your work, and keep submitting.
What would your perfect day be?
An uninterrupted morning’s writing followed by a long walk in the glorious countryside around us in the afternoon, topped off by a delicious dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant, preceded by a glass of champagne!
Name a book or a film that means a lot to you.
Le Vieux Fusil (The Old Gun) is a film set in France at the time of the Liberation in 1944. It was filmed at a village not far from us. The idyllic start quickly transforms into horror and revenge. Superb acting from Philippe Noiret and Romy Schneider. And a bit of inspiration for my work in progress, although I won’t say more than that.
Amazon UK – http://tinyurl.com/UK-Zaronza
Amazon US – http://tinyurl.com/US-Zaronza
Website and Blog: https://vanessacouchmanwriter.wordpress.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/vanessa.couchman.3?fref=ts
Twitter – https://twitter.com/Vanessainfrance