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).
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.