#blogtour – The Winter’s Child by Cassandra Parkin @cassandrajaneuk @Legend_Press #bookreview #QandA
I’m delighted to be on the blog tour for The Winter’s Child by Cassandra Parkin today. It’s a wonderful read and I’m sharing my review along with a fabulous Q&A with Cassandra. I’d like to thank Imogen Harris from Legend Press for the review copy and the place on the blog tour.
Five years ago, Susannah Harper’s son Joel went missing without trace. Bereft of her son and then of her husband, Susannah tries to accept that she may never know for certain what has happened to her lost loved ones. She has rebuilt her life around a simple selfless mission: to help others who, like her, must learn to live without hope.
But then, on the last night of Hull Fair, a fortune-teller makes an eerie prediction. She tells her that this Christmas Eve, Joel will finally come back to her.
As her carefully-constructed life begins to unravel, Susannah is drawn into a world of psychics and charlatans, half-truths and hauntings, friendships and betrayals, forcing her to confront the buried truths of her family’s past, where nothing and no one are quite as they seem.
A ghostly winter read with a modern gothic flavour. A tale of twisted love, family secrets and hauntings.
The first thing to say about The Winter’s Child is what a gorgeous, evocative cover. It perfectly encapsulates winter and the whole feel of the story.
This book plays on any parent’s worst nightmare. Susannah Harper’s fifteen year old son went missing five years ago and has never been heard from again. For five years she has lived with not knowing what happened to her precious boy. Her marriage falls apart and of course other relationships, such as that with her sister, have suffered too.
The book starts with a visit to Hull fair and a fortune teller. I found the use of psychics in the story absolutely fascinating and I thought the opening to this novel was a perfect way to draw me in.
Susannah is an unreliable narrator. As she starts to fall to pieces I didn’t know if I could believe what she was saying and doing and this made it really exciting to read. There was actually a part where it became obvious to me what was going to happen but not to Susannah. So the thrill was waiting for it to dawn on Susannah and wondering when it would happen.
It’s a rollercoaster ride of a story. Most of it is set in the current day as Susannah waits to see if the psychic’s prediction that Joel will return to her on Christmas Eve will come true, but there are also some sections from throughout Joel’s life which set the scene for what happened later on. And then there are the blog posts from the blog that Susannah set up to talk about her missing child. All these fragments of the story came together to make a superb whole.
The Winter’s Child is a book that absorbed me, moved me, thrilled me, gripped me and shocked me. It’s a superb read, full of myriad twists and turns. I thought it was brilliant.
And do take a look at the other blogs taking part in the tour.
1. Where did your inspiration come from for The Winter’s Child?
As a child growing up in Hull, the absolute peak of the year was always Hull Fair. It’s the largest travelling fair in Europe, and for a week each October it turns our city bright and loud and glorious. When you look at it you honestly wouldn’t believe that it could all come here on the backs of lorries – gigantic Ferris wheels, terrifying thrill rides, Waltzers, side-stalls, fortune-tellers…and it has this amazing sugary-oniony-dieselly-candyfloss smell that everyone round here knows the
second we smell it – the Hull Fair smell, and it comes towards you as you walk towards Walton Street and draws you in. When the chance came to write a Christmas novel in Hull’s City of Culture year, there was only one place I could ever start it.
Beautifully described, Cassandra. I can almost smell and see it myself.
2. I know you have set previous novels in Cornwall and The Winter’s Child is set in your home city of Hull. How important is a sense of place in your books?
It’s probably the most important thing for me. The landscape, the houses, the city or town – they’re always based on somewhere I’ve known intimately and loved deeply. I never name the places where my novels take place (mainly because, as all writers do, I sometimes have to make alterations to suit the story) but they’re always somewhere real and special.
3. The main character in The Winter’s Child visits a fortune teller who tells her that her missing son will return to her. It seems to me that you have a clear interest in folklore, magical, mystical things. Have you ever visited a fortune teller and if so, did what they told you come true?
The first time I had my fortune told was when I was sixteen. I was in Scarborough with my boyfriend, and a muttering woman with a basket of heather grabbed my hand and told me that
- I was happy that day and that was a good omen
- My boyfriend would soon put a ring on my finger
- I would live to the age of ninety-six
I was completely freaked out, and paid her a pound, partly in thanks and partly to make her go away. I was, indeed, very happy that day (or I was until a total stranger started gabbling in my face about rings and lifespans). A few weeks later, my boyfriend did put a ring on my finger (I still have the ring, although not the boyfriend). As for the second part of her prediction, it’s turned out true so far.
The second time I had my fortune told was during my research for The Winter’s Child, by a very nice lady who came to a friend’s party and told all of our fortunes, one by one. She had a whole box of tricks – Tarot cards, some other kind of divination cards, crystals, special feathers, the works. She told me that I would never be rich but I would never be poor, that if I followed my dreams the path would be easier than I thought, and when she pulled a card from the Divination deck it said, Writer. She was oddly like a personal counsellor, and I wondered afterwards how much of her job was understanding what people wanted and needed to hear, rather than channelling any mystical forces. (But then, how would anyone know what a stranger wanted or needed to hear? Isn’t that mysterious enough on its own, regardless of how she achieved it?)
The final experience was very different. I went to the New Theatre to see Derren Brown live, and it was just astonishing. He had a whole Clairvoyance routine where he called people onto the stage, and then seemingly channelled their deceased relatives to share thoughts and memories only they could have known. The whole way through he kept reminding us, I am not doing this, I can’t speak to the dead, I have no special skills, this is all a trick.
And of course, it was a trick. But it wasn’t! But it was! But it wasn’t…but it was. He said so. He told us it was a trick. But it was also real.
That’s kind of my whole relationship with the world of the occult right there. I believe even though I don’t. My head knows it’s all coincidence and wishful thinking, but my heart is a devout believer. I carry lucky talismans in my pocket; my brother and I always know when the other one’s in trouble and needs some help; I’ve been known to cast the odd spell to keep family members safe; I occasionally pray to the Car Boggart and the Sock Gnomes and the God of Traffic Lights to help me with minor domestic crises. That tension – between believing and not believing – is where Susannah’s story came from.
I have never had my fortune told but I think I’m a bit like you, I believe and yet I don’t believe.
4. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I have two kinds of research. The first is a sort of weird rambling hoovering-up process that involves many hours roaming at large through the wilds of the internet, looking for background information on pretty much anything I think might be useful, which is probably more like a search for inspiration. The second is when I get unfeasibly hung up on small details and have to go to great lengths to investigate them – like driving three hundred miles to look at a particular service station on a A30 in Cornwall, or sitting down with a calendar and a tide timetable and checking the tide times and phases of the moon for every single day over a four-month period. I think the most important thing, though, is to bury your research as well as possible so it simply feels like part of the background. When you’ve spent months researching a particular subject, it’s very tempting to give a lecture instead of telling a story. I hope I don’t do that too often.
5. And related to that, do you plot your book meticulously before you start or wing it and see how it comes together?
I always start with a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, built with sheets of paper and post-it notes. Each sheet of paper is a chapter, and each post-it is something that belongs in that chapter. (Sometimes this can be quite vague. I once got to a page in my outline where the central post-it simply said, SOMETHING HAPPENS! Which was…useful…I suppose…)
Then once I’ve built this outline, I keep it on my desk beside me as I completely ignore it and start wandering though the narrative like a lost traveller. I have to do the outline first, though. I think I like having something to remind me what the path is that I’m wandering away from.
6. If you weren’t a writer what do you think you would be doing now?
When I was five, I had two major ambitions: I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to be the Godfather and run the Mafia. So I suppose it’s just possible I would have overcome the fairly major handicap of not being a good family man from Sicily, and taken over the leadership of the Cosa Nostra.
7. Tell me about your writing day. Where do you write and do you have a daily routine?
Given a totally free choice, I like to write in the mornings, preferably at my dining table and in my pyjamas. I have a sort of tray-table thingie that turns my dining table into a standing desk – better for my back, my blood-pressure, everything really – and as soon as the kids are out the door and on the school bus, my working day can start.
That said, when I’m working on a first draft, my target is 2,000 words a day, every day – so I write whenever and wherever I can to get this done. Also, if the cats have brought in something dreadful that they want me to look at, like a dead mouse or a poor terrified frog or something, then all work must cease until it’s been properly dealt with.
8. Do you have time to read yourself and if so what kind of books do you enjoy?
Absolutely, yes – I don’t think anyone can be a writer if they don’t make time to read too. (I’m pretty sure Stephen King said this first, so it must be true!) I read pretty much anything I can get my hands on, from any genre. Generally I have three books on the go – one book I loved as a child (at the moment I’m re-reading the Tove Jansson edition of Alice in Wonderland), one book I’ve loved as an adult (right now that’s Donna Tartt’s Secret History) and one book that someone’s recommended to me, whch at the moment is The Bastard Wonderland by Lee Harrison.
9. Do you have any interesting writing quirks?
I was going to say “no” to this question, but I asked my daughter and she said, “Well, you could mention that you sing to the cats when they walk past your desk”. And she’s right! I hadn’t realised before, but I do sing to the cats when I’m writing. They each have a sort of basic song on the theme of what size and shape and colour they are, which I then riff around to incorporate whatever they happen to be doing at that moment.
Also, I’m part of a Hull Spoken Word collective called Women of Words, and we have a performance coming up in September and I’m learning my pieces by heart, which involves a lot of muttering under my breath while doing other things, and recently the thing I was doing was “picking out a horse’s hooves after my riding lesson”. So I suppose I should add “reciting poetry to horses” to my list of quirks. I sound insane, and not in a good way. I’ll stop now while you’re still happy to talk to me.
Hey, I’ve done my fair share of singing to cats and also singing as if I am them too. I’m definitely not going to call you insane! Or if you are then I must be too…..hmmm.
10. What are you planning to write next?
I’m working on my next novel, “Underwater Breathing”, about a teenage boy who wakes up one morning to find his mother and sister have disappeared in the night. It’s set in a village on the East Coast that’s gradually crumbling into the sea due to coastal erosion.
I love the sound of it. Can’t wait.
Thank you so much for answering my questions with such interesting and full answers, Cassandra.
Cassandra Parkin grew up in Hull, and now lives in East Yorkshire. Her short story collection, New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing, 2011), won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories. Her work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies.
The Summer We All Ran Away (Legend Press, 2013) was Cassandra’s debut novel and nominated for the Amazon Rising Stars 2014.
Legend Press have also published The Beach Hut (2015), Lily’s House (2016) and The Winter’s Child (2017. Cassandra’s fifth novel is due to be published in 2018.