When author and editor Jane Riddell approached me about a year ago with an invitation to appear on her Papillon blog I was delighted to accept and also fascinated to learn that her recently finished novel was called Water’s Edge, which for quite some time was the name of my own book until it became A Kettle of Fish. Here was a book I really wanted to read!
Since then Jane’s novel has been accepted by Thornberry and will be published later this week. I’ve also had the pleasure of a sneak preview and can tell you it’s an absorbing story of sibling relationships and rivalries set in Switzerland – a country strangely neglected by novelists IMO, with one or two honourable exceptions, of course.
So hello Jane, it’s lovely to have you here on my Bristolian blog, even if I am at this moment in your own fair city of Edinburgh! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background
Firstly, thank you , Alison, for interviewing me for your blog. I am Glaswegian but defected to Edinburgh in my twenties. For many years I worked as a dietitian before returning to university to do a degree in Health Studies. After that I switched to health promotion with the topic of smoking cessation. In 2006 I took a three year career break to move to France with my family. Until then writing was a hobby. In France I had a lot more time to write and learned to regard myself as a writer!
When I returned to Edinburgh in 2009, I studied for a Masters in Creative Writing. In March 2011, I became the proprietor of an editing business, Choice Words Editing.
Please give us a short description of Water’s Edge
Madalena invites her four adult children to Switzerland to celebrate the anniversary of her hotel. What she doesn’t realise is that there are tensions and secrets among them, which will play out during their visit.
I can see how Water’s Edge fits the brand (?) of ‘quiet fiction’ – how did that idea come about? Which other writers would you align yourself with? Who would be the target market?
I am fascinated by interpersonal relationships, in particular, family ones. I liked the idea of a family reunion where all is not what it seems, and the idea stemmed from there. Water’s Edge is similar to books such as Friday Nights (Joanna Trollope), Family Album (Penelope Lively) and Trespass (Rose Tremain). It’s targeted at a mid market female audience. (Someone like me, then!)
I was really interested that you set this book in Switzerland as I did some travelling there I my younger days. Was there any particular reason for choosing that setting?
As a travelphile I like to set my books in foreign countries. After I’d finished writing a book based in the south of France, I thought about having an alpine setting for my next one. I love mountain and lake locations, so Switzerland came to mind. At that time, I had the chance to have a short holiday on my own, and decided to go to Brunnen, on Lake Luzern, where I’d spent a night on my first family holiday abroad as a child. It was only when I arrived there that I decided to make Brunnen the setting for Water’s Edge. It still intrigues me why I didn’t make the connection earlier!
It’s interesting that you refer to Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac at various points. I wondered if in doing this you wanted to somehow compare/contrast your own story, or is it more a coincidence of place and genre?
The location was inspired by Hotel du Lac although at the time of writing the first draft of Water’s Edge, I didn’t know that the hotel used in the film version was actually on Lake Luzern. (In the book, the protagonist, Edith Hope, is exiled to a hotel on Lake Geneva.) I am an Anita Brookner fan, although I haven’t the same tolerance of the large chunks of introspection in her stories that I used to have. I do keep reading her, however, for her exquisite use of language, including her imagery, and her ability to convey mood and atmosphere, both in her London and Parisian settings. At a conscious level, my story wasn’t inspired by that of Hotel du Lac.
(Ah, I did think Hotel du Lac was on Lake Geneva which I know quite well. I didn’t realise they’d changed it for the T.V. version.)
To me Water’s Edge is very much an ensemble piece, with no one character taking centre stage. I have to ask – of Portia, Madalena, Annie and Vienne, do you have a favourite?
Not really. I spent more time in my head with Portia and Vienne than the other principle characters, but that doesn’t mean that either of them is my favourite. Although I don’t condone Portia’s behaviour, I feel for her, so anxious is she that her secret will be discovered. And although I am sympathetic to Vienne’s insecurity, I don’t particularly relate to her. When I finished the final draft, I did find myself wanting to be with these two characters in particular, though this was more to do with a general feeling of bereavement that I experience when I finish writing a novel. (Yes, I can relate to that!) The life experiences of the main characters are different to mine, apart from the fact that, like the three daughters, I spent four years at a boarding school.
You have some very distinctive names for your characters, I’m curious about how you chose them – did they all have these names from the start, or did you change them as you went along?
I have always regarded my name as being boring and therefore tend to give my characters more interesting ones. I don’t know why I opted for Portia as the name for the eldest daughter. The inspiration for Vienne’s name came from the Joanne Harris novel Chocolat, where the heroine is Vianne. When I first watched the film, I heard it as ‘Vienne’ and liked it. In my mind, Annie is short for Annelise, but realise that if too many names are unusual, the reader might find it a bit much. Madalena – a Danish woman – was originally Francesca, then I realised her temperament was more Northern than Spanish or Italian.
I see there another novel in the pipeline. What is the inspiration? How is it going?
Chergui’s Child was actually written before Water’s Edge, but I have rewritten it as my writing style has changed a lot since I finished its first draft. It tells the story of Sienna who inherits a fortune after her aunt dies, at the same time learning something significant about her past which will send her on a life changing journey. I am now in the final stages of editing it and should be finished by early summer (assuming we have one).
Do you have any further writing projects in mind?
I have been working on an editing guide for geeks, and hope to have this published soon. I am also editing a book on English grammar which I wrote (in conjunction with one on French grammar) while living in France. As for novels, I have several more in various stages of completion.