Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Engagements by Courtney Sullivan ** BLOG TOUR **

I'm really thrilled to be a host for J Courtney Sullivan's blog tour celebrating the paperback release of her novel The Engagements, published by Virago (Little Brown) on 2 January 2014.
The hardback was published back in July last year, and I reviewed it here on Random Things in August.

Moving from a Harvard swim-meet in 1927 to the three-martini lunches of 1940s advertising, from the back streets of 1980s Boston to an exquisite Parisian music shop in 2003, The Engagements is a novel about love, marriage, commitment and betrayal; it is as sharp,  as fiery and as beautiful as the stone we have taken to represent our dreams.
The Engagements convinces and, in the final section, packs a powerful emotional punch that keeps sentimentality at arm's reach. Here is an absorbing read that will move you and make you think.’ The Independent on Sunday
The Engagements is currently being made into a film by Fox 2000 with Reese Witherspoon producing.
Courtney Sullivan (32) published her first book at the age of 25, was assistant editor of Allure magazine before becoming a staff writer at The New York Times and now writes novels full time and writes freelance for the New York Times Book Review, New York magazine, Elle, Glamour, Allure and the New York Observer, among others. Courtney is the New York Times bestselling author of Maine and Commencement.

I'm delighted to welcome Courtney to Random Things today, and thank her for answering my questions;

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?
I read a lot of reviews that run in newspapers and magazines and on blogs, but not all of them. I avoid
anonymous Amazon reviews, since they rarely contain constructive criticism and sometimes tend toward comments like “I didn’t care for the paper stock.” I’m always suspicious of authors who say they don’t read their own reviews, in the same way I don’t trust people who say they dislike chocolate. How can one possibly resist?
It sometimes takes a thick skin to read what others have to say about your work. I’ve read reviews that really upset me, because I felt the reviewer was unfair or sexist or hadn’t read the book very closely. But I’ve also read intelligent so-so reactions to my own work that led me to a greater understanding of how to do better next time.

How long does it take to write a novel?
I’ve written three so far, and each one was different. My first, Commencement, took about three years, but while I was writing it I didn’t yet have a publisher or a book contract. And I still had a full-time job, working as a researcher and freelance writer at the New York Times.  My second novel, Maine, took two years. TheEngagements—which was the most complex and research-heavy—took just a year and a half, but by the time I started writing it, I no longer had another job.

Do you have any writing rituals?
I need tea. And I need to be alone in a room that’s completely silent. I could never write in a coffee shop, as many of my friends do. I’d be too tempted to eavesdrop on all the strangers around me.  When I’m working on an essay or an article, I’m less particular. But with fiction, I need to be able to immerse myself in the world of the characters with no distractions.

What was your favourite childhood book?
There were so many. I loved The Secret Garden. Anne of Green Gables. Tuck Everlasting. Stuart Little. Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Harriet the Spy. And anything by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Roald Dahl.

Name one book that made you laugh?
This past summer, while traveling on book tour, I read an early copy of a memoir called Love, Nina. I have never laughed so much reading a book. I was in hysterics on multiple flights. I’m sure my fellow passengers thought I was nuts.

Name one book that made you cry?
A collection of journalism by the late Marjorie Williams, called The Woman at the Washington Zoo. Williams was so sharp and funny when she wrote about politics. This book combines her political observations with the story of the cancer that eventually took her life. I remember wanting to speed through because it was so good. But I was crying so much I could barely see the pages!

Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables.

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. Or A Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
As a novelist, I am eager to get the plot and characters down on paper as quickly as I can. I return to the poems of W.H. Auden to remind me to look at my writing at the level of the sentence and the word. His use of language is so exquisite and precise. I’ve loved his collected poems since high school, and I still find myself discovering and relating to new ones every time I open the book.

What is your guilty pleasure read?
I tend to feel guilty about any number of things at any given moment (thank you, Catholic upbringing!) But I never feel guilty about books. My guilty pleasure reading is limited to US Weekly magazine, which I only allow myself to look at on airplanes and at the dentist’s office, lest I develop an actual need to know more about the Kardashians.

Who are your favourite authors?
Kate Atkinson, Nora Ephron, Charles Dickens, Meg Wolitzer, Joan Didion, Dorothy Parker, Ethan Canin, Edith Wharton, Maile Meloy. To name just a few!

What book have you re-read?
My favorite novel is A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. I’ve read it more times than I can remember.

What book have you given up on?
Lots of them. I have no qualms about putting a book aside if I don’t like it. Sometimes it’s just an issue of timing—there are books I’ve started that I didn’t connect with, but a few years later I might pick them up again and fall in love.

For more information about Courtney, and her books take a look at her website    Check out the Facebook page, follow her on Twitter @jourtsull

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