13 July 2013

Author Interview: Tamar Cohen

Today, I'm delighted to welcome Tamar Cohen to my blog for an author interview! I reviewed Tamar's latest book Someone Else's Wedding yesterday, which was a gripping read that I really loved. Tamar was kind enough to answer some of my questions, so here they are! My thanks go to Tamar for taking the time to answer them for me :)

Q1. Please tell me about your new book 'Someone Else's Wedding'.

Hi Chloe. Well, Someone Else’s Wedding focuses on Fran Friedman, a woman in her mid forties at a crossroads in her life in every sense – marriage, career, family (her daughters have just left home). It is set over a wedding weekend at a country house hotel near Bath where Fran is a guest along with her husband, Saul and their two daughters, Pip and Katy. It quickly becomes obvious that along with everything else that’s worrying her, Fran is also nursing a somewhat unhealthy obsession with the groom! The book has thirty-six chapters, each representing a consecutive hour between 8am on Saturday morning and 8pm on Sunday evening. The rigid structure reflects the claustrophobic mood that long drawn-out weddings often induce.

Q2. I found all of the characters to be quite flawed in the book, I found myself even struggling to like Fran in parts. Do you like writing characters who aren't perfect, and have certainly done things wrong, and how easy is it to make sure they aren't entirely dislikeable so a reader wants to keep reading about them?

There’s a big debate raging at the moment about whether or not it’s valid to talk in terms of characters in a book being ‘likeable’ or ‘unlikeable’. Some people insist they can’t enjoy a book if they don’t like the characters, but I emphatically disagree.  Yes, you have to be interested in the characters, but you don’t necessarily have to like them. To be honest, I don’t know many people who are flawless and haven’t ever put a foot wrong. Well, let’s just say it – I don’t know ANY people like that. The people I know have made plenty of mistakes, and get in bad moods where they say things they shouldn’t, and have upset the people they love, sometimes without knowing it, and on occasion deliberately. They frequently drink too much, and speak without thinking, and wear totally the wrong clothes. But they’re human, and I hope my characters are too. I’ll admit it’s a fine line though, and sometimes after the reaction of my early readers, I’ll go back and think ‘hmmm… maybe that was a little too barbed’.

Q3. I found the book really emotional to read, both from the stand point of Molly, Fran's stillborn daughter, and the other storylines. Do you find it emotionally draining to write stories like this, and do you get upset when you write certain scenes?

Writing the stillborn story thread was very emotional. I did a lot of reading about the subject and found myself sitting at the computer day after day with tears running down my face. It’s the most terrible experience, often made worse because people feel they’re not allowed to talk about it.

Q4. The cover for 'Someone Else's Wedding' is quite shocking - do you like all of your book covers so far, and do you get much of a say in the final design?

I always get sent the design in advance, but by that stage the editors and in particular the sales team have already given it the thumbs up, so they really, REALLY want you to like it. Luckily I’ve loved all my covers, although the cover for The Mistress’s Revenge was very different from the cover I’d had in my head, so it took a little persuading before I came round to it. Of course once it was published, everyone raved about the cover and I realized I know nothing and really I should just leave it up to the experts. Funny, now I absolutely adore that cover. I don’t think the images on the covers are meant to shock, but they need to convey a sense of things not being quite what they seem – the decaying flower with the wasp on it, the ripped wedding dress - because that’s what the books are about; the darkness under the surface of people’s lives.

Q5. This is your third novel - and again it has an element of controversy to part of the storyline. In fact, this is something that's been present in all of your books so far - do you like writing about more unusual topics/stories, and things that will evoke emotion in your reader? I have to say you shocked me with the twist in this particular story!

I honestly don’t set out to be controversial, but I guess I like exploring extraordinary situations where people are taken out of their comfort zones and pushed to extremes – that’s when they reveal who they really are. And that’s something I’m fascinated by – the gap between how people present themselves to the outside world (and even to themselves) and how they really are.

Q6. What is your typical writing day like? How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?

I don’t really have a ‘typical’ writing day. Some days I’ll get up and sit down at my desk and start writing and not look up until lunch time, but more often, I’ll get waylaid by other things that need doing – dogs that need walking, insurance that needs renewing, windows that need staring out of - and I’ll get to the end of the day and have nothing to show for it and be furious with myself. Then I’ll make myself work at night or weekends as penance, even though I ought to know by now writing doesn’t work that way. It’s not about the number of hours you put in, it’s about the number of focused hours. As for how long it takes to write a book – probably as long as the proverbial piece of string. One book took four months, one six and another took a year and a half. There’s no rhyme or reason, they just come at their own pace.

Q7. What are you reading at the moment?

I’m half way through Bring up the Bodies. I loved Wolf Hall but it has taken me ages to get around to reading this second Thomas Cromwell book because it’s just so big! I kept looking at it looming there by the side of the bed, and feeling overwhelmed, and choosing something else instead, something less dense and demanding. Now I’ve started it, I’m really enjoying it, but a little part of my head is still buried in the book I just finished reading – Apple Tree Yard, by Louise Doughty, which was a really rich, tense, totally absorbing literary thriller. I just can’t stop thinking about it.

Q8. Do you enjoy chatting with your readers on social networking, particularly Twitter and Facebook? What are the best and worst bits of social networking for you?

Having readers get in touch on Twitter or Facebook is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer. Knowing that people were affected by your book enough to get in contact is really touching. Often people will want to share how some element of the narrative, or one of the characters or situations reminded them of something in their own lives and I really love that – partly because it shows you’ve made a connection and partly because I’m naturally nosy and relish these glimpses into other people’s lives. For me the best aspect of social networking has been making contact with readers and also with other writers. I’m still astonished that I can read a book I love one night and get in touch with the author the next morning, just by putting their name in a search box. The immediacy of it is unbelievable. The worst thing about it is that the same neuroses that beset my writing, also affect my social networking, so I’ll spend ages trying to think of something to say, and then if I put it out there and get no response, I’m immediately convinced it was the most rubbish, unfunny comment ever, and I just want to crawl under a rock somewhere – preferably one with no wi-fi!

Q9. What are you working on next?

I’m working on a book at the moment that’s quite a departure for me in terms of style, nudging more towards psychological suspense. But it’s like the other books in that it’s looking at the cracks that run under the surface of seemingly ordinary lives – and how all it takes is one shocking event for those cracks to be exposed bringing everything crashing down.

Thank you so much, Tamar!

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