Sarah Vincent, the author of the compelling novel, The Testament of Vida Tremayne, has kindly agreed to an interview here. I became hooked on her gracefully-written book while browsing at Amazon!
First, a few words about the book.
It centers on the relationship between Vida, a blocked writer, and her resentful daughter Dory, a real estate agent. But the twist is the intrusion of a charming fan, Rhiannon, who has insinuated herself into Vida’s life. After Dory finds Vida collapsed in the kitchen unable to speak, her mother is hospitalized for post-traumatic stress disorder. Dory realizes she must stay for a while at her mother’s country house, named “The Gingerbread House” after the title of Vida’s first novel. She is startled to meet Rhiannon, a stranger who seems to have moved in. What is the relationship between the women? But Rhiannon, who identifies herself as a creative counselor, seems so sympathetic. Told partly in the form of Vida’s journal and partly in a third-person narrative from Dory’s point of view, this psychological thriller is a riveting read.
Mirabile Dictu: What inspired you to conceive of such a sinister situation and unusual triangle of characters?
Sarah Vincent: Firstly, thank you for the kind words, and for having me on your blog, Kat, it’s an honour to be in such fine company.
I wish I could say I had a blinding flash of inspiration while ironing the tea towels or walking the dog. I envy those writers who find the plot and characters arrive all neatly packaged in their heads. It doesn’t work like that for me. And I hate the idea of too much pre-planning with charts and so on. For me, it’s more a case of setting out to sea without a compass. I never know what I want to write until I’ve written it.
This novel evolved slowly. I work as an editor, so it had to be fitted in between clients, scribbled in fragments. I had no idea of how those fragments would fit together. All I knew was that I wanted to explore the creative process. Where does it come from? Does it falter, dry up with the menopause? The mother-daughter relationship is also a theme I keep returning to in my short fiction.
Originally I just had the two main characters, mother and daughter, Vida and Dory. Somewhere along the line, Rhiannon turned up. It was as if she’d just invited herself into the story. Rhiannon is clearly an archetype. She surfaced from my unconscious as I wrote, and then it seemed she’d always been there. The same thing happened with the creature, who pads through the pages, although I’d better not give too much away here.
Mirabile Dictu: Was it difficult to alternate voices and create this complicated structure?
Sarah Vincent: Again, while it does appear quite complex, the structure came about mainly by accident. It was tricky getting the dates right in the final edits! That said, the alternate voices felt natural. It can get a little dull writing from a single perspective, so the dual narrative suits me. Vida is dreamy and introspective, so it was good to offset that with Dory’s acerbic, worldlier voice.
Mirabile Dictu: Did any writers influence you in the writing of The Testament of Vida Tremayne?
Sarah Vincent: In a word, no. Not for this novel anyway. Countless writers have influenced me over the years, but perhaps more in terms of style or approach than in subject matter.
Mirabile Dictu: Would you tell us about your other books and writing under two names?
Sarah Vincent: My short stories and the Y/A trilogy are all published under my own name, Susan Davis. The short fiction has been widely published in anthologies and magazines, and been short-listed for awards including the Asham. Some stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. I love this form, because it allows more artistic freedom than a novel. It’s strange how the stories seem to divide into two distinct types: there are the socially realistic stories and the supernatural or magic-realist ones. The latter will be coming out shortly in a new collection. ‘The Gingerbread Wife’, picks up on Vida’s novel within the novel of ‘The Gingerbread House.’ It should be published this April.
The Y/A trilogy was published by Random House back in the early noughties: The Henry Game, Delilah and the Dark Stuff, and Mad, Bad and Totally Dangerous. That was a magical period. They were huge fun to write and practically wrote themselves. Wish I could pull off that trick more often!
That said, writing adult fiction is my preference. When I discovered I’d written a psychological thriller, I needed a pseudonym. Sarah Vincent now feels more ‘me’ than Susan does.
Mirabile Dictu: What are you reading now and who are your favorite authors?
Sarah Vincent: Oh dear – how long have we got? I love unreliable narrators, and Jane Harris’s ‘Gillespie and I’ is one of my top ten favourites. Sarah Waters rarely disappoints, especially when she ventures into the supernatural. ‘The Little Stranger’ is impeccable, so much more than just another ghost story, it explores consciousness itself. Then there are writers like the late Elizabeth Taylor who was a genius. She wrote the kind of exquisite prose that makes other writers sigh. ‘Angel’ her classic about the writer Marie Corelli is a favourite, as is ‘Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.’ I also love Barbara Comyns: a quirky original voice with a touch of magic. My favourite of hers would have to be ‘The Vet’s Daughter.’ I’ve definitely got a leaning towards gothic. I’ve just finished ‘The Loney’ by Andrew Michael Hurley. It’s that rare thing, a truly beautiful literary page-turner. Finally, I can’t leave out the obvious suspects: Angela Carter, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Atwood, Nabokov, Alice Monro…I could go on.
Generally, I look out for something a little different in my reading, the kind of books that are hard to categorize like Scarlett Thomas’s brilliant, ‘The End of Mr.Y.’
I’d better stop there! Thank you for having me, Kat.
Mirabile Dictu: Thank you so much for the interview! I look forward to reading “The Gingerbread House.”
Sarah lives in the South Shropshire countryside with her husband and her Jack Russell terrier, Beryl. She writes in a converted coal shed at the back of the house. You can read more about her at her website:
And I posted about The Testament of Vida Tremayne here.