“Hope appears in conflicting messages and magical paints as a strange creature of skin and bone summons Amelina to the cottage. In time, she discovers her magical Krystallos skills and hopes to cure her father of the curse of time and perhaps to release Esme from her mental trauma and imprisonment.”
Thank you so much to Christy Birmingham for this wonderful interview at When Women Inspire. Means the world to me. Christy and I chat about my latest release – Lockdown Innit Poems About Absurdity, I share a 5 star review from author Richard Dee and an excerpt of one of the poems – Bucket List. Pop over to Christy’s blog to read the post and see the previous blogs I’ve written for When Women Inspire:
A big welcome to my guest Leslie… author of the trilogy of novels ‘Purple’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Violet’, as well as his trans memoir ‘Heaven’s Rage.’
VIOLET – THE INSIDE STORY
When I interview authors on my blog https://leslietate.com/ about their new novel I usually begin with who they are, a few words about their new title, then questions about what kind of writing they do. I follow up with how their life experiences have contributed to their book, how it changed in the making, and why they’ve written it. I’m just as interested in the process as the result, so I might include questions about their writing habits, what fires them up and who they read and why.
I interview a wide range of people, not just authors. So I talk to musicians, artists, filmmakers, publishers, comedians, care-givers and people with disabilities or mental health issues – anyone who has to use imagination in one form or another to get by. I want to learn about them as people and how the act of doing something difficult has changed them, in themselves and in their view of the world. I also want to grasp the inflow and outflow of energy and imagination as well as the hard graft that went into what they’re creating.
So, with the tables turned, interviewing myself (as authors do, turning snatches of fantasy and overheard voices into polished monologues) – can I deliver even half of what I hope to get from them?
It’s a bit like playing God, but here goes…
Q: What’s your writing history?
A: I studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, I’ve been shortlisted for the Bridport, Geoff Stevens and Wivenhoe Prizes and I’m the author of the trilogy of novels ‘Purple’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Violet’, as well as my trans memoir ‘Heaven’s Rage’, which has been turned into a film.
Q: Tell us about your latest book.
A: The blurb for my recently-published novel ‘Violet’ runs like this: ‘The passionate, late-life love of Beth and James begins in 2003 on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister…’
Q: What kind of writing do you do?
A: My published writing is about the changing patterns of modern love. It grows out of language – I constantly search for the right word to guide me to the next. My plots develop from the characters: what they say, how they interact and what lies deepest inside them.
Q: How do you approach the task of writing a novel?
A: When I write, I need to find the exact turn of phrase to get started. So I listen carefully as I try out multiple formulations. That can take days. When I hear the right note that sets me off, and from then on I repeatedly rewrite as I go. If I take a wrong turning or come to dead end I either find a ‘fix’ or cut back the story and rewrite. I don’t dash off an initial plot-driven draft and then revise later because the story grows slowly, organically, out of the words on the page.
Q: What fires you up? Who do you read – and why?
A: I’m inspired by the broad sweep of Robert Lowell’s poetry, the mysteries of ordinary life and sheer quirkiness of Carol Shields and Anne Tyler, the singularity of Marilynne Robinson’s vision, and the depth, power and complexity of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
Q: How much of your personal life went into your latest book?
A: Violet’s picture of a late-life love affair was adapted from my first meeting with my wife and children’s author, Sue Hampton. The love story soon develops its own fictional dynamic, but part two is based on supporting a sick friend – although this section focuses on the spiritual and psychological impact of long-term illness, rather than the physical details.
Q: Why do you write?
A: I wrote ‘Violet’ for the same reason I write anything – because I want to develop a strong authorial voice capable of ‘looking inside’ modern relationships and holding up a mirror to the society around, while retaining a feeling flow that comes naturally (despite all the rewriting) and transports the readers to places only fiction can take them.
Violet is a captivating novel narrated through letters, diary entries, instant messages, poems, and other writings that create a multi-textured depth to the storyline. Leslie Tate’s fluid, musical sentence structure, vivid use of imagery and description, and skilful storytelling bring to life a memorable protagonist in the character of Beth Jarvis, an imaginative and sensitive woman. A pleasure to read! – BethCopeland, Pushcart Prize nominated poet & winner of theDogfish Head Poetry Prize
Leslie Tate has a beautiful turn of phrase and this work is threaded with elegant descriptive passages. The central characters are instantly likeable, and the reader has a quick and affectionate bond that hooks right from the opening pages. – Dawn Finch Trustee, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Children’s Writer & Librarian.
The third, free-standing part of Leslie Tate’s trilogy opens with a thoroughly modern scenario: Beth, a middle-aged woman, sits in a restaurant waiting for her first meeting with James, a man of similar vintage with whom hitherto she has exchanged letters and phone conversations.
From that point on, Violet becomes timeless. Events and relationships could be from almost any era. Beth herself is a weaver of stories; the possibility is hard to dismiss that the whole thing is in Beth’s head. In places the author hints as much: “In fact, I could almost say we imagined who we were.”
There’s a dream-like quality to the painstaking precision of much of the description of places, events and conversations. Beth’s love stories – with Conrad first and, in her fifties, with James, are somewhat stylised. “Right from the start we chose to be in love,” she says of James, and there are echoes of Tristan and Isolt, Abelard and Heloise in their story.
Beth punctuates her musings about her men, her families, her illness – in short, about her life – with stories in various forms. Some are contributed by others, some are her own, some are reports of dreams. Beth suggests that the theme of her story is love, but I’d say it’s imagination: where it comes from and what purpose it might serve. In Violet, it gives full value. – David Guest, author and journalist.
At the heart of Violet, there is Beth, a divorced mother of two grown daughters and owner of a café, and there is James, previously married and with two adult children of his own. They are together, right from the opening pages, though in fact the paths of these two characters only intersected later in their lives. Theirs is a passionate love story.
The breadth of Violet is found not in its narrative scope—it is a personal tale with a limited cast of characters—but in how far it reaches inward, and outward. Symbolism and allegory abound, as Beth and James push the boundaries of their connection. They are the couple who dance among the flowers, with or without music, at times literally dancing words. They are the couple who have arrived at a place where the waiting ends.
Told in voices both living and posthumous, Violet is a celebration of the numinous, and a paean to life and love. With James at her side, and in spite of the all-consuming struggles she faces, Beth chooses to embrace a path that is “wild and windy and crazy”, along which the smallest experiences are acts of worship; a world that pulses with life and magic and joy. – Michelle Payette-Daoust, blogger, bi-linguist and teacher
Violet is the final instalment of Leslie Tate’s Lavender Blues trilogy. It chronicles the passionate later-in-life relationship of Beth and James. A simple love story? Think again. From the very first scene, a childhood story of Beth’s, entitled The Girl who Began Again, we are given a sense that this story will be something unique. We move straight from the childhood story, to an adult Beth sitting in a restaurant with a sheaf of letters sent to her by James. We learn that the pair have been corresponding and talking by telephone and that this would be their first date. Not a bad introduction.
After their successful first date, Tate eschews traditional story telling techniques by going backwards, over the series of pre-dated letters that have led to this point in the story. I wasn’t initially sure about this strategy, surely it would have made more sense to have the letters before the date? However, though the unorthodox decision does quench some of the initial dramatic tension, the letters themselves are fascinating. The move an invitation for the reader to abandon all pre-conceived ideas of what a novel ‘should’ involve.
After divesting us of our expectations, Tate then moves the narrative back and forth between Beth’s childhood and her evolving relationship with James. The various chapters are quirky and unorthodox involving text messages, dialogues without attributions, dreams, stories and poetry, giving one a sense that we are reading not so much a novel, as a real-life scrapbook of someone’s life. Particularly effective are the scenes from Beth’s early courtship with her first husband, an evangelical church minister, juxtaposed against the playfulness and indeed sacredness of her burgeoning relationship with James.
In part two, we skip forward six years, to a series of diary entries in Beth’s first-person narrative voice. She is married to James by this stage and I had similar reservations about the loss of dramatic tension as we looked back over their early struggles as a married couple. Despite this, I found part two the warmest and most endearing part of the novel. Beth is ill, the reader soon learns, her simple diary entries a chronicle of a couple coming to terms with a terminal illness. Their struggles, are chronicled in a quirky, unorthodox manner, which I’m beginning to recognise as Tate’s signature style. There is a loveliness to Beth’s simple spirituality, evoking all that is best in a life of faith. Their return to the rocky headland of their courtship concludes this section in a deeply symbolic manner.
Part three, opens with a letter written by James who is now in deep mourning. It is followed by some third person reflections of the community and then, what can only be described as series of affecting vignettes and stories from the perspective of the recently departed (or is she?) Beth. This section brought the metaphor of a scrapbook forcefully back to me. Perhaps, because I have only just planned a funeral, I was mindful of the fragmentary nature of our recollections. How one person can be different things to different people. How it is only when we pull them together that we can form a complete picture of their life. Which is sacred, in all of its phases, as Beth’s story was. This, I think, is the triumph of Tate’s novel. – Elizabeth Jane Corbett – Bristol Short Story Prize winner and author of The Tides Between.
Leslie Tate studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and has been shortlisted for the Bridport, Geoff Stevens and Wivenhoe Prizes. He’s the author of the trilogy of novels ‘Purple’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Violet’, as well as his trans memoir ‘Heaven’s Rage’, which has been turned into a film. Leslie runs a mixed arts show in Berkhamsted, UK, where he lives with his wife, multi-talented author Sue Hampton.
Well, that certainly piqued my interest… what about you? Do comment below.
Creature, you are some scary dude to look at but I mustn’t let that stop me from interviewing you.
So, pull up a chair, make your skeleton comfortable….
MJ: Tell me about yourself.
The Creature: There isn’t much to tell. I don’t get out much, most of the time I’m waiting.
MJ: Waiting for what?
The Creature: For something to happen or for someone to summon me.
MJ: So you’re catatonic until someone brings you to life in a painting?
The Creature: That’s pretty much it, most of the time I’m mingling with the worms, the bugs are feasting on me, and I’m dreaming about my dreds.
MJ: Your dreds?
The Creature: When I was alive I had dreadlocks, now I’m just skin and bone. I miss my dreadlocks.
MJ: Hah! Scary dreadlock dude tell us about the cottage.
The Creature: It’s my home, sort of. It’s not a public venue, you have to be invited to visit.
MJ: Why’s that?
The Creature: The Crystal cottage is a magical, powerful place. Magical places have to be protected. Crystal Magic can be dangerous if it is used by the wrong people.
MJ: So you protect it?
The Creature: Yes and no… I am a junior caretaker of sorts… There’s a hierarchy of protection. I can’t tell you too much about the cottage, you have to read the book to find out more.
MJ: That’s fair enough. Do you live alone?
The Creature: I live with a bunch of doves and a wacky lady who shares caretaking duty with me.
MJ: Just you two?
The Creature: No, there are other beings that protect the cottage, personages, legends and the like, but I hardly ever see them.
MJ: Sounds intriguing.
The Creature: That crazy author thinks so…
MJ: That’s me! Lol..
The Creature: Stop your procrastinating, author lady. When are you going to stop twiddling your hair and write book two?
MJ: Cheeky. It takes time to write if you are working full-time.
The Creature: You work full-time?
MJ: Yeah, I do now. I’m a receptionist, a meet and greet lady. I sit next to this security guy all day. The first thing I noticed about him is his distinctive tattoos on each hand. But, I better not go into detail in case someone accuses me of gossiping…
The Creature: Heaven forbid! Sigh… No one would know if I had a tattoo.
MJ: No, not by looking at you. Those bones don’t give much away. Did you ever have a tattoo?
The Creature: No. Never. Just me and my dreds. I bet you don’t have guys like me in your building.
MJ: No, but we do get some strange dudes. There’s this guy that looks like a vampire!
The Creature: What, black hair, cape, white skin, sharp teeth?
MJ: Yep, I reckon he packs his cape in his briefcase… Me and the security guy were talking about Transalvania and I jest not – the vampire dude walked in.
The Creature: Wow, no one would believe that! Talk about never a dull moment. I’m jealous. I’ll have to tell the worms about this…
MJ: Feel free to share. I suppose I better wrap up this interview, your worms are getting excitable and restless.
The Creature: AWWW, I was just warming up. My old decaying bones, bugs and worms take ages to warm up these days.
The Creature gets up, bends his knee joints, and scatters a family of worms at my feet. He sighs.
MJ: Ugh, keep your worms to yourself! Until the next time, dear Creature.
The Creature tries to grin but a few of his rotten teeth land on my lap.
I pick off the yucky teeth and wince.
MJ: I don’t mean to be rude but it’s time you went!
The Creature: Yeah, time to get back to scaring people. Being nice and polite is such hard work. Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
I know it sounds bonkers… but this is Kyrosmagica, and anything can happen here…. ANYTHING!
So Who is Lily?
Lily comes from a busy household of four cats: Charlie aka Madame La Princesse aka
Princess Charlotte Oddpaw, Lily Bee, Ting Tong Maccadangdang and Tooty
Michonne….Tooty and Lily are both black cats, Ting is Siamese and Charlie is
Marje: Tell us a little about the humans and the other cats that you live with Lily?
Lily: My human family are all right – I wish they’d learn to appreciate the mice and birds I bring them a little more, I put a lot of effort into those hunts!
The other cats are all right, as far as cats go. It’s the 21st century though, and us felines have to adapt to living in a multi-cat household. Not always easy… apparently we also have a budgie that lives with us. I often hear him screaming but I’ve never seen him…hmm…wonder why…
Marje: What is your temperament like? Are you an easy-going kind of feline? Or can you be a bit fierce?
Lily: I may be the smallest cat, but I think I’m the fiercest! And provided things go my way, then I’m wonderful to live with!
Marje: Out of the cat siblings that live with you do you have a favourite?Or do you all get along really well? Tell us about Ting, Charlie, Madame La Princesse, and Tooty.
Lily: Ting and Tooty are sisters and quite a bit younger than me, so I find them a bit immature, to be honest. Nice enough, but a bit dim, the pair of them. I used to get on better with Charlie when we were younger, but she was a bit of a bully, and can still be quite… princess-y… if you know what I mean!
Marje:What do you think of my cat character Shadow? He thinks you’re gorgeous!
Lily: Shadow sounds intriguing…exciting… put it this way, I would definitely add his book to my collection! You may thank him for the compliment, by the way.
Marje:Are you a home buddy or do you like to wander far? Do you have a perfect spot for a nap?
Lily: We have quite a large garden, and a park behind us… sometimes on fine clear nights I wander further than I should and remember our wild ancestors…But mostly, I don’t go too far! The best spots for napping are generally on one of the beds, but I’m not fussy. Hey, I’ll sleep on the ironing board if I have to!
Marje:What are you doing whilst contemplating on this slab?
Lily: Actually I’d just been told off for trying to catch one of the frogs that lives in the pond behind me in the picture… so I suppose you could say I’m sulking…
Marje:Sometimes you look a bit thoughtful. I wonder what’s on your mind?
Lily: Sometimes there are deep mysteries of the Universe that need pondering… sometimes I’m just wondering why Mother doesn’t realise none of us like chicken flavour catfood…
Marje: What were you like as a kitten?
Lily: Totally precious! Aren’t all kittens?
Marje: Are you enjoying modelling? Do your cat siblings get jealous?
Lily: Ha ha! Oh yes, I’m enjoying the extra attention from the modelling! Charlie is always thought of as the “pretty” one of the family, so she’s quite jealous! She complained until our mother created an Instagram account that features lots of her pictures Samantha’s Instagram Account… Ting and Tooty don’t really understand the concept of social media… or blogs… or books.. or cameras… well, you see what I mean.
Marje: Tell us a little about the crystals that your owner Samantha collects. And Buddha you seem to hang out with him sometimes… lol… J
Lily: I quite like the crystals our mother collects. Obsidian is pretty cool, it matches my fur, jade matches my eyes, and she did actually use pyrite to help when I hurt my paw. Yeah, Buddha’s all right – sometimes hanging out with him is the only way to get a decent conversation…
Marje: Who is the most temperamental cat, and/or human in your household?
Lily: Most temperamental cat – without a doubt, Charlie. Definitely. She is such a princess… we have a catflap but she has to have the door opened specially for her, special beds in all the best places and when she’s in a temper she doesn’t care who she has a swipe at! Most temperamental human… we don’t really have any… they tend to know their place. Mother can be annoying, always picking me up… kissing me… brushing me… singing to me… hasn’t tried dressing any of us up yet though.
Marje:What is your favourite pastime?
Lily: Well I do play chess – no! Sleeping, of course!
Marje:Do you care for dogs? I hear your owner Samantha’s mum has a doggie…
Lily: My birth mother lived with three dogs and then my human mother actually had a little dog when I was younger. She’s since gone over the Rainbow Bridge, so yes, dogs, I don’t suppose I mind them. Couldn’t eat a whole one though…
Marje:Are you mischievous, getting your paw prints on everything?
Lily: Not really, I just do what I have to do, and if that includes walking on the clean kitchen work surfaces , sitting in the bath with muddy paws, bringing in mice and birds – then so be it!
A HUGE Thank you to Samantha and her son Alex Marlowe for their wonderful photos of Lily and for answering my questions!
I am so glad that Gary @ Fiction is Food introduced me to Samantha. It has been absolutely wonderful collaborating with her. She is a true gem, just as sparkly and lovely as the crystals she collects. Do pop over to Samantha’s blog to see her beautiful cats and crystals: Samantha Murdoch Blog.
These are especially for Lily:
Next, I will be interviewing my male character Ryder on my blog, (with some stunning photographs taken by my daughter,) so keep an eye out for that.
Bye for now from MJ…. This is my new nickname, and author initials…