I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan which is published by Penguin in paperback, e-book and audio on 5th May 2016. You can pre-order The Last Days of Summer here.
Vanessa has kindly agreed to be interviewed for Linda’s Book Bag and I’m thrilled to be sharing that interview with you today.
The Last Days of Summer
After ten years in the Huntsville State Penitentiary, Jasper Curtis returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters. Lizzie does not know who she’s letting into her home: the brother she grew up loving or the monster he became.
Teenage Katie distrusts this strange man in their home but eleven-year-old Joanne is just intrigued by her new uncle. Jasper says he’s all done with trouble, but in a forgotten prairie town that knows no forgiveness, it does not take long for trouble to arrive at their door…
An Interview with Vanessa Ronan
Hi Vanessa. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on Linda’s Book Bag about your writing and The Last Days of Summer.
Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Hi Linda, thank you for having me! That’s always the most difficult question… Well… I’m 29, I was born in Houston TX, got my 1st college degree in NYC studying dance and choreography. After graduation, I subsequently got the travel bug, and, after a year working at the bottom of a totem pole of personal assistants to a multimillionaire, I left to backpack through Europe for six months. Eight years later, here I still am! And, long story short, that’s how I fell onto that path that led to meeting my husband and Ireland becoming my home.
I know you’ve lived all over the place. How do you think this has affected your writing?
The more cultures and aspects of life one has the opportunity of absorbing, the better. Ever since I was a child I loved watching people. My characters come from everyone I’ve watched—this idiosyncrasy borrowed from this stranger here, this turn of phrase overheard out of context there, etc. As storytellers, I think we gather up all the oddities we witness in life and sift through them—or at least, that’s what I do! I feel very lucky that the varied places I’ve lived have given me a colourful world to observe.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
When I was three I had a black notebook I filled with squiggly lines. I brought the notebook to my mother and very proudly told her, “Mommy, I just wrote a novel.” I didn’t know the alphabet yet (oddly enough I always forgot the letter V) but my mother swears that every time I read my “novel” to her I read the same story, word for word, as though I knew what each squiggly line meant. Nearly everyone in my family writes. I think a part of me always knew that I would, too.
How far do you think being home schooled has impacted on your writing?
In many ways I am still learning just how deeply being home schooled has impacted my writing. My parents are both college literature professors so there was definitely a strong emphasis on our writing from a very young age. That being said though, my brother and I naturally gravitated more towards that side of our studies. Writing stories and poems was almost like a game for us, and we’d read and edit each other’s work from a very young age. Who knows, maybe had our parents been astrophysicists or mathematicians that would have naturally turned our focus another way, but they weren’t, and in many ways it is only now as I reflect back on my early influences that I begin to fully realize just how deep an impact the classics—Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Larry McMurtry, Poe, Dickens- we were read as bedtime stories had on my writing career. I think being home schooled may have helped me hear my own creative voice faster than I may have otherwise. It definitely encouraged the continued growth of my imagination.
Your parents have a strong literature background so books have been an influential part of your life I suppose. How important is reading as well as writing to you?
Reading has always been hugely important in my life. As a painfully shy home schooled child there was a time when books were my best friends. Loosing myself in books has gotten me though some of life’s toughest times. Reading can be very healing. There are books I’ve read and re-read cause reading them again feels like coming home. I grew out of the shyness, but I’ll never grow out of reading.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I like to read almost everything. Favourites include: All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavril Kay, The Once and Future King by T H White, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Padero Paramo by Juan Rulfo… I devoured the Harry Potter series. I love the old classics. I read a lot of poetry. Again, the influence of my parents here is vast—especially my mother, an avid reader herself who was wonderful at teaching me to see the beauty in all types of stories.
How does it feel to have released your debut novel The Last Days of Summer?
Surreal. And at the same time more wonderfully real than anything. I’ve spent the last year up on cloud nine, pinching myself every day.
Without spoiling the plot, could you tell us a little bit about The Last Days of Summer?
THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER begins as the convict, Jasper Curtis, is released from the Huntsville State Penitentiary to move in with his sister and her two young daughters far out on the Texas prairie. It is a story about a dark soul coming home and how this affects the family and the community. Told from four different points of view, it examines themes of forgiveness, redemption, and revenge.
Child Joanne is less suspicious than the adults in The Last Days of Summer. Do you think this is typical of how we behave in society in general too? Yes, I think so. I was less suspicious when I was young. I think as we grow up and gain knowledge we also (to some degree) learn to be afraid. If we don’t know that something or someone could hurt us, the fear is not there—that comes later, with knowledge.
Forgiveness is a central theme of The Last Days of Summer. Did you set out to explore that concept or did it arise naturally as a result of your storytelling?
It arose naturally from the story itself. I didn’t set out with that as my goal, but, due to the nature of the novel, forgiveness (or at times our inability to forgive) quickly became an important issue key to the story’s development.
Your writing has been described as ‘dark’. How do you feel about that?
My writing is dark, but I’m OK with that! I like dark stories. I was raised on the original Hans Christian Anderson and Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tales. Frankenstein and Dracula were both bedtime stories before I was nine. My dark side comes out in my writing, I suppose. In everyday life I’m a pretty happy person. I smile a lot. I believe in good karma. I try to surround myself with positive energies, good influences, good friends. BUT, if I wrote novels about good people who try to be nice to everybody and do good things all the time I would bore my readers to tears. I’d bore myself to tears! Darkness can have a certain mystery to it. A certain dark beauty. That’s the type of darkness I hope I write. That’s my goal.
You’ve had several jobs so far. How does being a writer compare with the others and how far do you draw on those previous experiences?
Being a writer is my dream job. It’s that job when you’re a kid and you imagine all the “what if’s” of the future that you hope you’ll be—or at least for me that’s what it is! I honestly feel that getting to do this as my job right now is like winning the lottery in and of itself. Even if no one goes out and buys my book. I enjoyed a lot of my past jobs, but they all had their time and place. They were brilliant experiences that lead me to where I am now, but none of them were what I saw myself doing for life. Through those various jobs, I met some very interesting and often amazing people and often had some very unusual experiences as well—as a barmaid, a PA, a dance teacher. Like I said earlier, I am strong believer in filing away oddities to form stories with later. But all aspect of life fall into that—not just work.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
I was very lucky in THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER that my research was minimal given I have lived on the Texas prairie as a child and I have a lot of family still in Texas. I know Texas very well. That said though, it is very important to me to try to make my stories as realistic as possible. I want the reader to feel like they are right there in that moment. As I am writing I try to be aware of what are the characters hearing, feeling, smelling? What is the texture of this? The taste of that? I then research accordingly to try to bring all the senses to life.
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
I trained classically in ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and hip hop, and even taught dance for a while. Six months before I got the travel bug and left NYC, I had a showcase of my choreography at a small black box theatre in the Lower East Side. Choreography was my passion for many years. I saw it as a way to tell stories through movement.
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
I get a lot of ideas from documentary films and TV programs that depict people living on the fringes of society.
If you could choose to be a character from The Last Days of Summer, who would you be and why?
In many ways I feel I have been each character already! It took me just under four years to write THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER. That’s four years of people in your head whose thoughts you grow surprisingly used to. I write from multiple points of view, so I was Jasper. I was Lizzie. And Katie. And little Joanne. I have seen the world as they see it. For four years. And as they grew in my head, they took on a surprising independence I didn’t expect—each one said or did things at one time or another that I hadn’t planned! But I felt I had to “go with it” each time because that was what Japser would have done or Joanne would have said, so who was I to stifle their voices? Quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to be any of them forever—each one’s been dealt a rough hand in life. But I will also always (slightly) be all of them, too. And I’m very grateful for that. It has felt very strange as I write my second novel now having new voices in my head, seeing through new eyes.
If The Last Days of Summer became a film, who would you like to play Jasper?
I’ve had a few people tell me they see Jasper as played by Matthew McConaughey. A couple others have said, Hugh Jackman. I’d be OK with either of those! But it’s funny, any time I’m asked this question it makes me realize more and more how used to seeing through Jasper’s eyes I’d grown. It’s different now looking at him.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Last Days of Summer should be their next read, what would you say?
Lose yourself in the dark poetic prose and prepare for the blistering fury’s slow burn.
That sounds so exciting. I can’t wait to read The Last Days of Summer which is almost at the top of my TBR! Thank you so much, Vanessa, for your time in answering my questions.
Thank you for having me!
About Vanessa Ronan
Vanessa Ronan was born in Houston and in her 29 years has lived in Texas, Mexico, New York, Edinburgh, and Dublin, where she now lives with her Irish husband. Among other things, she has been a dancer, a PA, a barmaid, a literature student, a dance teacher, and now, a writer. Home-schooled by her literature teacher parents, Vanessa began writing as soon as she learned the alphabet. The Last Days of Summer is her first novel.
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