Rosalind Brackenbury is the author of several novels, including Becoming George Sand, The House in Morocco, and Windstorm and Flood. She also is a poet, and her works of poetry include The Joy of the Nearly Old and Yellow Swing. She also has written a writing guide, The Novel in You. Born in London, she lives in Key West, Florida.
Q: Why did you decide to focus your novel around [19th century French writer] George Sand?
A: I had been fascinated by her [since] a long time ago, back in the ‘80s, and finally it gelled into a novel that included the present time as well.
Q: Your present-day character Maria, who is writing about George Sand, often compares their lives, particularly about the freedom afforded women to have affairs. How did their situations differ, and did it have more to do with the times in which they lived, or the countries?
A: A bit of both. Societies go through swings in whether they’re liberal about sexual [affairs] or not. France was always liberal. [Sand] was ahead of her time, and she was partly an aristocrat. It would have been different for the working class.
It’s the same for Maria—it was a fairly privileged attitude to have. Maria was trying to justify her life as something grander.
Q: How do the themes you explore in your poetry compare to those in your novels?
A: I still go to France quite a lot, and some of my poetry takes place there. I spent 12 years in Scotland, and the landscape does affect the way I write. I live in a very different landscape now. A little seeps through [from poetry to fiction].
Q: You’ve also written a guide to writing novels. What are the key pieces of advice you’d offer to aspiring novelists?
A: One of the things is to never give up. You need to be very persistent these days. Also, find someone trustworthy to read it. It’s like judging the way you walk—you can’t see it. Rewriting is the most important part of novel writing.
Q: How much rewriting do you do on your novels?
A: Masses. Endless.
Q: When you start a novel, do you have an idea of how it will end, or are you surprised by how it evolves?
A: I don’t think I ever know what the end will be. I like to be surprised by it.
Q: How did you plan the writing of Becoming George Sand?
A: I got the George Sand material out—I had tried a novel in the ‘80s—I dug it out again. It’s funny how you grow into it. When I got her [Maria, the main present-day character] Scottish—I had tried American and English and neither worked—I had never written in fiction about Edinburgh. I wrote that into the existing George Sand material, and cut out masses of the George Sand material.
Q: As someone who’s written novels, poetry, nonfiction, do you have a preference?
A: I do quite like going from poetry to fiction and back. Poetry is quite relaxing compared to fiction. When I’m waiting to hear about a novel I work on poetry. People can’t judge poetry in the same way. A novel has to be solid, like a house. A poem can be thrown away.
Q: Do you have any favorite authors, or role models?
A: I’ve had role models in my life. When I was young, Virginia Woolf, but trying to be her is hopeless. When I moved to Key West, I went through a reevaluation of Hemingway. Recently, Valerie Martin’s new book, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. The Goldfinch [by Donna Tartt] was fascinating. I try to keep an eye on new fiction. I really like Jane Gardam. I’m out of touch with English fiction—I buy lots when I’m there.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve got a new novel just about finished. It’s about another dead French person. There are three parts—one is modern and two are in history. It’s about a woman who was the lover of the French writer Alain-Fournier. I got fascinated by her. She was an actress, married, Jewish—not approved of by his family. The theme is about the leave we have to love somebody, no matter what stage or age.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb