4 August 2011

Author Interview: Tamar Cohen

I read and reviewed Tamar Cohen's debut novel The Mistresses Revenge recently, and thought it was a great piece of fiction written in a way which really involves you in the story. After reading it, I was offered the chance to interview Tamar, and I jumped at the chance as I had quite a few questions to ask her about the book, and how it came about. Here is the interview, my thanks to Tamar for answering my questions, I hope you enjoy reading it!

Q1. Tell us briefly about your novel 'The Mistress's Revenge'.

The Mistress’s Revenge charts the fallout from the ending of an illicit affair as told through the journals of the dumped mistress, Sally. Unable to accept her affair with Clive is over, Sally inveigles her way into the lives of her ex lover’s wife and children. As her obsession with them grows, she neglects her own family, career and home, with inevitably catastrophic results.

Q2. It's quite a controversial story in that the main character has been having a long-standing affair, did you worry about how it would be received?

I didn’t have any worries about the moral aspect simply because I don’t believe it’s necessary for the reader to have sympathy for the characters, only to find them believable. As a reader, I don’t want to be put into the position of making value judgements on characters based on a given situation. I’d much rather make up my own mind about them based on what is revealed throughout the course of the book. Also, I think most people aren’t so black and white about infidelity any more. For goodness sake, our future monarch is now married to his former mistress! I think we’re more able to accept that human relationships are complex things, and don’t always follow a fairy-story arc.

Q3. I found Sally to be a character I struggled to like. Did you expect your readers to find her unlikeable due to her actions throughout the book, and how easy was it to write from her perspective throughout the book?

Sally is in the grip of a crisis, and people in crisis are rarely terribly appealing. Plus we’re seeing her through her journals which basically show the inside of her head in all its raw intensity. Let’s face it, the inside of anyone’s head is unlikely to be pretty, particularly when they’re suffering the way she is, so it’s no surprise that readers struggle to like her. But I hope that doesn’t stop them being able to identify with her. True by the end, Sally does some pretty bonkers thing – she becomes a stalker and neglects her kids – but when you take away those extremes of behaviour what you’re left with is a woman struggling to cope with the sudden withdrawal of love. I think most people can relate to that to some extent. Because her voice is very strong, and because her unraveling took on a momentum of its own, I didn’t find it at all hard to keep Sally’s perspective going throughout the book. In fact it reached the point where even when I was off duty and out with friends, I’d hear Sally’s voice inside my head making rather bitchy, acerbic asides about people. So it did get quite claustrophobic at times!

Q4. You have chosen to use an unusual narrative throughout the book, the style of a journal written to Clive, the object of Sally's affections. Why did you choose to write this narrative?

The journal format allows the reader to get right inside Sally’s head so that everything is filtered through her. Her obsession with Clive makes her a grossly unreliable narrator and I think that’s always a really interesting angle. The reader almost learns more by what’s omitted than by what’s admitted.  The structure that the journal lends to the book, with no chapter breaks, also helps reinforce the claustrophobic mood of the narrative and mirrors Sally’s relentless journey into madness. The fact that it’s directed towards Clive ties in with the whole obsession thing – Clive is all Sally thinks about, so of COURSE her journals are going to be addressing him directly.

Q5. 'The Mistress's Revenge' is your debut novel. How did your book deal come about and where did you get the idea for the book? Did you base any of it on real life experience?

The germ of the idea for the book came from watching a friend go through a bitter break up. I was struck by the outlandishness of some of the schemes she came up with to get her own back on the man who’d dumped her. This was a normally very level-headed woman. Of course she never carried out any of the things she talked about, but it did make me think ‘what if…’? What if a woman is driven so crazy by rejection she actually follows through with those mad impulses? It was around the time of the Tiger Woods scandal, and the newspapers were filled with headlines about mistresses, and it reminded me that we still see the mistress as a figure of fear – she’s the outsider, the threat to home and hearth. I thought if you put those two things together – the mistress and the love-crazed woman, you’d have a very volatile and dangerous character.  I started writing the book without a clear idea of what was going to happen, only that it was going to be a modern book about a woman scorned, but as soon as I heard Sally’s voice in my head for the first time, I knew exactly who she was, and I let her dictate the way forward. As for the book deal – I was incredibly lucky. In March 2010, when I was 15,000 words into the book, I reached an impasse and sent it off to Vivienne Schuster and Felicity Blunt at Curtis Brown, who invited me in to talk to them. They were very encouraging and got me to write them a detailed synopsis of how the plot was going to develop, which was very scary as I had very little idea at that point, but it probably ended up saving my life in that I now had a proper structure for the book for the first time. They sent me away to finish it, and by the end of June it was done. Felicity agreed to represent me and suggested a few changes. Then at the beginning of September 2010, a couple of days before she was due to submit the ms to publishers, Marianne Velmans at Doubleday requested to read it and came straight back with a pre emptive offer for a two-book deal.

Q6. What do you think about the term 'Chick Lit'?

I’m not keen on any labels that pigeonhole a book into being one thing or another. Why limit writers like that? I think there are many absolutely wonderful so-called ‘chick lit’ writers, like Marian Keyes, but too often the term is used in a dismissive way to mean those books with pastel-coloured illustrations on the front and the curly pink typeface which follow a set formula.  All the best books transcend genres. Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ isn’t ‘a sci-fi book’ or ‘a fantasy book’, it’s a book about what it means to be human.

Q7. What are some of your own favourite books? Which authors are an inspiration to you?

I love fiction that’s surprising and playful in its language and plot structure, like Kate Atkinson’s books. I also love it when writers make me laugh. The first book I ever laughed out loud at was  ‘Catch 22’ and I still find it hysterical today. Lorrie Moore’s ‘A Gate at the Stairs’ is one of those rare books that makes you laugh at the same time as your heart is breaking a little. Catherine O’Flynn’s ‘What Was Lost’ has that same quality.

Q8. I see you are on Twitter as @MsTamarCohen. How important do you think Social Media sites are to authors these days, and do you think it is a good way to promote your book and receive feedback?

After a slow start I’m finally starting to embrace social media, and now can’t understand why it took me so long! Twitter is amazing for someone like me who spends most of her life working at home in isolation. Since ‘The Mistress’s Revenge’ was published I’ve had so many messages of support from other writers and readers via Twitter, it has made me feel finally like I’m part of a network, rather than a sad, solitary individual sitting at a desk in her dressing gown and sighing a lot.

Q9. What do you when you aren't writing fantastic novels?

I’ve been a freelance journalist for well over twenty years, so I regularly write features for The Times or Cosmopolitan or Woman & Home or any of the other publications I regularly contribute to. Other than that, I spend time with my three teenaged children (well, whenever they allow me to). Or my dog (who is less picky).

Q10. Finally, are you working on a second novel? Can you tell us something about it if so?!

I am working on a second novel which is going to cover some of the same themes of betrayal and loss as ‘The Mistress’s Revenge’ but is written in a totally different format. I have to say I’m finding writing in the third person a big challenge after the first book, which was carried along quite naturally by Sally’s voice. All those characters running around amok inside my head is very distracting.  I’ve already had to extend my deadline by two months. It’s Second Album Syndrome all over again!


  1. I have this book on my shelf and after reading this interview. I'm looking forward to it even more. Good Luck Tamar with the second novel, I'm sure you'll get there!

  2. great interview! I loved the first person narrative,and was suprised by how compelling Sally's voice was. Because she seemed like someone I might know very well (even myself, I dare say), I was able to let her get into my head and really think about how the end of her affair would lead to her undoing. I actually nodded with some of her crazier rationalizations!