Welcome to my stop on ‘The Bit In Between’ blog tour. Today I am excited to share my review with you, and an interview with Claire as well.
‘The Bit in Between by Claire Varley, Macmillan Australia, RRP $29.99’
Release Date: August 1st 2015.
Source: From publisher in exchange for an honest review.
There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.
After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.
With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.
The Bit In Between was an engaging, sweet, funny, story of love and finding yourself.
It is a story of Alison and Oliver, who have one of the most memorable first meetings ever and who go on to have an intense love. Alison and Oliver were a wonderful couple that were easy to fall in love with.
Alison was a bit of a free spirit with no direction in life. Oliver is trying to write his second book and decides to do it in the Solomon Islands. This was a perfect setting for a book and it was painted so vividly that I felt like I was transported there as I was reading.
Alison finds her days free as Oliver dives into his book and decides to help a local woman better her English and develops a friendship with her, and more of the local women. Oliver struggles with his book and takes inspiration from the locals he starts to get to know. Life starts to become just as dramatic as the book he is writing with many twists and turns, some welcome, some not so much.
Full of quirky, real-to-life characters, The Bit In Between is a charming story that will quickly draw you in and keep you captivated to the end. You will laugh and cry along with the characters and everything else in between (haha, get it?). It is a fantastic contemporary about two people living a little bit more extraordinary than the rest of us, but feel as if they could be close friends. The Bit In Between is a must read. Varley is an author to watch.
You can add it to your Goodreads HERE.
Be sure to read on for an interview with the lovely, and funny, Claire Varley.
1. Where did the idea for ‘The Bit In Between’ come from?
I had written a whole different manuscript first – about the discontent limbo-stricken ghosts of historical figures haunting a Pacific island, condemning local food production with the erratic weather caused by their grief – and immediately knew that this was not the love letter I wanted to write to the Solomon Islands. I began what became The Bit In Between right away, wanting to write something that explored people, identity and the things that influence the people we are and the people we become. The final scene was the first thing that came to me and I wrote this long before the rest of the book was teased out. So in a way, I knew exactly where it would end up and just needed to work out how the characters got there. Like the literary equivalent of a big night out.
2. What is your favourite place that you have visited?
This is such a difficult question and I shall be recalcitrant by giving multiple answers: Cyprus because it gave life to the stories of my papou’s childhood; Rapa Nui because it is astounding and contextualises our glorious insignificance; Tibet for its immensity and pride, and of course the village of Buala in the Solomon Islands because I was lucky enough to spend almost two years living there and it taught me about myself, about community and about the power of living ancestry. I’m a bit ridiculous, though, and manage to have epiphanies and seemingly life changing experiences roughly every hour, so I rate pretty much everywhere I’ve been.
3. What is a place that you haven’t visited, but would love to visit one day?
Egypt to see where my yiayia grew up, Wales to see where Dylan Thomas grew up and Antarctica for the penguins and the solitude. I also haven’t seen anywhere near enough of Australia and my dream list includes the Daintree, Coober Pedy, Tiwi Islands and the Torres Strait Islands.
4. The majority of ‘The Bit In Between’ is set in the Solomon Islands, and I understand
you spent some time there. Can you tell us a bit about your experience while over there?
I lived in Isabel province, in the north-west of the Solomon archipelago, for just under two years. I supported the establishment of a province-based family violence prevention and intervention response, an incredible experience. My colleagues taught me about resilience, resourcefulness and tenacity, and about the difference between lip service and genuine community-centred community development. I ate so much kumara, taro and cassava. I am the number one fan of the humble yam family. Always have been, always will be.
5. Which character did you find the easiest to write? Which character did you find the hardest?
Katerina, Oliver’s mother, was the most fun to write. Pretty much everything she says makes me laugh. She wrote herself and I suspect I could write pages and pages of her letters. I would write her bits with her voice in my head, sternly telling me what to write.
Sera was the hardest because I felt so much responsibility towards her. By and large, the Pacific has been represented and authored by non-Pacific Islanders, often in colonial, patronizing, stereotypical or outright offensive ways. As another non-Pacific Islander, I was so conscious of affording her the dignity and complexity she deserves.
6. There are two characters in the book that write poetry. Is poetry something you like to write yourself?
Yes, but in the same way that everyone does. My paternal family are bush poetry enthusiasts – people who break into Banjo Patterson at the most unobvious of invitations. I can still recite large tracts of Patterson poems. So poetry is something I have grown up with and was predominantly my main form of expression as a teenager, alongside slamming doors and telling my mother she didn’t understand me/anything. I enjoy taking the tools of poetry – the playfulness and rhythm of language – and building it into my prose. And every so often I just sneak some of my own poetry in, which beats having it languish in a drawer. I do firmly believe that far more people write poetry than would admit it. We’re all poets, in one way or another.
7. Alison has a bit of an embarrassing incident at the start of the novel. Have you yourself ever done something embarrassing while meeting someone for the first time?
Constantly and consistently. I couldn’t even think of examples because it is so commonplace. While I’ve never been in Alison’s situation, my day-to-day happenings are essentially just a series of embarrassing moments. So regular are these that I don’t even get embarrassed anymore. Wander around with skirt tucked in stockings? Done. Thirty-minute conversation with someone I thought was someone else, then turned out had never met before? Done. Have seagull fly into head in the middle of Federation Square at peak hour? Done and did.
8. You were pulled out of the slush pile. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?
I submitted to every man and his dog, none of who would have a bar of it. Pan Macmillan was the ninth publisher I sent the manuscript to and was pretty much ready to retire it. I was very lucky – whoever sorts the slush pile put mine into the ‘maybe’ stack and Pan Macmillan’s commissioning editor just happened to dip into the pile and fish mine out. The unfairness and fortuity of my situation is not at all lost on me. I am the Steven Bradbury of the slush pile.
9. In ‘The Bit In Between’, Oliver is writing his second book and having a hard time of it. This seems to be a common occurrence amongst writers. Have you started your second book, and if so, how are you finding writing it?
There were approximately two or so years between me finishing The Bit In Between and signing the deal with Pan Macmillan, so I had in the meantime written two novellas as well as countless sub-par short stories. I had already started vaguely sketching another novel when the two-book deal with Pan Macmillan happened, so knowing I would have to deliver a second manuscript to them at the end of 2015, I started writing as soon as I could. This was partly because working full-time I knew I needed all the time I could to meet the deadline, but also because I was terrified of Oliver-ing myself: having a first book that either sank or swam and then having to come up with something new in the aftermath of that. I’m so glad I did that. Going into publication time I feel so much more comfortable having a near complete patchy first draft then having nothing but an expectant flashing cursor on a blank page.
10. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I don’t feel at all qualified to offer anyone advice. But, heck, I will. Firstly, don’t call yourself an aspiring writer. If you write you are a writer, regardless of how published you are. Secondly, everyone’s journey is different so you really can’t compare yourself. And lastly, read as much as, if not more than, you write. Do you realise how many books there are? And how little time you have? It’s part of our training, so get to it!
Claire Varley grew up on the Bellarine Peninsula and lives in Melbourne. She has sold blueberries, worked in a haunted cinema, won an encouragement award for being terrible at telemarketing, taught English in rural China, and coordinated community development projects in remote Solomon Islands.
Her short stories and poems have appeared in Australian Love Stories (‘A Greek Tragedy’), Australian Love Poems (‘Beatitude’), Seizure online (‘Poll’, ‘Hallow’), page seventeen (‘Once’, ‘Hamlet, Remus and Two Guys Named Steve’), Sotto (‘in the name of’) and [Untitled] (‘The Nicholas Name’, ‘Behind Tram Lines’). In 2015 she was shortlisted for Seizure’s Viva la Novella 2 competition. Oh, and when she was sixteen she was the Victorian state winner of the secondary section of the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Award for a very depressing poem about life in the outback. They read her poem at school assembly.
Her debut novel, The Bit In Between, is a whimsical and poignant exploration of first loves and true loves, travel and the search for identity.
You can find out more about Claire at: clairevarley.com