The Museum of You, by Carys Bray

The Museum of You, by Carys Bray

I’m absolutely delighted to be welcoming Carys Bray today, on the publication day of her new novel, The Museum of You.

Carys’ first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, was one of the books of 2014, winning, or being shortlisted for, a string of prizes over 2015. Hard act to follow, right? She’s done it, though: The Museum of You is captivating.

Clover Quinn has just turned twelve, a significant birthday because, ‘in turning twelve she has crossed an unaccountable boundary.’ She has her own key, and is allowed to stay at home by herself in the summer holidays instead of going next door to be looked after by Mrs Mackerel. She has certain tasks to do, such as cycling to the allotment to pick the day’s harvest, but there’s still a lot of time to spare. Time that she’s planning to fill with a project. Her dad, Darren, keeps a lot of stuff, but what interests Clover is the spare bedroom, jammed full of her dead mother’s possessions. Clover never knew her mother but she’s hoping that, if she curates what her mother has left behind, creating her very own museum, she’ll find answers to questions she never quite likes to ask.

In a world so real that it feels you can reach out and pick a runner bean along with Clover, Carys Bray creates a memorable community. Darren is a stand up guy, juggling his job as a bus driver with being the best dad he can, whilst also keeping an eye on his troubled brother-in-law, encouraging his own dad to get out more, and trying to have a tiny bit of a social life as well. This is an absorbing, tender read, and an affirmation of the power of the extended family in all of its trials and misunderstandings. I loved it.

Carys Bray

Author Carys Bray, photographed near her home in Southport, Lancashire.

 

Carys, there’s a real sense of immediacy in your description of place. I know Southport well, but I’m pretty sure readers who have never heard of the place will share my experience of walking down the streets, of inhabiting a really 3-dimensional world. When you’re starting out with a novel, where does location feature in the planning process? And would you ever set a novel in a place you didn’t know?

Before I’d ever written a novel I had this odd idea that they had to be set in exciting places like cities or in exotic, foreign landscapes. But when I was writing A Song for Issy Bradley I decided to set the novel in Southport – it made sense as I wanted to write about a beach in the opening chapter. As I started to write The Museum of You I realised that there was no reason why I shouldn’t set it in Southport, too.

I’m working on a new novel that is also set in Southport, this time out on the Moss, an area of farming land that is the drained bed of an ancient lake. Location is much more important in this new novel; I’m looking for somewhere potentially creepy and isolating, but within easy reach of a town.

I’d definitely consider setting a novel in an unfamiliar place if I thought the novel required it.

 

How did the experience of writing this differ from A Song for Issy Bradley, if it did? (I could have just set up the shortest question in interview history there! I guess what I’m asking is was it different writing the second novel, and if so, in what way?)

The Museum of You had a deadline which meant that I couldn’t just work on it when I felt like it. I had to set myself daily targets and I think I worried a lot more because I knew that my editor would definitely read it, whereas A Song for Issy Bradley was written in the hope that someone might read it. That made things feel quite different. It was exciting to know that people were waiting to read the novel. It was also terrifying – what if they didn’t like it, what if pulling thousands of words together was a fluke last time, and I couldn’t do it again? And so on.

 

In A Song for Issy Bradley, you evoked a way of life within a particular boundary, that of the LDS church. The Museum of You has a similar sense of giving a snapshot of a way of life, this time of contemporary Britain: mental health, community support, concerns about the environment, immigration, cultural obsessions, the changing boundaries of what a ‘family’ looks like. Is there a part of you that writes in a state-of- the-nation kind of way? And do you have a favourite state-of- the-nation novel or author?

Hmm. I think I may be writing state-of-the-family novels, and perhaps a little bit of state-of-the-nation stuff ends up there, too. I’m really interested in families and the way they work. I was raised with the notion that a 1950s style, nuclear family, with its patriarchal structure and clearly defined gender roles, was the ‘best’ kind of family (god’s favourite kind, in fact). I wrote about that kind of family in Issy Bradley, but this time I wanted to write about a very different family, one that is somewhat muddled, but very loving. I love the way Anne Tyler and Maggie O’Farrell write about families – as a reader, I often find I have made up my mind about a character, only to have my conclusions questioned; I enjoy that.

 

One of the things I loved in the book was the exploration of father/child relationships. Darren is rocking it, despite his internal misgivings, and his own dad was a pretty good role model. Do you think dads get enough word time in novels? Which are your favourite fictional dads?

I’m not sure whether dads get enough word time in novels – I’d hate to answer that question in a definitive way; I read a lot, but perhaps not enough to give a good answer. I certainly enjoy books that take an unflinching look at motherhood (Rachel Cusk’s Arlington Park, Jenny Offill’s The Department of Speculation immediately come to mind) and, as I sit here and wonder about fatherhood, I realise I don’t have the same mental list of books about fatherhood from which to pick a couple of examples.

I love the father, Tom, in The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger. It is a beautiful novel with gorgeous landscapes and Tom is a reticent but extremely likeable character. Adam Marek’s short story collection The Stone Thrower is a mediation on fatherhood. I particularly like the stories ‘Fewer Things’ and ‘Tamagotchi.’

 

Allotment: what’s your favourite thing to grow, and why?

Beetroot! They grow really well in our plot and I like them in salads. I’d love to grow sweetcorn, but it never works.

Baking: what would you bake if you were a contestant on the Great British Bake Off?

Oh gosh. I think I’d make one of those really intricate biscuity sculptures out of shortbread, lemon butter biscuits and chocolate chip cookies.

Museum: your top three museums to visit in the north of England?

My favourite museums Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool World Museum and The National Football Museum. But there are loads of other brilliant museums in the north of England.

 

Carys has an awesome blog tour going on, featuring some award-winning bloggers as well! Here’s a list of what’s happening when:

 

Carys Bray

 

And if you live in the North West, you’re in the perfect place. Oh yes, sorry, the perfect place to catch the launch party for The Museum of You in fabulous indy bookshop Broadhursts of Southport (who have their own moment in the book itself). Maybe see you there? Do come and say hello!

 

carys bray

 

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