Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sorts of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.

Today I’m welcoming Vanessa to the tearoom. Welcome.

My apologies for the delay in my visit, Paula. Everything seems to take me seventy times longer with this pandemic going on.

We do understand, but we are very luck in the clubhouse, that we are not affected by what’s happening outside our borders. First let sort out our drinks, shall we?

Could I have a chai tea, please.

Of course you may. Let’s start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?

From my earliest days, it has always been fantasy fiction. My mother read The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia to me when I was about five and I’ve been lost in magical and spooky worlds ever since.

Which writing elements do you think is your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?

I build worlds that I think are unique and intriguing. I do a good job throwing in unexpected, charming details that make the setting come to life. I would like to get better at creating undercurrents of tension that keep the reader roped to the story from beginning to end.

Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?

I’m working on a dark fairytale called The Tale of the Two-Faced Witch. It has scientists, a coven of witches and a clockwork house. It’s a relatively new idea. I’ve been asking myself what kind of books I want to be writing and this came out of that soul-searching

Vanessa Grossman

How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?

Right now, there are 4: The first book and a half of a trilogy called The Greatest Deviation, then there’s The Two-Faced Witch, and another dark fairytale called White Vixen. I also have a mile-long memo on my phone that has six or seven other half-baked ideas.

Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter, or let the characters lead you?

I usually start with a short synopsis laying out major plot points and characters. After I’ve written the first few chapters, I usually go back and make a more detailed outline. I use Scrivener for writing and my “Research” folder is always stuffed with notes and descriptions.

Choosing only five of your favourite authors. Can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?

  1. Margaret Atwood – I am obsessed with the way she creates everyday settings with elements of the fantastic woven in. She has a way of creating an undercurrent of pain for her characters that is so engaging for me. Her visions of the future are disturbing and uncomfortably possible.
  2. Mervyn Peake – Titus Groan is my favorite book. Peake creates an encapsulated world that is filled with characters you find yourself both horrified by and yet deeply in love with. He is unabashedly weird and his illustrations are charming.
  3. Richard Adams – His books are straight up emotionally scathing. I’ve never read something by him that left me unchanged. I’ve never been able to read any of his books more than once, knowingly putting myself and the characters back through their agonizing journey. Yet, each of his books lingers in my memory with crystal clear detail in a way very few others can do.
  4. Jeffrey Ford – The way he unfolds his Well Built City and reveals his deeply flawed and often morally repugnant characters is amazing. His plots unfold slowly and take unexpected turns. I wish I could write stories half as dripping with menace and pathos.
  5. Lois McMaster Bujold – Her stories move in an unadorned and linear fashion, usually with a single POV and a main character with a clear and well-developed voice. I admire her uncluttered stories and atypical main characters. (Middle-aged women galivanting through the wilderness and solving supernatural mysteries? Yes, please!)

Were any of your characters inspired by real people?

Most of my female characters reflect aspects of myself. In The Underwest, Alma’s anxiety and lack of a voice of her own is very much how I remember being at that age. Her brother Waylon, who has autism, has some similarities to one of my brothers (and to my daughter, who is very much like him). Neither of them have autism, but they both have deeply introspective personalities that others often fail to understand.

What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?

I enjoy the research aspect of novel writing. My stories are usually set in the Industrial Revolution era. I did a lot of research on manufacturing and industry, steam power and tried to gain a rudimentary understanding of engines and clockworks. I also research any disorders or illnesses I give my characters because I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes. For The Underwest, I learned a lot about epilepsy.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

With the pandemic, the flow of my days has changed enormously. I usually work on my day job early in the morning, home-schooling mid-morning and then after lunch, I usually have a few quiet hours to myself. That’s when I do the most writing. That and any time there’s football being watched on the TV.

How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?

I LOVE naming characters, places, creatures, plants, breakfast cereals, anything! When I need to name something, I let my brain go quiet and the name just sort of floats up out of the abyss. I usually know very little about my characters when I start writing and get to know them as I go.

Thank you so much for joining us. when you are ready to leave Brutus will be waiting to take you.

If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Members’ Books, don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.

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