Interview with Shelan Rodger, author of Yellow Room

Today I am delighted to welcome Shelan Rodger to my blog. Several years ago Shelan invited me to my first London literary event where I mingled with, amongst others, Broo Doherty and Anne Cater, both unknown to me at the time. I am delighted that Dome Press have chosen to release her beautifully written second novel, Yellow Room, which deserves to find a wide audience. Shelan has provided excellent answers to my questions – I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

 

1. Can you tell my readers a little about yourself and your background?

‘Writer and wilderness lover with a patchwork life’ is how I describe myself on Twitter. Born in Nigeria, I grew up in an aboriginal community on the Tiwi Islands north of Australia. I was eleven when my family moved to England and after graduating in modern languages from Oxford, my travels began again and I spent a number of years in Argentina and Kenya, before moving to Spain, where I live on a volcanic stretch of coastline in Andalucía.

Professionally, I started as an English language teacher, moving into a variety of roles over the years, all connected to international education, or learning & development projects around anti-discrimination and leadership during the time I spent in Africa.

Writing has been a lifelong passion, fuelled by a fascination with what shapes us and our sense of who we are – which I’m sure is partly driven by the mish-mash of cultures and landscapes in my own life!

2. Can you tell us about Yellow Room?

Yellow Room is a drama that explores the power of secrets, the forces that mould our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. It is set in England and Kenya, with a poignant insight into the 2008 post-election crisis that took over a thousand lives.

3. What inspired the book?

Yellow Room was born from a very simple idea which I cannot share without giving too much away! But it grew out of a fascination with what creates our sense of who we are and whether the ‘I’ we believe in really exists or is just an illusion. And secrets! Why are we so fascinated by them? Why do we have them? Secrets are insidious, powerful, pervasive, also a clue to our sense of personal identity if we listen to them –  and I wanted to explore their power through the lives of my characters in Yellow Room.

I also wanted to explore the way our inner world interacts with and can be affected by another culture and external events around us and I did this against the backdrop of Kenya, where I was living when I wrote the first draft of the book. Much of the insight into the historical events, as well as the lives of street kids in Naivasha, is inspired by personal experience.

4. When writing, are you an architect who researches and plans everything in advance or a gardener who plants an idea and allows it to develop organically?

Definitely a gardener – and I love this image! I start with a vision of the tree I want to create and then rather blindly plant the seed that I hope will bear fruit, watering and nurturing my idea along the way, but also aware that the tree may turn out to look quite different to what I had initially envisaged, as it grows.

5. What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but those special moments when you achieve a state of flow that is almost like being in a trance, when words just seem to wash through you and it feels as though you are just a vessel for the characters on your page to speak through. There is something very earthy and connected about that feeling, the sheer wonder of creativity.

6. And your least favourite?

Eternally brushing that monkey off your shoulder, the one who looks down at what you’re writing and says, that’s a pile of crap, who do you think you are? Or even, very occasionally, wow that’s amazing. I know that this monkey is not what I need – he can come out later and behave appropriately when it gets to editing but I don’t want him around when I’m writing.

7. Do you enjoy using social media?

I am a social media novice really. If social media were someone I was dating, I would say that I’m not quite sure what I think of him yet. He makes me feel connected, shows me the glamour of a bigger world and yet I am shy in his company and not sure I can trust him yet…

8. How actively do you seek out reviews of your books?

I read reviews with real curiosity to see how individuals react to my books, aware that everyone will respond differently and loving the various nuances that come through. Whether they are heart-warming, challenging, insightful – full of praise or even damning – reviews are life-affirming for a writer I think. Because at the end of the day writing is only one part of the process; being read is the other. And the insight into a reader’s response is a true privilege.

9. What do you choose to do when you wish to treat yourself?

Gosh, anything from a massage, or a sundowner somewhere beautiful with a friend, to meditating on a cliff overlooking the sea.

10. What books have you read and enjoyed recently?

Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for The Time Being was a book I found intriguing; I love the way she explores and crosses the boundaries between past and present, between fact and fiction, between writer and reader.

Amanda Jennings is a writer fascinated by the different identities we all have inside us and what trauma and twists can do to wake these up and this is born out again by her latest novel, In Her Wake, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun was a delicious recent read; the almost dream-like way he uses language and the poignant exploration of buried love and longing.

11. Who would you like to sit down to dinner with, real or from fiction?

Gosh, that’s a difficult question, there are so many – real and fictitious!

Carmen de Burgos was a Spanish author and feminist activist born in 1867. She was an extraordinary and brave character, one of those people who make history, a woman who fought for freedom at a time and place where women were far from free. And she was born in the village of Rodalquilar, where I live in southern Spain, so it would be fascinating if she could time travel now to sit down with me for dinner at a local restaurant in the place of her birth.

12. What question has no interviewer asked that you wish they would?

What an interesting but difficult question! Well, a lot of questions that writers are asked naturally have to do with what their books are about and what has inspired them or the writing process that created them. I haven’t (yet!) been asked the question: ‘What difference, if any, would you like your writing to make?’ I think that would introduce an interesting perspective, about what an author aspires to in terms of the relationship between writer and reader and the tiny part they play in the world…

Yellow Room is published by The Dome Press.

This post is a stop on the Yellow Room Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

You may read my review of the original release of Yellow Room here.

 

We carry not only our past but also our future in the present

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Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post from one of my favourite authors. I was impressed by Shelan Rodger‘s debut novel, Twin Truths, so was excited to be sent an early review copy of her second, Yellow Room, earlier this year.

Yellow Room blew me away. Check out my thoughts on it by clicking here.

The book was launched at a fabulous party in London last month and we can now enjoy the blog tour of which this post is a part. Below Shelan reflects on the notion that time is not linear and that, at some level, we carry knowledge of the future inside of us. I hope that you find her thoughts on the subject as interesting as I did.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Shelan Rodger.

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From the moment we are born, we start cramming our suitcase with our past. Yet, as I get older, I grow more and more convinced that time is not linear and that, at some level, we also carry knowledge of the future with us.

I will spend the rest of my life with an image of fear in my partner’s eyes, which at the time seemed extreme, but which has been born out since by the trauma of brain surgery. It was as if his body already knew.

When I dipped into my own books to prepare this blog post, I came across two passages about the notion of flash-forwards:

From Yellow Room:

‘The smell of human skin hit her the moment she entered the airport building (…) The flashback from ten years before was so acute it made her want to cry (…) at least we’re spared flash-forwards, thought Chala – imagine a world in which a certain smell or tune conjured up with the same intensity an experience yet to be lived. (…) Ignorance of the future is what makes us strong, she thought; hope is only possible because of it.’

From Twin Truths:

‘Imagine if flash-forwards to the future existed, how many events would seem unbelievable, laughable even, or just plain intolerable. I imagine life as a pile of bones without the flesh of time to join the different bones together and fatten the relationship between them…’

Yes, I am glad I cannot see into the future. And yet it is as if the cells of our flesh intuit at some level what is going to happen. We may only become aware of this in hindsight, may only see the signs looking back, but they are there, in our bodies, working slowly on preparing us for our futures. There is something of this notion behind one of the last lines of Yellow Room:

‘On the horizon of her being, her observer sat, quietly nonchalant and waiting for her future.’

Can you relate to this? Can you look back now and realize that somehow, somewhere, at some level, you ‘already knew’? When you look back and turn your life into a story, can you remember something that was said – by you or someone else – which now seems prophetic, which makes sense now with what has happened since? Is there a moment you felt something strange, a twinge of something you didn’t understand at the time, but which has come back quietly to haunt you since?

Both my novels explore the impact of the past in different ways, the way our pasts shape our sense of who we are, the scars we carry with us into the future. And yet these scars, which we so readily associate with the past, are perhaps also scars for what is still to come…

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This post is part of the Yellow Room Blog Tour. Do check out the other stops, detailed below.

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Gig Review: Launch Party for Yellow Room

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As a book blogger I follow many bookish types on Twitter. Some of the most exciting tweets feature news and photographs from book launches, those eager celebrations for the publication of an author’s latest ‘baby’. They always look such happy and fun events.

When one of my favourite authors, Shelan Rodger, invited me to attend the launch of the fabulous Yellow Room I decided that I could not turn her kindness down. Thus, yesterday, I traveled up to London for a party.

And what a party it was. Held in Treadwell’s Bookshop, a fascinating place to visit for those with an interest in magic and the occult, the crowd who had come along were among the most friendly I have ever encountered. I knew nobody there other than through the tenuous link of social media yet had no difficulty in striking up a series of varied and interesting conversations.

The wine flowed and the people spilled out onto the street as writers, agents, publishers, family and friends mingled. Shelan gave a lovely speech and then signed all of the books that her ardent readers had purchased.

It seems that a book launch party is something like a wedding. Everyone there knows the star of the show, has come along to admire and wish her well, and then spends the entire celebration talking to random strangers. In a gathering such as this it was all highly enjoyable.

I regretted being unable to join those who were planning on eating together afterwards but I had a train to catch. I left with my head filled with book recommendations, the promise of information on a literary festival close to where I live, and my heart warmed by the people I had met.

Attending the launch was not the only delight of the evening. I discovered that I am quoted on the back cover of the book.

 

 

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Book Review: Yellow Room

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Yellow Room, by Shelan Rodger, is an engaging, compassionate masterpiece of literary fiction. The language is elegant, sensuous and evocative; the characterisations complex and believable. This novel cements the author’s place as a writer of substance.

Chala has grown up with the knowledge that, at four years of age, she accidentally killed her baby sister, an event that has haunted every aspect of her life. Unable to cope with the death of their baby her guardians separated. When Chala’s role in the accident became known at school she was cast out by all except her loyal best friend. Chala struggles to cope with the burden of her guilt seeking some means by which she may make amends.

She decides to fly to Kenya as a volunteer at a shelter for rescued street children. Chala wishes to offer practical help, to make a difference. She soon comes to realise that the problems in Africa cannot be solved by western aid; that what is reported abroad is a snapshot, a construct of a foreign media which soon loses interest and moves on.

What seems like wanton cruelty to western eyes goes unnoticed by those who struggle to survive. When a man has spent his entire life being kicked he thinks nothing of kicking a dog. When human bodies lie in the road a dead donkey will not be mourned. Life is cheap and perilous. Those who offer help are appreciated but it is not their efforts that will make a difference long term. Change must come from within.

Chala is changed. She has seen first hand how childhood experiences can seep through and damage the adult, how bad choices can ruin a life. She may walk away from the violence and hunger of Africa but she cannot walk away from herself.

And now Chala harbours another secret, another guilt from a bad choice she made. Determined to do as her uncle implored, to hold on to what she has got, she returns home to attempt to make a life with her husband, Paul. Unbeknown to her Paul also has a secret. What unfolds threatens to tear them apart.

As a reader I felt the raw emotions of the protagonists as they wrestled with their consciences. Is it better to be open and honest when the truth threatens to destroy; should some secrets be kept?

“Why do we have secrets? Whether they are born of fear or shame, denial or the urge to protect or avoid hurting another, so often they create pain and guilt. We pay a price for the things we keep bottled inside us, and sometimes the bottle bursts.”

After all that had gone before, the denouement was satisfying and uplifting. Life is complex and the fallout from decisions rarely predictable. Still though, it goes on.

I am in awe of this author who can put into words the emotions that bubble beneath the surface of a life. I loved this book and cannot recommend it highly enough. When you have the chance, read it.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Shelan Rodger

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How much does a book tell the reader about its author? I am told that a work of fiction will reflect a plethora of the author’s experiences: people they have met, films they have watched, books they have read, the life they have lived. When I read a story that makes me think particularly cogently or in a new way, I want to know more about the creator of the words. Sometimes I conclude that they are simply good inventors, that my interpretation of their book is as much down to the experiences and prejudices that I bring to the story as to the author’s inspirations. Other times, the more I uncover about the writer the more I consider how enjoyable it would be to sit down and get lost in a discussion with a person capable of expressing such thoughts as they do.

Shelan Rodger has said of her first book, ‘Twin Truths grew out of two things: a fascination with the meaning of personal identity and the conviction that there is never only one reality.’ In a world where we are encouraged to follow where others lead, to think in terms of black and white, it was inspiring to find a story that explores more deeply the meaning of identity and perception. I was delighted to find that the author of this fabulous tale weaves her thoughts on life as perceptively as those she includes in her book.

To quote Shelan again, this time on how we allow ourselves to be distracted by our own busyness: ‘Food for thought…what gives you food for thought, if you stop juggling for a moment, if you let it in?’ She talks of connecting with nature, of the beauty of stillness. Given how busy she is and how she values her time, I feel honoured that she agreed to take part in this interview.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Shelan Rodger.

Where do you typically write?

My favourite place is in front of a window. There is something about looking through a window that opens me, inspires me. The actual view from the windows I’ve written through over the last few years has changed quite dramatically – from a garden in Sussex to flower farms in Kenya to the volcanic coastline of Cabo de Gata where I currently live in the south of Spain!

Tell us about your writing process.

I don’t have a disciplined approach and I’m a bit of an all or nothing person. So I like to write when I know I’ve got a big chunk of time to myself and can get completely lost in it. I find that the writing process when it really flows is like a form of meditation. A combination of letting go and being alert, a state of mental relaxation that is almost passive, so that the words flow through you…I think it is this freeing of the subconscious that is probably behind the idea so often quoted by writers of ‘characters taking over’.

Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship. As you get to know someone, you kind of live with that person in your head. It is also very much a journey in itself. I set out with a notion of the destination I want to get to but no real idea of how I’m going to get there

Tell us about your publishing experience.

It took ages to make it happen! I have a whopping great file of rejections, including a few rave ones. I was lucky enough to find an agent who never gave up. Last year, I was passing through London on a work trip to the States and had arranged to meet my agent, Broo Doherty, for lunch. I was expecting it to be a bit of a ‘so where do we go now’ kind of thing but at the last minute she sent me an email saying change of venue, we’re going to meet a publisher who is interested in making an offer for Twin Truths. The catch? They want to meet you first. Oh my God, I thought, so if they don’t make an offer it’s because of me, not even because of the book! It was nerve-racking – but I had no time to panic or prepare so off we went. They were called Cutting Edge Press, a small new Indie publisher, whose motto is ‘fiercely independent.’ I loved them! And the moment they said yes was a moment of pure euphoria. Writing is, after all, only one arm of a body; the other is being read.

In what ways do you promote your work?

Well, the first thing to say is that I’m a complete novice at this and the idea of ‘self-promotion’ makes me feel very uncomfortable. So it is very much a learning curve. I started engaging in social media and a friend designed a website for me. I had a launch party at Goldsboro Books in London, which was a lot of fun and drew friends from all sorts of corners of my life, for which I am deeply grateful. I would love to do a few readings or talk to book clubs or more things like this and I am sure there is much more I could be doing to make this happen. I’m a little challenged by where I live (south of Spain) and by the need to juggle all this beside a full time job. But I am keen to do more and I know that Cutting Edge Press are always on the look out for opportunities so it’s very much a team approach. In the end, though, I also see it as Twin Truths’ own journey – word of mouth, the power of individual personal response to the book itself, if people like it they will talk…

What are some of your current projects?

I assume you mean writing projects! Well, my second novel, which is also due to be published by Cutting Edge Press, is in its final stages. Set in England and Kenya during the post-election crisis of 2008, Yellow Room is a drama about the power of secrets to run our lives.

My third novel is still growing in my head. Working title: A Paper Trail. It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written in his twenties, read it, changed the last line and handed it over to me. This was the last time I saw him. In my book, an unpublished manuscript by her father falls in to the hands of Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again. This is another psychological twisty tale with dark undertones.

Where can my readers find you?

On my website/blog: www.shelanrodger.com

Or my Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/ShelanRodgerAuthor

Or on Twitter: Shelan Rodger (@ShelanRodger).

Twin Truths‘ is available to buy from the publisher, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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Shelan’s life is a patchwork of different cultures and landscapes. Born in northern Nigeria, she grew up among the Tiwi, an aboriginal community on an island north of Darwin, and moved to England at the age of eleven. After graduating in Modern Languages from Oxford, she travelled to Argentina and stayed for nine years. Then another period in England followed by six years in Kenya on flower farms by Lake Naivasha and the lower slopes of Mount Kenya. She now lives in Andalucía, Spain. Her professional career has revolved around international education and learning and development, with an emphasis on anti-discrimination.

Book Review: Twin Truths

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Twin Truths, by Shelan Rodger, is a tale of abuse, betrayal and survival. Jenny and Pippa are twins, different in many ways but always there for each other. Their childhood has left them damaged and their personalities have been shaped by their divergent coping mechanisms. One withdraws into solitude, finding escape in academia and books. The other lashes out in anger, seeking danger and excitement, punishing those around in an attempt to manage the hurt that is always present but rarely acknowledged.

A plane crash sets in motion a spiral of events that force a confrontation between past, present and future. Travelling between Britain, South America and the Mediterranean, the truths about events that have shaped the twins’ lives are gradually revealed. There are many unexpected twists and turns as the story unfolds. The individual construction of memory is laid bare, a perception that is nigh impossible to fully share with family and friends, reliant as it is on the complex web of personal experience.

At a superficial level this is a well written, psychological thriller with a satisfyingly unexpected ending. At its heart though it is so much more. I enjoyed the unpicking of the human psyche, the difficulty in seeing ourselves as others see us, the way we see the world and those around, how we translate our experiences from the baseline of everything else that has happened in our past.

Other than the obvious mystery surrounding the twins history, the central aspect explored in this book is what makes a person who they are, what is truth. Such questions are prodded at gently but cogently as the tightly written and compelling story unfolds. The short chapters facilitate pauses for thought, but I did not want to put this book down. It is a page turner with depth, thought provoking story-telling at its best.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press, via a Goodreads ‘First Reads’ giveaway.