Welcome to my second stop on Urbane’s 12 Days of Christmas Blog Tour, today I’ve got a Q&A with Laura Wake, author of A Monster by Violet, and I’ll also be sharing my review of Wake’s debut novel, which I received a copy of in my Urbane Book Club subscription.
Q&A with Laura Wake:
- Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
I grew up in the suburbs of London. As a child I read a lot, and wanted to either be a roller waitress or a marine biologist. I was obsessed with being on wheels, rollerblading, skateboarding, go karting, motorbiking etc and performed a lot of stunts. After school I went to Italy and became a ski instructor, which I did for seven years worldwide. When I wasn’t ski instructing I did part time jobs from factory work, sandwich making, teaching English as a foreign language and stewardessing on boats. When I was 25 I decided to do an English degree, and started writing stories, one of which sparked the idea for A Monster by Violet. A lot of the places I lived and worked crop up in my writing, and generally there is a theme of travel present in most of my work.
I teach Creative Writing and currently live in Sheffield with my partner, son, and two cats.
My novel, A Monster by Violet opens with twenty one year old Violet Kale waking up after a three day drug and alcohol binge to the sound of her friend’s five month old baby crying with hunger. It’s a familiar situation for Violet, but this time she takes the baby… and runs. It was a perfect way for me to start the novel as the character had to think on her feet as she ran with a five month old baby, and so did I! Intercut with the main narrative is the story of Violet aged seven. Young Violet inhabits a nightmarish world of hunchbacked gardeners, a headmaster with a giant tumour of the side of his head and the very real monster, Mrs Martin, a teacher with an obsessive fixation on Violet. In the childhood story you see glimpses of the ingenuity that serves the reckless twenty one year old Violet as she runs. Likewise in the adult narrative are echoes of the tough little girl who wasn’t afraid to take a claw hammer to a teacher’s desk to prove her innocence, and reflections of the daredevil child who climbed higher on the climbing frame just to see how far she could fall.
- Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
The idea for A Monster by Violet started with a short story that I wrote about a girl at an extreme religious school who is made by a teacher to eat the rind of fat she has discarded from her school dinner; the girl is forced to swallow the fat while the teacher watches. I started with this idea that I wanted to pit a child against adults, and I knew I wanted to use a child narrator. I’ve always loved books with children as the central character or as the narrator. Influences for A Monster by Violet were probably Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend and Treasure Island. I think children describing adult events is a really powerful tool. The way little Claudia describes a rape in The Bluest Eye is one of the most hard hitting scenes I’ve ever read, and it is so powerful because it is narrated in that only half understood, childish way. So, I knew I wanted to write about a child pushed to her limits by adults that aren’t acting quite right, and I wanted her to challenge them, and to show through the story how events impact on her and change her as she is let down and hurt by those people who are supposed to protect her. Then I had the character she was going to grow into, the damaged adult, 21 year old Violet Kale who I knew had been pushed past her limits, broken down, and does something unforgivable. But she’s driven by that sort of childish morality that you see in the childhood story.
A Monster by Violet is my first novel, and I never believed I would finish writing it until I was on the last page; it seemed too colossal. After finishing the first draft I had a holiday from it. I needed to get some distance between me and the story so I could look at it clearly and with a fresh perspective when I came to edit. After a few months I edited it. Someone told me that nowadays publishers and agents want the finished article, not something that they love elements of but will want to ‘work’ on. So I made sure that the manuscript was as perfect as I could get it and that if someone said ‘yes I want to publish it’, that I would be absolutely happy for it to go out into the world as it was.
When Matthew from Urbane wrote to me and it was so clear that he was excited about my book and passionate about it, I knew I wanted Urbane to publish it. I feel very lucky to have found a publisher that is so focussed on bringing new authors to readers, and one that works closely with its authors. I even got to choose the cover for my book, which was a real high point.
- Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe. This book did everything a perfect book should. It made me laugh, cry, feel sick, and left me feeling a little bit changed after I read it. I just thought ‘wow’ the whole way through reading it.
Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love because it’s wild
Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend and The Goldfinch
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov.
Jenner Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen. The mum in this book was one of those characters that you feel gutted to leave behind when you finish it.
English Passengers Matthew Kneale
Breath Tim Winton
- Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
The Australian author, Paul Jennings was one of my absolute favourites. In fact I’m going to re-read them all again now. They were dark, surprising, disgusting and the most exciting stories I’d come across when I discovered them about age 8. Uncanny is brilliant, as are all the others, Unreal, Unbelievable etc.
I also couldn’t get enough of reading Greek Myths and legends.
Other books that I loved as a child were:
The Worst Witch Jill Murphy
Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat Ursula Moray Williams
Willard Price’s adventure novels
All of Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle books.
The Animals of Farthing Wood Colin Dann and all of his other books.
As a teenager I went through phases of sci fi (John Wyndham especially The Midwich Cuckoos, Ray Bradbury), horror (Christopher Pike, Stephen King), crime (Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham), classics (Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare), magic realism (Isabelle Allende, Louis de Bernieres’ trilogy The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, Senor Vivo and the Coco Lord, and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman). I hated finishing books so made sure I had the next ones lined up for ready.
- Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
Seeing my friends taking A Monster by Violet on holiday with them.
- Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
My partner, Vanessa who always prompts me to write when I have a free moment, and make use of time that I would otherwise daydream or procrastinate away!
Get Social with Laura:
Urbane author page: https://urbanepublications.com/book_author/laura-wake/
I would like to say a massive thank you to Laura for taking part in a Q&A on my blog. And now, for my review of A Monster by Violet.
From the back cover:
Twenty-one year old Violet Kale has fallen out of love with life. A dissolute figure she drifts along with her friend Lisa (mother of a baby daughter Maria), reluctant to take responsibility for anything except her own pleasure.
When Violet wakes up after a 3-day drug and alcohol binge to the sound of her friend’s baby Maria crying with hunger, on a whim she steals Maria away, heading on a journey to a new land, and seeing in the child a chance of a new future, and a hope for salvation…
A Monster by Violet is a unique read and one that I found highly addictive. The reason this book had me in it’s clutches was due to Maria, the baby Violet kidnaps and believes they can start a fresh together – she is Violet’s hope for salvation. From beginning to end I was so concerned about Maria’s welfare that I had to know how this story would play out, praying she came to no harm. Violet, herself, is not a wholly likeable character, I felt some empathy towards her for the things she’s been through in her life, but this was overshadowed by the anger I felt towards her due to her reckless behaviour in the present day. But she has an innocent in her care, Maria, and for that reason, you will her on, to survive because her survival means Maria’s survival.
Narrated in the third person for the present day and the first person for the past, we see, side by side, the events that shaped Violet, and how she copes in the present day. I really liked young Violet, we only see glimpses of what she went through as a child and you see this fight in her, even from a young age, and while this isn’t a complete narrative, it helps you understand how Violet went on to become the reckless 21-year-old on the run with a baby.
There are limited characters in this novel; this is very much Violet’s story and Wake writes in a way that you can’t help but become invested in it. Violet is such a complex character; this is one of those novels where there is so much said in the words that aren’t written, but from the information we’re given, we’re able to fill in the gaps and form our own picture and opinion of Violet.
There’s a nice simplicity to Wake’s writing, and to the plot itself, and it allows you to easily get caught up in this novel, there’s some great elements of suspense and ‘breath-holding’ moments in relation to Maria. Overall, this is a good debut novel and I look forward to reading more from Wake, I’d especially recommend this novel if you enjoy contemporary fiction and coming-of-age novels.