Carys Bray on Mormon stories, ‘The Stone Diaries’ and writing the fun bits first
‘I think reading has helped me to develop empathy. I love trying on other lives’
Carys Bray: “I don’t give unsolicited advice. I don’t like it when writers pontificate about the way to do things. I think people need to discover what works for them”
Carys Bray’s debut novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, is published by Hutchinson on June 19th. “Miracles are like birds, they zip through the gap between heaven and earth on hollow-boned wings. You can’t catch them with traps or nets or special glue, you have to use words.” Told by each member of the Bradley family, during a time of particular sadness, A Song for Issy Bradley is a keenly observed, story of doubt, faith and longed for miracles, amid the enduring and sometimes chafing bonds of family.
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
My mum used to read Bible and Book of Mormon stories to us every night. Those books made a huge impression on me. I grew up thinking I was on the right side of an epic battle between good and evil. It was rather exciting.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved anything by Enid Blyton. We had the whole works – Mallory Towers, The Famous Five, The Five-Find-Outers, St. Clare’s – and I read ALL of them!
And what is your favourite book or books now?
The Stone Diaries holds a special place in my heart. I think it might be the most beautiful book I’ve ever read and I also think Carol Shields was a really inspiring person.
What is your favourite quotation?
“The best way to make children good is to make them happy” – Oscar Wilde
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Owen Meany from John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.
Who is the most under-rated Irish author?
I very much like Nuala Ni Chonchuir’s short stories, but I’m not sure that she’s under-rated – she’s just got a deal with Penguin, which is brilliant and well-deserved.
Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?
Traditional print every time. I have a Kindle but I hardly ever use it.
What is the most beautiful book you own?
The Complete Illuminated Books by William Blake.
Where and how do you write?
I write at a treadmill desk in my lounge and sometimes at the dining room table, particularly if it’s cold because there’s a wood-burning stove there. I don’t write chronologically, initially. I let myself write the bits I know I’m going to enjoy until I get a sense of the shape of the whole thing. Then I start filling in the gaps.
What book changed the way you think about fiction?
The Stone Diaries.
What is the most research you have done for a book?
The novel I’m just beginning needs quite a bit of research. I’m learning about museums, buses, collecting, postnatal depression and blogging, which seems like quite a lot when compared with my first novel and my short stories.
What book influenced you the most?
The Stone Diaries. It made me realise that it’s okay to write about ordinary lives.
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
The Stone Diaries (is this getting boring yet?!)
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
I don’t give unsolicited advice. I don’t like it when writers pontificate about the way to do things. I think people need to discover what works for them. If you twisted my arm, I’d say, “Read lots”.
What weight do you give reviews?
I pay attention to reviews and feedback from people I respect. I grew up believing “be ye therefore perfect” was an achievable goal. Consequently I’m used to the idea of falling short and very comfortable with criticism!
Where do you see the publishing industry going?
I really don’t know enough about the industry to make predictions.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
Gosh, I don’t know about trends. I read a lot of books recommended and written by friends. I’ve noticed that there’s loads of really good fiction about.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
I think reading has helped me to develop empathy. I love trying on other lives.
What has being a writer taught you?
I think I’d have to say patience. It takes ages to write a book and then it takes ages to edit and ages to publish – the whole process is just so long. It’s a good thing to remember this when beginning a new novel: it’s going to take a long time to get things absolutely right, and that’s okay.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Hmm, I don’t know much about dinner parties, and what I do know comes from watching Come Dine With Me on the telly, so I feel strangely panicked by this question. Do I have to cook? Is it okay if I scrape some Tesco Finest* pasta into a casserole dish? I’ve actually got a huge dining room table – an optimistic purchase made during a moment in which I was imagining myself as a sociable, domestic goddess – so I could host quite a large dinner party, in theory. I’d invite Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Virginia Woolf, Brady Udall, John Irving, Oscar Wilde and Levi Peterson (I said it was a big table).
What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
That’s a horrible question! I honestly don’t know the answer. Hmm. There’s a lovely scene in Rodge Glass’s novel Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs that makes me smile every time I think of it. Sir Alex Ferguson comes to Mikey Wilson’s house for tea. Mikey’s mum puts on a posh voice and Mikey makes sure Sir Alex has his tea in a United mug. It’s a really funny scene but it’s also very touching.
What is your favourite word?
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?
I’d like to write about conscientious objectors in World War II. My grandfather was a conscientious objector. I believe he served in the Medical Corps, but he didn’t talk about the war and it’s too late to ask him now. It’s something I’d like to research one day.