A Londoner by birth, Colette Dartford went to university in Bath and made it her home. A scholarship to undertake a doctorate led to a career in health and social research, before she moved to California's Napa Valley. Here she studied Viticulture and Enology and wrote her debut novel, Learning to Speak American. Colette joins us today to chat about women and her latest book, An Unsuitable Marriage. You can follow her online on Twitter @colettedartford.
What makes a daring woman?
In the context of being a woman author, I would say it’s daring to commit your deepest, darkest thoughts to paper for other people to criticise and reject. It’s a leap of faith to send your work to agents and publishers knowing there is a 99% chance it will be rejected. If you can’t cope with that, being an author probably isn’t for you.
What has been your most daring move?
I have no background in creative writing so when I had completed a first draft of my debut novel, Learning To Speak American, I had no idea how bad it was. First drafts are generally pretty grim anyway, but that of an unschooled beginner—well, you can imagine.
So when a friend told me about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, an international competition for unpublished authors, I dared to enter my manuscript, blissfully unaware that it needed much more work before it was presentable.
My dare paid off though, because Learning To Speak American was shortlisted as a quarterfinalist. It didn’t get any further because it didn’t deserve to, but it gave me a real confidence boost.
Tell us about the daring woman in your novel?
Well, there are two daring women, although in very different ways. Olivia Parry is faced with moving in with her judgemental mother-in-law when her husband loses his business and their home, but opts instead to take a job as a houseparent at their son’s boarding school. She is completely out of her depth at a time when her husband isn’t around for moral support, and she’s struggling to cope with her demanding new role.
Her situation worsens when she discovers a sordid secret about the book’s other daring woman—Ruth Rutherford, the wife of the headmaster. Ruth buries her unhappiness under bad behaviour but pays a high price for it.
Why did you choose a female protagonist?
As the title suggests, An Unsuitable Marriage has a married couple as its protagonists, and for some reason, I find it easier to write a bad man than a good woman. In both of my novels, the female leads have privileged lives, which I then blight with loss and betrayal. I think readers like to see women who appear to have so much, brought down a peg or two. By the end of An Unsuitable Marriage, I hope they will sympathize with Olivia and agree with the difficult decision she had made.
Tell us a bit more about your latest book …
An Unsuitable Marriage is about a relationship in crisis.
Olivia has everything – a loving husband in Geoffrey, a thoughtful son in Edward and a beautiful home in the Somerset countryside. But all that changes when Geoffrey loses his factory and many of their friends and neighbours lose their jobs. Now homeless and facing bankruptcy, Geoffrey moves in with his recently widowed mother, whilst Olivia is forced to work at Edward’s elite boarding school.
With their marriage under intolerable strain, Geoffrey makes a mistake that has devastating consequences for the guilty and innocent alike.
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