Welcome to another Friday Reads blog. My featured book this week is the fascinating debut novel, The Storytellers by Caron McKinlay. Let’s find out a bit more about the book, then get chatting to Caron.
Trapped between life and the afterlife, three women meet and share their stories while discovering the truth about the men in their lives—and about themselves.
Suspended in an eerie state of limbo, an entity called the Gatekeeper tells Nikki, Ronnie, and Mrs. Hawthorne they are on the cusp of entering the afterlife—but only if the women can persuade him that in their earthly lives, they knew the meaning of love.
Fragments of their memories return, plunging them back into their pasts, and forcing them to face the desires, disappointments, addictions, lies, and obsessions they battled in life.
But before time runs out, will they find the answer to the ultimate question: what is love?
“Darkly funny and completely compelling, with brilliantly flawed characters you can’t help rooting for, even when they’re bad.” —Frances Quinn, author of The Smallest Man
The Storytellers buy link: Amazon
Welcome to my blog, Caron. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I used to scare my sisters with ghost stories late at night. So, I guess storytelling caught me at a young age. But I come from a working-class community. My father was a coal miner and I always supposed that writing was something posh people did, not someone from a council estate like me. But when my father passed away, the only way I could deal with the emotional impact was to write a short story about his life. It appeared in an anthology published by the Scottish Book Trust and that gave me the confidence to think that I might be able to write a book people wanted to read. That was the genesis of ‘The Storytellers’.
Has any author inspired you?
I spend a lot of my time reading. I am an insomniac, and often stay up into the wee, small hours with a book in hand. I suppose two of the books that recently influenced me were Schwab’s 2020 ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ and Niffenegger’s 2003 ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’. But, being honest, I suspect every book I have ever read and enjoyed has had some sort of effect on me and what I write. So if I were to mention a third, it could be Brontë’s 1847 ‘Wuthering Heights’. I suspect some other authors and books from that near-two-hundred-year span crept up on me without me noticing!
What do you like writing most?
My first piece of writing, the short story I published back in 2019, was a from-the-heart account of my relationship with my dad who had recently passed away. And that essence, that everything I write should come from the heart, has stayed with me. So I have never thought of myself as having a style or a genre or a theme. All that matters to me is that what I write will, hopefully, reach out to other people and touch them with the same emotions I have when I am reading. To do that, I especially enjoy creating characters who have their own voice and who, hopefully, the reader will engage with. That said, I must admit that I do not especially enjoy the process of writing. I am always dissatisfied with what I have written and know it could be said better. In hindsight, if it had not been for external deadlines, I would probably still be re-writing the first chapter of The Storytellers!
Do you have a special place for writing?
I do. I write lying in bed. That is actually more common than you might think. Apparently Mark Twain. Marcel Proust, William Wordsworth, Truman Capote and even Winston Churchill all did it. Of course, that just applies to the mechanics of typing words into a laptop. The ideas have to come first. And they can arise anywhere and everywhere. One scene in ‘The Storytellers’ derives from a visit I paid to a shrine in Sicily. I was not aware of it at the time, soaking in the ambience, but somewhere deep inside, the writer me was taking careful note.
Are you a pantster or a plotter?
I am not comfortable until I have a more or less complete synopsis. But that can be misleading. You can plot the story and describe the character arcs. Then, when you start writing, the characters constantly surprise you, and you have to make adjustments. So although I have a pretty clear idea of where the story is going, I am not always sure how the characters are going to take me in that direction.
Is your writing ever inspired by your family or real life incidents?
I suspect most good writing in some way or another reflects the author’s life and I’ve written about jobs or places I know. In ‘The Storytellers’, part of the narrative reflects contemporary relations between men and women and, I claim, is an echo of what many, or most women, have experienced at least once in their lives. So while there may be no single episode in ‘The Storytellers’ that is exactly like any given incident, I like to think that the story as a whole represents something about how women’s life experiences unfold in today’s society. Of course, I also hope the reader will take away deeper truths about love, trust and hope.
What are you writing at the moment?
I am currently working on two ideas for my second book – both very different and I’m not sure which will survive!
What inspired you to write this book?
I am not sure what inspired me to write this book. But I think the general inspiration to write a book came from my father, who was an inveterate storyteller. I like to think that, as I was writing, he was looking at me from above and chortling with laughter when I got some funny scene just the way he would have told it. That said, I do think that my own feminism was an inspiration for some of the themes in the book. I always wanted to write a story about love, but I also wanted to address how women are often affected by the toxic behaviour of men. So, overall, my inspiration was to see if I could combine those two themes!
What time of the day do you write best?
Unfortunately, I have never quite worked that out. On occasions, weeks will pass when I write screeds of material, only to delete it all as unsatisfactory. Then, at other times, I will be caught up in a flurry of creativity and write for hours. I know there are famous authors who set themselves a rigid daily routine. But I do not think I will ever be one of those, although I admire their routine.
What are your hobbies?
I have two young grandsons and a love of reading. There is no time for anything else.
What advice would you give to other writers?
Keep writing. Find some people whose literary views you trust and send them drafts. There are online writing communities where you can find like-minded folks who will offer honest opinions if you are willing to do likewise in return. When you have a completed manuscript, that is just the start. Take the process of approaching agents seriously. Your ‘pitch’ letter and your synopsis have to be as good as you can make them. Again, seek out others’ views on whether they work or not. And most importantly find your tribe to support you. Writing can be a lonely place.
Lovely talking to you, Caron. I hope your book flies!
Caron grew up in a mining town on the east coast of Scotland where her dad would return from the pit and fill her life with his tall tales. She never thought about making a career in writing – that was what posh people did, not someone from a working-class council estate.
However, her father’s death was the cause of deep introspection and her emotions gave birth to a short story, Cash, which was published in the Scottish Book Trust’s anthology, Blether. This gave her the confidence to try and believe in herself.
When not blogging, reading, and writing, Caron spends her time with her daughters. She doesn’t enjoy exercise – but loves running around after her grandsons, Lyle and Noah, to whom she is devoted.
Caron had three childhood dreams in life: to become a published author, to become a teacher, and for David Essex to fall in love with her. Two out of three ain’t bad, and she’s delighted with that.
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