I recently read the outstanding new release from Belinda Castles, Bluebottle. I enjoyed this novel so much I rather stalked Belinda’s publicist for an interview and I’m thrilled to announce that persistence pays as I welcome Belinda to Behind the Pen today. Over to you Belinda!
Where did Bluebottle come from? What was the inspiration behind it?
A few things were buzzing around in my head at the same time. I was thinking about the character of a difficult father whose children suspect him of something terrible. I also wanted a big summer storm to bring chaos and for events to unfold over one day. (My last novel stretched over a century and I wanted to compress the action this time.) And as I walked around the place I live the events started to map themselves onto those settings. I did most of the writing while I was away in the UK for a few years, and the place and colours intensified in my mind while I was away from them.
How would you describe Bluebottle if you could only use 5 words?
Coast, weather, tension, family, secrets.
What influenced you with regards to the setting? It was such an atmospheric location for the story to unfold. Is this a place you have spent time in over the years?
I’ve lived in the area for several years on and off, and previously in similar landscapes on the Hawkesbury and Central Coast. These places where the suburbs meet a kind of natural wildness are very evocative. They seem like natural settings for secrets and the unearthing of drama.
Was there any particular character whose voice came through to you the strongest?
Jack was always very clearly known to me. His panic in response to the volatility of his father, his own gentleness and his connection to the landscape were always present in the drafts of the novel.
Can you tell us a little bit about Charlie? He was larger than life, bursting off the page, and I can’t help but wonder if he was easy to write or challenging?
Like Jack he was vivid to me from the beginning, but there were some challenging aspects of him to convey. I wanted an off-kilter character whose oddness feels real and not necessarily reducible to illness. At the same time, I wanted him to be something of a mystery to his family, and I also wanted to convey the sense that his attention is something they crave. All of those elements seem credible, but it was difficult not to make him too mysterious. My agent and editors pushed me on this and I’m grateful. I really didn’t want him to be just an appalling man.
Do you read your book reviews? Do you appreciate reader feedback and take it on board, even if it is negative? How do you deal with negative feedback after spending so much time writing your book?
I skim them quickly for the gist and reread them more slowly if they’re not too spiky. I generally stay away from Goodreads – it can be a bit of a minefield for writers and really it’s a place for readers to speak freely to each other – unless someone tweets a positive review at me. I’m not usually too aggrieved by critical feedback after publication. You can’t please everyone and what’s to be done at that stage? As far as I know no one’s ever done too much axe-grinding at my expense in any case. The difficult (but rewarding) job is responding to editorial feedback during the revision process. There’s a whole cycle of avoidance, resistance and (partial) submission to work through there!
Where do you normally write? Is it in the same place every day or are you an all over the place writer?
I like that phrase. Yes I am an all-over-the-place writer. Once upon a time I had grand plans of an immaculate desk in a well-appointed study, but with kids and earning a crust in various ways you take your opportunities where you find them or the writing won’t get done. I’ve been on a few writing retreats and those really are ideal conditions (at least for someone who usually does everything on the fly). Quiet, grand settings, a solitary room, lots of writing and walking and thinking time. Total bliss.
Is there any one particular season on the year that you find more creatively inspirational than the others?
It’s become summer, because I teach in universities, and term-time is often too busy to get into a good routine. Really – whenever I can steal some time from the rush of life and get myself back into that other world…
With sea-salt authenticity, Belinda Castles sets the Bright family in the sprawling paradise of Bilgola Beach. But darkness is found both in the iconic setting as well as in the disturbing behaviour of one of the family.
As he tilted the blinds she saw her mother in her tennis whites, standing at the kitchen bench, staring out into the dark bushland that bordered their houses. That was what Tricia did these days, looked into the bush as though it would attack one of them.
On a sweltering day in a cliff-top beach shack, Jack and Lou Bright grow suspicious about the behaviour of their charismatic, unpredictable father, Charlie. A girl they know has disappeared, and as the day unfolds, Jack’s eruptions of panic, Lou’s sultry rebellions and their little sister Phoebe’s attention-seeking push the family towards revelation. Twenty years later, the Bright children have remained close to the cliff edges, russet sand and moody ocean of their childhood. Behind the beautiful surfaces of their daily lives lies the difficult landscape of their past, always threatening to break through. And then, one night in late summer, they return to the house on the cliff… Gripping and evocative, Bluebottle is a story of a family bound by an inescapable past, from the award-winning author of The River Baptists and Hannah and Emil.