Thursday, 21 April 2016

An Interview with the Author Annabel Kantaria: 'The Disappearance' Blog Tour


In 2013, British-trained journalist Annabel Kantaria won the inaugural Montegrappa Prize for First Fiction at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Her work caught the eye of London agent Luigi Bonomi and Annabel went on to secure a three-book contract with Harlequin’s MIRA. Her debut novel, ‘Coming Home’ (MIRA, May 2015 - ‘An utterly compelling story of loss and betrayal – I loved it’ – Judy Finnigan), is the reworked version of the prize-winning manuscript, and her second novel, ‘The Disappearance’, will be published by MIRA today, 21st April 2016.

Annabel studied psychology at Warwick University, graduating in 1992 with a BSc Hons degree. She spent six years working in publishing in London before moving to Dubai in 1998. In the early days in Dubai, Annabel worked as a freelance journalist and a radio producer and presenter before bagging the job of editor at the region’s leading woman’s magazine, Emirates Woman.

In 2007, Annabel left office life to work as a freelance journalist while following her dream of writing fiction. She’s written prolifically for publications in the UK and across the Middle East. Currently jobs include a regular slot for The Telegraph and a monthly column for Stylist Arabia, but fiction will always be her passion. 


A very warm welcome to you Annabel, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.
It’s a pleasure.

For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a bit about the part of the world that you are currently resident in and why do you like living there?
I live in Dubai, in the UAE. I’m originally from the UK, but I’ve lived here for nearly 18 years. Why do I like living here? There are plenty of reasons from quality of life to safety and security but, ultimately, what I love most about living here is the sunshine. Wall-to-wall sunshine and blue sky.

Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child?
I was a prolific reader. My first memories of reading for myself are of Dr Seuss, followed by a lot of Enid Blyton. I inhaled the Famous Five series and the Malory Towers series. I also loved the Chalet School books – bit of a boarding school theme going on there – then I got the pony bug and read every pony story around. I remember a lot of books by the three Pullein-Thompson sisters. Then as I got older I got into Judy Blume. I was a member of our local library and used to take out 10 books at a time. What a pleasure that was: I still remember the excitement of arriving home with a pile of fresh books.

Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?
No, not consciously. But perhaps subconsciously you learn about the subliminal rhythm of words and sentences when you read a lot.

Do you have a set routine when you are working on a novel?
Yes. I have to be very strict as I have two children who finish school at 2.30pm. They leave the house with my husband at 7am and then I’m at my desk by 7.15am with a coffee. I don’t open the internet, email or anything: I just open Word and write until about 10.30am. This is important. If the internet is on in the background, it’s very distracting and I get sucked into social media.
After writing for a good couple of hours, I might make a few phone calls, check emails and so on, then I go to the gym for an hour or so. After that I have lunch and can usually get another hour in before I have to pick up the children from school. Nothing much happens in the afternoons as I’m 100% there for the children with homework and supper and after-school activities, and I’m utterly rubbish at working in the evenings so I’ve stopped trying to make that happen.

Where do you do your writing best?
Anywhere that I have peace and quiet. Usually I work in my study with a scented candle and the radio on very quietly in the background. But sometimes I get bored with that so I move my laptop to the dining table and look out over the garden.
If I’m stuck and trying to come up with a new plot line, I might sit in the garden with a notepad and pen. I love being outdoors and am more creative away from my desk.
Occasionally I might go to a café and work there. Sometimes the buzz of people around me helps me focus better. Strangely.

What helped you to decide to write novels?
It wasn’t really a decision; it’s something I needed to do. I’ve always written – from letters to pen-pals and diaries as a child to articles as an adult in my job as a journalist. The desire to write books has been a constant with me all my life – it was always something I would do “one day”. When I would get my ducks in a row and sit down to complete a 90,000-word novel, and if and how I would manage to get it published were the unknown elements.

When you are writing a novel, how do you place yourself into the time period that you are actually writing about?
The only time period/place I’ve written about that I haven’t lived through was 1970s India, which features in ‘The Disappearance’. I spent a lot of time reading online accounts of what life was like in India in those days, and scrolling through images. I researched the vocabulary people used and the clothes that they wore; I tried as best I could to find out what cafes and restaurants were popular in Bombay in the ‘70s, and what sort of food they would order. In order to put myself there, I’d have an image on the screen and I’d flick to it every now and then and just try to be there with my characters. I hope I’ve portrayed it reasonably accurately. Apologies if I have not!

How do you go about imagining, developing and give real lives and personalities to the characters that we read about within in your book?
They kind of take on a life of their own as the book progresses. I might set out to write a character one way but they often surprise me when I’m writing. In ‘The Disappearance’, Audrey takes on a much more central role than I’d planned for her: she really is the star of the story. I sort of watch the story as if it’s a movie in my head, and write down what I see happening.

Did you encounter any difficulties in getting you book accepted and published?
I was very lucky in that I won a writing competition in Dubai that was judged by Luigi Bonomi of LBA Books. All I had to submit was a synopsis and the first five pages. My prize was to fly to London to meet Luigi for lunch. There was no guarantee of a book deal or even that he would take me on as a client. After I won the competition, Luigi helped me re-plot the novel, then sent me away to write it and, to cut a long story short, when I finished it, he accepted the manuscript, offered me representation and managed to secure me a three-book deal. If I hadn’t won this competition I don’t know where I’d be now. It certainly gave me a very welcome foot in the door. The first novel is called ‘Coming Home’.

Did you have to undertake any research for your novel?
Yes, I had to research passages to India via ship in the 1970s; what life was like in Bombay in the 1970s and a few other technical things that I shouldn’t go into here as they might be spoilers. There’s also a lot of geographical research: ‘The Disappearance’ is set in seven countries and in the UK it’s set in London, Truro, Penzance and St Ives. Although I’ve been to all those places with the exception of Truro, I spent a fair bit of time on Google Maps using Street View to try and get my details accurate.

What is your favourite book and why?
The Passion Test by Chris Attwood and Janet Bray Attwood. This is a self-help book and it’s to this book that I attribute the fact that I stopped procrastinating about writing a book myself and actually made the time to write. The book helped me prioritise what was important in my life, and made me focus on achieving what I wanted to achieve rather than waiting for it to happen. It was bought for me by a friend who had faith that I would one day be an author. To her, I’m eternally grateful.

Are you currently reading a book at the moment, and if so what is it?
The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dina Jefferies. I’m not far into it, but, so far, so good!

Do you have any other hobbies or interests that you enjoy in order to give you a break from your normal routine and your writing?
Yes, I try to do yoga regularly. I love to go to the beach and soak up the sun and listen to the waves but, as a mum, me-time usually comes at the cost of work time. It’s an eternal toss-up: do I sacrifice a precious morning’s writing to go to the beach and have some me-time… usually I end up writing every moment the children are at school because they’re such short hours that I get and I have deadlines. But I do have a foot massage or reflexology treatment once a week at the weekend – I make the children’s dinner, then leave them with my husband for an hour while I go and zone out. Without this, I think I would go mad.

Can you give us a hint about any other books that you may have in the making at the moment?
Book number three is set to be a very dark psychological thriller about the power one person can have over another’s mind. It’s perhaps my darkest to date and I’m really enjoying writing it.

Why do you like writing dark psychological books?
My degree is in psychology and I’m fascinated in the ways in which the mind can go wrong, even in subtle ways, and the ways in which people can manipulate others by changing their understanding of what reality is.

Annabel, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary site. I would also like to thank-you again for taking the time to speak to us today.
The pleasure is all mine.


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If you would like to find out more about Annabel and her writing, the link to her website is given below:

https://www.facebook.com/AnnabelKantariaAuthor


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