It is with great pleasure that I welcome Betsy Tobin to my blog today. I’ve been chatting to Betsy about her latest novel, Things We Couldn’t Explain (click here to get your copy) her take on young love, the differences between Britain and America and what we can expect from her next novel…
I’m a transplanted American author, firmly ensconced in London for 25 years, mum to four nearly-grown humans and partnered to a globe-trotter, which means that I now have more time to devote to writing books. Yay!
Can you tell us a bit about your latest novel, Things We Couldn’t Explain (released 20th November 2014)?
THINGS WE COULDN’T EXPLAIN is a coming-of-age tale about two teenagers whose budding romance is thwarted when their small town is overwhelmed by a series of bizarre miracles. It’s the story of Annemarie: a blind, chaste, seventeen year-old who finds herself inexplicably pregnant at the novel’s outset; and Ethan: the boy next door whose hapless two-year quest to win her love forms the backbone of the narrative. The story takes place in small town Ohio in the late Seventies, and was partly inspired by real events.
I love the sound of Things We Couldn’t Explain. It seems to be a coming-of-age tale as we meet adolescents Annemarie and Ethan. What inspired you to write a story about young love?
Because young love strikes a chord in us all. In fiction the journey from childhood to adolescence is so often framed in terms of loss. I wanted to capture that joyous, transcendent moment when we finally gain ourselves: when we become fully-formed as thinking, feeling, sentient human beings. It’s a moment we’ve all experienced, and one that resonates within us for the rest of our lives.
Things We Couldn’t Explain is set in Ohio during the seventies. What made you decide to set your novel in that location and during that time period?
I was raised Catholic in small Ohio town so this is very familiar terrain to me. I wanted to write about faith in the America of my adolescence because it was a more innocent time, both politically and culturally. I no longer recognise the religious landscape of America, so I wouldn’t have felt comfortable setting this story within the Christian fundamentalist community of today. It’s easy enough for readers to draw the parallels.
You were born and raised in the American Midwest and now live in the UK. What would you say are the main differences between living in the two countries? Do you ever miss your birth country?
I miss people more than places, so of course I miss friends and family. And I sometimes miss the energy and irrepressibility of America. But when I first arrived in London back in 1989, what struck me then – and what I still believe today – is that Britain is a culture driven by words, while America is driven by images. For a budding writer, there was no comparison. The opportunities here seemed boundless, and I’ve never looked back.
My work has ranged far and wide in terms of subject, and I thank any readers who’ve stayed with me on that journey! My first book was a taut historical thriller about the death of a West Country prostitute in the 17th Century. Since then I’ve written about lion tamers in Victorian London, Icelandic settlers at the turn of the first millennium and illegal Chinese migrants in contemporary Britain. I believe in strong narrative lines and compelling characters. Novels should be great stories peopled by characters who grip the reader and won’t let go. No matter where I go in my fiction, that’s what drives me forward. I want readers to be enthralled.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?
When I wrote my first book, BONE HOUSE, I had no contacts and no obvious routes into the industry, so I went through the slush pile, sending my manuscript to agents whose clients I admired. It took a little persistence: of the ten or so I approached, only three agreed to read it, and only one made me an offer, but the book went to auction in the UK, was sold in several countries, and was short-listed against Zadie Smith and Mohsin Hamid for the Commonwealth Prize First Novel. My best advice for aspiring writers is: don’t fall at the first hurdle. Talent is important, of course, but so is graft and perseverance.
Who are your favourite authors and what kind of books do you enjoy reading?
Anyone with a strong voice! I read mostly literary fiction but I appreciate any author who writes exceptionally well in their own genre. Funnily enough, for me that seems to be women more than men of late. This year I’ve loved Louise Dougherty’s Apple Tree Yard, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour and E.M. Lockhart’s We Were Liars.
And finally – can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
My next book is about women and war. It’s about war as an act of violence, and the impact that violence has on the psyches of those who engage in it. It’s the story of three women who find themselves at once both perpetrator and victim, and the degree to which we are all complicit in our own undoing. Hopefully it will thrill and unsettle, in equal measure.
A huge thank you to Besty Tobin and Becke at PR Collective. ♥