Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Pet Rook and a Competition

Author, Jane Rusbridge
Jane Rusbridge is the author of two beautifully atmospheric novels, The Devil’s Music and Rook. I was lucky enough to meet Jane back when she was writing The Devil’s Music as we took part in a course in novel writing in the picturesque village of Heptonstall in West Yorkshire. Talented Jane won her place through the prestigious Ilkley Festival Short Story Competition which explains how she came to be so far from her home in Chichester on the Sussex coast.

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 here
Rook 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

24 comments:

  1. My entry will be pretty pathetic, but here goes .. I went to boarding school in Sussex, my cousin is called Jane, we have a massive parliament of rooks and crows in the trees around the village,I always liked Cnut and felt it was so unfair that his sea stopping session has been so misunderstood over the years. My aunt (mother of the Jane) lives in Chichester - just up the road from Bosham .... will that do

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    1. Heh! You could be sisters!!Good luck and thanks for stopping by :)

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  2. And btw how can Jane possibly be old enough to be a grandmother (not sucking up just quite surprised!)

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  3. Okay here's my tenuous connection. I follow Jane on Twitter and she posted a pic of the west Pier in Brighton when her daughter was getting married. I can see it from my house so we exchanged tweets about it. Then a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to meet her in person at a writing workshop and she remembered the tweet. I adored The Devil's Music and often go to West Wittering beach. How lucky you are to get a sneak preview of her writing. What else can I think of? My son made a full size replica of The Bayeaux Tapestry only featuring hamsters after we went to see it one year. A hamster with an arrow through it's eye was quite a sight!

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    1. That's brilliant, Alison - not tenuous in the slightest, however!I'm so impressed with the idea of a hamster-led Bayeux Tapestry (although feeling slightly squeamish at the thought of a hamster with an arrow through its eye), bet your son does the kind of projects which put mine to shame at school. Good luck with the competition!

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  4. My sister went to Sussex Uni will that do?.............

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    1. Brilliantly tenuous, best of luck!

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  5. My Dad was a waiter in Brighton, fifty years ago but it was a fantastic restaurant - how's that?

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    1. He he! That's perfect, good luck Phil!

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  6. Teresa Reynolds teresareynolds@btinternet.com29 September 2012 at 23:31

    Jane Winchester & I used to catch the No 64 bus to get to school - Croydon High School in Selsdon Surrey - I didn't change my surname -I'm still Reynolds - she did to Rushbridge. I don't think we were ever on exactly the same No 64 Bus together because I was always late for school and then I had to go and see the headmistress Else Cameron to be told off! We didn't appear in the same 6th form leaver pictures together because I was in a different class - although our class pictures were taken in the same place - the path below the netball courts - outside the science lab!

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    1. Hehe Teresa, your paths were so tantalisingly close and yet... Thanks for dropping by and good luck!

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  7. Well my grandparents lived in Lancing and we were often there and on the beach (hopeful connection to TDM, which I bought and hugely enjoyed). Brighton is a favourite apart from getting a parking ticket when there was no obvious no-parking sign. My aunt lived in Hove and we were there often, too. A former very best mate was called Jane, I like Jennifer Rush, and recently saw the Golden Gate 'Bridge'. (Pirates add arrrr.) Like skybluepinkish, I'm glad to know that Cnut had a noble motive in his unsuccessful tide thing, and I like him. And so on!

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  8. Oh! That parking ticket reminded me of when I dutifully put my parking zone disk on the dashboard - except it fell to the floor with a little over-zealous door slamming on my part. Oh the injustice! Great entry, love the 'former very best friend called Jane' but am compelled to ask, why the 'former'?? Thanks for dropping by and good luck!

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  9. OK, mine isn't tenuous but I met Jane on Twitter when I won a signed copy of her first novel, A Devil's Music (which was great). She then very kindly invited me to the launch of Rook (which is even better) where I met her in person. So as I already have a signed copy feel free to exclude my entry into your competition!

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    1. Good old Twitter - much as we love to hate it sometimes. Lucky you winning a copy of The Devil's Music, too. I'm sorry to have to throw you out of the competition on account of you already having BOTH books but as your connection is so untenuous, maybe you should help the judges...

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  10. not really a link,but I do live in Brighton..and researching local hstory I came across the story of 'The Goldstone Mail Robbery'of 30th October when a criminal, Edward Howell,robbed the mail couch at Goldstone Bottom. His accomplice just happened to be called James ROOK...ta da..see what I did...

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  11. Clever! A robbery at GOLDstone Bottom? You couldn't make that up. I can just see it as a children's book 'Rook robs Goldstone Bottom'. Thanks for dropping by and for following the blog, too. Good luck!

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  12. Emailed entry from Jennie Meakin:
    I trawled extensively for an ounce of commonality between me and the theme to provide the basis for my tenuous link. A failed search led me to wonder how in this global-centric generation, I can feasibly be quite so disconnected to so many places, events and objects?!
    What I would say is my link to the ‘Rook’ theme is rooted in my experience at my Granny Meg’s (who was coincidently from Sussex!) on a Saturday morning as a girl. Frequently there would be a magical flurry of bird activity in the garden.
    Unlike Jane’s natural talent of inviting the birds to the window… Granny’s conditioning of the local birds was through her devoted investment in time and bird seeds (much to the loathing of the neighbours)!!
    But I would therefore love to learn further about Nora’s intrigue in her acquired bird and the historic events of King Cnut that connect the characters to their locality.
    Forgive my tenuous link, but I must also add, the Bayeux Tapestry theme for the next project sounds fantastic…particularly the child’s hamster adaptation!

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  13. Thanks for all your wonderful entries into the competition! As soon as I can pin down the judge, I'll be back with the winner's name and a signed copy of Rook will be winging its way to one lucky, tenuously connected reader. Thanks for playing :)

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  14. Hi Jane, I have got a pet rook called Bub Bunting. I found her dying on a grave this year, hence the 'bunting' which was everywhere this year!. She had very few feathers and I couldn't believe she had survived the fall, but she has got a broken leg and feet so she will be with me for life. She is very smart and amusing. I will be looking out for your book. Best wishes, Kate

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  15. Hi Kate, thanks for that! And you have to read Rook, there's so much similarity between your story of finding Bub Bunting and Nora's discovery of Rook. Good luck!

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  16. OK, we have a slight conflict of interests as it transpires that OH knows one of the entrants into my competition so that just won't do! I shall therefore ask my wonderful creative writing group to choose the winner tonight. Back tomorrow, folks...

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  17. The winner's been announced! Many thanks for all your entries everyone, they did make me laugh. For the winner, see my latest blog post, A Robbery,a Bus and a Bird.

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