Saturday, March 07, 2009


Violet, 51, moves to a small cottage close to the sea where a series of mysterious letters from the 1950s begin to plop through her letterbox. They’re written to a very close friend by Elizabeth, a pregnant, single girl who is seeing out her term in a mother and baby home. The mystery of the letters is juxtaposed with Violet’s own story of moving to the country and managing her relationships with the locals, her turbulent lover and her infuriating son.

Fiona Robyn's debut novel The Letters has just been published and I'm delighted to be today's stop on her blog tour. As my blog is about the trials and traumas of getting published, or not as, um, the case may be, I asked Fiona to tell me her getting published story.

It’s a lovely, original idea. I read in another interview on this tour that you’re a ‘seat of the pants’ writer rather than a plotter. Was the letter idea always there when you started writing the novel or was it one of those light-bulb organic moments that happened when you were writing which then ended up becoming such a strong part of the narrative, and, indeed, the title!

Definitely the latter! I can't actually remember at what point the idea of the letters 'arrived', but I do know that Violet was the first to appear. I tend to get to know my central characters first, and the story follows from that. I ask questions of Violet - what kind of job would she have? What stage of her life are they at? What makes her happy? What does she want? The book turned out to be about something quite different to what I thought it might be about when I started writing it, which is usual for me!

Your story is very visual. I’m getting such a clear image of Violet’s cottage as I read. Is it based on a real cottage?

I'm glad to hear that! I do use real things in my books occasionally, but Violet's cottage is my invention - a mish-mash of cottages I've known.

How long did it take to find a publisher? Did you have an agent or did you contact publishers direct?

I did have an agent for the first book I wrote, Thaw, but we couldn't find a publisher for it and eventually parted ways. It took me about 6 years to find a publisher - enough time to write three novels which are all ready to go!

Wow! Having two further novels already written and ready to publish is a wonderful position to be in. Not least you've escaped the 'now how on earth do I follow that with a second book?' trauma that so many writers seem to suffer from. What are the other novels about? When do they come out?

I know, lucky me! The second, The Blue Handbag, is out in August and follows 62 yr old Leonard as he becomes a reluctant detective after his wife's death - he thought he knew everything about her, but he keeps making discoveries about her that just don't add up. Thaw, out in Feb '10, is Ruth's diary as she gives herself three months to decide whether or not she wants to carry on living. She commissions Red, an eccentric Russian, to paint her portrait and as their relationship develops she starts to see her impoverished life in a new light.

Do you have an agent now?

I don't have an agent at the moment and will probably look for one before I publish my novel-in-progress, but we'll see.

What was it like, that ‘I’m getting published moment’ when you met your editor for the first time?

Because of their size Snowbooks work a little differently to other publishers, and so no lavish lunches for us Snowbooks authors. Instead Emma works hard on getting the books into the shops, which is how I prefer it. She is very available on email, as is Anna who works from America. My favourite moment so far was holding the beautiful book in my hands for the first time. Yay!

What was it like when you saw your novel in a shop for the first time? What were your thoughts? Did you (like me) lurk and watch to see if anybody picked it up?

This was a very happy moment. I thought 'I'm a proper author now!' I tried not to lurk as there were a lot of other books in the shop and I thought I might be lurking a long time but it was a wonderful moment - as you can see from the idiot grin on my face.

If you'd like to read more, The Letters is out in the shops now, on Amazon here or you can buy direct from Snowbooks here.


jem said...

Thanks for sharing this interview. Good to read a bit about the technical process of getting published, agents etc. I think these are things that can be very daunting to a novice writer. It seems a little like a secret society that no-one has given you the code word to.

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