Q&A with Rosanna Ley!

I feel a little bit dreamy as I write this post, mainly because the author who's joining me today is one who I absolutely adore. Rosanna Ley became a firm favourite of mine after my reading of The Villa, a novel that charmed and enticed me from the very first page, and one that has remained with me ever since.

Joining me today on Becca's Books is the one and only Rosanna Ley! *flaps at face* Seriously, how is this EVEN happening?! We're chatting about Rosanna's recent release The Saffron Trail as well as a bit of everything else, too.

Rosanna, when looking back over your experiences regarding being a published author, what has been your favourite moment to date?
It’s got to be when Jo Dickinson (my first editor at Quercus) said that they wanted to publish ‘The Villa’. I’d been working on the book while travelling around Italy with my husband in our camper van and I’d done some revisions following Jo’s initial interest in the ms. But months went by before I knew whether I’d done enough to get the deal!

Were you a reader before becoming a writer?
I’ve always been an avid reader since childhood and consumed books voraciously! I have to admit that these days I struggle to find enough time to do as much reading as I would like. But it is my first love and will always be important to me.

Tell me, does the excitement of having your novel published ever lessen?
I don’t think it does. Every novel feels like a new baby and has its own special moments and challenges. Publication day (which it is as I write this on the way to London to celebrate with my publishers!) is always terribly exciting.

How do you normally celebrate your publication days?
The last two years I have come to London as I am doing today for a lovely lunch with my fantastic editor Stef Bierwerth and the team at Quercus and my wonderful agent Laura Longrigg from MBA. It also coincides with the RNA summer party (fortuitously!) so we will all be going on there tonight! I also often have a local launch party with friends, colleagues and family, which I had on Monday for ‘The Saffron Trail’. I made 106 saffron cakes!

Where would you say your ideas for your novels come from, Rosanna? Can absolutely anything spark the ideas off, or do you have to be in the right frame of mind?
They always come from a different place. It could be a chance conversation, something I’ve read, something I’ve heard on the radio. Anything. For ‘The Saffron Trail’ the first idea was my interest in saffron which took me on the journey of the book. But there might be a concept or a theme I want to explore, a historical happening (as in ‘Bay of Secrets’ or it might start from location (as in ‘The Villa’) or a family story (like in ‘Return to Mandalay’).

Your books are always set in distant, exotic locations which you always manage to describe to the reader beautifully. Have you visited them all when researching for your novels? If so, which was your favourite place to visit and why?
Thank you! Yes, I always visit; you need to capture the full flavour, I think, and there’s no substitute for spending time there. Unexpected things happen too and you can put those in the book! It all adds to the authenticity – hopefully! Italy is my favourite place, so I would have to say Sicily, but Burma was an incredible experience and I loved the warmth and sensuality of Morocco. Fuerteventura is a favourite place for me to go to write – my husband and I have spent a lot of time there so that’s special too.

Is there anywhere that you are yet to visit? If so, which destination is next on your list?
Oh, lots... I have recently come back from Cuba (next book). And this year I’m visiting Sweden and Sardinia. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those locations doesn’t become the location for the following book!

Ever since reading your novel The Villa, I’ve been captivated by Sicily. When I closed that book and put it down, the setting became a destination that I hope to visit for myself one day. What do you think a writer needs to achieve to make a reader feel that way?
That is wonderful to hear! That’s what a writer is hoping for, I think. Sicily was a delicious place to write about. I don’t know. I suppose I try to capture all the flavours – the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the textures, the fragrances – that are around and it’s important to connect the character with the landscape so that they are experiencing it so that the reader is – hopefully – feeling it too. I see it as an emotional as well as a sensory connection. I just try to use the landscape to build up the right atmosphere for the story really.

In regards to your most recently published novel The Saffron Trail, can you tell us a little bit about it? For those who perhaps are unaware, what exactly is saffron? Where does it originate from?
Thank you, Becca. The main characters in the novel are Nell and Amy who meet in one of those perfect and tranquil riads in Marrakech. Nell is learning about Moroccan cuisine and Amy is a photographer. They become friends and the novel follows their journey as they try to untangle their lives and their relationships and as they attempt to uncover the mysteries and strangely connected secrets of their pasts. In order to do this they travel to Essaouira, to a saffron farm in the foothills of the Atlas mountains and then back to Roseland in Cornwall and Lyme Regis in Dorset. At the heart of the mystery and of the story are the threads of red gold which are saffron...
Saffron comes from a crocus which is grown for the red stigmata which are the saffron threads. They must be picked by hand at a certain time of day in November, then dried and they can then be stored or used for culinary purposes, as a dye, or even medicinally. It is more expensive, kilo by kilo than gold and has a suitable and intriguing air of mystery about it!
Would you say that The Saffron Trail is similar or different to your previous novels?
Similar genre, yes and similar use of different stories through the generations.

Your novels are always drenched with rich, cultured facts about whichever setting your story is set in. Would you say that researching each place takes up a lot of your time when writing? Do you enjoy the process of gathering the facts and discovering things you didn’t know beforehand?
I’m glad you said that because, yes, research is a big part of the writing and it is so interesting that sometimes it’s hard to stop and get on with the book! To become a setting for a novel, a place has to interest me culturally and/or politically or historically as it has to be more than a fab location. That’s because I want to explore the place as much as I can and use it with a bit of depth. I couldn’t do that unless I became emotionally connected with the place. Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you just don’t!

Rosanna, I’ve seen so many different approaches to planning a novel. From post-it notes to scribbles in notebooks. How do you plan? Do you even plan at all?
Yes, all writers are different. I plan a lot but not everything. And the plans are not set in stone – I am allowed to go off at a tangent if I can make it work! I do a lot of initial planning in a notebook and much of my writing too. I work out plots and structure and try to get to know the characters well before making a start.

If you were to dabble in a genre that you haven’t ventured into before, which genre would you choose? How about horror? Would that work well for you, do you think?
Hahah. No!! But I’ve always fancied crime. If I could plan really wily plots I’d do that, but that’s a huge skill. I really admire crime writers. I also enjoy writing romantic comedy which is a genre much maligned.

Who are some of your favourite authors?
DH Lawrence was my original hero. Writing now, I particularly admire Maggie O’Farrell, Anita Shreve, Khaled Hosseini, Anthony Capella and Joanne Harris. There are some great authors writing women’s fiction too – like Julie Cohen, Emily Barr, Diane Chamberlain and Rachel Hore. Too many to mention in fact.

When you’re not writing, what else are we likely to find you doing?
Walking on the beach or the cliffs near my home. Reading. Watching a good tennis match, maybe even playing... Cooking. Travelling.

Do you think you’re ever likely to run out of stories to tell/novels to write?
I hope not!

What jobs did you have before you became a full-time writer? Any funny stories to share with us?
I’ve always written but have also done a lot of teaching. Mainly creative writing and writing for therapy. When I was twenty I worked in Spain for a year teaching English and waitressing in a night club. Don’t start me with the stories...

Is the author lifestyle as glam as everybody thinks it is?
It’s not remotely glam! Well at least there are a few parties and lunches. And the publicity events may seem glam but are mostly hard work! And it’s wonderful to see your book on the shelves and for your work to be recognised. Yes, it’s pretty much hard work but incredibly fulfilling when all going well.

This is a bit off subject but, what’s your favourite meal? And what’s the perfect drink to accompany it?
Lots of faves as I love eating... But in a restaurant I will usually choose a good fish dish and I will generally order salad. I love Italian food – of course. Melanzane al parmigiano – now you’re talking! My favourite dessert is a perfect chocolate fondant – probably with pistachio ice cream! A crisp white wine from France or Italy or even a mellow red would wash this down very well.

Do you have anything or anyone to thank for your success?
I would thank my parents for their love and support and my three amazing (adult) children who put up with a writing mother as they were growing up. Over the past ten years I would thank my husband Grey who is the best travelling companion and a huge support and ballast at all times!

What’s coming next for your readers Rosanna, or is top secret for now?
I am writing a novel set in Cuba and Bristol, working title ‘The Last Rumba’. One of the themes is power in relationships and how it can be used and abused. One of my characters is a magician and I have fallen a little in love with him...

Do you have any top tips for aspiring writers out there? Anything that works great for yourself?
Don’t be in a hurry. Take time to read, think, dream, plot, plan. Write not what you know but what you want to explore. Let the idea for your story compost. Create a space for it. Then write (every day if possible) as spontaneously as you can. Edit ruthlessly. Never give up.

Any parting comments?
Just to thank you for your amazing support and for asking me so many interesting questions, Becca! xxx

Rosanna, I cannot thank you enough for stopping by Becca’s Books today! It has been a delight to have you here, and I hope to see you here again sometime in the near future!
Becca xxx

1 comment :

  1. What a wonderful interview! Congratulations to Ms. Ley on the release of her new book. It sounds wonderful. I think I added about five different places to my bucket list after reading this post. Many thanks!