A slight detour from my regular posts on fashion, design and film, today I give you an interview with Elanor Dymott author of the suspense novel Every Contact Leaves a Trace. Elanor wrote the book at the Library and also features the building and its surroundings in some very crucial parts of the story.
BIG ISSUE NORTH: Author Q&A
By Antonia Charlesworth
Were you familiar with seafaring before writing Slack-Tide and why is the metaphor a good one for telling the story of the love affair between your two central characters?
I’m happier in the sea than on dry land, but I’m a swimmer not a sailor. Newborn, I took my first sea swim at Carthage. Before I was two, my family came to the UK via West Africa, and settled briefly on the Cornish coast. My childhood reading was shot through with novels about long sea voyages, and I’ve spent much of my life at one shoreline or another. I’m told the Dymotts were Dorset seafarers once…
Royal Literary Fund: Writers Aloud
Writers Aloud is an audio series about writing and life, which features and is produced by RLF writers.
Where My Writing Comes From
A conversation with Robin Blake about storytelling’s essential role in the British legal system, how I migrated from reporting the law to fiction, and the origins of some of the recurrent themes in my writing.
Royal Literary Fund: Vox Podcasts
Vox is a series of bite-size audio recordings in which RLF writers explore topics around writing. Here are a few of mine.
How I Write
‘As the story develops, corridors are re-positioned and walls punctuated by gates that were never there. This helps me to resolve problems in the narrative, or invent new scenes.’
Writers Who Inspire Me
‘I learned about waypoints, sky countries, meteoro-glyphs, flying by instruments only, and whiteouts; it’s not just a book about flying though, there’s poetry here, and metaphysics.’
Why I Write
‘Leafing through those Nevada months I find a photo of a green pick-up truck and remember open roads, low slung hills, ghost towns, dust balls, camping in the woods, climbing ladders in the Mesa Verde National Park.’
The Best Advice I Ever Received
‘She’d come across the opening buried deep in another chapter. Re-reading that early version and drawing up her plan, the scene had emerged as if by magic.’
I read The Ghost Rider and loved being properly frightened
The Ghost Rider by Ismail Kadare
A brother rises from his grave to keep his promise of bringing his sister home from a far-off land. Or does he? In retelling this ancient Albanian legend, Kadare examines that universally shared aspect of grief whereby we long to see our dead again. Exploring what happens when fantasy becomes reality, he weaves in other stories without once letting up his narrative drive. I read it at night and loved being properly frightened.
Book of a Lifetime: Slaughterhouse 5, By Kurt Vonnegut
According to Ford Madox Ford, a novelist wishing to “get a man in” must capture the gradual making of an acquaintance which happens in real life: a strong impression at the outset, followed by a working backwards and forwards over his past. A first meeting with a gentleman in one’s golf club, Ford notes, is the start of a process which cannot accurately be reflected by working a life chronologically.
For years, I had a jumbled and imprecise awareness of the author of Slaughterhouse 5. My golf club meeting with Vonnegut (pictured) came in the form of a newspaper article. By graphs mapped onto a horizontal “Beginning/ Entropy” axis and a vertical “Good Fortune/ Ill Fortune” one, he demonstrated classic storylines. Hamlet, he said, when mapped in such a way, is no apparent masterpiece. What makes it recognisable as one, he explained, is the fact that its author tells us the truth.
In Cornwall, the end of September, walking the coast to St Ives. A slight chill in the air but the sun still warm on my face. I’ve booked a night at Gurnard’s Head and then, tomorrow evening, return to London.
Zennor village is not far off now; a quiet stretch in any season. I wanted to be on my own and it’s worked. The path has been mine for the past five days and I’m assuming things will stay that way. So when I see him ahead I’m surprised and half-hang-back, easing my pace and hoping he’ll speed up and vanish. Instead he slows down, glances in my direction once or twice. When he comes to a halt altogether I consider changing course but decide against it, resolving to say a quick “Good afternoon” and keep myself to myself.
We draw level at Porthmeor Cove. His opening gambits are reasonable enough: he made a pre-dawn start from Land’s End and wants to reach the inn at Gurnard’s Head by suppertime; he’s worried he might have missed the turning; his iPhone’s dead and he’s forgotten the map for that part of the route, so could he look at mine?
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
In her own words, here is Elanor Dymott’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Every Contact Leaves A Trace:
This is a novel about the damage that’s done when cherished people or cherished possessions are lost or taken away. It’s about our desire for their return; the spaces that are left behind; and it’s about grief and how we feel it. I built up this playlist over the time I was writing my book and I’d always write with it on. It falls into two groups and I’ve taken a few tracks from each.
Writing a novel at the British Library
British Library website
Calling a Tune
Untitled Books Blog
Elanor looks back on the coincidental encounter that led to her novel, and on her approach to characterisation and storyline.
I’d walked to the Piazza di San Lorenzo and was leaving the Basilica and crossing the square when I noticed a café with tables in front. A couple came out with tea, taking blankets from a pile by the door and wrapping themselves up. There were braziers between the tables, and as this pair of lovers warmed their hands I decided to do as they had and sat shrouded against the cold.
Our tables were close enough for me to discover they were on their honeymoon, and Londoners like me. Having talked about their day, and their plans for the evening to come, they fell silent, taking books from their bags and beginning to read. After a time, the woman threw hers down with a sigh and an affectionate argument ensued about what was or wasn’t an acceptable way for a writer to conclude a novel.
The truth, the whole truth or a version of the truth…
Jon Snow & Elanor Dymott, with Paul Magrath, discuss ‘The truth…’ as part of ‘Encounters’, a series of discussions hosted by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales and filmed at The Old Court Room, Lincoln’s Inn, London.
Click on the image to watch the video.
Interview, and Reading Guide to Every Contact Leaves A Trace
W W Norton website
You were born in Zambia and have lived all over the world, including West Africa, Singapore, Indonesia, and the United States. Have these experiences influenced your writing?
These experiences have left their mark in various ways. I grew up understanding that I was neither here nor there, that I didn’t belong anywhere. Living in different countries and attending a string of schools meant that I was always on the outside of situations. My father was a mining engineer, which meant my family relocated frequently and sometimes suddenly, so I grew up with a sense that things might change at any moment. In an unpredictable childhood, books were a constant, and I got used to the idea that the rhythm of a story would give me certainty. As soon as I learned to read, I became a bookworm, and now I put that obsessive impulse down to the fact that fiction gave me stability.
Conversation with Kari Moran
Kari Moran’s Book Radio Show
Blackwell’s Bookshop, Oxford
Zola Books Interview
Zola: While Rachel plays a large part in the novel, the two central characters are male. Did you find it difficult writing from a male perspective?
Elanor Dymott: No, I didn’t. Once I had their voices in my head and felt I really knew them, I didn’t think twice about it. I was writing Alex, and writing Harry, rather than”writing from a male perspective.”
Most of my colleagues in my more-than-decade in the legal world were men. So were the judges whose judgments I was reporting every day. And my college tutors who helped me with the novel. I play jazz flute, and it’s a rare thing to share a stage with a woman. I grew up in a family of men, and with a very few significant exceptions, the people I’ve been closest to in my life are all men.
In terms of Alex as a first-person narrator, I’d gathered a collection of my favourite male-first-person-narrator novels (among them were The Good Soldier, The Great Gatsby, The Remains of the Day, Gilead, The Catcher in the Rye) and re-read them a few times before starting properly on Every Contact Leaves A Trace. Once I’d written it, some male friends and colleagues were very generous in helping me to fine-tune Alex’s responses, dreams, characters, actions, feelings.