Sunday, 6 April 2014

In Conversation With Rebecca Mascull & a Giveaway!

Today on the blog I am in conversation with Rebecca Mascull, author of The Visitors.  If you haven't already done so, you can read my review of her fabulous book here and at the end of our chat today, there is the opportunity to win a copy of her book!

Where did the idea for the Visitors come from?
Readers might like to have a look at THE VISITORS page on my website, where it details some of my influences:
I mentioned above about the deaf students I worked with and Helen Keller. Many of the other features of this story came through the research, such as the hop and oyster farming, and the Boer War. My primary goal with the story was to try to inhabit the mind of someone who had no language, and convey what that must be like. Then to see how life changes once communication is introduced. From there, I wanted her to experience first love and grow up a bit, and that’s where Caleb came in. I also had a kind of vision during the early stages of ghosts on a battlefield, and thus arrived The Visitors themselves. I didn’t intend it to be a ghost story to begin with, but they just turned up and wouldn’t go away! So I went with it and it seemed to work with the other material. And it was great fun working out the rules of their behaviour and suchlike. I’d always wanted to write a ghost story, so I took my chance and it seemed to work out all right, I hope!

Your novel The Visitors is set in a number of different places, did you draw on your own personal experience of these?
I lived in Kent from the age of around ten until I left home. So yes, I did base that section on my memories, as well as my brother and his family still living there. I spent the day at the Kent Life hop farm, which was brilliant for getting the feel and smell and sights of a hop farm, and all of that went into the novel. As a debut novelist, there was no funding to be had for travel, and I certainly couldn’t afford to pay to travel to South Africa. I wish I could have done, but as a writer you must do what you can, and then use your imagination and research for the rest of it. I’m a great believer in the power of the writer to inhabit other lives and places, and I feel it’s an inadequate argument to say the writer must visit every place they write about – sometimes it’s simply not possible; moreover, it might be set in a different time, in which case visiting that place may offer little if you are setting it at a very distant time. Of course, the ideal would be that writers could journey everywhere they need to – as well as become time-travellers! – but the reality is that it’s not always possible. You do the very best you can.

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
Anywhere. No, really! It might be something someone says, a dream, an experience I’ve had, a TV or radio programme or film, another book, even a Tweet! There will be a spark of an idea there, something which captures my imagination. If I begin to look into it and it grabs me, then I know I’m on the right track. For THE VISITORS, the inspiration came from working with deaf kids when I was teacher training and also seeing a TV movie about Helen Keller when I was a child. These things percolate in your mind and when you are ready to begin a new project, your mind opens up and is receptive to these ideas; it’s as if you have radar but only for that subject, and suddenly you are noticing everything you need from which to construct the new plot. It’s a mysterious and rather lovely process. Once I start the research, the books I read often lead me off in new directions I hadn’t predicted; for example, I found hop farming in a book on Edwardian society and was hooked. Then I discovered there was a link to hop farming in my family’s distant past, so it all came together. It’s important to be open to that process, to follow undiscovered paths.

What are you working on next?
Funnily enough, I’ve literally just finished my current novel, yesterday in fact! That one is set in the eighteenth century. It involved a huge amount of research and was hard work, particularly trying to approximate the language and dialogue of C18th prose. So I’m quite relieved it’s done and that I’m happy with it, yet I loved every second of writing it. THE VISITORS was quite harrowing at points to write, especially the Boer War parts. Yet this one was a joy from beginning to end and I will miss being in that world, and my heroine’s company. My next project? Not sure yet. I have two ideas battling it out in my mind and one will win. I’ll let them get on with it while I have a short break and once my brain has decided, then I’ll get cracking.

Research in progress!

Have you always wanted to be an author and how did your publishing deal come about?
I’ve always scribbled stories, since childhood. I’ve loved reading since then too. I started writing short stories and had an idea for my first novel at university, but then I was a teacher for a decade after that. Teaching is a very full-time occupation and takes over your life, and by the age of 30 I started to feel that I had to make writing my Plan A, if I ever wanted to get anywhere with it. So I left full-time teaching – and sacrificed a good career and decent pay! – and wrote my first novel. THE VISITORS was the 4th novel I’ve written and I also wrote 2 text books for GCSE students. So by the time I got there, I had practised the craft seriously for about 12 years or so. I found representation by agents for the first 3 novels, but no publication deals. Finally, my agent Jane Conway-Gordon – who’d agreed to represent me on the strength of novel number 3, told me to get on with the next one, and I did, and that was THE VISITORS. After years of rejections (from agents and publishers), THE VISITORS was sent to Hodder & Stoughton and within a couple of weeks it had a deal. So the last bit happened very quickly, and yet it was preceded by years of work and waiting!

Any advice to any one dreaming of becoming an author?
As my previous answer shows, you have to persevere. When I sent my first 3 novels to agents, I actually sent it out to between 30 and 50 agents each time. And I had 1 agent who was interested each time, 1 out of 50. And 2 of those novels were sent out to 10 to 15 publishers and they all said no. That took about ten years, to write each book, find an agent who would take me on, then wait for publishers to say no. It’s pretty soul-destroying. You have to develop a hugely thick skin, you really do. You have to have a deep self-belief that what you are doing is good enough. And most of all, you have to keep getting up from the knock-backs and plough on with the work. I won’t lie and say it’s easy to cope with the vagaries of the publishing world, as it’s not. But if you are compelled to write – as I am – it’s not even a choice. It is the one for me, I’m smitten with writing and couldn’t give it up. The trick is to try to make it pay, so you can keep your family and all that business. I’m very lucky to have my partner Simon who has supported me throughout this process. We’ve sacrificed quite a bit. But all writers have their own commitments and need to earn their way in some way. That’s the difficult bit. So the next time you see a writer desperately self-promoting their book, spare a thought for the very probable fact that they are skint and they really, really need people to buy their books, so that they can pay their bills, and so that they can carry on writing! My other less worldly piece of advice to aspiring writers is to READ. It’s amazing to me how some people call themselves writers and yet hardly read – I have known of this. I believe any one writing a novel should read the canon – that is, the history of the novel from its beginning to the present day. I feel that any artist should study the past mistresses and masters of the form. You wouldn’t hack away at a lump of stone and hope for the best without looking at existing sculptures. You wouldn’t try to build a palace without studying architecture. I don’t believe every writer needs to do a course or indeed any sort of formal education in creative writing, but I do believe you must READ, READ, READ!

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
Blimey, that’s a good question. Well, assuming Poppy and Simon and the cat are safe, I’m going to be awkward and say I don’t think I’d grab anything. I just don’t feel objects are that important. That’s ironic since my house is stuffed with books and knick-knacks, but these are ephemeral things. I’d probably grab my memory sticks and my handbag. That’s sad, isn’t it.

What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
Gosh, another good one. I’d want people who were witty, well-read, talented and extremely bright to entertain me. So, as long as Simon is there doing the cooking with me and Poppy is sneaking out of bed to come and earwig, the 5 other people I’d like to have dinner with are: Emily Bronte, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Fry, Noam Chomsky and Charles Dickens.

The Visitors is out now in hardback and e-book, and in paperback in July.  You can find out more about Rebecca here:

and if you've read The Visitors do drop by Amazon and/or Goodreads and say what you thought of it!

Now, if you haven't read the book, and fancy doing so, then it's GIVEAWAY time!  I have a signed hardback first edition of The Visitors for one lucky blog follower (and I don't even have one of these)!  All you have to do is either leave a comment below, or on my facebook page or over on twitter.  Competition closes at the end of the day on Sunday 6th April.  I'll announce the winner on Monday.  GOOD LUCK!
Happy Reading
Miss Chapter x




  1. Love the concept, had my eye on this for a while... encouraging you love it too *fingers crossed* :)

  2. Great giveaway, this book sounds really good! Loved the interview too :)

    I follow you on Bloglovin' :) x

  3. I follow you via bloglovin as well

  4. I have been to living hop farm in kent and I was born in Kent too, would love to read this book....lovely post...d xxx

  5. Strange! Pretty sure I'd left a comment here when I followed the blog on Friday but sometimes things have a strange way of disappearing from cyberspace
    certainly sounds an interesting novel that I'm sure I'll get my hands on somehow!


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