Name Vanessa Couchman
Age Old enough to have achieved experience but probably not wisdom.
Where are you from I grew up in southern England but I have lived full-time in south-west France for the past 17 years.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I grew up with books. When I was very young, my mother, who was a Bookaholic, read to me. I learned to read before I went to school and later devoured the contents of my parents’ set of encyclopedias, especially the Greek and Norse myths. It was there that my interest in storytelling started. I almost became a doctor but wasn’t good enough at the maths, so I changed to arts subjects and read History at Oxford University. Writing has been a golden thread throughout my career, but it was non-fiction writing up until four years ago, when I took up writing fiction again after a long gap. I’ve never had children (never felt responsible enough) and am on my second marriage to a lovely man, which has lasted considerably longer than the first.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My debut historical novel, The House at Zaronza, was published by Crooked Cat Publishing at the end of July. It’s set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front during World War I. I am planning a sequel, set mainly in World War II.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
When I was very young. I loved making up stories, usually with magic and witches in them. I liked the idea of a parallel world to ours, inhabited by fantastic creatures.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
About four years ago, when I started having short stories accepted for anthologies and doing quite well in some competitions. I took up fiction only in 2010 after a long gap due to career.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
The House at Zaronza is loosely based on a true story. A box containing old love letters was found in a Corsican attic and it turns out they were written by the local schoolmaster to a young woman of a bourgeois family. They had a secret relationship but she had to marry someone else. I took the basis of the story and developed it from there.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Difficult to say. It’s not something I actively work at. But I’m told I have an “economical style”, which I presume means I am not verbose.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I was struggling to find a title but saw a house in a local town that I thought looked a little Corsican. The name of the village in the title of my book, Zaronza, is an invented name.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The novel is about roots. How centuries of Corsican history and culture remain deeply rooted in people, even if they move away.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
It’s mostly fiction, while based on a true story. But I did a lot of research about life in Corsica at that time and about nursing in World War I (the main character becomes a nurse at the Front).
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not consciously, but I imagine there are elements of people I have known in my characters.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
When I was young, Alan Garner’s books The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath were very influential. I always come back to Dickens’ Great Expectations, which I think is one of the best pieces of sustained character development I have ever read.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Hilary Mantel. I just love her writing style, although I don’t think I try to copy it.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Booker Prize longlisted History of the Rain by Niall Williams.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Rachel Joyce is not exactly a new author, since she was a playwright before becoming a novelist, but I very much like her writing.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
The sequel to The House at Zaronza is taking up most of my time at the moment. But I’m trying to keep up the short story writing.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Writers Abroad, the online writing community for ex-pats, to which I belong.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I don’t think I would ever make enough money from fiction writing to describe it as a career. I write non-fiction for a living (copywriting, magazine articles, etc.). If I could afford to, though, I would like to spend more time writing fiction.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not really. I might add a little more dialogue in Part 3. And I would expunge idiocies like the bit where I describe how someone got on a bus and someone else lifted a corner of their apron and waved it “as it took off it a cloud of fumes.” The apron took off? That one bypassed everybody.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Being read to as a very young child sparked my interest in stories and writing.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Not really. It’s still in my head! But it follows up some of the younger characters in The House at Zaronza and what happens to them during World War II. It takes place both on Corsica and in mainland France.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The discipline to get down to it. The internet is a terrible distraction in that regard. I’m seriously thinking of getting the programme that blocks your access to it for a certain time.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Too many to enumerate. But I do like Rosie Thomas’s books and the fact that she has travelled everywhere she writes about, including the Antarctic and the Himalayas.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Having an historical background, I enjoy doing research and that includes travelling to places I want to write about. I’m very attached to Corsica, where The House at Zaronza is set. It’s by chance that we found the story about the love letters when we were staying in a B&B there.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Crooked Cat Publishing. However, I chose the cover photo, which shows a typical Corsican house in an alleyway, with lovely terracotta and green tones. The publishers sent me a link to a photo website and that image was almost the first one I saw. I was really delighted when they showed me the design.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
That I could do it! I wasn’t sure I could tackle a sustained piece of work like a novel, so it was a great sense of achievement when I realized that I could.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read as widely and as much as you can. Write whenever you get the opportunity (one day I will take my own advice). Learn from rejection, hard as it is, and be persistent.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you to everyone who has read The House at Zaronza. A number of people have said that they couldn’t put it down and that it brought Corsica alive for them. To have achieved that is my biggest reward.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
It was probably the Ladybird Robin Hood, which my mother had previously read to me at bedtime.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Bad jokes make me laugh and I love the old Ealing Comedies. I cry at the drop of a hat: weddings, funerals, christenings, sporting events, sad novels.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would like to meet and why?
Elizabeth I. What an extraordinary character she must have been.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
Her writing brought enjoyment to others. I don’t think it needs explanation.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Yoga, walking, singing, food and drink, gardening
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I rarely watch TV and we don’t get English TV (although we could if we wanted to). They used to make terrific costume dramas but I blush to admit that I have never seen Downton Abbey.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Classical music: anything by Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninov.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I have a blog about my life in France: http://vanessafrance.wordpress.com
And a writing site: http://vanessacouchmanwriter.wordpress.com – I hope shortly to update this with a better website.