‘Rapeseed’ is an unusual coming-of-age story about a grown woman coming into an adult acceptance of herself that somehow eluded her until she moved away from her small town in Kansas. She finally learns who she really is while living in England. She is a synesthete, and the way she sees her letter and numbers in colour is disruptive and isolating until she breaks out of the shell of her upbringing and embraces a life of authenticity, music, true colours, and joy.
Please tell us about the character of Carolann Cooper.
Carolann is unusual -- a twin whose sister is pretty and popular and their parents’ favourite. Carolann has learned to hide her synesthesia – a brain phenomenon of blended senses that makes her taste music in food and see colours in her letters and numbers and her turbulent memories. When she finally moves away from the home-town of her upbringing, she begins to realize that her sources of shame and embarrassment are actually blessings.
What made you want to explore teenage indiscretions and marital discontentment?
I think most adult stories are rooted in teenage experience – real or imagined, acted-on or simply, strongly desired. In the case of ‘Rapeseed’, one particular teenage indiscretion is in fact the novel’s “inciting incident,” just like so many times in life, one mistake or tiny moment of faulty judgment may set a person firmly on a path they never expected or intended. The question of marital discontentment – and indeed contentment – is as powerful as the question of the value of marriage and family and society itself. Every family, every marriage is different – happy or unhappy, I think. Never mind what Tolstoy said about every happy family resembling one another whereas all the unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways. There is complexity among all of them, subtleties and nuance everywhere. And exploring the layers of truth behind the personal stories has always fascinated me.
This is your debut publication so was writing it anything like you imagined it would be?
‘Rapeseed’ is my debut publication, but it’s actually my third written novel. Every one has been different – in the processes of conception and writing. I will say this one was probably the most fun because I truly fell in love with my characters in this one. Every person in this novel is a real person to me – I have reams of pages of scenes and dialogue that never made it into the book, but helped introduce me to these very real people. And even now that the book is out in the world, I still think about the characters as real people going about their business. The amazing thing is meeting readers now who have come to know and care about these fictional friends of mine like I do.
Please tell us about the genre of expat and elsewhere fiction.
The original tag line for Gobreau Press was American Diaspora Fiction, which intended to reflect a broad American voice in fiction, looking at that culture from an outsider’s perspective... not just an outsider’s perspective, but in fact, a new outsider’s perspective. But “Disapora” introduced a concept that wasn’t quite right – it has religious overtones and speaks of exile, not to mention, it sounds high-brow and perhaps inaccessible – none of which matches Gobreau’s aim. Also, Gobreau has already broadened itself culturally beyond the American-outsider point of view. “Expat and elsewhere” fiction fit the concept more neatly. And for me, ‘Rapeseed’ and my next novel ‘Effort of Will’ fit neatly too.
You have lived in New York, Kansas and Los Angeles, so what made you settle in Switzerland?
The funny thing is my husband’s job moved the family to Switzerland 11 years ago -- like so many expat families who move for a job. He has always travelled extensively though, so now that he’s based in London again, it has made more sense for our family’s home base to stay in Switzerland, with a wonderful bolt-hole in London. We know we can’t have this lifestyle forever, but we’re sure enjoying it now!
You have been published time and time again, so what has been you most memorable experience for you?
Holding the first proof copy of ‘Rapeseed’ in my hand, with its fabulous bright yellow field on the cover was pretty unbeatable. It arrived in the mail the morning of the launch party in Switzerland. My husband and kids were working on a great playlist for the party – US and UK 80’s music with all my favourites. That was worth the ten years it took to write it!
What is next for you?
I’m thoroughly enjoying the promotional stuff associated with ‘Rapeseed,’ readings and panels, and book events, and I hope that will continue a good long time. Also, I’m producing an International Cookbook -- 140 recipes from 40 countries, that I’m testing as often as I can. I’m also always blogging and teaching and fundraising for my sons’ schools... the biggest thing I’ve done recently was an amazing fiction workshop in Positano, Italy with Andre Dubus III, author of ‘House of Sand and Fog’. I am still sorting my own shimmering fog of literary delight to work all that great inspiration into my next novel, ‘Effort of Will’, about a Montana rancher-turned visual artist who moves to Switzerland. Another colourful expat with remarkable stuff in his head.