Monday, 23 March 2015

Interview with Debbie Rix

Today I have an interview with author Debbie Rix.  Her debut novel The Secrets of the Tower was published on Friday 20 March.

What They Say:
Two women, centuries apart, bound together by the secrets of one of the most iconic buildings ever created. 

Pisa, 1999 
Sam Campbell sits by her husband’s hospital bed. Far from home and her children, she must care for Michael who is recovering from a stroke. A man she loves deeply. A man who has been unfaithful to her. 

Alone and in need of distraction, Sam decides to pick up Michael’s research into the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Immersing herself in the ancient city, she begins to piece together the mystery behind the creation of the tower, and discovers the woman that history forgot… 

Pisa, 1171 
Berta di Bernardo, the wife of a rich merchant, sits in her chamber, dressing for a dinner party. A gathering that will change the course of her life and that of a young master mason, Gerardo, forever. 

A strong, intelligent woman, Berta’s passion for architecture draws her to Gerardo. As she embarks on a love affair, her maid Aurelia also becomes spellbound by the same man. Yet for Berta, her heart’s desire is to see the Tower built, and her determination knows no bounds… 

A richly drawn and absorbing novel of passion and power, love and redemption that will captivate fans of Victoria Hislop, Tracy Chevalier and Kate Furnivall. 


Hi Debbie

Welcome to Comet Babes Books.

Can you tell us about the Secrets of the Tower please?
Secrets of the Tower tells the story of Berta di Bernardo – a widow who left the money to build the Tower of Pisa. The novel is set in two time periods – 1170 when Berta was alive, and 1999 – the year the Tower was finally re-opened after engineering work had been completed to make the Tower safe at last.   I have two heroines: Berta of course, and a modern heroine Sam Campbell who is a journalist, married to a TV producer who has a stroke whilst making a film about the Tower. Living in Pisa, caring for her sick husband she is drawn to the story he was researching. The narrative interweaves the stories of these two powerful women and explores the complexities of their lives.  Both wrestle with loving a man other than their husbands but they are bound together by something more – a passion for the Tower.

I see from the Synopsis that it is set over two different time periods, was this hard to write?
No, it wasn’t hard to write – in fact, I found it easier really.  By setting the novel in two, time periods you give yourself a little ‘holiday’.  Each time you change the scene you are refreshed and keen to get back to the story in whichever segment.  So it keeps the process really fresh – and hopefully the reader feels the same way.

Can you tell us about your writing/research process?
I am a journalist by training, so I needed to know as much as possible before I began to write.  I researched all aspects of the period – the food, the jewellery, the clothes, and the architecture.  I visited museums, worked for months in the British library studying manuscripts from the time.  I met with experts and did as much as possible to get really immersed in the period.
But finally, I had to start pulling it all together and write the story.  I don’t really plan – but I knew who my main characters would be.  Then I just let the story out...  It’s almost as if it was just waiting there… ready to emerge.  My father and mother were both architects and my Dad often said the same thing applied to architecture – maybe it’s just the creative process.  If I’m writing, I work all day – starting at around nine in the morning, working through till one o’clock, when I have lunch with my husband and then on again until 6.30 or 7pm when I stop to make supper.  What I love is that time just rushes by when I’m writing. There is no sense that time drags… I hope that’s because I love it so much.

As this is your debut novel, can you tell us about your future book plans?
I have already started the next novel.  It will also be set in two time periods – the present day and the sixteenth century.  I’ve already ‘found’ my modern character and really like her…she’s quite funny.  But I’ve not yet found the historic hero and heroine.  I’ve got some ideas and am about to go on a little research trip to Amsterdam to see what inspiration I can find there…

What advice would you give to someone thinking of writing their first novel?
Just do it!  I know that sounds too simple… but really it's just about getting on with it.  And find an agent who will support you and if you are really lucky sign with a publisher as kind and supportive as Bookouture!

Before being signed by the wonderful people about Bookouture, were you rejected by any other publisher?
Oh heavens yes… the submission process is so frustrating.  I had two or three publishers who said: ‘I love this novel, but …  I've just signed a similar time slip, so will have to pass sadly.’  That’s almost more frustrating than the odd one who just doesn't ‘get’ or like it.  But you need to be strong and resilient, and have faith!  And remember that even hugely successful writers like J.K Rowling were rejected – twelve times!

Do you have a favourite place you like to write and why?
I always write in my little summerhouse in the garden.  Before I began the book it was a bit of a tip – cold, letting the rain in and not very salubrious.  We just dumped garden furniture in there over the winter and it was full of cobwebs.  But when I started the book, I mentioned to my husband that I found it hard to concentrate in my normal office (where I work producing events).  Emails kept coming in, there were distractions from work and it’s also next to the kitchen, so I kept popping in there to sort things out.  So, I began to work in the summerhouse in spite of the rain and the spiders and found it so peaceful – it’s the perfect place to be a creative.  But as the winter arrived and the roof began to leak and temperatures dropped it became a bit miserable out there.  So my dear husband spent a ghastly wet October (It rained every day!) putting on a new roof and insulating it, and now it’s a lovely space to work in – I’m very lucky.

What inspired you to take up writing?
I’ve always wanted to write.  I made up stories endlessly as a child.  I joined the BBC and became a journalist and a newsreader and the desire to write got channelled into my work.  I actually wrote my first novel at about age 30, but I didn't find (or look very hard) for a publisher so the desire to write lay dormant for a while.  I was a huge fan of Mary Wesley who didn't start to write until her late sixties or even her early seventies, so somewhere in my mind, I always felt I had time on my side.  I resolved to wait until my children were a bit older and more independent and I had the peace to really concentrate on the process.

Are any of your characters based on people you know?
Not really.  When I first began to write, I did start by basing characters on people I knew but the truth is that becomes rather dull – because you are somehow straight-jacketed by what has actually happened to them and how you know they will react.  The great thing about writing fiction is that you should not be constrained by that sort of thing.  But that does not mean that I don’t draw on my own personal experiences occasionally or get inspiration from people I've known.

Do you have a support network for your writing?
All my family and friends have been very supportive of what I'm trying to do.  The kids have been great and so has my husband.  I do also have a couple of friends whose advice has been helpful.  Both are writers – so that makes a difference.  Victoria Hislop is a very old friend and she has been inspirational in many ways.  And my friend Vanessa Nicolson is also a huge support – hopefully we support one another…

What's the worst advice you have ever received?
Give up.  Seriously, I’m not sure anyone has ever said that to me, or if they did I ignored it.  My darling Dad told me when I was little that if I believed in something enough and worked hard enough there was nothing I could not achieve.  I still believe that and have passed that advice onto my own children.

Tell us something about yourself that readers won’t know from reading your books or web page?
I am immensely domesticated.  All my childhood games revolved around making houses – in woods, the garden – anywhere.  I was constantly dragging bits of children’s furniture and tiny tea sets into the garden to serve tea to my dolls.  I’ve not stopped since and am never happier than when digging a border, or painting a room, or cooking a meal for friends and family.  My perfect day involves cooking supper for at least eight people.  I know it’s not very cool – but there you are!

Thank you for answering my questions, Jo xx

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! Looking forward to read the book. xxx