I’m delighted to welcome Yvonne Marjot to my blog. Her new novel The Calgary Chessman is an insightful exploration into human emotions and relationships, with a very strong sense of place. Below is an interview and extract from the novel. Please click on the cover images and links to purchase a copy.
Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and
now lives on an island off the West Coast of Scotland. She has a Masters in Botany from Victoria University of Wellington, and a keen interest in the interface between the natural and human worlds. She has always made up stories and poems, and once won a crate of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). In 2012 she won the Britwriters Award for poetry, and her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published in 2014 by Indigo Dreams Publishing.
She has worked in schools, libraries and university labs, has been a pre-school crèche worker and a farm labourer, cleaned penthouse apartments and worked as amanuensis to an eminent Botanist. She currently has a day job (in the local school) and teenage children, and would continue to write even if no-one read her work, because it’s the only thing that keeps her sane. In her spare time she climbs hills, looks for rare moths and promises herself to do more in the garden.
Blurb for ‘The Calgary Chessman
On a windswept beach on the Isle of Mull, Cas Longmore is walking away loneliness when she unearths a mystery in the sand. To Cas, torn between Scotland and her New Zealand home, the object seems as odd and out-of-place as herself.
Intrigued, she begins to search for its origins, thinking it will bring a brief respite from isolation. Instead, the Calgary chess piece opens the door to friendships and new hope. Her son, meanwhile, brings home his own revelation to shake her world.
What are the main ideas or themes in The Calgary Chessman?
The main theme of The Calgary Chessman concerns the process of overcoming feelings of loneliness and isolation, the healing period that a person goes through following the end of a relationship, and the need to re-discover feelings of strength and self-worth. There’s also a theme about parenting, and the journey a young person takes as they enter adulthood. The chess piece of the title introduces an archaeological mystery, and it is the solving of this mystery that provides the main plot strand of the novel.
Why is the setting so important?
The Calgary Chessman’s setting on the Isle of Mull, and particularly the isolated and very beautiful Calgary Bay, and its secondary setting at the equally beautiful Huna Cove in New Zealand are critical to the story. Not only does Cas Longmore discover a mysterious chess piece in the sand at Calgary Bay, its location stands for her own sense of loneliness and isolation following the breakdown of her marriage. The unearthing of a mystery from the distant past leads to a journey of discovery. Longing for her past is reflected in the magical and rose-tinted memories she has of Huna Cove, the bay near her grandparents’ farm in New Zealand.
What else could you tell us about your main characters and their dilemmas.
Cas Longmore, my main character, is a New Zealander who finds herself living on a Scottish Island, after separating from her husband. She is lonely and plagued with self-doubt as she begins the process of learning to live independently again. She feels out of place and confused, and isn’t sure what will give her life meaning. While searching for the origin of the Calgary chess piece, she comes to realise that she does have friends, both old and new, and that she is fully capable of leading her own life.
Her son, Sam, has played a major role in her life, but he is almost ready to take on adult responsibilities. In the meantime, though, he has one last revelation for his mother – one which will create ripples that spread outward throughout their family, and will echo down the years to come.
How do you go about writing a novel? Is it a simple or complex process?
That’s a simple question with no easy answer! I would say that the germ of an idea that sparks a novel is easy to find – you know the moment you have one (it’s a good idea to write it down straight away, though. Otherwise you may find it has slipped away). The two most difficult parts are, firstly, working out the major events of the book (I like to know my beginning and ending before I start to write the middle) and, secondly, having the willpower to sit down and write when there are so many other distractions. This, for me, is the hardest thing of all. You wouldn’t believe how many ‘more important’ things there are in my life. But when the writing impulse strikes and the fingers are flying across the keyboard, then it’s like taking dictation from my subconscious. The words just flow. There’s no better feeling in the world than that.
You are also a poet. How important is poetry to you?
Writing poetry is a vital part of my life. I have written poems as far back as I can remember. Poetry is a very intimate art, though – it’s really a conversation with myself, and choosing to share it with others can be a difficult decision. I have found, though, that since I began sharing my poetry I have become a better writer, and I have received a great deal of support from readers and other poets.
Novel-writing is different. I write my books specifically for others to read, and to that end I have opened myself up and invited criticism. If readers don’t enjoy my books, then I have failed in my task, and it’s up to me to get better at it. I’ve only been writing prose (apart from odd short stories) for the last ten years, but I’ve become completely addicted. I can’t imagine ever wanting to stop.
What advice do you have for less experienced writers?
Write, write, keep on writing. The more you do the better you will become at setting your thoughts down on paper. Think as you are writing about who will be reading your words – a story aimed at ten-year-olds will have a different style to one written for adults. There are lots of books about writing, some better than others, and each writer has his/her own favourites. I have found that if one of the writers I love to read has produced a book about the writer’s art, I enjoy that book more than many other textbooks about writing.
Above all else, you must read. Read things you loved as a child, read new books that catch your eye, read great classics that you’ve always meant to read but didn’t get around to. While you are reading, observe how the writer speaks to you, how they use language to get their point across. Other writers are our best teachers, and the better the writer the more you can learn by reading them.
What are you working on currently?
I’ve just done a bit of editing of the sequel to The Calgary Chessman (The Book of Lismore). It’s likely to be published in 2015. In the meantime, I am working on a dark post-apocalyptic vision of New Zealand, interweaving the life stories of three people living in very different circumstances. Its working title is Fire Under the Skin which is a quote from the poet Sappho.
What would your perfect day be?
I’ll wake at sunrise from a good sleep, to a day free from work and family commitments. I’ll win the battle against the temptation to stay in bed and read other peoples’ books. I’ll sit at the computer and begin to write, and the ideas will flow onto the page like ink pouring from a bottle. At about 11.30am I’ll walk down to the waterfront of Tobermory, buy a newspaper, and sit in The Chocolate Shop with a latte, read the paper and do a puzzle or two (usually Sudoku or a crossword). If I’m really lucky, a poem will occur to me and I’ll jot down the beginnings of it.
When I get home I’ll spend an hour or two replying to emails, social networking or planning a blog post. Then I’ll spend an evening with my sons, eat a nice meal, watch a bit of telly, or if the weather’s especially warm and I feel energetic, drive over to Calgary Bay for a swim in the sea. I’ll fall into bed at around 11pm feeling comfortably tired and fall asleep instantly, and while I’m asleep an idea will come to me for the next stage of the work-in-progress.
Of course, this marvellous scenario never actually happens!
Name a book or a film that means a lot to you.
My favourite film is Blade Runner – still the best SciFi film ever made, and an astonishing creation based very loosely on the Philip K Dick story ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’. It’s darkly beautiful, endearingly bleak, a harsh vision of a future world in which humanity can be found in surprising places. It’s about how human beings judge those who are different from us, about how we find hope in the most dismal situations, about how redemption can be achieved through the smallest of actions, the world changed by the most insignificant of decisions. I never tire of flogging its merits to anyone who is foolish enough to grant me the opportunity. I suspect I’m in safe hands here, though – hey, Jeff?
You certainly are, Yvonne. It’s a masterpiece that I never tire of watching. Great choice. If you could leave a message to the world, what would it be?
Take care of yourself; you are your own best advocate. Believe in yourself; you are a worthwhile human being. Take care of others: we show our humanity best in how we treat other people, be they in our own local community or on the other side of our tiny, fragile globe.
If there is one ‘lesson’ contained in The Calgary Chessman it is that we cannot control how others behave towards us. We can only decide how we are going to respond.
I quartered the beach, down to the water’s edge and back to the machair, gradually becoming calmer as I wandered. I kept my head low, glancing out to sea occasionally when the waves came close, not focusing beyond the headland where haze on the horizon prevented me seeing even the closest islands. The greenish grey of the sea blended imperceptibly into the sky, and all the colours of the landscape were subdued. For a moment, I felt disorientated, as if gravity had inverted and I was walking upside down on a great curved dome, feeling that at any moment I might fall into the flat, featureless surface above me. I shook my head and kept my feet moving.
Slowly some memories seeped into my mind; images of a small boy flickered across my inner vision, like photos in an old album. It’s easy to forget what treasures are tucked away in there, behind the grey divide. Sometimes they feel so immediate that they shock me right into that other world which was once so real. It’s so much easier to live in the past than to face what is in front of me.
My foot scuffed against a tuft of grass and I came back to myself. I’d walked the beach up and down, and fetched up against the edge of the machair again. Last night’s high tide and wind had dislodged a whole chunk of cliff edge, and the lump had slid down the dune-face, exposing a vertical slope of fresh, white sand. In it was a dark hollow, a deep space about the size of my fist. I put my hand in to see if it would fit. My knuckle grazed something hard. Scratchy. Not like the rounded pebbles and wave-smoothed pieces of driftwood lying on the beach.
I pulled my hand out quickly and shivered, thinking of sheep bones. Okay to look at, found scattered on the grass while out walking. Not so nice to touch, unseen. With a faint hiss, the little hollow collapsed and something rolled out of the hole and landed at my feet in a damp clump. I bent down to dig it out. My fingers closed on a pale ivory-coloured handful, a little darker than the sand, squat and squarish and about eight centimetres tall. Not a sheep bone. I pulled out my hanky, spat on it and rubbed the object. I stared at it.