Welcome Carly. Please tell us about your connection to Wales.
Hi, Christoph, and many thanks for including me in this exciting project! It’s great to be interviewed alongside other, wonderful, writers.
I was born on the Channel Island of Jersey, where my family have lived for generations. We moved to Wales when I was 11 and despite a bit of moving around in my 20s here is where I intend to stay.
I live on an estuary right on the west coast, in a village called St Dogmaels. It’s beautiful; large enough to have 4 pubs and a shop, and small enough to ensure a short walk takes far longer than it should, what with all the stopping to chat. I row the river Teifi as part of our village team and I love seeing the landscape, which is so familiar to me, from that vantage point. It becomes strange when viewed from a heron’s perspective: the landmarks I tread daily become ‘other’ the moment I’m ungrounded.
Tell us a little about yourself as writer and as person.
I was a child who wrote stories and read prolifically, and became an adult who does the same. Painfully shy when young, I was happiest alone in my room with a book and my cat. Nothing much has changed, apart from the fact that I get little chance to do that these days.
I’ve always written as a means to explore my fears or curiosity. A lot of my short fiction deals with themes which are a little strange and off-kilter. A woman wakes up one morning in tears and never stops crying. A little boy eats the moon. A ghost returns to her village to haunt the inhabitants by ignoring them. The underlying themes here are all about the adult’s loss of imagination or a soul’s need for silence and solitude. Fiction, for me, is the perfect vehicle to explore the things which preoccupy me as a person.
I have an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing. Both qualifications I’m proud of but see as less important than the reasons for doing them: to produce creative work. I wrote my debut novel The Scrapbook for the PhD, which came out through Parthian Books last year and was shortlisted for the International Rubery Book Award in June of this year. The framework of the PhD gave me, more than anything else, the permission to write. I’d always felt guilty about writing, as if it were an indulgence more than a serious pursuit. By undertaking the PhD and gaining a qualification and a title I felt that I could allow myself to focus on my writing, to give myself a chance to tackle a novel and see whether it was something I could do. I’ve always written short prose but the leap from my average word count of 3,000 to something novel length was a daunting prospect.
I work as a freelance editor and proof reader, and am now an Associate Editor with Parthian, which is incredibly creatively rewarding. I also co-edit the wonderful journal The Lampeter Review. Once a month I host The Cellar Bards, a group who meet in Cardigan for a lively evening of spoken word poetry and prose.
Every now and again I stop and think about where I am now, with my life and confidence, as opposed to where I was a few years ago. Back then I had a good number of published short stories behind me but hadn’t ever read my work in front of other people, and I’d never used a microphone. Now I read regularly at festivals and events, give talks to book groups, organise and host literary events, and run fiction workshops. The change in lifestyle, particularly for someone as introverted as myself, is tremendous.
It’s important to me to live surrounded by nature. I prefer the busy wildlife in my back garden to the busy peopled streets of a city. I think I’m happiest alone, sitting in my garden watching the birds, with a book by my side.
The Scrapbook has its genesis in an image of a woman looking through a scrapbook of memories of a lost lover. The scrapbook is her most prized possession and she treasures it above anything else in her life, even above her relationship with her daughter.
The novel tells the story of three generations of women from the same family; their relationships with each other and with the absent Lawrence. Lawrence was Iris’s lover, her daughter Fern’s father, and the bane of grandmother Ivy’s life. He disappeared when Fern was a little girl. Years later Iris asks Fern to look for him, to find out what happened to him and maybe discover why he left.
Told through a mix of voices – Fern’s 1st person narrative, Iris’s scrapbook pages, and Ivy’s letters and spells, the story is as much about the characters’ struggle with their pasts as it is about the search for the missing Lawrence. I’m fascinated by memory and how unreliable it is, how inflected by our own unique experiences and needs. Two people could witness exactly the same thing but have entirely different memories of it, based on their internal filters.
The main themes of the book are memory, motherhood (I’m not a mother and have no plans to be one), and the power of absence. All themes which interest me as a person. The power of absence particularly I find fascinating. If I were to compare myself to any of the characters it’s Iris who I feel closest to. I understand her need to prize a skewed and unattainable fairytale love above the more mundane and workaday loves most of us accept. I try to be as functional as I possibly can in my own life so it is in fiction that I explore the concept of yearning and absence as satisfying life-companions.
Who is your favourite Welsh author?
That’s a difficult question to answer. There are so many wonderful Welsh and Wales-based writers publishing today, and some of them I’m friends with. I’m going to say Brenda Chamberlain, who is in my opinion an under-read and ahead-of-her-time writer (and artist) who died in 1971. Her books are sumptuously and passionately written. Tide-race is my favourite; a thinly veiled memoir of her life on Bardsey Island, dressed as fiction. The strength in her, both physical and emotional, to live on that remote and inaccessible island, rowing herself to the mainland for supplies and facing domestic hardship daily, boggles the mind.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
I’m currently reading (actually, I finished it this morning) By the River Piedra I sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho, in paperback. I have a tablet thingy but can’t work out how to use it, and I just cannot see myself ever making the change from physical book to e-book. I can see the advantages of e-books, particularly if you’re someone who travels a lot, but for me the pleasure of reading is as much in the feel and weight of the book, its physicality, as anything else.
The next book on my to-read pile is Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie. I love nature writing.
What is your favourite book?
I have too many favourites to be able to pick just one! Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things would have to be in my top five, as would Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. I’ve probably read Dorothy L Sayers’ detective novels more times in my life than any other books. They’re perfect comfort reads and I have such a crush on Lord Peter Wimsey. The novel which has affected me more than any other is The White Hotel by D M Thomas. It is awful, in the original sense of the word, and tremendously written.
I love fairytales and read them often, and I’m also incredibly passionate about nature writing, as I’ve mentioned. Crow Country, by Mark Cocker, is one of my favourites. I’m very fond of corvids and have a jackdaw visiting my garden at the moment who fledged from a neighbour’s chimney pot in May, bald and scabbed and half the size of its siblings. Too tame for its own good and too weak to survive without intervention. I fed it mealworms and suet balls and hung out with it as much as I could, though I never tried to touch it as I wanted it to have a chance at living life as a wild bird.
Now the only way I recognise the jackdaw is by the friendliness shown to me when I go into the garden, after its buddies fly away. He or she is plump, glossy and beautiful. That makes me happy.
Write for yourself, write because you love it and the thought of not writing is inconceivable. Being ‘A writer’ is a lovely way to introduce yourself to people but the reality means so much more hard work, rejection and will power than you’d ever believe, particularly with all of the modern distractions of the internet and social media and our hectic lives.
Don’t rush your words into print. It’s easy in this day and age, with the proliferation of self-publishing avenues and on-line blog sites, to start writing and then get impatient for the next bit, the ‘being published’ bit. But, like every other craft, writing takes dedication and practice if you want to do it well. Send work out to journals and publishing houses, hone your editing skills, listen to criticism (unpleasant though it is to be criticised) and learn from every stage of the writing process.
Above all, keep doing it, no matter how despondent you get and how little time you have to spare. Writers write, even when they’d rather not.