Anybody who knows me will know that Carol Mason is one of my favourite all-time authors, so as you can guess, I’m super excited to welcome her back to Literature Love for a chat today.
So, Carol, WOW what a corker of a read The Shadow Between Us was! Your writing career seems to have exploded in the last couple of years, with each book just getting better and better, if that’s possible. If I had to choose, I would say The Shadow Between Us is my favourite. It’s a little different from your other books: darker more Female Noir than your usual Women’s Fiction. Was this a conscious decision from the start, or did the darker theme progress as you wrote your first draft?
Thanks so much for having me back, Callie! That’s a great question. The novel is still considered women’s fiction, but of course within that genre there is room to move and grow. This story was one I wanted to write for years – from back when I first began novel-writing. I’m not sure I was mature enough to be quite ready for it back then. I always knew what Olivia’s big secret was that she was carrying around. I’d imagined this very thing happening to myself for years, and that felt to me like it might make a fascinating topic for a novel. But the final twist to the story was a surprise. I had finished the book and was troubled by how straightforwardly I’d managed to write it. I usually labour over the writing process, and at times it can be quite excruciating, and yet this one had almost written itself. And yet something was nagging at me. I felt there needed to be something else to explain why Olivia and her husband had been driven apart – beyond what I’d hinted at in the story. Something that, if readers had guessed her secret by the time it is revealed, would blow them away at the end. And then quite out of the blue it came to me, and then everything about the story made sense. This was it! I thought. This was what made the story much more emotionally complex. I was terrified my editor wouldn’t agree, but she did.
I love the fact that small, seemingly inconsequential things, early on in The Shadow Between Us tie up later in the book, culminating into that powerful and shocking twist at the end. What do you think makes a good story?
For me, it’s character over plot every time. I can settle for a less event-filled read if I am engrossed by the plight a character finds herself in. If I can ask myself how would I react in her shoes? If I can empathise with her and get her every step of the way – even when I don’t fully agree with her decisions or actions. She needs to be massively real to me, or I’m just not invested in the story. I also need beautiful writing where I might be drawn to re-read bits. If it all sounds too “off the top of the author’s head” it doesn’t feel special to me. Good writing makes a story sing from the rooftops. But of course there does need to be an actual story, and even with simple ones, they need to make a big impression. I think the marriage of all those elements is what makes a novel great for me.
My first question mentions writing of the first draft. What does your writing process entail: from the first snippet of an idea to the final edit? And how long is each process?
Yikes. The process is long. Haha. I usually get what I think is a good idea and then I live with it for a little while, playing it over in my mind. Very often when I try to mentally shape it into a book I end up thinking it just hasn’t got legs. Sometimes that means I abandon it, and other times it keeps poking at me so I come back to it and try to re-think it. I usually ask myself at that point if it has all the ingredients that people seem to enjoy in my books. You can write a story like this one which is a little darker than, say, The Last Time We Met, which was a much earlier book in my career, but there are similar elements to them. For example, I will ask: Is there a heart-wrenching dilemma? Is it heart-warming? Ultimately uplifting even though it might not seem it’s going to turn out that way? What is complicated about the characters that will really make them live? Will there be a surprise or two? Will the ending satisfy? If I find myself saying YES to all of those, then I feel I have a story that I can write. I then usually try to think of the book in thirds. I will have a sense of a beginning and the ending, but the rest is a blur. So I will try to figure out what happens in the first third, then once I’ve written that, I will try to work out the next third etc. I have a few key plot points that I write to guide me but the rest is just a wing and a prayer! Once I’ve got a first draft – which takes usually about 6 months, then I feel I’ve got a story I can develop to the next level. Then I breathe out a bit and start to get excited about the next draft where I’m going to be adding layers to the story. I usually do about 3 or 4 drafts before showing it to my editor. Once they read it and give feedback, it goes through 1 or 2 more drafts, then a copy edit, then a proof-read. By then I am elated I’ve accomplished it, but so relieved it’s over!
Do you have a preferred writing space?
I write in a room at the front of my house. I bought myself a nice big desk that I said would always be kept looking like desks in those beautiful photo-shoots of people’s work spaces, but it’s always littered with papers, coffee cups, cat toys, lip balm, socks, you name it. I seem to write best there. I can edit on my laptop on the couch, but I don’t find I actually compose very well unless I’m at my desk. No writing at the beach for me! And coffee shops would be way too distracting as I’m too much of a people-watcher.
You mention in the acknowledgements that your own mum came up with the title for The Shadow Between Us. This is a great title: intriguing, yet so obvious once you’ve read the book. And those gorgeous book jackets, each with a different dress: all so similar, yet different too. Seeing them all together makes my bookshelf feel like a mini wardrobe! How much input have your publishers allowed you to have with things like titles and jacket design?
Luckily I have come up with all my titles except for The Secrets of Married Women. As for this one, I had various titles that were very close to The Shadow Between Us, but not quite it. I read them all to my mother and she pulled various faces then said, well what about The Shadow Between Us? And I thought, perfect! My fabulous publisher, Lake Union, designed some gorgeous covers for my novels. They do all look like a family – which is what they’re trying to achieve for marketing/branding purposes. What I love is there are no heads and faces. I don’t like seeing a literal interpretation of a character, and prefer to have a bit of mystery and use my imagination as a reader. I like them because they’re a little edgy, very simple, they show hands and tension which hints to the story. Lake Union are very good in that they give me a great deal of input. If I felt a direction was very wrong for my books I’d feel comfortable (ish) to say that. But fortunately that hasn’t happened!
The letter-writing club in The Shadow Between Us is set in a café; coffee, cake and books seem to just go so well together don’t they! Your own social media is full of delicious, mouth-watering meals, that you have made yourself. How do you manage to fit in the time to make such scrumptiousness within your busy writing schedule?
I have a rule that during the week I must be able to make dinner in 20 minutes so I’ve got a few recipes down to a fine art. Though that means we often eat the same stuff. I get a bit more fancy on weekends as I love to cook so I relax that way. But mainly I am a foodie and can’t handle junk or too much ordering in. Plus I always have some cake on the go. My main one is a chocolate cake recipe I’ve tweaked over time. I make one weekly and give some to my mother, hide the rest from my husband, and have myself a slice with my cup of tea at 10AM.
It’s been less than five months since the Last Time We Met, and less than two years since the publication of After You Left. You must be left feeling quite dizzy! Are you going to take a break? Or are you diving straight into your next book?
You have to pretty much dive back in. I think breaks are for people who write faster than I do. The Last Time We Met and The Secrets of Married Women were re-releases though I did a lot of work to them, so I have been very busy since getting published with Lake Union. But I had plenty of years striving to be published so you won’t find me complaining!
Thanks for dropping by Carol and for giving a glimpse into your life as a writer. In my opinion, The Shadow Between Us is your best book yet, and I wish you all the success in the world with it. READERS GO ORDER IT NOW – YOU WILL LOVE IT!!
You can read my review here:
If you would like to purchase this book, links to major UK book outlets are listed at the bottom of the review.