Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Gift of the Raven by Catriona Troth - Triskele Books giveaway week Day 4

Welcome to an awesome week brought to us by Triskele Books:

Day 1 - Complicit by Gillian Hamer
Day 2 - Tristan & Iseult by JD Smith
Day 3 - Tread Softly by JJ Marsh

Triskele Books Day 4

JJMarsh interviews Catriona Troth.

Gift of the Raven
by Catriona Troth
Paperback 104 pages
Expected publication: June 1, 2013

The people of the Haida Gwaii tell the legend of the raven - the trickster who brings the gift of light into the world. 

Canada, 1971. Terry always believed his father would return one day and rescue him from his dark and violent childhood. That's what Indian warriors were supposed to do. But he's thirteen now and doesn't believe in anything much. 

Yet his father is alive. Someone has tracked him down. And Terry is about to come face to face with the truth about his own past and about the real nature of the gift of the raven. 

JJ: Why did you choose to independently publish Gift of the Raven as a novella? And why now?

Catriona: I think I realised, as soon as I knew anything about the publishing industry at all, that a novella such as Gift of the Raven was unlikely to find a traditional publisher. Short form fiction had ceased to be economical for most publishing houses to handle – at least until you were well enough known that they could pretty much guarantee a certain volume of sales. So I put Gift of the Raven in a drawer and got on with other projects.

But one of the many way in which ebooks have revolutionised publishing is that they are revitalising short form fiction. Readers are finding they quite like to have a short story to read on their commute, or a novella they can consume in one sitting at home. And perhaps they’re also more willing to take a punt on a writer they’ve never heard of, knowing that if it doesn’t work out, they won’t have wasted too much of their time (or money).

So with these sorts of messages coming from experienced indie writers who understood the market, this seemed the perfect moment to grasp the opportunity offered by Triskele Books.

JJ: How far does your dual background in Britain and in Canada give you differing perspectives on a child who feels an alien?
Catriona: I think it’s absolutely central. We moved to Canada when I was seven, but then we moved around a lot. (I went to ten different schools altogether.) For the next twenty years, whichever side of the Atlantic I found myself, people commented on my accent and my vocabulary – sometimes teasingly, sometime critically – until eventually, when I’d settled in the south on England, I schooled myself into a sort of BBC English neutrality, just to shut everyone up. 

At the same time, my father was very much involved in issues of racism and refugees. I grew up surrounded by an United Nations of ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’, and hearing harrowing stories of persecution and narrow escapes from repressive regimes. To this day, I am a fierce supporter of organisations like Freedom From Torture – and narrow bigotry makes my blood boil.

What I experienced can’t begin to be compared with what people like that have suffered, but it did leave me with a fascination – and I hope an empathy – for those who find themselves caught between two worlds. I firmly believe that, ultimately, a dual heritage is a blessing. It gives you the ability to see things always from two perspectives, which adds a depth and a richness to life’s experience. Sometimes, though, you have to wade through a lot of crap before you can see it that way.

JJ: The story is set in the past, with echoes of further pasts. Is heritage and ancestry an important theme for you?

Catriona: Maybe because I had such a peripatetic childhood, I always have a sneaking suspicion that people with deep connections to their roots have something that I’m missing. It would certainly explain why I identify so strongly with my Welsh heritage, even though I am only half Welsh, have never lived in Wales and don’t really speak the language. My grandmother (my ‘nain’) lived with us when I was growing up, so I heard Welsh being spoken all the time and could follow the gist of a conversation. I grew up with Welsh stories and the poetry of Dylan Thomas – and above all, with the (sloe black, Bible black) Welsh humour ringing in my ears.

So, yes, to actually answer your questions, I do like to explore how characters connect with – or kick against, or try to rediscover – their various backgrounds.
JJ: You use the maple leaf as motif, but your story seems to show that our backgrounds – whether geographical, cultural or familial – need not define us. Is that a theme I drew out or had you planted that root?

Catriona: Ooh, interesting. I think I believe that our cultural heritage gives us the foundation on which we build our lives. To a degree, it will determine what we build – just as a house build on clay will have to be different in some ways to a house build on granite. But within those restrictions, it is up to us what we create. I think that’s where having a dual perspective – whether it’s from a dual heritage or just from having lived in more than one country – can give you tremendous creative power. It allows you to tell the difference between a hard boundary and a mere cultural convention. And conventions are there to be challenged!
JJ: What do you see as the advantages of publishing via a collective?
Catriona: I couldn’t have contemplated publishing independently without the support of the Triskele collective. First, you are sharing experience – from which publishing service to choose, to how on earth to complete the latest arcane form the process has thrown at you. Second, you have shared quality control. We all knew each other well enough to be bitterly honest about each other’s writing, so if we’ve past the collective reading test, we can be fairly sure what we are putting out isn’t complete rubbish. And seven pairs of eyes have a better chance of spotting stupid mistakes than one or two. And finally there is marketing. There is a limit to how many times you can say – hey, what about this book I’ve just published? And on your own, it’s easy to run out of steam trying to think of other approaches and other things to say. But with seven of you, there is usually someone who has just found a new market, or who has a new idea for something to talk about this week. It keeps the Triskele website fresh and exciting and makes us part of a whole family of independent authors.
JJ: Apart from short stories, I know you’ve been working on a novel. Can you tell us a little about the background and give us a hint as to when it comes out?
Catriona: My novel, Ghost Town, has been so long in the gestation it’s embarrassing. It actually began life as a sequel to Gift of the Raven. I had the idea that I would write three linked novellas. The second one would feature Terry grown up and established as an artist, and would really be the story of his future wife. But it became apparent pretty quickly that, while I could write about being a teenager in Canada in the 1970s, I couldn’t write convincingly about being an adult in Canada in the 1980s. I started casting about for a new location, and thought back to a time, just after I graduated, when I worked in a homeless shelter in Coventry. I knew it was a time when there were deep racial tensions in the city, but when I started to do the research, I found to my shame that there were more and deeper problems than I had realised when I was living there.

Ghost Town became my soul project (to steal an expression from Joni Rodgers). It was the story I had to tell and I worked and reworked it until it finally took the shape I wanted. With luck and a following wind, it will be coming out later this year.
JJ: Which book from your shelf do you feel demonstrates a strong sense of time/place?
Catriona: Oh – there are so many. A sense of time and place is something that I really connect with when I am reading a book. But I am going to pick one that maybe not so many people have heard of – and I choose it, not least because the author, like me, became a Canadian immigrant. It’s The Cowards by Josef Škvorecký.

The Cowards is set in a little town on the border between Slovakia and Germany, in the dying weeks of the Second World War. It perfectly captures what it’s like to be a teenager - self-obsessed, image conscious, writhing with hormones and muddled ideals. When all that comes hard up against the brutal realities of War, it’s as if Holden Caulfield has walked into the pages of Catch 22. It’s a book that deserves to be much, much better known.

Gift of the Raven is available now.

Read Catriona’s article in the Triskele Toolbox on how to reach your readers.

Catriona was born in Scotland and grew up in Canada before coming back to the UK. She has now lived in the Chilterns longer than she has ever lived in anywhere, a fact that still comes as a surprise.

After more than twenty years spent writing technical reports at work and fiction on the commuter train, Catriona made the shift into freelance writing. She now writes a regular column for Words with Jam literary magazine, researches and writes articles for Quakers in the World and tweets as@L1bCat

Gift of the Raven grew from a story that had been in her head for many years, but which crystallised after the birth of her daughter. Like much of her writing, it explores themes of identity and childhood memory – in this case set against a backcloth of Canada from the suburbs of Montreal to the forests of the Haida Gwaii.

Her first full length novel is Ghost Town.

Follow Catriona on Twitter @L1bCat
Find Catriona on Goodreads

For each day of the week, starting 26th May, a different Triskele Books author will be interviewed, and will offer a free e-copy of their book. And on Launch Day - June 1st - it's the Big Giveaway. All seven of the Triskele Books will be on offer for a signed paperback giveaway of whichever book(s) readers choose.

Catriona is offering an e-copy giveaway of Gift of the Raven

a Rafflecopter giveaway