Caroline Vermalle Q&A

Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?

Caroline: There’s the ideal writing day : waking up at 5am, writing prose til 8am, giving breakfast to my son, starting again at 9am with meditation, followed by writing or developing until lunchtime (light vegan lunch), then working on the business/admin side of writing : interviews, promotion, social networks, book tour organisation, correspondance, etc. If possible, add a little jog to the beach and/or yoga and/or gardening.

This kind of day happens about 4 times a month. Then there’s the actual, usual writing day :

Waking up at 8, cursing that 3 hours of my best writing is already lost. Trying to catch up with everything in my best impersonation of a headless chicken, with a lot of procrastinating and chocolate involved.

Ryan von Ruben: I used to do a lot of early morning swimming training, where you spend as much time as humanly possible walking around the edge of the pool wondering how much it is going to hurt diving into that freezing cold water but then once you do, you get so consumed by what you are doing that when you get to the end, exhausted and ready to throw up, it all seems to have passed in a flash. Writing is very similar. OK, so maybe not the throwing up part.

When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?

Caroline: Sometimes, at the start of the planning process, I use famous actors. But except for a couple of notable exceptions, I forget about them rather quickly.

Ryan von Ruben: It does help at the beginning to visualize the characters as opposed to having these faceless, half-formed creatures swimming around the place. I don’t get too attached to them and so Russel Crowe can become Jude Law and then vice-versa – the movie in my head can be tough on an actor’s ego.

What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?

Caroline: The Colour Purple. Heart-wrenching, unforgettable, beautiful prose.

Ryan von Ruben: Not sure it’s my favourite of all time, but the one I can think of right now is Alexander McCall-Smith’s “N°1 Ladies Detective Agency” series. It reminds me of home and it shows that writing can be profound without being intellectual.

What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?

Caroline: I plan a lot. It takes me months of development before I start writing prose. But when I finally dive in, so much changes that it seems like my planning was a waste of time. I tried diving in without the lengthy planning stage, but I just panicked, feeling very lost indeed. So the planning beforehand is like a set of training wheels on a bike : it makes me feel safe before I start cycling at full speed !

Ryan von Ruben: I tend to over-research before starting on anything. This is probably a hangover from my time working as an architect where we were used to call the same condition “analysis paralysis”. It’s a delusion to think that becoming “expert” in advance of writing will give you a magazine load of silver bullets –  instead it gives you an excuse to delay the writing. Even though I know this, I still enjoy reading around the subject and only really stop when my writing partner threatens to brain me with the mountain of unread books that are about to up-end my desk.

What was your journey to being a published author?

Caroline: Quite unusual in that I never had to send a manuscript to a publisher. Starting to write at 8 years old. Learning storytelling skills at BBC Television, where I was a documentary producer. Finishing my first novel at 35 during maternity leave (Baby was sleeping a lot), winning a novel-writing competition… whose prize was publication with a big French publishing house.

Ryan von Ruben: I closed down my architect’s practice, travelled around the world with my wife and three-year-old son and was wondering what to do next. One of Caroline’s half-finished manuscripts, an 18th century road trip story cum treasure hunt set within the South African landscape that I loved growing up in, just plain refused to leave me alone. With my prose and Caroline’s storycraft, we ended up developing a way of working that magically transformed a half-finished manuscript into a published novel.

What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?

Caroline: That they have to wait for inspiration.

Ryan von Ruben: That writer’s block is a lack of ideas when actually it’s a surplus of fear.

What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?

Caroline: Just do it. Now. And then do a little bit every single day, even if it’s one sentence.

Ryan von Ruben: Collaboration with another writer is a great way to start.

What are you working on at the moment?

Caroline: Finishing the corrections on a YA thriller, starting writing a contemporary novel set in France, and working with my husband Ryan von Ruben on our new historical novel set in 18th century South African wine region.

Ryan von Ruben: Trying to make up for a lifetime’s ignorance of wine and winemaking for the research for our next novel….and I can already feel that look across the mountain of unread research materials….

What are your top five writing tips? (These, if you choose to give them, will be published separately with fresh links).

Caroline: 1. do a little writing every single day. 2. if you’re stuck, do research. Wikipedia is my best friend. 3. to quote Oscar Wilde : “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken” (in practical terms = don’t be afraid to go where your ideas are, to change/mix genres, to do what other people say “will never sell/get published”.)

Ryan von Ruben: 4. Read what you write out loud. 5. Write what you know and if you don’t know then research and if you can’t research then lie beautifully – nobody ever minded a lie that was beautifully told.

England, 1770. Young gardener Francis Masson is asked by the King to search for a rare orange blossom in South Africa. As his ship departs, Masson has no idea that he’s about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. During his hunt for the mysterious flower, he doesn’t anticipate the untamed nature of the African continent, nor the subtle scheming of competing plant hunters. As he makes the acquaintance of eccentric botanist Carl Thunberg and his elegant accompaniment, Masson’s fate once again takes an unexpected turn …

A lively adventure novel set against the vibrant backdrop of the South African countryside

Caroline Vermalle

Caroline Vermalle was born in 1973 in French Picardie. After her studies in Film Studies she made a documentary for the BBC. She returned to France in 2007 and published her first novel a year later. The novel earned prizes such as the Prix Chronos de littérature 2011 and the Nouveau talent 2009.

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