This month’s’ books is ‘Exquisite’ by Sarah Stovell.
Hello Sarah, thank you for agreeing to chat about your book, Exquisite, I really enjoyed reading it.
Your writing is frankly amazing and I am in awe of it, which has actually made it quite hard to come up with questions! But I would like to talk about the process of writing such an intense book with two such strong characters. Did you find that they developed at the same time, or were they fighting for your attention as you went along? I wonder if one of them came to you first, or were they both always there at the start?
They were both there, full formed, at the very beginning. I had been thinking of them for years, though, so it wasn’t quite as easy as that makes it sounds.
People often talk about a writer needing a glint of ice in the heart, that we mine personal experience ruthlessly. I think both your characters demonstrate that to the extreme, in different ways. I’m not going to ask if any of this is drawn on your own lived experience, but I am asking if you feel inherently that writers are risky people to get to close to maybe?
No, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t advise anyone to behave so badly to a writer that the writer feels a need to expose them. Because obviously, the writer will go ahead and do that.
The writing retreat in this made me smile, the description of the people there, I think I saw myself among them! I guess I would say this, but they are an amazing opportunity and can have that other world feel as you have time out from the real world to focus on your passion. Have you been on one before?
Yes. I have been on them and taught on them. They can be excellent. Really life-changing.
I like the way you use food in the book, it makes a statement about each of the main characters and the worlds they live in and that they create, especially Bo. How do you feel you the food relates to your story?
The sort of food we eat, like everything, is an indicator of social class (sadly). People at the top of the class-food chain get to munch down on gold. Those at the bottom get a few tins of economy soup from the food bank. This, in turn, will affect a person’s mental health. In ‘Exquisite’, Alice is very vulnerable and often hungry. She can’t cook, or look after herself. Bo, who has more power and wealth, eats well and uses food as a way of nurturing others. This is the first novel where I’ve used food in this way. In my new novel, I take it much further. Food is a big deal.
I think there are parallels between the literary debate over the Wordsworths, the discussion around the William/Dorothy relationship, and your book. Do you feel the two stories relate to each other?
Yes. There is a theme of a love that is so deep and shocking, it transgresses normal boundaries.
I hope that you’’ve written tons of books before this, because if this really is your first book I really will cry – but how have you developed your voice and got to the point of publication with Exquisite?
It’s very hard to pinpoint a smooth line of development in writing, but I would say that my first novel focused mainly on the voices of the characters. As I’ve developed, I have become more interested in landscape (which is something that has become increasingly important to me personally) and psychology. I think this shows in my more recent work.
Are you a baker? (Just thinking of the delicious and yet sinister french bread!)
Yes. I love baking. I’d never get anywhere on the Bake-off because I absolutely can’t be bothered to do a show stopper, but I love making cakes, scones, meringues, desserts, bread…
So, where is your writing heading next?
I’ve almost finished my next book. It’s about a young woman named Annie, whose mother has gone missing. Annie is evicted from her house for not paying the rent and goes to work as a nanny. While there, something happens to a child in her care…
Thank you for coming Sarah and giving us an insight into this novel and your writing process.
In my day job, well, one of them, I teach silversmithing, and one of the things you need to learn about is silver soldering. But soldering, the process of using a metal alloy with a lower melting point to the silver to fuse pieces together, doesn’t work without the use of flux. Flux, most commonly borax, is a glass like mineral which you paint on before you solder, and what it does it prevent the surface of the mental reacting with the silver to form an oxide. If you don’t use flux, the hot metal pulls oxygen from the air and when the solder melts, it fuses to this sooty deposit and the joint will fail.
With a lot of the writing I read, even writing I enjoy, I feel that it’s silver without flux, that there’s a coating on I can’t quite get through and which prevents the book from taking, from fusing completely with my mind. Sarah’s writing is like flux, it’s so good that I didn’t feel like I was reading, but rather that the two main characters were with me or that I was with them, that we were fused. I don’t know how you find the flux your writing needs, I don’t know if I have, but read this book if you want to understand what I mean.
And connect with her @sarahlovescrime on Twitter.