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Saturday, 7 October 2006

Interview with the novelist Kate Bousfield

Coven of One by Kate Bousfield,
(Fiction, 256pp, £9.99,
Publishers: Opening Chapter, UK
Click here for pre-ordering details worldwide

"...The yellow ridged fingernail reached out to swirl the inky, black water. With a sprinkle of chosen herbs the scene burst into life once again. The shrouded face watched intently as the picture cleared, expanded, shuddered and then settled down to admit the ruh...yes, she was coming..." - Coven of One.

And Someone Was Taking Notice...
(An interview with debut novelist Kate Bousfield)

by Susan Abraham


Imbued with a curious spirit, in a scattered online cafe culture and where intelligence and intuition often take precedence over body language with regards to a writer's or painter's craft; the Cornish novelist Kate Bousfield or otherwise popularly known as The Inner Minx, may just come across to the blog world at large, as a lively mix of candour and niceties where a swift, sharp humour tops the list.

This mingled with the added joys of her newest paperback,
Coven of One - that promises to be a delicious but darkly mysterious Halloween treat. It revolves around the lovable and courageous Dorcas Fleming, who embarks on her hedgewitch's journey into the unknown while employing pagan magick in a world built by Bousfield akin to 17th century Cornwall. Hedgewitching that is, which may also be described as solitary witching or a walker between worlds.

Coven of One - The Book & Spirituality

"Witches have always had bad press," says Bousfield. "It was only natural that I should be drawn to such intrigue. It is an ancient natural belief, a belief in the natural world and the natural magic therein." She links this faith to her own deep spirituality, carefully nurtured from young. "As a child, I was still gathering evidence," she adds. "I think I was in my early twenties when I eventually got my spiritual self sorted out."

And the writing bit? "Coven was an easy book to write," recalls Bousfield. "I had completed the first draft in less than 3 months. As a person with strong Pagan beliefs and an interest in hedgewitching, I realised that I was not part of a coven. I am a Coven of One and with my home county as inspiration, the story grew from that point.

"There was extreme pleasure when the plot fell into place like a familiar jigsaw and the words flowed. I think this book was just meant to be."

There is a strong, spiritual message to be had for the reader of Coven. Here, folklore, mythology and all the beautiful revelations of fantasy rush to mind.

Bousfield offers a serious description. "The country in which it is set is a divided one. Religon has torn the land apart with the Pagans to the north and the Church to the south. The book's character, Dorcas, has to find a way to cross this divide and rid her new placement of the evil that is lurking under the Southern Seas. In essence, a battle between good and evil that examines the effects of insularity and ignorance."

Of course, of course! And of the self? "Age has brought me a kind of adaptability so I am many things to many people. Most of all, I am me and I try to remain true to the person that I am.

And what about her impeccable humour? Impeccable? Polished, starched, crisp and neat-to-a-point kind of thing? Bousfield is surprised. "Never has my humour been described as impeccable before. Quirky or odd, maybe. I don't know, never really examined it. I love wit, sharp wits and a clever play on words."

But over and over, there is a call to reflection. "My soul will evolve as my contract stated in the beginning - I have no control over this and can only learn to read my signposts on this journey through my life. Still in her matter-of-fact manner, "I hope I have taken notice on most of them and acted on them accordingly," she finishes with a flourish.

A Personal Romanticism

And then of course, there is always the tender romantic ambience of it all. Think scents. For instance, the smell of gorse in bloom on the cliffs where Bousfield remembers the flowers "smelling like coconut" "It's a very heady mixture when coupled with the smell of the sea on a warm day."

There are walks on the cliffs too, either on a mild summer or a wild winter's day. In either case, it never fails to feed Bousfield's soul.

The writer who craves purples and blacks over pastels, loves living in Cornwall. "Only good if you like surfing and a lot of lard in your food," one can almost hear her quip. Bousfield finds the dramatic coastline, a perfect haven of peace.

Dawn also happens to be Bousfield's favourite spiritual moment. "The best time of the day when anything is possible," she enthuses. "This was crowned a few years ago when I watched the sun rise from a hot air balloon. For once, I was lost for words."

The best view of course, is to be taken from her bed, where Bousfield lives in Cornwall. Her house sits on a hill, about 2 miles from the coast. The sea changes colour from moment to moment but Bousfield as I had described earlier to be a lively mix of niceties could suddenly decide sunset to be her favourite view while intently watching the sun sink majestically into the sea. This then, separated slightly from the rising of the dawn.

To indulge in a moment and to embark on a view like two distant points. All of which provided inspiration for her novel-writing.
Choosing Writing

"I didn't choose writing. It chose me!"

Today, Bousfield would not dare pin her Muse down to any single thing.

She is obstinate about this. "My inspiration comes from a hotch-potch of words, poems, pictures, scenes and people," she hints. "A chance remark in the street, an interesting face in the crowd or a sound or the edge of hearing can all add to the mix. " She now asks me. "Did you know that the word
muse comes from Old French meaning muser or 'to waste time''? I think I must do a lot of that!"

Bousfield's parents died six years ago. Not having expected to be orphaned quite so early, she confessed to feeling devastated. Writing soon proved thereupatic.

"As part of my healing, I started to write down my thoughts on the computer and before long I found that my own fingered stabbing had produced a massive number of words. I started counting and haven't stopped since.

She continues. "I have always been an avid reader but writing allows me to read and write at the same time. Does that make sense? The joy of writing is that I can live the book as I'm writing. I am those characters and they are me. We create together."

Of course, she cannot see herself stop writing, in the least. Of this, she is definite. There is after all, a sequel to Coven of One, called Natural Magick and "a larder full of others."

"Before I wrote Coven of One - there are two before Coven and two after - I had moments of panic when I thought that I would not get it down quickly enough and it would be lost.

"In writing this novel, I found I could relax, safe in the knowledge that it was all there waiting."

"So now can't stop! Won't stop! It is the air I breathe. And the place I feel most at home, apart from my own home, that is! I get withdrawal symptms if I don't write and don't talk to me about the holidays that take me away from my laptop I would love to think that I could write fulltime in the future...a dream, but you never know"

One can almost imagine the affectionate petulance that comes from such a stubborn resolution.

Publishing Coven of One

How did that remarkable publication of her debut novel first begin?

To think that any aspiring author's dream started from Bousfield's own extraordinary reality, of "lacking in ambition." "I was always happy to go along with the flow and let life bob along as it needed. Now I realise that it was all heading in this direction, everything merging and becoming what it needed to be. I learnt and I am still learning that what will be will be. If it's right..."

In Bousfield's own words while observing her new success:

"The wheel turns, the path is drawn so sit back and enjoy the ride."

When Bousfield started blogging about 6 months ago, "her first dabble into the world of web-logging'', she was pleased when it straightaway brought her into contact with published and un-published writers. She believes there is no other place where this could happen so easily.

One particular link was Skint Writer, a popular and professional blogger. Skint turned out to be the Welsh author, poet and painter, Derec Jones that led him to POD his 3 literary books that included a novel,The Three Bears, (featuring alternative fiction in a dark form), The Walker and other stories ( a collection of tales that preyed on sharp twists and strange surreal endings) and The Words in Me, a collection of contemporary poetry, wrapping questions around the fragilities of the human self.

Bousfield found herself, watching the entire process with fascination.

"I found that many other authors were taking this route via Lulu. etc. but was interested to see that Skint (shall I call him Derec, now?) was doing it all by himself through his own publishing company. Later, Derec put a call out to writers who were interested in doing the same thing.
All my signposts said yes, so I sent him my manuscript and the rest is history."

Interestingly, history didn't mean the Lulu route at all. Derec admired Bousfield's writing so much, he would invest in his own finances to publish Coven of One straightaway in traditional paperback.

This being the rare but wonderful episode replayed from yesteryear where a publisher truly believed in his author no matter how rare, original or eccentric the form and before conglomerates would eat up a great deal of small alternative presses with the exception of poetry, and marketing gimmicks would combine with commercial saleability, to call the shots for the book-buying industry.

But Bousfield continues to see so much more than that. Armed with a big vision, it is perhaps the sparkle of a professional relationship that counts through and through.

"I think we chose each other," she reflects. "We share a quirky sense of humour. He puts up with my dreadful humour and overuse of certain words. The real joy is that I have found someone who works at my pace (fast), understands me as a writer and knows my characters as well as I do.

"Also, Derec's a top blogger and very professional. After what seemed like an interminable wait, for him to peruse my words, he came back with adjectives that blew me away. He loved it, I loved it, we loved it, the deal was done and the process started."

Not that Bousfield hasn't experienced her fair share of heartache and rejection.

"I once waited 9 months for a rejection slip to come through the door. It's madness, long drawn and madness. We proved a point with Coven, a huge point. When two minds want to achieve the same goal, it can be done in a very short space of time.

Counting this October 31, the book would have taken just a few months to be readied for the shops.

Bousfield counts her relationship with Derec who heads Opening Chapter, as held steady by trust and simple understanding. She sees it as the kind of friendship a publisher and writer rarely share. "I can be rude to him as well which is important.

"Another real bonus was that I had a lot of say in the cover, something I felt strongly about. Derec knew this was important to me and why shouldn't it be? The cover is a reflection of the words inside and so many times, I have failed to see this connection with books already on the shelf.

Today, the infant success of Coven of One continues to be surreal for Bousfield. It is after all the hope of every writer to see their work in print and for her to claim excitement would simply be "the understatement of the year."

Bousfield's Writing Days

"The best time to write would be first thing in the morning but if I had the chance I would carry on and write all day.

"If undisturbed and the juices are flowing, I can write for hours at a time but I have a day job, a family and a house to run so writing is usually lmited to evenings and weekends. "

Family is all to Bousfield but she claims that she "could not look after them if she did not feed her spirit as well and that one cannot exist without the other."

Bousfield sleeps about 5 to 6 hours, rising at 6.30am on weekday mornings. She often checks her blog while drinking morning tea. Bousfield works in a school for children with special needs . The rest of her day is spent ferrying her kids, shopping on the way home from work, tidying, cooking and feeding the cat.

Throughout, her sardonic humor prevails.

"I have become an expert at not seeing dust and the rest of the jobs are saved for holidays when I ignore them and do some more writing!" At this point, I almost picture a giggle.

"Weekend is catch-up time. Sleep, housework, family, blogging, friends. I love cooking when it is for a reason, not just the everyday boring stuff. I make my own bread and yogurt and I can rustle up a mean paella, when I feel inclined. I also treat myself sometimes to a great escape.
Spending time completely and utterly on my own. Not selfishness, just self-care."

Other éscape routes designed for pleasurable destinations include reading in the bath with a glass of wine and sandwich. Here Bousfield has no favourites except perhaps for Bach's Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. "Any author who can draw me in with their painted words will find me coming back for more. I am open to anyone and anything although I have a slight leaning towards science fantasy."

Bousfield who watches very little tv and sees writing as pure relaxation also owns up to other pleasures that include "being partial to a spot of drinking, dining out and camping in remote parts of the country. Oh...and buying shoes. "You can't find any high heels on a beach in Cornwall," she laments.
Writing Spots by Kate Bousfield

"My favourite writing place would be in the garden but since I started blogging, I have to be somewhere in the house to pick up the signal from the router. I like to write and blog at the same time. Otherwise, I could probably write anywhere as long as I had a comfortable chair. What am I saying? I write anywhere and everywhere and have been known to stop the car and ferret in my bag for pen and paper. I'm a saddo!

"I write novels mostly on keyboard but I love to write poetry by hand, out in the open. Handwriting is fast becoming an art form. When was the last time you received a handwritten letter from a friend?

"I am not a neat writer. I have the usual collection of help books, quotes, dictionaries etc but I am also surrounded by my collection of ínspire-ments. These range from cards, worry dolls, a brass Shiva, a tin of my children's teeth ("don't ask'') and a candle that I used to light before I sent anything off."
A Parting Hand Clasp

Perhaps when it comes to the subject of spirituality and the rich wholeness from where it chooses to shape and define an artist, I shall remember Bousfield or as I had written, how she is more popularly known to her writer, poet and painter friends' online as Minx, for the following:

Once I had written a comedy on an old Indian quarter in Kuala Lumpur from where I had seen a little Tamil schoolgirl, pretty giggly as much as she was wolfish, desperately beckoning a handsome youth on his motorbike. She was obviously, a secret admirer. Vanga, vanga, she shouted boldly stretching her hairy hand and displaying vampire teeth that beckoned him to come to her. He zoomed off very quickly to where I suspected, was Timbuktu. Vanga was a Tamil word(used in Chennai, India) and I didn't know what she meant. Amongst the comments, this is what Minx wrote:

Deary Miss Bootiful Susan,
I am admirin' your writing afar 100 days ago. I so lovin you's words and I dancin, vanga, vanga, voom!
Posted by Minx @ 8:29 PM #....

...her own delicious humour outweighing mine and to which I happily took a backseat because it made me laugh so much.

And then there was that sudden thoughtful reflection of how in later years I had started to imitate my parents'hand gestures. This is what Minx said, all at once serious and pensive.

I had forgotten that my lovely mum used to clasp her hands when she slept, my children did it when they were tiny. Thanks for bringing this back! Posted by Minx @ 4:44 AM #

I suppose it was the poetry of these simple lines that caught my heart. And if that isn't the beauty of spirituality in its purest form, I really don't know what else the enchantment of Bousfield's lines could possibly be.

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