But today I am very excited to be part of The Museum of You blog tour, to celebrate the latest book written by the wonderful Carys Bray (author of A Song For Issy Bradley). The Museum of You is a beautiful story about a broken family and their attempt to piece things back together after tragedy and lost dreams. A couple of months ago I read Sweet Home, a short story collection by Bray, and was overwhelmed by the beautiful way Bray portrays family life and the complexities these relationships bring. The Museum of You is a similarly tragic tale exploring the complicated relationship between a father and a daughter and the ghosts of loved ones who have passed before them, yet linger ominously, looming over them and rendering them unable to move on with their lives.
Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...
Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, now she’s not sure. She’d like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories.
Darren has done his best. He's studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want - everything he can think of, at least - to be happy.
What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is full of her mother's belongings. Volume isn't important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be.
But what you find depends on what you're searching for.
Doesn't this book sound amazing? To give you more of a taster I have a special interview today with the author herself, Carys Bray, to discuss more about The Museum of You, the difference between writing novels and short stories, and her best writing tips...
It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but at the same as time I was beginning to think about writing a second novel, I was wondering about a couple of things. Firstly, how it would feel to make plans to leave a place, only to end up circling it every day of your working life? And secondly, how it would feel to hear a carefully rehearsed recitation of the story of your birth, all the time suspecting that things had been omitted, smoothed over somehow?
Did your writing process change at all with writing The Museum of You from when you wrote A Song for Issy Bradley?
Yes, it did. The Museum of You had a deadline, for starters, which meant that I couldn’t just work on it when I felt like it. I had to set myself daily targets and I think I worried a lot more because I knew that my editor would definitely read it, whereas A Song for Issy Bradley was written in the hope that someone might read it. That felt quite different.
Tell us a bit more about Clover Quinn. Do you think you are similar to her in any way?
Clover is twelve. She is an only child and is used to being around adults, which makes her mature, but also perhaps a little removed from her peers. Although she worries about her dad, she is an optimist. I’m not sure whether I’m similar to her. I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as an optimist! My own daughter was ten when I began writing the novel. She is twelve now and similar to Clover in some ways: sensible and kind, and not one for histrionics.
What was it like writing Becky, Clover's mother? How important is she in the story?
As I wrote Becky I was thinking about the fact that when caregivers neglect children and fail to buffer them from stress, children can become particularly vulnerable to the fluctuations of life. Children who have experienced neglect are, as adults, more at risk from psychiatric and medical illnesses as well as substance abuse. The Museum of You is partly Becky’s story, but there are gaps, things Darren doesn’t know, things Jim (Becky’s brother) hasn’t said, and things Clover gets wrong. Becky’s absence is at the heart of the story, something that is beautifully depicted on the novel’s cover.
How different is it writing short stories compared to writing novels? Do you prefer writing one to the other?
I think it requires a different kind of fitness; it’s a bit like a marathon versus a sprint. I used to prefer short stories but I feel a bit out of condition. Having said that, the best way to get back into condition is to read, and I just had the chance to read lots of excellent collections as I helped to make the shortlist for the Edge Hill Prize – it was a pleasure and I suspect it was also really good for me.
When did you first know you wanted to write?
I loved reading as a child and I suppose writing was the next step. I wanted to see if I could do it, too. I started out writing Famous Five fan fiction.
In A Song for Issy Bradley, Sweet Home and The Museum of You, you write about broken families and in particular the complexity of the relationships between parents and their children. What interests you about these relationships, and what makes you want to write about them?
I think these relationships are really fascinating. I like to think that most people are well-intentioned; very few parents wake up each morning thinking, ‘What can I do to damage my family today?’ And yet, people do awful things to each other. I suppose that’s what so scary about having children: you can get it terribly wrong while simultaneously having the best of intentions (Ian Bradley is a good example of this!).
When you start writing a novel or a short story, what do you start with - an idea of the plot, or the idea of a character?
I usually start with the opening and closing scenes. A Song for Issy Bradley started out as an image of woman walking on the beach after the death of her child. The Museum of You started with Clover Quinn watering the vegetables and then whooshing down the hill of the railway bridge, full of the excitement of the summer holidays. The novel I am working on at the moment started out as a picture of a woman driving home at night to an unexpectedly dark and empty house. (I haven’t mentioned any of the closing images – spoilers!)
What's the best piece of writing advice you have been given?
To read lots. One of the best things about being a writer is that reading is research, whether it’s research for form, content, language etc. This means I can sit in the garden or on the sofa and be busy doing something that is ‘work,’ and also happens to be one of my favourite activities in the world.
Sum up The Museum of You in three words.
What’s my story?
Thank you so much, Carys, for appearing on my blog!
Check out Carys Bray here: http://www.carysbray.co.uk
Buy The Museum of You here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Museum-You-Carys-Bray/dp/0091959608
Until next time :)