I've had the pleasure of getting to know author, D.B. Carter thanks to Twitter. (You should follow him @DBCarterAuthor) As a result, I picked up a copy of his book, The Cherries, and really enjoyed reading it. It covers a lot of ground and introduces many unique characters but not in a way that's hard to keep track of. D.B. has a very comfortable writing style that I really enjoyed. It tackles some tough issues, but without being gratuitous or gross. The faith aspect mentioned in the tagline is definitely there, but not in a way that beats you over the head. It's just a part of some of the character's lives.
I found this to be a comfortable book that's like hanging out in a close knit village that you easily become part of.
SJ: How long did it take you to write The Cherries, from first draft, to ready-to-publish final draft?
DB: That’s a tough one to answer. To write my first draft took several intensive months. I could barely focus on anything else, because I had such a drive to write the book. However, it took me a long time to muster the nerve to show the manuscript to anyone ese, other than my wife, but when I did, the feedback was positive. Consequently, it was over a year from when I first put finger to keyboard before I submitted it to a publisher. The final process of finalising the work was an iterative process of quite a few weeks – if you think you’ve caught all the typos, you’re probably wrong. I would say the whole process was about two years from start to finish.
SJ: There are so many wonderful characters in the book. Were there any you started and then took out of the final book? Any who wrote themselves in?
DB: In my original plan, there were a few minor characters that never made it to the first draft. Mary increasingly wrote herself in, and part of her sub-story was originally intended for someone else. Some characters had larger parts planned, particularly Bonita, but her subplot didn’t add anything to the story of “The Cherries” – however, she features strongly in one of the planned sequels and her tale will be told.
SJ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
DB: Can I cheat and say more a plotter, but both really? I have a background in Computer Science and in some ways, writing is a bit like programming. Hence, I do structure a story and stick to it, but once I start writing, I go, “ooh, ooh, I could do this” or say, “but this character would want to do that”. Vivian’s relationship with Jenny is a case in point – it’s not until I was writing, and the emotion flowed, that I realised how their story should be, and I adapted accordingly.
SJ: The setting for The Cherries is absolutely gorgeous. Did you model it on a particular place or is it purely imagined?
DB: Another really good question. It is purely imagined from the sum of my experiences. I spent my teenage years in rural Dorset and Wiltshire, and most of the last 30 years in Devon. I’ve drawn from my memories of places and people and events. All the houses and fields in and around the village are real to me and I could draw you a map – but it doesn’t correspond to any actual place.
SJ: You delve into so many different characters and situations in this book, was it difficult to get into the circumstances of each character or did they come to life in your brain and you just wrote as they dictated?
DB: Difficult, no. Upsetting on occasions, yes. I have always enjoyed listening to people talking about their lives and I hope and believe that I am empathic. The world I constructed in The Cherries, although entirely fictional, partly results from ideas generated by listening to such stories and meeting all kinds of people. But I also inhabit my characters on an emotional level that I imagine to be similar to that of a method actor. Consequently, some of the more upsetting situations were difficult to write.
SJ: Clearly, Jane Eyre was an influence on parts of this book, which other books do you draw inspiration from?
DB: I’m inspired by many authors: Dickens (“Pickwick papers” and “Little Dorrit”), Thomas Hardy (“Far from The Madding Crowd”), Anthony Trollope (“The Warden”), DH Lawrence (“Sons and Lovers”), RF Delderfield (“To Serve Them All My Days”), and Kenneth Graham (“Wind in the Willows”) to name but a few. I wanted to reflect aspects of all these novels in my writing.
I think the story of “Educating Rita” (stage, book and film) is a compelling one, and the idea of it not being too late to learn and of discovering a subject you love influenced me.
SJ: I'm a certified Anglophile, and you are an Englishman. Would you mind painting a little picture for us of what the daily sights, sounds, and smells are in your little corner of England?
DB: I live on the very fringe of a small town, in the county of Devon, in the southwest of England. The rolling hills surrounding us are lush and green with ancient hedgerows. At the end of our road is an old lane that winds up into the woods on the hill above, where we can see all kinds of wildlife. Pheasants often come wandering into our garden, as do hedgehogs, and we have a competitive woodpecker that likes to race cars along the street.
We are about ten miles from the “Jurassic” coast, so called because there are many dinosaur fossils to be found on the beautiful, pebbly beaches. It leads up to Lyme Regis, setting for parts of “Persuasion” and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”.
When the business of the day quietens, we hear a lot of birdsong – I also get woken up by it in the mornings, because we have a family of starlings nesting under the eaves. I am not a great gardener, but I do like my roses; as I’m answering this question, I’m glancing out of the window to see the buds on my favourite tree are beginning to open. Most of our neighbours are avid gardeners, so we get to enjoy the fruits of their labours too. Our wisteria is out, filling the evening air with its rich scent, and in the far distance, I can hear the train from London passing.
SJ: The characters of Susan and Luke are both visual art lovers. Are you also a fan?
DB: Very much so. My parents were artists and they tutored me from an early age. For several years, I ran an art gallery, and I still sketch and draw when time permits. Every year, I make my wife Christmas and Birthday cards, usually cartoons. I still have several of my parents’ paintings, but I also have one or two Georgian and Victorian watercolours, and antiquarian maps and prints. You may have gathered from this that my tastes are a little old-fashioned.
SJ: Every writer has a point where they decide to write for publication or just for themselves. What made you decide to pursue publication?
DB: I felt driven to write my book. I had a story to tell and something to say, about our world today and my own beliefs of how we should aspire to live in it. When you have an almost unstoppable urge to create something, I believe it is for a reason – although I initially lacked the confidence to put the book forward, I think I always harboured a hope that it might be published.
SJ: I like to write while listening to music, from a carefully curated list of songs for each WIP. Each of my books has a theme song, sometimes individual characters do too. Do you write to music? Are there any songs that remind you of The Cherries?
DB: I find it hard to listen to music with words in when I am writing. I either get distracted, or discover I’ve typed a lyric into my manuscript! I listen to a lot of classical music such Bach, Dvořák, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams.
If you are familiar with Ralph Vaughan Williams “Fantasia on Greensleeves”, you may know the counterpoint tune contained in it, which is an orchestration of an old English folk song “Lovely Joan”. Those bars of music feel timeless and make me think of the countryside in The Cherries.
Of course, those who have read The Cherries will know that Taylor Swift “Shake It Off” may have been an influence. It harks back to happy days when I picked up my daughter from her ballet school – she got to educate me on modern music on the drive home.
SJ: As a debut, I think The Cherries is so beautifully written. I hear there will be more! Are we going to see more about Susan and her friends, or will the next book carry on with new characters?
DB: Susan will certainly feature in the books that follow on from The Cherries, but less prominently. There will be some new names, but we will also learn more about some of the other characters. If you’re wondering about Reverend Jane, Dominic, Bonita, Jenny and Lucy, Mary and Lily, or the people from The Grange, you might be interested.
SJ: Can you tell us anything about what you're writing now?
DB: Yes, I am presently working in my second novel. This one has nothing to do with the world of The Cherries. It is set in small-town Britain in the mid-80s, and is a drama about three teenagers moving into adulthood – it’s a story of corruption, betrayal, forgiveness and love.