Interview – Cassandra Golds

Yesterday we posted our review of ‘The Three Loves of Persimmon’, a brilliant novel about love, heartbreak, and everything in between, and you can read that here.
And if you’re looking for more, we’ve also had the chance to interview the fabulous Cassandra Golds, author of the book.

Welcome Cassandra!

Q1. ‘The Three Loves of Persimmon’ was an absolutely adorable novel that conveyed emotions so well! Can you tells us a little bit about how you got the idea for the book and how that idea progressed into the final, amazing, product?

I’m glad you found it adorable! There were probably three main components to the idea for Persimmon. The first was seeing a mouse on

Photo by Jo Negrine-Aiello

the railway line on Town Hall station in Sydney one day. I remember I was staring down absently at the gravel between the sleepers when it dawned on me that what I was looking at was moving. It was a very curious experience, a shift in perception. At first it seemed like the gravel itself had come to life. Then I realised I had been staring at a mouse without knowing it. I was very struck by the sense of revelation this gave me — it was like a key change in a piece of music. (I was also astonished that a mouse apparently lived so close to the trains!) The second thing was, I remember thinking one day in a cafe that my most painful romantic experiences would make a good fairy tale if I wrote about them in that style. Thirdly, one morning before I woke up properly I remember having this idea for a book where the two main characters only met once. I thought their stories could be separate but moving all the time towards each other, until they intersected. And I thought the intersection would be the turning point of the story.

Q2. I presumed ‘The Three Loves of Persimmon’ to be set historically; what period did you intend to set it in, and what sort of research did you have to do for the novel?

For some reason I always had the idea that it would be set in the Belle Epoque — around about 1910. My other two books are set earlier — Clair-de-Lune is set in the 1850s and The Museum of Mary Child in about 1810. But Persimmon seemed to belong among the Art Nouveau posters of artists like Mucha and Steinlen. I’m very interested in literary history (and art history, and the history of fashion!) so I didn’t really have to do any special research. I drew on what I knew already. (Except when I needed to check something in particular — for example, when did underground railways start, and were steam trains used? If so what happened to the steam?) The setting is deliberately vague — I just kind of situate myself in the milieu of a particular period of writing.

Q3. What most surprised and challenged you about the road to publication? Was this journey any different to those of your previous books?
It was different. When I finished Clair-de-Lune and Penguin accepted it for publication, I was very keen to write something new as soon as possible (mainly because there had been such a long gap between my first and second published novels, and I didn’t want that to happen again). I already had notes on Persimmon and several other possible stories stored away in my ideas file, and when I looked them over I decided to start work on Persimmon. When it was about two-thirds finished, however, I started to have this mysterious urge to begin writing The Museum of Mary Child. I had had the idea for that book  for a long time, too — but suddenly it started to gnaw at me with a terrible sense of urgency. It didn’t seem sensible to leave a book two-thirds finished, and I resisted at first, but there were things about the ending of Persimmon I couldn’t quite make my mind up about: I knew what was going to happen between Persimmon and Epiphany, but I wasn’t quite sure how to resolve Persimmon’s romantic journey. (I thought it possible that she should end the book single…) So I decided to give in and write The Museum of Mary Child instead. Trouble was, it took three years to write, and when I’d finally finished it, I wondered whether I would possibly be able to go back and finish Persimmon. But I read it over, and had an idea. The idea was The Station Master’s son! So he was written in last, if you see what I mean, and yet I feel as if he was always there without my knowing it. I finished it very quickly after that, and much to my delight, Penguin liked it enough to publish it!
Q4. What are two random things we don’t know about Persimmon and Epiphany?

1. The scene towards the end of the book where Persimmon comes upon Epiphany in a very terrible predicament actually happened to me, in suburban Sydney once. I can’t say any more for fear of spoilers! But the whole incident is based very closely on fact.

2. The character of Persimmon was inspired by this Art Nouveau poster, by the artist Steinlen.

Q5. Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Do you outline, where do you write, do you have any requirements etc.
When I was a young writer (I had my first book accepted when I was 19) I was very disciplined — I used to plan everything to within an inch of its life. Planning and discipline are not bad things in themselves, but I went overboard (I don’t do things by halves) — and it got to the point, with me, where those sorts of habits were draining the energy out of my work. It was like I had put my Muse in a birdcage! Eventually she got miffed and stopped speaking to me. So I was forced to take a break from writing novels for a while, and that was very traumatic for me at the time. Fortunately, however, just at the point where I was thinking I might give up writing altogether, the opportunity arose to write The School Magazine cartoon — a string of serialised graphic novels with which I was involved for some years, and one of which, The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim, was published as a book by Penguin in 2005. Working with the superb artist Stephen Axelsen, and the inspired editor Jonathan Shaw, helped me to rediscover spontaneity in writing, and I’ve been aiming at that ever since. And my Muse is speaking to me again! I still make lots of notes, and I know where I’m headed, but I try to make as much as possible of it up as I go along. In effect, I try to have fun! Muses approve of fun.I have a special room set aside to write in. I have a framed map of Narnia on the wall above my computer, and I have had this beautiful poster, created by Pauline Baynes in 1974, ever since I was twelve years old.
Q6. That character that both confused and interested me the most was Gabriel; and I felt his story wasn’t entirely complete. What inspired you to write about Gabriel, and why did he react the way he did to Persimmon’s advances?
That is a very difficult and searching question to answer. I suppose Gabriel is a character who emerged from the shock of my first encounter with misogyny — that is, the hatred of women as a kind of philosophical standpoint. I had heard of it, but only in books and songs, and when I actually encountered it in real life (which didn’t happen until well after I was grown up) it was a very deep shock to me. I just couldn’t get my head around the terrible fact that some men really do hate women (although this doesn’t necessarily stop them falling in love and marrying, and they are probably not aware of their own problem). So you see, I don’t really understand Gabriel either — all I know is that I’m terrified of him, and that it is a very bad idea to fall in love with a man who has this characteristic. Trouble is, it’s not always easy to recognise at first glance…
Q7. During an apocalypse, which character from ‘The Three Loves of Persimmon’ would you have with you and why?
Oh, the Station Master’s son, Martin Devine, because I feel sure that, when push came to shove, he would always know whether to kick a football round a field, sit down and read a book, or do a mysterious third thing that you couldn’t quite put your finger on, depending on the circumstances.
Q8. If you could have any skill and be absolutely awesome at it (other than writing, since you’ve already got that ^-^), what would it be?
Tap dancing. I love all forms of dance, and studied ballet as a girl, but I never did tap, and how I do love to watch it! I tremendously admire actors and singers too, and really, I’d love to be what is called on Broadway a Triple Threat — that is, an actor/singer/dancer who is equally skilled at each discipline, and be in stage musicals! But I think writing is really what I was cut out for, hem, hem.
Q9. Why did you choose to write for young adults and what other genres would you consider branching out into?
Well, I’ve always wanted to be a children’s author, ever since I could remember, and I was a little surprised at first that The Museum of Mary Child, and then The Three Loves of Persimmon, have been classed as YA. But I’m very happy to be a YA author if that’s how people see me. I think the reason I write for young people is that I have never really recovered from the intense effect the children’s books I read as child had on me — and although I’m quite widely read in what might be called the classics of adult literature — particularly 19th century authors like Dickens — and love them to death! — my loyalty remains with those first experiences. I’ve really never had any interest in writing a book specifically for adults, although I don’t think there’s any reason why adults should avoid reading young people’s literature.
Q10. What one thing do you hope your readers take away from The Three Loves of Persimmon?
All you need is love! (And love is everywhere…)
The Final 5 – Can you tell us 5 interesting facts about yourself?
1. I have never lived in a house. I’d like to be able to say that I grew up in a gypsy caravan… but actually my father was a high school teacher who had became a publican by the time I was born, and so I grew up with my mother and sister in the upstairs areas of hotels (lots of winding halls and rooms to play in!). My grandparents had an old-fashioned block of residential flats, built by my great grandfather in 1935, all Art Deco (I love Art Deco) — so when I stayed with them I was upstairs again. And when I grew up I moved into a sixth floor unit near the ocean, and I’ve lived there (up twelve flights of stairs — I always take the stairs) ever since.
2. I have played both Liesel (the eldest girl in Sound of Music) and Fagin (in Oliver!) in high school musical productions. I am surprisingly versatile.
3. I have a grandmother who turned 100 this year. Her name is Minnie, and when she was 15 she was so good at dancing that she won a Charleston competition. She really belongs at one of Gatsby’s parties!
4. I studied classical ballet as a girl (and my book Clair-de-Lune is informed by that) but I was much better at “character” — Russian/Spanish/folk dancing — than I was at ballet itself.
5. When I was about five or six, and living upstairs at a hotel in the outer Western suburbs of Sydney, we had a flock of white fantail pigeons at pets. They were the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. And so cheerful and friendly, gently pecking seed out of your hand. I have loved pigeons ever since.
It was an absolute delight working with Cassandra – she’s just so lovely! Cassandra, we hope you enjoyed answering our questions as much as we enjoyed writing them for you! “The Three Loves of Persimmon’ is officially on my ‘awesome books of 2010’ list. :)
If you would like to know more about Cassandra or her books, you can visit her website here, or catch up with her on Twitter here.
– Sas

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