Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Getting to know … Vanessa Couchman

What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
My debut– and, so far, only – novel, The House at Zaronza, is a historical novel.

What made you choose that genre?
I’ve always been passionate about history, having taken a degree in the subject. Since moving to France in 1997, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by French history. I am also very attached to Corsica, where The House at Zaronza is mostly set. The island has a turbulent history and enthralling culture that sets it apart from the rest of Europe. I find it more appealing to write about the past than the present. 

How long does it take you to write a book?
I wrote The House at Zaronza during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2012. However, I spent some time planning it beforehand. I wouldn’t have been able just to sit down and write it without that. Also, I wasn’t happy with the beginning, so I changed it later on and added another 10,000 words or so.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I wish I were organised enough to have a schedule! During NaNoWriMo, I wrote about 2,000 words per day and I did it in the morning, so that I got it off my plate early on in the day. I also write non-fiction for a living, so my fiction has to fit around that. It’s not uncommon for me to be scribbling at midnight, long after my long-suffering husband has gone to bed.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Largely from historical events. A true story was the inspiration behind The House at Zaronza. We went on holiday to Corsica and found framed love letters on the walls of our B&B. The owner told us the story and I adapted it for the novel. I am particularly interested in the stories of “ordinary” people who are caught up in historical events.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote my first magnum opus at the age of six – but I’m not admitting how long ago that was. It was entitled The Kind Little Imp. I blush to recall it now, but it featured an imp who finds an injured butterfly and nurses it back to health. I illustrated it, too.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I sing in a couple of choirs, which I find relaxing. It’s good to do things with a team of people, since writing is a solitary, anti-social occupation. I am also fond of walking, yoga and food and drink (what else, in France?). We are also helping to restore a ruined 15th-century chapel nearby – also a team activity.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That I could do it! Previously, I had written only short stories. A much more extended piece of work is a different undertaking, especially at a certain age. Now I’m hooked on novel-length writing.

How many books have you written?
If you count the one when I was six, then two.

Which is your favourite and why?
The favourite so far is The House at Zaronza, naturally. As a writer, you want to develop constantly, though, and if I continue to write and publish novels then it’s possible that a later one will overtake it. However, as my first novel, The House at Zaronza will always occupy a special place in my thoughts. I actually shed a little tear when I typed “The End”!

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I was going to be the UK’s first woman prime minister, but someone pipped me to the post. At another time, I wanted to be a doctor, but my maths wasn’t good enough. I never thought of being a full-time writer, although that is what I have become after a varied career.

What are you working on now?
Novel number two, set in France during World War II. It is beginning to develop into a sequel to The House at Zaronza, although it didn’t start out like that. But you know how it is: your characters take you over.

Vanessa Couchman is passionate about French and Corsican history, from which she derives the inspiration for much of her fiction. She has lived in France since 1997, where she runs a copywriting business and also writes magazine articles. Her short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions. The House at Zaronza is her debut novel.  

Blog: Life on La Lune –
Twitter: @Vanessainfrance
Facebook: vanessa.couchman.3

Published works:
The House at Zaronza, Crooked Cat Publishing, 29th July 2014
Foreign and Far Away: Writers Abroad Anthology 2013 (Contributor)
Foreign Encounters: Writers Abroad Anthology 2012 (Contributor)
Foreign Flavours: Writers Abroad Anthology 2011 (Contributor)
Fifty Stories for Pakistan, 2010 (Contributor)
Yesterday, ed. Marit Meredith, 2011 (Contributor)

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Home Page: Flash Fiction, Humour Verse
and Novel Opening Chapter and Synopsis Competitions


Gill James said...

Aha! Another writer who is in a choir. There's a bit of a theme here ...

Nancy Jardine said...

Good to learn about you, Vanessa.