|Author, Jane Rusbridge|
We agreed to become writing buddies which means that I get to read various sections of her novels under the pretence of making suggestions for improvement. Really, I just wallow in her rich writing. Jane has the ability to propel you to the centre of a scene and focus in on minute details until you’re there, standing next to the characters. Even first drafts of Jane’s writing have brought me to tears.With Jane’s second novel, Rook, just out, I thought it was time we had a proper chat for Chase, Rotherham Advertiser's Lifestyle Magazine, where I feel totally privileged to have a regular corner for book reviews and other articles.
Having a personal phobia of birds in confined places (I blame the family cat), I really wanted to know about the bird simply named, Rook. How did Jane come to choose a bird to be a central character in her novel and how on earth did she manage to convince the reader not only to imagine Rook as a pet but also to become so attached to it?‘I actively disliked birds in cages before I wrote Rook,’ says Jane, ‘although I was quite in love with them in the air.’ She knew very little about rooks but happened to notice a lot of nest building on her way home and asked her husband if he knew where they’d come from. It transpired that his mother had kept a rook as a pet when he was growing up and, being a farmer, he also had a wealth of information on the species. After that, Jane couldn’t stop thinking about rooks and she knew an idea was forming.
When Jane was finishing passages of Rook in the garden last summer, a blackbird grew accustomed to her, perching ever closer. If Jane was indoors, the blackbird would hop along the terrace to be able to peer in the window of the room where she was seated. She’d notice how it would cock its head at an angle as if it was concentrating or listening. One day Jane was able to feed it a piece of cheese from her hand, an act later performed by central character, Nora, and described in intricate, touching detail.Jane read Crow Country by Mark Cocker, a non-fiction book which features the great swarms of rooks and crows which roost at Buckingham Carr in Norfolk. Mark’s love for the beleaguered birds further cemented Jane’s and when he spoke of them as the most mis-understood of species because of their synonymy with death and superstition, Jane saw great scope for parallels with Nora’s complicated past.
Buckingham Carr became the location for daughter, Natalie Miller’s three day photo shoot which produced an array of stunning photos of rooks, one of which Bloomsbury’s Greg Heinimann used for the jacket design and shows a thoughtful figure staring upward at a sky festooned with rooks. One of Natalie’s rook photographs was shortlisted and exhibited in the Pallant House Open Competition. More of her striking photography can be seen hereRook is part historical fiction touching on King Cnut and the mystery behind his illegitimate daughter. Like many of Jane’s ideas, this was a chance observation that started a tumble of ideas which grew into a theme. On a visit to local village, Bosham, for a pub lunch, Jane took a wander through the church and its grounds as she had done many times before. This time she noticed a memorial stone set into the slabs of the church floor above the coffin alleged to belong to the drowned daughter of King Cnut. The stone had a drawing of a raven on it which looked remarkably like a baby rook to Jane. She launched herself into the church records and what she found helped her form a brilliant link between Rook’s historical element with all its family secrets and Nora’s 21st century world, a theme which results in a wonderfully climactic ending.
Much of the history and description of Bosham and the Sussex coastline today is described accurately in Rook - from the pub which sometimes get flooded and the dispute about Harold’s burial place to the concerned citizens of Bosham who feared for the village being overrun with tourists should such a documentary about the village’s historical mysteries ever be made. All the characters however are fictitious and, ‘great fun to write,’ adds Jane, who particularly enjoyed writing Ada, the not particularly pleasant mother of troubled Nora. She doesn’t conform to the stereotype of the ageing woman and although frustrating in her interpretations and dismissive attitude of her daughter, she’s certainly a ‘character’.So, with Rook now on sale, I wondered what Jane was doing now, writing number three? Jane laughs, ‘I’m gardening,’ she says, ‘and I’m enjoying my first grandchild.’ Yes, Jane is thinking about her third novel and says that it will certainly involve the Bayeux Tapestry. I ask her if she’d like to say anything else about her next project and she smiles and says, ‘No, I’d rather not.’ But then she adds, ‘Forests, I’m researching forests and the dawn chorus.’
I have a signed copy of Rook up for grabs. I've stolen the idea of a Top Tenuous from the legendary Chris Evans, I'm sure he won't mind, and I want to know your most well, tenuous connections to Jane, Sussex, rooks, Bosham or, indeed, King Cnut. My totally impartial better half will choose the winner. Answers by midnight October 5th, please.
And for a second chance to win a copy of Rook, pop over to this interview in Chase magazine and answer a simple question over there. Click here (pages 48-52) Good luck!You can learn more about Jane and her work at http://www.janerusbridge.co.uk.
Rook (RRP £12.99) and The Devil’s Music (RRP £7.99), are published by Bloomsbury and available in all good book stores and as e-books. Rook is published with new literary imprint Bloomsbury Circus who aim to produce books as collectible objects. Learn more at http://www.bloomsburycircus.com.The writing charity, Arvon, runs a wide range of writing courses to suit all levels of writing experience across four residential centres in the UK. Grants are available to help with course fees. For more information, please visit: http://www.arvonfoundation.org