Home » Art Life » “A Natural Storyteller” – An Interview with Carol Rivers

“A Natural Storyteller” – An Interview with Carol Rivers

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Carol Rivers

With the recent success of Call the Midwife , there has been a surge of interest in  East End history and a large number of fiction and non fiction books being written about the East End.

Carol Rivers has been writing novels about the East End in general and the Isle of Dogs in particular for over the last decade.

Her first East End novel was Lizzie of Langley Street published  by Simon and Schuster followed by Rose of Ruby Street (retitled East End Jubilee ), Connie of Kettle Street (retitled Cockney Orphan ), Bella of Bow Street, Lily of Love Lane, Eve of the Isle, East End Angel, In the Bleak Midwinter, A Sister’s Shame.

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Carol’s gritty and heartwarming East End family dramas have been praised for their realism and have appeared regularly in many Bestseller Charts and have a loyal readership in the UK and increasingly in the United States.

In the following interview I ask Carol to explain more about her inspirations and ask  about her connections with the Isle of Dogs.

Your family came from the Isle of Dogs, could you tell me about them?

 In the 1920’s my grandparents lived at Gavrick Street in two rooms, bringing up a family of six, my mum, her four sisters and one brother. It was hard going, a tough life, but Nan had been in service to a titled Lady and knew the ropes. When the council moved them to Chapel House Street on the new estate, it was heaven. My grandfather was a deep thinker, a casual in the docks, who despised the Unions and politics in equal measure. He read Russian revolutionary literature, waited on the stones for a pittance if a job came up and was tee-total which alienated him from the dockers. Lashed to a gun-wheel for disobedience in the First World War, he survived the trenches and came home a changed man. My Nan often warned him, “You can’t feed your family on principles, Bill.” Like my family, powerful, rich in spirit and heart-rendingly poor characters populate my novels. Their voice is the one in my head, my Granddad’s especially. His determination not to give in either to man or nature, lasted until his post-war death after being evacuated to Oxford.

How did you begin your writing career ?

I began it as a kid, with my cousins, listening in our camp under the table of our lounge, to the colourful East End parties going on around us. Watching the feet dancing, listening to my mum and her sisters laughing and gossiping, waiting for inevitable eruptions, we never missed a trick. It all came out recycled years later, first in short stories for DC Thompson, then novellas, and finally the true McCoy, East End sagas with Simon & Schuster.

At the moment with the success of Call the Midwife, East End novels are suddenly very popular. When you started writing your novels over 10 years ago, what was the general reaction to the subject matter?

Brilliant. I found an agent for my first story, “Lizzie of Langley Street”. She loved it, ripped it apart, and taught me how to re-write. Then she sold it to Simon & Schuster who loved it, ripped it apart, and I rewrote it. My agent is still with me today, still making me edit. She’s lovely. A lot goes in to the creation of a saleable book – much more than people think.

Your novels generally cover the early 20th century, is there anything about this time that really inspires you?

My family are from Huguenot and Jewish extraction, with a touch of Spanish and Irish thrown in. The 20th century not only gave us two World Wars  twenty years apart, they gave us reconciliation, reformation, wonderful music, eclectic populations and strong family values.

Much of the Isle of Dogs has changed beyond all recognition in the last 30 years, do you still come back and visit ?

Not so much now. I have this world in my head that will never go away. It’s sparky, vibrant, smoky, salt-tar smelling, river and street stinks, bagels, pasties, hot dock coffee and well – I could go on forever. All I have to do is write it.

What are your future writing plans ? Do you have any novels in the pipeline?

I deal with three books at a time. The one published in October every year, that I have to correct, revise, often rewrite, then market. The next is the one I’m currently writing, which a year ago, was agreed by my editor. Then last but not least there’s the new outline for the next year’s book, which for me, has to be meticulously plotted, written and agreed/added to/ subtracted from, by my agent, then editor.

Do you ever struggle for ideas for books ?

The “writer’s block” question often crops up, but until I’m too old to use my computer, I can’t see it happening. Books are like maps for me. You have the idea where to go – work out your route, major and minor stops on the way and your destination. It’s a job I do, a wonderful job, but it’s a daily practice and self-discipline. You can’t get writer’s block if you practice every day to meet a deadline. 10% inspiration (initial idea) 90% perspiration (writing).

If you would like to find out more about Carol visit her website by pressing here

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