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Interview With an Author: Victoria Gosling

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Victoria Gosling and her debut novel, Before the Ruins
Author Victoria Gosling and her debut novel, Before the Ruins. Photo credit: Fiona Laughton

Victoria Gosling grew up in Wiltshire, England, and studied English Literature at Manchester University. She is the founder of The Reader Berlin, hosting salon nights in Berlin and writers’ retreats in Greece and Italy. She also organizes The Berlin Writing Prize. Her debut novel is Before the Ruins and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Before the Ruins?

Certain images haunt me. In this case, an empty and overgrown manor house, a temple by a lake, two lovers in a flooded city. They rather insisted I found a home for them. I also wanted to write about a woman who in mid-life finds herself trapped and effects a daring escape.

Are Andy, Peter, Em, Marcus, David, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Each contains a sliver of someone real and to really animate a character you must give them a sliver of yourself. All the rest belongs to them.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

To answer this question, I dug out the earliest draft. I had forgotten how many cuts I made. I wrote a lot of extraneous material as I tried to find the story, a lot of long scenes just to uncover a couple of lines. There’s nothing I regret cutting now other than a few of my skies. Left to my own devices I will write about skies all day.

Are the manor, or the diamonds and the story about them, based on or inspired by actual places and/or events?

The manor is inspired by a beautiful manor house I once visited as a teenager. We got drunk on the lawn, I slept in a Queen Anne bed and scuttled home the next morning back to my everyday life, never to return. The diamonds I probably stole from one of the stories I read as a child, maybe from The Moonstone or Agatha Christie. As for the plot of the book, I made that up. Although, the themes—hope, repair, love, friendship, liberation—are close to my heart. You don’t choose the themes.

Have you visited the cave paintings in France?

No. The caves were closed when it became clear that visitors were destroying them. However, more than a decade ago, I did a hike through the south of France with my dad, camping wild and stumbling on ruined castles. I had an affinity for it. The quality of light there is something else. Some places speak to you.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II, Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey and I’m rereading some Angela Carter short stories.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

That’s not easy because it’s hard to know your influences yourself. Someone else might see it better. I’d say
Daphne du Maurier
Graham Greene
Sarah Waters
Margaret Atwood
Tim Winton
I also have to mention Hanif Kureishi, whom I adore.

As a debut author, what have you learned during the process of getting your novel published that you would like to share with other writers about this experience?

You need some writer friends who encourage you and who will help you make your book as good as it can be before you send it out to agents. Often, they will see what you can’t. Then it’s good to know a bit about the industry. Go to a bookshop and think about which books your novel might sit next to. Try and make a game of it. Pitch some books you’ve recently enjoyed to an imaginary agent, then pitch your own. Find out who represents writers you like. Thing is, a lot of writers get all the way through writing a book and then fall down at the editing and sending-their-work-out stage because that’s when the rejections start coming. It’s painful and you have to be tough, take on board what’s useful and be your own champion. That’s also when you need those writer friends.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren, only I forgot the title for thirty years. One fateful night I told someone in a bar the story, about these two boys and their adventures beyond death, and they gave me back the title.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Loads! My parents were strict about what I watched on TV, but I could get away with bringing lots of grown-up books into the house. I hid the filthy ones under the bed. Books are far more corrupting than films. You have to collaborate with a book.

What is a book you've faked reading?

I studied English at university and I’m afraid there were quite a few tutorials I sat through sweating pretending to have read some classic or other and hoping not to be asked a question. Bartholomew Fayre by Ben Jonson was one. I was a terrible procrastinator as a student and that was a fine apprenticeship for writing.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

The Harpy by Megan Hunter. It’s so, so beautiful and menacing. Also, there’s an illustration from The Master & Margarita, of Margarita and her fellow witches naked on broomsticks flying over Saint Petersburg. A friend had it printed for me and now it hangs above my desk.

Is there a book that changed your life?

Yes, the ones I have written. By the time you finish a book, you’re a different person from the one who started it.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker. She also wrote Blow Your House Down. Before reading it, I only understood misogyny on the individual level, you know when some guy hates women personally. The book is about sex workers in a northern town in the 1970s during a series of murders. Reading it was an education in how society can hate women, or a subsection of them, and allow literally anything to happen to them.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Maybe Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. I first read it when I was about seventeen and found it utterly transporting. I reread it twice in my twenties and then again a few years ago, and the last time it had lost something for me. But perhaps meeting it afresh wouldn’t help. I suspect that to really love it again I’d need to be young.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox with my nephews. It was joyous! I love Wes Anderson. Watching The Grand Budapest Hotel for the first time was two of the most delightful hours I’ve ever spent.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Because of the pandemic, I’ve not been able to visit America and meet everyone who helped publish Before the Ruins. I’d love to get my US agents, Lucy and Molly Friedrich, my wonderful editor Caroline Zancan, my publicist Catryn Silbersack, author Flynn Berry who moderated my launch, plus a few others, all together in New York in a venue that fulfills every cliché of the city—and then drink lots of cocktails! And since I’ll be in the US, afterward I’d like to proceed directly to one of your fabulous national parks in California and #thruhike my way down to the ocean with my sweetheart.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

Q. Is it true you are a truly fantastic cook?
A. Modesty forbids me from answering.

What are you working on now?

Another novel and, and this is sort of top-secret but what the hey, a short story for a popular app that is going to be read by one of the world’s hottest young actors. I’m tempted to embed all kinds of secret messages in it, but as a professional, I will, of course, refrain.

Book cover for Before the Ruins
Before the Ruins
Gosling, Victoria