A couple of years or so ago I read an early draft of a novel by a young writer from Devon called Chloe Banks. I knew she was a gifted, original writer with a professional approach, and I told her I had a feeling in my waters that she/it would be published sooner or later. It’s a medical fact that my waters are rarely wrong, and this month The Art of Letting Go finally hit the bookshelves! It’s been extensively reworked and given a new title since I saw it, so I’m eagerly awaiting my copy to pop through the letterbox. In the meantime, I’d like to treat my readers to an interview with the author herself.
So Chloe – the Art of Letting Go of what? What’s it all about?
The Art of Letting Go tells the story of Rosemary, whose life of peaceful seclusion is disrupted by the man who traumatised her decades earlier, only this time he’s lying in a coma and Rosemary must decide whether to let him live, or let him go. In the midst of her secret dilemma she meets an abstract artist who is used to manipulating shapes and colours to make people see things differently. But what else is he manipulating? And can he help Rosemary see her own situation in a different light?
Is it true that you stole the title from Mariah Carey and are on the run from the FBI and Interpol disguised as a Latvian dwarf?
All I’m going to say is that Mariah and I both chose the title The Art of Letting Go and after I wrote a blog post about the inconvenience of the situation, Mariah decided to change the title of her album. I think you can draw your own conclusions about who was in the wrong. Also, that’s the last time I’m trusting you with my secret identity.
Was there a particular motivation/inspiration, or was it just an idea that popped into your head?
It was a succession of failed short stories that I couldn’t get to work. In a moment of flippancy I thought I might as well smash them all together and see if a novel fell out. After about 10 drafts and much hair-pulling it did.
Would you say there’s one main theme i.e. jealousy, betrayal etc., or is it a broader thing like “relationships”?
I suppose the overall theme would be one of what we live for. Do we live the lives we want to, or do we let other people or circumstances affect us until it’s too late and we don’t know who we are any more. But I didn’t write with that theme in mind – I guess it just came out. Other themes that get touched on are faith and what madness means – oh and a potted history of abstract art just to add a bit of colour, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Did any of your characters surprise you and perhaps even dictate a change of direction, as sometimes happens during the writing of the novel?
Oh yes. I actually wrote the first draft of the book as part of NaNoWriMo (the annual event where people try to write a novel in a month) and, as such, had no time to plan anything which is very unlike me. So I ended up making up characters just so I could get some words down. Then those characters started turning up in scenes and making a fuss. I had to rein some of them back in later drafts but on the whole they got their own way.
What was the hardest part about the writing of the The Art of Letting Go?
Without a doubt, getting the voices right. The novel is written in the first person from four different points of view, plus a fifth character’s letters to the main character. So I had to get five voices right – one of which also tells her story in two different tenses! I did think I just wasn’t going to be able to do it at some points – and I came in for a lot of criticism, but my agent was determined I should keep all the voices and so I persevered and I’m so glad I did. I’ve had a couple of reviews which have praised the believability of the characters and their voices – I could’ve cried with relief!
How long has it been in the making? Tell us something about the path to publication.
So I did NaNoWriMo in 2011 and then took another year and three more drafts to get it in shape to send out to agents. I had two agents interested quite quickly which was lucky, so it was just over a year after starting that I got an agent – November 2012. I then worked on it again for a few months with my agent’s feedback before it got sent to publishers. After I’d received a handful of rejections I did yet another version based on some of the feedback (although most of the things that were criticised by one publisher would be praised by another!) and then agreed to go with Thistle Publishing in January of this year. So it’s just over two and a half years since I started writing the novel.
Are there any particular things you feel you’ve learned during the process?
Never label a file on your computer “Final Version” – it’s almost certainly not! More seriously, I’ve learned so much about plotting and voice, characterisation and balancing pretty writing with good storytelling – basically everything about writing! I’d only been writing for two or three years when I started writing this, so it has taken half my writing life. I would be disappointed if I hadn’t learned a lot. Every time I re-wrote it I felt I was a better writer. I hope I’m a better writer now than I was even when I did the published version too.
And finally, what about future plans? What are you currently working on?
I am currently mostly changing nappies and doing laundry as I had my first baby in March. I’d love to get back to my next novel, which was 25% complete when Digory was born, but I’m not sure when that’s likely to happen. I’m not expecting to be able to get it completed so fast anyway. In the meantime I’d like to write more flash fiction as I love the discipline of it. The first thing I ever won was a competition to write a biography in the length of a single text message!
Thanks, Chloe. Your writing might be currently taking a back seat, but I have a feeling in my waters we’ll be seeing much more of you in the future!