Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Celia Rees

Celia Rees is an award-winning YA novelist who is one of Britain's foremost writers for teenagers. Her novel Witch Child has been published in 28 languages and is required reading in secondary schools in the UK. Rees’s books are published in the US by Candlewick and Scholastic. Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook is her first adult novel. A native of the West Midlands of England, she lives with her family in Leamington Spa.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I find that a title is there, almost from the beginning, or it is not. If it’s not there, it can take a while to find. Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook began as The Cold War Cookbook. Short, simple words with an assonant ring to them and I liked the contrast. Cold War and Cookbook shouldn’t go together, and I thought that was intriguing. I never wanted the book to be called anything else. A good title should do what it says on the tin and I felt this one did just that. It’s set in the Cold War, a time synonymous with spying, and has recipes! Miss Graham was added much later. It puts the main character on the cover and into the reader’s consciousness right away. The title is unusual, a bit quirky and I liked that. My publishers weren’t so sure and wanted to change it at the last minute but I stuck to my guns and I’m glad about that.

What's in a name?

Names are very important, especially in historical fiction. They have to be right for the period. Nothing jars more than an anachronistic name. Names tell us about a character’s background, nationality, region, class, even religion. Even so, the name has to fit the character, or it never feels right. In Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook, I called the main character Edith because it was appropriate to her time, class and nationality and it felt right for her. It could seem kind of boring, but there is a Joni Mitchell song, "Edith and the King Pin," which showed it didn’t have to be. With Dori, I chose a nickname as a shortening of any variation of Dorothy, so whatever her current nationality, she was always Dori.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Very. That I’d written one at all would have been a shock, that I’d written it about Aunty Nancy an even greater one!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Apart from one very major and radical change, the beginning and end were always the same. I knew where the story would begin and where it would end even before I began to write the book. It was what happened in between that I wasn’t sure about!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I sometimes think writers have multiple personalities! There are always aspects of yourself in all characters. Some very distant, perhaps, some closer. The characters have to be there and realisable inside you somewhere, or else how could you make them up?

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My first book was inspired by a true story involving a murder, told to me by a friend in a pub. Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook was directly inspired by my own family history, my aunt in particular, and the chance discovery of an old cookery book. Other books have been inspired by songs, random reading, newspaper stories, films, TV, places I’ve visited, even art galleries and museums. Inspiration can really come from anywhere. It’s often not just one thing but a series of seemingly chance and unrelated things that collect and cluster and begin to form themselves into an idea that will become a book.
Visit Celia Rees's website.

--Marshal Zeringue