Alison Ripley Cubitt – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Alison Ripley Cubitt to the blog. Alison is an author and screenwriter and her novels include Revolution Earth and Fractured which she co-wrote with Sean Cubitt as Lambert Nagle. Her new book, Castles in the Air is a memoir of her mother’s life and was published on 12 February 2016. Alison kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Castles in the Air.

Castles in the Air, my fourth book, is the story of my mother’s expat life in wartime Singapore and Ceylon, and then after the war and her challenging middle age. It is my mother’s life seen through my eyes. It’s about mothers and daughters, secrets, love and longing in an era when women couldn’t have it all.

2. Castles in the Air is a memoir. You also co-write fiction with Sean Cubitt (as Lambert Nagle) How did you find the switch from writing a factual novel? 

Memoir is a form of creative non-fiction, but veers towards the fiction side for me. I use all the techniques of my storytelling skills, honed as a screenwriter.  The book has a three-act structure, complete with an inciting incident and I use flashback. It’s partly told in my mother’s own voice as a teenage girl, because she’s the main character in my story. 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I started out as a writer letting the words flow on the page, but I found that only worked for shorter pieces, such as short stories and short film screenplays. Now I work from a one page outline and I keep that nearby, when I’m working, in case I’m tempted to go off on a tangent! That’s the only way I can keep a handle on a work of 90,000 plus words.  My two latest books took two years from first line to completed novel. I wish I could write faster, but I can’t, as I do endless drafts after feedback from a structural editor, beta readers and finally a copy editor. I used to be in far more of a hurry to get my work out there, but I’ve learned the hard way. Now I go back and proofread so many times, that I get to the stage where I can’t stand the sight of my own work. 

4. Having been through the creative process of writing and publishing a novel what have you learnt that you wish you’d known before you started?

I wish I had taken a course in book marketing, instead of having to learn by trial and error. My first two books (travel and lifestyle non-fiction) were promoted by my publisher, and I sold 900 copies of my first book without even trying. Publishing has undergone a revolution in those intervening ten years!  

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I’m a walker, horse rider and cyclist, lucky enough to live in the Hampshire countryside where I can indulge in my favourite pastimes. I love travelling, especially back to New Zealand, which is where I mainly grew up.  I’m an avid reader and a consumer of films, tv (especially Scandi-noir thrillers on BBC4). If I could afford it, I’d go to the cinema and theatre more often. 

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

I’m cheating bit here as the book would have to be To Kill a Mocking Bird, but that would mean I could still read the early draft, Go Set a Watchman.

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

If you could choose an alternative profession to being a writer, what would it be? And the answer in my case, is to train to be a pilot!. Nothing beats that moment when you’re haring down a runway at top speed, and from the pilot’s seat, it must look incredible. And then of course, there are all the opportunities to travel. 

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About the book:

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“An eight-year-old child witnesses her mother’s secret and knows that from that moment life will never be the same. After Molly, her mother dies, Alison uses her legacy to make a film about Molly’s relationship with a man she had known since she was a teenager. What hold did this man have over her mother? And what other secrets was her mother hiding? Castles in the Air follows the life of Molly Ripley through the eyes of her daughter Alison. From Molly’s childhood in colonial Hong Kong and Malaya; wartime adventures as a rookie office girl in the far east outpost of Bletchley Park then as a young nurse in the city; tangled romance and marriage… to her challenging middle-age when demons from the past seem set to overwhelm her. The writer in Alison can’t stop until she reveals the story of Molly’s past. But as a daughter, does she have the courage to face up to the uncomfortable truths of Molly’s seemingly ordinary life? As she unravels the private self that Molly kept secret, Alison realises that she is trying to find herself through her mother’s story. By trying to make sense of the past, can she move on with her future? Honest yet unsentimental and told with abundant love and compassion, this is a profoundly moving portrait of a woman’s life, hopes and dreams. We learn not only about Molly, but about mothers and daughters, secrets and love. A story for readers struggling to come to terms with the trauma of losing loved ones.”

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