Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Getting To Know...Cassandra Parkin

Today on Getting To Know... I am very excited to have Cassandra Parkin, best selling author and all round really nice person. She was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions. 

Your work, most recently The Beach Hut, is contemporary fiction. Is there anything in particular that draws you to this genre?

I think it's the freedom it gives. Unlike genre fiction, contemporary fiction doesn't have a set form or structure that your readers expect you to follow, so you can tell any story you want, and take it wherever the narrative wants to go. 

This isn't to say that I think genre fiction is somehow lesser or easier - after all, sonnets or villanelles are not easier to write than free verse! I'm constantly blown away by the utter brilliance of genre writers, who work within the tight constraints of Crime or Romance or Historical Fiction to create something fresh and new. But the stories I want to tell don't work within the established genre forms...so contemporary fiction it is.

You have written both short story collections and novels, do you have a preference as to which you write?

Commercially speaking, there's no doubt that there's a much bigger market for novels than short stories - so if I was thinking purely about making a living, I'd focus entirely on novels! But I love both forms, and I don't know if I could ever choose one over the other. 

I love the challenge of novel-writing - trying to hold a coherent narrative together and keep the whole thing together in my head, then polish the whole thing with the same degree of attention that I'd bring to a short story. 

For short stories, the challenge is very different - rather than holding everything together, I'm trying to fit everything in. I definitely find that these days I'm drawn to shorter and shorter short-story forms. Anything over 2,000 words feels as if I'm rambling, and some of my favourite shorts that I've written recently have been only 100 words long. 

You wrote the fabulous Lighter Shades Trilogy which deconstructs the Fifty Shade trilogy in turn and you donated half of your royalties to Women's Aid; Will you ever write more series like this deconstructing books?  

The whole Lighter Shades experience was a very strange one, because it all happened so fast I didn't really have time to think about what I was doing! One week I wrote the initial blog post ("Fifty Things That Annoy Me About Fifty Shades Of Grey"), the next week it went viral and two weeks after that I had an e-book deal to deconstruct the whole trilogy. Which, I have to say, was enormous fun and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it.

That said, I don't know if it's a joke that would ever work again. "Fifty Shades" was a success that was literally unprecedented, and when I wrote the "Lighter Shades" trilogy, it was already totally clear that 1) the writing quality of Fifty Shades was hilariously bad and 2) we were all going to buy it anyway. I wasn't breaking the news; I was just going into a lot more detail than other commentators. It was the weirdness and completeness of the book's success that fascinated me. 

I did have moments even at the time where I wondered if it was fair to write a book solely dedicated to the concept of "Ha ha, this book is poorly written". For a book that was already as tremendously, unquestionably successful as "Fifty Shades", there was no danger that anyone was going to be put off buying Erica Leonard's book by reading my book, and I doubt she's even aware of my existence. But it would have to be that big of a phenomenon for it to feel even remotely fair. I've always thought that the "punch upwards" rule is a great one for anyone who's aiming to be funny.

tl,dr; Never say never, but probably not...

Have you always wanted to be an author?

Yes, in the sense that I also wanted to be be the Godfather and run the Mafia; but it took a long time for me to actually believe it was a realistic idea. I've written fiction all my life, but it never occurred to me that any of it was good enough to be published. 

The first work I seriously tried to get published was my short story collection "New World Fairy Tales", which I wrote as a series of Christmas presents for some very dear friends. Then in the New Year they all ganged up on me and told me I had to try and get it published, Or Else. So I entered it for Salt Publishing's Scott Prize, and was truly astounded when it won, and became my first published work.

When you're writing, do you have a set routine that you like to follow or a certain place that you have to sit?

I was going to say "no", because I've never put any conscious thought into building a good routine or a perfect writing nest. Then I stopped to think about it and I realised that actually yes, I do - it's just that I've never stopped to think about it before. 

Given the option, I'll always write in the mornings, and given the choice of where to work, I'll always choose a dining table. Unless I'm expecting visitors or absolutely have to leave the house before noon, I'll usually be wearing pyjamas, because in my head writing is a more fun and important activity than getting dressed.

I'm currently working on the first draft of my next novel, and to hit my deadline I have to hit my target of 2,000 words a day, every day. I've written at home, in other people's houses, in holiday cottages at home and abroad, in cafes and coffee-shops; but the common factors are 1) mornings and 2) table meant for eating off. I haven't yet gone to a cafe in my pyjamas, but I suppose there's still time.

Do you have a favourite character that you have written so far?

I think that would have to be Finn from "The Beach Hut", because he reminds me of my own little brother.

When you're not writing what would we find you doing?

I have two lovely children who are growing up far too fast, so I'm trying to cram in as much time with them as I can while they're still willing to be seen in my company. I also love horseriding (I'm not any good at it or anything, but it's a sport you can enjoy even when you're a bit soft and clueless like me) and I love making patchwork quilts, which (like writing a novel) requires a certain amount of bloody-mindedness to keep going through to the end. 

Do you have a favourite author?

I have a shortlist of desert-island authors whose complete works would keep me going through anything - Jane Austen, Tove Jansson, Charlotte Bronte, Lewis Carroll, Agatha Christie and Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

Both on your blog and in your writing you use humour perfectly. Is this something you've always been natural at or is it something that you've worked on to perfect?

Oh my goodness, that's a lovely thing to say - thank you! The truth is that I don't think of myself as funny at all. Growing up, no-one else seemed to laugh at the stuff I found hilarious. And I certainly don't remember the other kids around me telling me that stuff I said or wrote was funny or entertaining. "Weird"; I definitely remember being called "weird". That got said quite a lot, along with "I bet you think you're so clever" and "stuck-up cow". (Of course, it's possible I was just a really weird unlikeable kid who inexplicably mellowed into an acceptable human being. That could also be it.) 

I just try to write stuff that I'd like to read. When other people like reading it - when I make them laugh or smile or sometimes cry - it makes me happier than I can begin to say.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?

My third novel, "Lily's House", comes out in October 2016. It's about a woman clearing out the house of her estranged grandmother, and all the family skeletons that come tumbling out of the closet. And I'm currently working on a new project that will hopefully be ready for the winter of 2017, that will be set in my home town of Hull during its year as the UK's City of Culture.

Thank you so much to Cassandra for answering my questions, it's been a privilege and a pleasure to have her on my blog. 

To connect with Cassandra

Cassandra's website - Cassandra Parkin 
Cassandra's Twitter - @cassandrajaneuk

The Beach Hut 

A novel about love, loss, memory, and family relationships

It is autumn time and on a peaceful Cornish beach, Finn and his sister Ava defy planning regulations and achieve a childhood dream when they build themselves an illegal beach hut. This tiny haven will be their home until Ava departs at midwinter for a round-the-world adventure. In the town, local publican Donald is determined to get rid of them. Still mourning the death of his wife, all he wants is a quiet place where he can forget the past and raise his daughter Alicia in safety. But Alicia is wrestling with demons of her own. As the sunshine fades and winter approaches, the beach hut stirs old memories for everyone. Their lives become entwined in surprising ways and the secrets of past and present are finally exposed.

Lily's House

When Jen goes to her grandmother's house for the last time, she's determined not to dwell on the past. As a child, Jen adored Lily and suspected she might be a witch; but the spell was broken long ago, and now her death means there won't be any reconciliation.

Lily's gone, but the enchantments she wove and the secrets she kept still remain. In Lily's house, Jen and her daughter Marianne reluctantly confront the secrets of the past and present - and discover how dangerous we become when we're trying to protect the ones we love.

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