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Sunday, 26 June 2011

Interview with Simon and Schuster Free Press Author Tamar Cohen

After reviewing The Mistress's Revenge June 14 on The Book Shelf blog as part of the Free Press Book Blog Tours project, author Tamar Cohen began following me on Twitter. When I took a chance of requesting an interview for Authors on Show, it was a pleasant surprise when she accepted.

The Mistress's Revenge (Free Press; Original Edition, 2011) is available in both paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon.

“A cracking debut. . . .very Fatal Attraction with a clever twist at the end. Addictive stuff.”

—The Bookseller

Tamar Cohen is a freelance journalist who lives in London with her partner and three teenage children. The Mistress's Revenge is her first novel.

1. Everyone has a story behind their first book. What inspired you to write your first book, The Mistress's Revenge?

Watching a friend go through a bitter break up, I was struck by the outlandishness of some of the schemes she came up with to get her own back on the man who’d dumped her. This was a normally very level-headed woman. Of course she never carried out any of the things she talked about, but it did make me think ‘what if…’? What if a woman was driven so crazy by rejection she actually followed through with those mad impulses? It was around the time of the Tiger Woods scandal, and the newspapers were filled with headlines about mistresses, and it reminded me that we still see the mistress as a figure of fear – she’s the outsider, the threat to home and hearth. I thought if you put those two things together – the mistress and the love-crazed woman, you’d have a very volatile and dangerous character.

2. For those not familiar with Sally Islip, give us a brief look inside
her character.

Sally is in her early forties, a mother-of-two whose life is pretty much falling apart. Her relationship with long-term partner Daniel, is floundering, her freelance writing career is drying up, and when her married lover Clive, ends their relationship quite brutally after five years, she starts to unravel. Some readers have said they find it hard to relate to Sally, but you have to remember she is writing the story in her journals, so you are effectively seeing the inside of her head. Let’s be honest, the inside of anyone’s head is not pretty. I’m sure most of us wouldn’t want anyone else to be privy to our basest thoughts or reactions. The other thing about Sally is that she is in the grip of an obsession, and the more obsessed she becomes with Clive and his family, the more neglectful she is of her own family, and indeed her own life. This makes her a grossly unreliable narrator.

3. Of all the characters in your book, who resembles you the most and why?

All the main characters in the book are in crisis, and people in crisis often act in desperate and ugly ways, so for that reason I’d hesitate to say any of them resembles me on a day to day level. However I’d be lying if I didn’t say I identify most with Sally. Sure, she turns into a stalker, and she neglects her kids, but if you take away those extremes of behaviour, she’s just a woman trying to come to terms with the sudden withdrawal of love. Plus she makes me laugh.

4. What can "the other woman" learn from reading books such as The Mistress's Revenge?

There are no moral lessons to be learned from The Mistress’s Revenge. It’s not that sort of book. If anything I think it illustrates how messy the fallout from an affair can be, for all parties. When I was writing it, I read widely on infidelity internet forums, and what comes across is how much everyone in this situation suffers. The problem for ‘the other woman’ I suppose is that when a love affair ends, she has to deal with the inevitable grief alone and in secret, which must make an anyway difficult situation immeasurably worse.

5. What is the message in your book? What are your readers’ reactions to it?

The book isn’t supposed to be a cautionary tale of any sort, but if there is a message it’s that the human heart is a very fragile thing and that if you open your heart to love and passion, you’re also leaving it wide open to betrayal and loss. There’s really just a hair’s breadth separating love from hate, and passion from obsession. Emotions are powerful, scary things and need to be treated with respect. As for reader responses, it’s interesting. Some readers have said that because they don’t like Sally as a character, they can’t identify with her situation, but overwhelmingly most people have recognized something of themselves in her. It’s a sort of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ type of recognition. Several people have said that reading the book is like watching a car crash – you just want to keep telling her to stop.

6. Did you learn anything from writing your book? What was it?

I learned that, yes, I am capable of writing a full-length novel with a beginning, a middle and an end. And that, even when you think your book is going absolutely nowhere and that you cannot, absolutely cannot, continue, you can. You just have to take it one word at a time.

7. What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?

I’ve been a freelance journalist for many years, and I’m used to working to tight deadlines, so I struggle trying to keep up a regular writing routine over an extended length of time. I tend to write in spurts. Some days I’ll write thousands of words without breaking a sweat, and other days I can sit at my desk the entire day and by the evening all I’ve done is update my Facebook page and look up random celebrities on Twitter.

8. What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?

I think honesty is more important than setting out to make characters likeable or ‘quirky’ – without it readers aren’t going to recognize any element of themselves and they’ll switch off. Also, using words in a surprising way. I love it when a writer uses an image that you would never have thought of, but immediately you know exactly what they mean, like Arundhati Roy talking about the unspoken death of a character pervading the house ‘like a quiet thing in socks’.

9. What motivates you to write?

Everyone needs an emotional outlet – for some people it’s exercise, for others it’s cooking or painting. For me it’s writing.

10. How did you get your contract with Free Press to write The Mistress's Revenge? Do you have a literary agent?

I have an agent here in London – Felicity at Curtis Brown. I sent her the first 15,000 words of The Mistress’s Revenge, and she invited me to go in to meet her, and encouraged me to finish it. I did so in three months, and she agreed to take me on. A month later I had a publishing contract with Doubleday in the UK, and a few weeks later, with Simon & Schuster (Free Press) in the US. It is also going to be translated into six different languages so far, which is very exciting!

11. What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your life and writing?

I love writers who don’t take themselves too seriously and who aren’t afraid to play around with language, like Kate Atkinson. I also love writers like Jonathan Franzen who capture the complexity of human relationships, so you think ‘thank god I’m not the only one who finds life so confusing’. Then there are those rare writers like Anne Tyler who just make you feel warm inside because of their characters’ sheer humanity.

12. Do you have any advice for other writers?

Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t listen to the people who say “it’s impossible to be published these days”. Sure it’s bloody hard, but it’s not impossible.

13. Many authors have an online presence through web sites, social media, etc. Where can fans find you?
I’m getting my website built at the moment, but I’m on Twitter as MsTamarCohen. I’ve only just joined and have a pitiful amount of followers, which has left me with Twitter Inadequacy Issues, so if anyone feels like following me, I’ll be pathetically grateful. As of today, there is also a Mistress’s Revenge page on Facebook for anyone who’d like to get in touch.

14. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Only that I’d love to hear what people think, so please send me a link on Twitter or post on The Mistress’s Revenge Facebook page.

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