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.