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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Author in the chair - Serena Fairfax

Where the Bulbul Sings
Serena Fairfax

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In this atmospheric, passionate and poignant account of a clash of cultures, caste and creed, divided family loyalties, wealthy heartthrobs and the power of love, the story is told through three women whose lives entwine.

Hermie - a headstrong and bewitching Anglo-Indian - turns her back on the Anglo-Indian community and reinvents herself only to find that a dark secret threatens to send her life spiralling out of control and cost her everything.

Sharp-witted Edith, exiled in India from her native Germany by Nazi persecution, faces stark choices in a future very different from that she envisaged.

Enchanting Kay, separated by more than a generation from Hermie and Edith, is haunted by a family mystery and risks her prospects in London to pursue a quest for roots in India where fate hurtles her in an unexpected direction. Can they confront the storms or are their dreams destined to shatter?

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Author in the chair - Serena Fairfax

What inspired you to write WHERE THE BULBUL SINGS?
I’ve always been interested in minority communities and exiled people so thought I’d combine the two in a sprawling time-zone saga.

What does the title mean?
Well, a bulbul is an Indian songbird with a long tale (no pun intended) and short, rounded wings with plumage that ranges from drab to colourful. I chose the title before I embarked on the novel and it wasn’t until I reached the end that I realised the title bore a double-edged meaning! I leave that to the reader to figure out.

What is it about?
It’s a time zone saga spanning the dying days of the British Raj - i.e. the end of British colonial rule in India - to the present day.

Hermie’s the engine of the story and her early life was far from easy. Although she’s scheming and manipulative- indeed your average sort of girl! one’s always rooting for her. Will she, won’t she? She takes a lot of emotional punches and never wavers. I hope the novel’s appeal will extend to both genders from age 16 to 99 (the latter’s the age Indian Railways records you as being when it doesn’t know your date of birth.) It’s a satisfying happy- ever- after but in very different ways for Hermie, Edith and Kay.

Was there a character you struggled with?
I struggled with Kay because I didn’t want her to come across either as submissive or aggressive.

It has a powerful opening where a character commits suicide; did you find such scenes difficult to write?
Oddly enough, no! I wrote it with clinical detachment.

Going by the reviews, which say WHERE THE BULBUL SINGS is rich in nostalgia your love of India shines. How did you distance yourself from the nostalgia to “real” research?
A reader who has experienced life in India would probably feel nostalgic – a sentimental longing for past times. But the characters are living and breathing in an era that for them is the present . Research  was the horrendous part. It was hard graft but unavoidable and for me completely devoid of nostalgia.

Are you living in India at present?
I’m living in England although I’ve just returned from a holiday in India visiting the exotic,  erotic 10th and 11th century temples of Khajuraho  followed by  trekking in the Himalayas with views of the snow-capped mountain Nanda Devi (elevation 25,643 feet and twin peaked - that’s probably why it was named after the big breasted goddess Nanda Devi who’s both benevolent and wrathful – not unlike Hermie). Interestingly, the CIA planted  a telemetry relay listening device on the mountain in the late 1960s  in order to eavesdrop on China but an avalanche consigned it to oblivion.

The main characters are Hermie, Edith and Kay. Did you base any of these on real-life people?
Hermie, Edith and Kay are products of the imagination. I don’t know anyone remotely like them!

If you knew them in real life, what would you say to them?  
Good on you Hermie, you wouldn’t take what life dished out. Edith, you’d have made it wherever you lived. Kay, you can never tell what’s round the corner and you followed your instincts.

WHERE THE BULBUL SINGS is described at a Literary Romance. Is this your niche? Or have you written other genres?
"Literary romance”? Ooh, that sounds very grand! Bulbul has strong elements of romance but I’m reluctant to categorise it as literary. I started writing category romances and I still enjoy doing that. Didn’t the poet Gibran say that life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit? There are hugely successful category romance writers whose skills surpass anything I’ve produced so far. IN THE PINK is a completely different genre (I like experimenting with styles and would be interested to hear what readers think!) My short story THE BOARDROOM is another departure as is THE SIX JUDGES  and THE FEARLESS CHATTEE-MAKER which are short stories for children.

How long does it take you to write a short compared to a novel?
A short (50,000) would take about 4 months (including “distance time”) and a longer one (80,000 to 100,000 words) probably about 9 nine months.  

Are you an indie/self-published writer or do you have a publisher/agent?
STRANGE INHERITANCE and PAINT ME A DREAM were published by UK publisher Robert Hale Ltd. The rest are indie-published. Thank goodness for that opportunity.

Why have you gone the “indie route” when you had a publisher? 
Robert Hale Ltd ceased its Rainbow Romance imprint (STRANGE INHERITANCE  and PAINT ME A DREAM were published under that). Then WHERE THE BULBUL SINGS didn’t appeal to it. I found an agent who liked BULBUL but couldn’t match it to a publisher. It languished on my pc for ages after that until in 2011 I stumbled across self-publishing with Amazon and Smashwords. I submitted  it to a third party professional editor who  made some very helpful and insightful  editorial suggestions  that had me gnashing  my teeth but after I’d thrown some crockery, I  revised it and voila posted it on both sites.

How do your juggle a writing schedule?
I’m still in the day job but I write every day, even for a short while, to keep the momentum going. Often it’s just rubbish but that’s better than nothing!

Does your day job help with your writing?
Yes, because I don’t give writing a thought during the champagne of the day job and I resume the art of a wordsmith thereafter entirely refreshed and intoxicated.

If you became world-known for your writing, would you give it up?  
Not unless my earnings from writing trumped those of JK Rowling.

What's the worst part of being a writer?
Research is difficult because for me it’s hit and miss  as I  find myself unable to identify the  keyword that will instantly reveal all I need. A lot of research is computer based but there’s nothing like the British Library for the meat. Also, when  researching I find myself wasting a lot of time being lured  off the beaten track  by interesting snippets that would make an interesting theme for another story.

I was once Googling when my golden retriever, Inspector Morse (IM) leapt up on to the keyboard – thump- the result being wacky tips about listening carefully to your inner quadratic equation. Hmm... Will that win me the lottery?

And the best?
Telling a story and making characters come alive.

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
My pc rests on an oak Victorian bureau/bookcase. In front of it, there’s just room for a crystal pen and ink stand that I bought at an antiques fair. (A contrast between now and then). In the upper part (bookcase) are a dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and a well-thumbed Dummies manual on computers. In the bureau drawers are hard copies of my books and CDs of films I missed when they were on general release and which I want to catch up with. At my feet lies IM and through the study window I have a bird’s eye view of the pretty garden that’s a joy in all seasons.

The only sound I can tolerate when writing is IM slurping water, snoring and snuffling and drubbing his tail on the floorboards. The chair is black leather, rather like that in Mastermind (the popular British TV quiz programme that features a black chair where contestants sit facing the Quizmaster). Oh, and the walls are covered with prints of pictures by Picasso.

Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
 It used to be scribble, scribble, scribble but I use a pc now.

What/who do you draw inspiration from?
Funnily enough, biographies and autobiographies are very inspiring and set the imagination alight.

Whose biographies do you like? Which one has given you the most inspiration?
 Bill Clinton’s is riveting. Then there’s Ava Gardner by Lee Server – she was a Hollywood legend. Love them or hate them, both sprang from an ordinary background and ended up holding a stellar place in world history. I would’ve  loved to have met them , although  I must confess that Ava’s ability to engage  the most amazing  admirers is nothing less than  inspiring! I suppose the same could be said of Bill but Ava had more jewellery and I’m a sucker for that.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
I write something every day. I make myself sit down for at least three quarters of an hour, and five minutes before that’s elapsed I find I’ve actually written a sentence. That prompts me to carry on.

Do you find that once you get working, it’s hard to stop?  
I get to what’s a natural break and stop there. Sometimes the natural break is reached in two hours; at other times it’s a longer process rather like a Trans-Siberian journey.

How do/did you deal with rejection letters?
Bin them.

Are you submitting to agencies/publishers? Or are you happy being an indie author?
Currently, I’m happy being an indie author, although I consider all options and never say never.

What do you think of the (sometimes) bad press indie authors get?
 It depends what the bad press is about. If it relates to poor grammar, spelling, punctuation, proofreading or research, then that’s justified. If it’s about  a poor plot, excessive narrative, poor  dialogue or  wooden characters  the bad press  is unfair and disproportionate  given  there are heaps of books out there,  equally wanting in that respect that shouldn’t have seen the light of day (published by  mainstream publishers) that don’t get  undermined or humiliated.

Do you have a critique partner? Where do you get your inspiration for writing? What motivates you?
Friends and family are too nice to be genuine critique partners and I don’t inflict my writing on other writers. I paid for BULBUL to be critiqued by a professional third party editor and found her insights and comments very useful. Inspiration just pops into my head! As for motivation, writing’s a challenge and I can’t resist that.

Do you pre-plan your stories, or are you a by-the-seat-of-the-pants style writer?
Oh, definitely the latter. Obviously that’s not to be recommended but it works for me in a disorganised, rambling sort of way.

What do you enjoy the most about writing?
Telling a story and making characters come alive.

Is there any part of writing that you don't enjoy? Research and, because I’m an indie writer, promotion and marketing is like wading through treacle.

Do you have any tips on marketing that you can share?
 I’m happy to share my experiences. A website and blog is pretty much expected. My eBooks are on Kindle and Smashwords. I’ve joined and posted on forums run by Amazon, Kindle, Goodreads and Mobilereads. I’m on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to LinkedIn. Scribd is a great place to air the first chapter of one’s novel (a taster) and then there’s Pinterest (although I don’t really have to grips with that).  

What would you say to a new writer starting out today?  
Write what you know. Show don’t tell. Genius begins great works, labour alone finishes them.
Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a Lawyer in England and joined a large London law firm.   Her first romantic novel STRANGE INHERITANCE (published by Robert Hale Ltd in 1990) went into UK and USA large print editions in 2004 (published by BBC Audio Books Ltd and Thorndike Press) and is a Kindle and Smashwords eBook. The second romantic novel PAINT ME A DREAM (published by Robert Hale Ltd in 1991) went into UK and USA large print editions in 2004 (published by BBC Audio Books Ltd and Thorndike Press) and is likewise a Kindle and Smashwords eBook.

Fast forward to a sabbatical from the day job when Serena  traded in bricks and mortar for  a houseboat  and embarked on WHERE THE BULBUL SINGS a time-zone saga set in India spanning the last days of the Raj to the present day. After a long gestation, this saw the light of day in 2011 as a Kindle and Smashwords eBook as well as a printed version.  Then, wanting to experiment, she burst out of the romance bubble with IN THE PINK (Kindle and Smashwords eBook)   a quirky departure in style and content.

But romance is hard-wired in her DNA so there’s 
GOLDEN GROVE, another romantic novel (Kindle and Smashwords eBook).  WILFUL FATE is the latest release, a romantic story with a horse riding background. (Kindle and Smashwords eBook). THE BOARDROOM, a short story with a twist, features on Serena’s blog as does THE SIX JUDGES where animals get in a few light jabs at humans and THE FEARLESS CHATTEE-MAKER.

 The saying age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety aptly describes the tug of law so Serena still enjoys the day job, although she has plunged into drafting a new time-zone saga with an exotic backdrop. A long standing member of the Romantic Novelists Association, Serena  is convinced  there’s not a more wonderful, supportive organisation. She and her golden retriever, Inspector Morse, who can’t wait to unleash his own Facebook and Twitter page, divide their time between London and glorious rural Kent. (Charles Dickens said: Kent, sir. Everybody knows Kent. Apples, cherries, hops and women).
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