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Sunday, 20 February 2011

Author Interview: B.R. Collins

I want to start this post by thanking Irena because she been an absolute star reviewing so many books for me. As if she wasn't already generous enough with her time and support, she also interviewed B.R. Collins and so I am the lucky one who gets to share it with you here.

So a huge thanks to both Irena and B.R. Collins for taking part.

Welcome to their rather fab interview and a couple of questions that I sneaked on the end!

Irena: Tyme's End is only a house, yet it is a powerful entity in the novel and can be considered as a character. What do you think makes a house a character - its history, its inhabitants, or both? Or it is possible that some houses simply "have" something even when completely empty?

B.R. Collins: To be honest, I'm not sure. I think physical characteristics are important, of course - if a house is cold and dark it feels unwelcoming, if it's old it feels different from a new building, and so on... But how the people in it feel about it is probably the most crucial thing, so that when we're content somewhere the place itself feels like a good place. I know that the places I love the most aren't always the most beautiful, but the places where I've been happiest. That said, what I wanted to do with Tyme's End was to create a sense of a place where the past pervaded everything, where the emotions hung in the air and didn't fade. If you believe in ghosts, I suppose that's a way of saying that places can hang on to memory independently of their inhabitants, that somehow the human history has become detached from the people who lived it and clings on in the actual fabric of the space. I don't know if I do believe in ghosts, but all the same there are feelings you get in places that aren't rational or obviously explainable - and you don't know if that's the place itself, or you...

Irena: The story is divided into three parts and features four characters that are at its centre - Bibi, the two Olivers and H.J. Martin. Which one of the stories inspired you to write this novel? How did the rest of the novel follow?

B.R. Collins: Initially the whole book was set in 1996, and was quite straightforward structurally, only following Oliver junior’s story. It was much more focused on the supernatural, with no real romance (he did have a girlfriend called Bibi, but she didn't do very much). But it just didn’t work for me – I felt that there was something missing, that somehow I hadn’t quite located the heart of the book. It was really only a ghost story, and I knew that what had driven me to write it was more complicated than that, and that what I really wanted to write was something that explored more clearly the themes that ghost stories always touch on: the way we feel about the past, the way it affects us in unpredictable, sometimes threatening ways, the way it’s at once knowable and unknowable... And so later, when I came to redraft it after several years, I scrapped 50,000 words of it, and started again. This time I knew that I wanted to focus more on H. J. Martin and Oliver senior, and also I wanted to introduce something fresher and lighter to counterbalance that. Bibi's story had been brewing in my head for a while, in a different sort of compartment, and suddenly I found that she was outside Tyme's End, demanding to be let in!

Irena: Tyme's End provides the reader with a great gothic setting and a haunting atmosphere. Is there an actual house that inspired Tyme's End? How did Tyme's End come to be in your imagination?

B.R. Collins: Tyme's End has been through lots of metamorphoses. When I started thinking about it, I was still very much thinking of H. J. Martin as a thinly-disguised T. E. Lawrence - so I suppose what came to mind for his house was something like Clouds Hill, Lawrence's house, a little workman's cottage in Dorset. But there's something about small houses - they're just not as scary... With a small house you pretty much know what's in every room, if something's there you'll hear it, so the feeling of being overwhelmingly alone isn't quite the same. Then H. J. Martin changed, and Tyme's End became more and more important, and I thought, no, forget Clouds Hill, it's definitely a big, beautiful house. As it happens, I don't know any houses like that - I went to Bateman's, Rudyard Kipling's house, to have a look, but with the National Trust you can't look at everything, the whole layout of the house is always a bit of a mystery - and so I found a manor house that was for sale and got photos and floorplans off the estate agent's website! I worked from those, and I built up a very detailed picture in my mind's eye. When the book came out I wrote to the owners of that house, explaining what had happened and asking if I could possibly have a look, just to see how different it was in real life - but they never wrote back, sadly.

Irena: I was quite fascinated by H.J. Martin's character. Did any author in particular inspire you to create him? How did you come to outline this intriguing character?

B.R. Collins: Thank you! As I've mentioned above, H. J. Martin was definitely inspired by T. E. Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia" - as was the whole book, in a way. When I was fourteen or fifteen I had a real T. E. Lawrence “phase”, when I read anything and everything about him. He was a fascinating man, flawed and charismatic, and he was my hero – and of course when you’re in love with a historical figure sooner or later you realise that you’ll never meet them, that no matter how many books you read or how close you get to their possessions, they’re gone. There’s this one-way mirror, so you can see them but they can’t see you, and that inspires a strange sort of loneliness. That was one of the things that inspired Tyme’s End. When I wrote the first draft there was much more emphasis on Oliver’s hero-worship of H. J. Martin, so that he almost willed him back to life; but in the end that didn’t work in the context, so it was one of the things that went. With that, I let go of some of the T. E. Lawrence-ness of the character. Now, although H. J. Martin is obviously inspired by Lawrence – there’s the wartime career, and the death by motorcycle crash – he’s a nasty bit of work, and not recognisably like Lawrence except in those details. I did think of adding an author’s note at the end, to explain that the resemblance was there but superficial – but then I thought that a) if you knew about Lawrence you’d see both the resemblances and the differences, and if you didn’t it didn’t matter, and b) author’s notes can be a bit pompous!

Irena: I am a romantic at heart and since the day of perfection that Bibi and Oliver Junior spent together has really stayed with me, I must ask - do you think they have a future together in any way behind the scenes? Or were they meant to meet for that short, yet wonderful period of time to help each other heal?

B.R. Collins: Actually, I don't know! I suppose I've always imagined that that was it, that they have that one very intense encounter, which changes both their lives, and never see each other again. I think maybe that's more romantic... but then again I suppose they might meet again one day. As they get older the age difference will mean less, so maybe there is a possibility of a future together...

Becky: Do you have any recommendations for other British young adult writers that our readers will enjoy?

B.R. Collins: Absolutely. If you enjoyed the ghost section of Tyme's End I would recommend all of Robert Westall, Susan Hill's ghost books, Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, Mal Peet's Keeper, Nick Manns' Control Shift, and J. M. Faulkner's The Lost Stradivarius - to start with! If you liked the romance best, there's Meg Rosoff, of course, Adele Geras, and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle; if you liked the last section best, it's worth trying Rosemary Sutcliff, who is brilliant, Daphne du Maurier, and maybe John Buchan. And for a wonderful, funny, playful and profound exploration of time and history, read Penelope Lively's The Ghost of Thomas Kempe - it's for children rather than young adults, but it is fantastic.

Becky: The question which we always ask at The Bookette - do you have a favourite biscuit? Are you a tea of coffee person?

B.R. Collins: Hmmm. I'm definitely a tea person - although I do like coffee, I could live without it, and I really couldn't live without tea. As for biscuits... I'll pretty much eat anything. But if I really have to choose, I think I'll say those French macaroons with creamy stuff in the middle. May as well live dangerously...
Ooh French macaroons... we've never had that answer before. I don't even think I've tried one before. I shall be on the look out on my next visit to the supermarket.
Thanks again to Irena and B.R. Collins for taking part.
If you haven't read Irena's review of Tyme's End, what are you waiting for?! Read it HERE
Watch out next week for an exciting B.R. Collins giveaway!


Vivienne said...

I know I am going to love this book. I loved The Little Stranger and Susan Hill's books are just fantastic.

Stephanie :) (Books Are A Girl's Best Friend) said...

Fantastic interview- thank you Irena and Becky! I was intrigued behind the inspiration for the story too so the insight was very interesting. The day of perfection that Bibi and Oliver spent together was my favourite part of the book :)

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Thak you, Becky, and thank you, B.R. Collins, for this wonderful intertview! I truly love the answers. They are really informative and interesting. I enjoyed reading these answers so, so much!!!

percyjackson23 said...

This book had a real emotional impact on me, so much so that I had to just sit in silence for a while after finishing each of the parts. Bibi and Oliver are beautiful and that 100 page love story will stay with me for the rest of my life. B.R Collins is a truly talented author and this book painted an immensely real picture of which I have never seen before.