Tell Me Where You Are by Moira Forsyth
Frances is doing fine; she has her life sorted. Then comes the phone call from Alec, the husband who left her for her younger sister Susan, thirteen years ago. Susan has disappeared, and Alec wants her daughter Kate to come and stay with Frances, out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, Frances’s youngest sister, Gillian, finds that two months after ending her relationship with a married man, she is pregnant. While all this is going on another crisis is looming. It’s been a family full of secrets. Frances and Gillian haven’t even managed to tell their parents Susan is missing. After all, she’s left unacknowledged thirteen years of birthday and Christmas presents for Kate, the granddaughter they never saw. She was the one who made sure she could never be forgiven, and now there’s another secret. It’s not always the things you fear most, which matter in the end.
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
A) This novel started with a dream about the turkey we were to have for Christmas dinner. The bizarre dream Frances has at the beginning of the novel is a more detailed version of one I woke from myself, slightly shaken and glad I no longer ate meat, though I was cooking it for everyone else! The dream was too good to waste – which is what I often think when something happens that quite quickly turns itself into fiction in my imagination.
The novel is about three sisters and what happens when the middle one, who has always been trouble, disappears, leaving Frances, her older sister, with her teenage daughter Kate. Kate is in trouble, but no one realises that until it’s too late… The novel is set mainly in the Highlands, where Frances now lives, with significant scenes in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Newcastle. I can’t get on with a new novel until I’ve decided where the characters live. I know authors who can write vividly about places they’ve never been, but I’d find that difficult. For me, the sense of place is bound up closely with the people, and I want to be sure I can make that convincing.
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
A) This novel has had a longer journey than most. When Waiting for Lindsay, my first novel, was accepted, Sceptre gave me a two-book deal, which I fulfilled with my second, David’s Sisters. After that, my agent turned down my next novel, which I suspect he had discussed with Sceptre. My sales weren’t high enough for them to offer on that one. I wrote another, but by then the agent had thrown in the towel. That novel, an earlier version of Tell Me Where You Are, went to the back of the drawer with my other unpublished work. (A much larger drawer than the published one!)
My life was then taken up with developing Sandstone Press, of which I’m a founding director. For several years Sandstone published only non-fiction, then in 2010 it was decided we’d try fiction. Tell Me Where You Are was one of the early novels published, because Robert thought it merited that. He carried out a stern edit on it – and when I’d stopped sulking I made all the changes he had suggested – he was right. However, though we were very good editors at Sandstone, we were still learning to be publishers, and the novel pretty well sank without trace. We do better for our authors now!
It’s worth new authors noting that larger publishers often drop authors in this way. I know a number of superb writers who have been ‘let go’ by corporate publishers.
Because of the success of my two subsequent novels, The Treacle Well and A Message from the Other Side, Robert decided my previous novels should all be reissued, starting with Tell Me Where You Are. So here it is, with a beautiful new cover.
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) Being an editor, and to some extent, being a writer, wrecks your private reading. For bedtime I have crime thrillers on my kindle, for holidays and other times I love literary biographies (I’m reading the first biography of Scott Fitzgerald just now, by Andrew Turnbull, who knew him well), and also re-reading authors I’ve always loved and return to every few years, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, EM Forster, Alice Munro and George Eliot – Middlemarch is still, for me, the quintessential novel, the best.
Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
A) As a child I read everything I could get my hands on. Not allowed to ‘read at the table’ I read everywhere else, though at mealtimes I was restricted to the back of the Shreddies packet and the HP sauce bottle (some of which, in French, I can still quote Cette sauce de haute qualité est un melange d’épices….). I read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass over and over, as a little girl, and later devoured all of Enid Blyton’s school stories. My parents often gave me their library tickets to supplement my own, I read so fast and so voraciously. The first time I really understood what writing can do, to draw you into another world, was when I happened on Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, which I still think one of the finest children’s novels ever written. As a teenager I read all Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, but also the Brontes, Thackery, George Eliot and other classics. As a student I read John Fowles’s The Magus with the same absorption and utter belief in its world. That one hasn’t stood the test of time quite as much!
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) It’s a magical moment when you open the parcel and see your new novel for the first time. When my first, Waiting for Lindsay, was published by Sceptre in 1999, I sat in my little upstairs living-room, in the first house I’d ever had of my own, holding it and unable to believe that at last, this had really happened. I’d had a bad few years, with my marriage breaking up and having to find a new job and manage on my own, but that was a moment of pure happiness.
Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
A) My partner in life and at work, Robert Davidson, has supported me all the way through. He’s my editor and critic, and takes a huge pride in my achievements. My children have also been wonderful. Sadly my mother had become ill by the time my first novel was published, and was unable to enjoy it as she would have done in earlier years. My father though, who died in 2012, was an indefatigable supporter and would get my books off the library shelves and hand them to other readers, telling them, ‘My daughter wrote this – it’s very good’. He also rearranged books in bookshops, facing mine out so that they were more easily seen. After his death, I discovered he had kept a full and detailed folder with cuttings of my reviews and every bit of publicity I’d ever had.
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