I mentioned a little while ago that I’d just finished reading what could end up being my book of the year. It was the incredibly good, Black Boxes, a book that one of my favourite writers, Sarah Salway, described as ‘Heartbreaking… and very, very good’. Sarah Salway is not wrong.
So I’m delighted to be able to welcome Black Boxes’ author, the truly lovely Caroline Smailes to my blog, to chat a little.
So, Caroline, Black Boxes, who’s it for and what’s it about?
Who’s it for? I guess anyone who likes to read modern fiction, who is open minded, non-judgemental, flexible, who understands loss, who has ever felt like they don’t belong, who has suffered from bullying or postnatal depression, and anyone who has regrets.
What’s it about? Black Boxes tells the story of Ana Lewis, a 37 year old single mum who is struggling with depression. Right at the beginning of the novel, the reader learns that Ana has taken an overdose of pills and that she is dying. Black Boxes is the story of Ana, and of the children she neglects, of Pip and of Davie. My description makes it all sound a bit too depressing, but I do believe that there is a happily ever after within the story (in an unconventional way, of course).
How does it compare to your debut, In Search Of Adam?
My debut was slightly darker and more people threw In Search of Adam across the room or into the bin. There are themes that link the two – abuse, loss, longing, love, parental neglect and fairytales. But Black Boxes is possibly more insular and experimental.
What do the words ‘Post Natal Depression’ mean to you?
Having experienced PND, I’d say sadness, loneliness, confusion, frustration, embarrassment – but mainly, loss.
How did the poetic structure (Ana’s narration in Black Boxes) come about? It works incredibly well; was it something you chose to do, or did it simply happen?
I’d love to be able to say that my creative decisions were cleverly developed and planned before I started writing, but they weren’t. Everything that I write just happens. The poetic structure comes mainly from the layout and typography, that need to give the words a voice and for them to fit with the concept behind the novel. Black Boxes pulls on the model of a black box recording device that is examined after a crash. This idea has been taken and applied to the crash of Ana. So, I guess, the poetic structure is to give voice and noise.
Which voice, Ana’s or Pips, came first and which came the easiest?
The teenager daughter’s voice, Pip’s voice, came first and was the easiest. I love writing teenage voice. I wrote Pip’s section of the novel first, pulling on my own teenage diaries to establish the voice and then developed Ana’s story to give depth to Pip’s.
What’s your writing process?
I write the first 10,000 words without plan or structure in a very ‘free’ way. I write to find and establish voice. Then, I look for and develop an overall story and plot, a beginning to an end with character outlines for consistency. Then, I write the rest of the first draft quickly, in a continuous story-stream from beginning to end, without reworking. Then I redraft and redraft and craft and redraft. Each of my three novels has taken about eleven months from start to final draft.
What’s your worst writing habit?
Being anal and precious. (That’s two!)
‘Caroline Smailes’ is going to be entered into the OED and you can pick its definition. What would it say?
A strange species, known mainly for its tit-being-ness and peculiar celebrity crushes.
Tell us a secret.
I have a list of things that a psychic told me to do and said would happen to me. One was regarding the sign language pictures in Black Boxes and was told before I had written the novel. Many of the predictions have already happened, but the remaining ones are truly exciting.
Any advice you’d like to give to (aspiring) writers reading this?
Never ever ever give up.
What’s next for you?
I’ve finished my third novel, Like Bees to Honey and my agent is currently negotiating the deal. It’s a terrifying time. At the moment I’m writing my fourth novel, with tight weekly word count targets and I hope to have finished the first draft by the end of May.
Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you, lovely Nik.
Caroline Smailes was born in Newcastle, but now lives on the Wirral with her husband and three children. Caroline is known to be easily influenced and has made life changing decisions based on passing comments made by Richard & Judy.