Blackbird's Commissioning Editor Rosalie Love catches up with some of our outstanding authors...
Tanya Bullock's latest Blackbird novel, Homecoming, will be released in April. I sat down with her to find out a bit more about this exciting new release, quite possibly the strangest love story ever told...
In the book, the thoughts and feelings of Rosie and Tom are portrayed in a very poignant way - the confusion at their situation and their desire for independence and autonomy. How were you able to depict this in such an insightful manner? Are the experiences of Rosie and Tom based on anyone you know in real life?
Firstly, thank you for the compliment! It’s always very rewarding to be told that I’ve effectively conveyed a deep human emotion or a complex situation. I think most people nowadays know of or have known someone with dementia. For me, it was my maternal grandfather. He was a French politician and diplomat and one of the first French Commissioners of the European Coal and Steel Community after World War II. As you can imagine, he was a pretty awe-inspiring figure! As a young child, I don’t think I ever plucked up the courage to speak more than two words to him and, to be honest, he was always preoccupied with his work and his huge entourage.
It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I really got to know him. In my early twenties, I lived for a year in the South of France and he and my grandmother made a concerted effort to spend time with me. My grandfather and I discovered that we had a mutual love of French literature and spent many hours discussing the merits of Flaubert, Balzac and Maupassant. During our conversations, I was gobsmacked to learn that he’d been active in the French Resistance and was both heartbroken and inspired by his personal wartime stories.
In my late twenties my grandmother passed away and afterwards, I frequently travelled to France with my mother to spend time with my grandfather. Again, we would spend hours talking, but our conversations were very different this time. My grandfather no longer knew me; he thought I was his mother, or his wife, or the cleaner. He would constantly ask me who I was and when I told him, he would always laugh. How could I be his granddaughter? A mature woman of almost thirty, when he himself was only forty-five? Forty-five. He was always forty-five! Many of these later conversations with my grandfather have found their way into Homecoming and I think some of my own personal grief too. He was a great man; by no means perfect, but during his lifetime he achieved so much and was admired and respected...revered even. Unfortunately, dementia robbed him of the memory of who he had been and of the full life he had led. With Homecoming, this sense of regret is always present, but I also wanted to give my central characters a second chance at happiness, romance and passion...in memory of my grandfather and others like him.
What gave you the idea to write about a romance between an elderly couple, when a lot of books focus on young love?
With my last novel, That Special Someone, I was keen to give voice to people neglected by the mainstream and the story of two elderly lovers seemed like a natural progression for me as a writer. But really, elderly people are no different to anyone else and love is not restricted to the bright young things of this world! I’ve been lucky in my life to have had very good relationships with my grandparents. I’ve spoken already about my maternal grandfather, but I was also close to my paternal grandmother. She and I were always great friends and I never saw her as ‘old’. We would have very frank, open conversations about love and relationships and l learnt a lot from her. Her greatest gift to me was the knowledge that there are no barriers to human relationships. I knew her as a woman, not as an ‘elderly’ woman. Rosie and Tom are a man and a woman in love and, in that sense, their story is a universal one.
What, if anything, did you find hardest about writing Homecoming?
It made me reflect a great deal upon loss. Loss in every sense of the word; loss of identity, of love, of life, of memory. I found that hard to write about.
Which writers inspire you?
My dad! He writes short stories, poems, novels and film scripts. He’s writing a feature film script for a director friend of mine at the moment. He’s been telling me stories since the day I was born and I wouldn’t be a writer today without his influence.
Do you have any other novels in the pipeline?
Yes. I’m currently writing a novel called The Lonely Hearts Detectives. It’s the story of four very different and very lonely people, all of whom live in the same inner city tower block. One night they all separately witness the same crime...
Sounds intriguing! Thank you so much for giving us such an insight into why and how you wrote Homecoming. We look forward to reading more of your work and to the anticipated release of Homecoming on April 1st.