Award winning West End star Sara Crowe’s debut novel Campari For Breakfast is published today. The coming-of-age novel is eccentric, funny, and heart-warming, and made me smile throughout. It was so easy for me to fall in love with all the characters, especially Sue and her Aunt Coral as they both navigate the ups and downs of their lives. I couldn’t put it down and recommend it to you all.
In order to celebrate this most brilliant of publication days, I bring you all gifts. Not only was I able to interview the lovely Sara Crowe, but I also have a signed book on offer and a poster of the cover jacket (which has to be one of the best cover jackets in the history of the world). The full interview and details of the competition are under the cut – enjoy!
As a side note, the interview does contain some spoilers.
I read in a previous interview that Campari For Breakfast took you four years to write. What was it about this story that made you want to tell it?
Writing Campari For Breakfast did take four years, mostly because I kept stopping to do other jobs. By the end I was writing it while I was on tour because I’d never have finished it otherwise! I’ve always wanted to write a quest type of story, where the simple premise is already built in…you are looking for something and in the end you find it.
In Campari For Breakfast you write about different time periods – 1987 and the years before, during and after the Second World War. What made you focus on these periods?
I focused on the 1980’s and on the years before and during the second world war because the war years are such a fascinating period in history, so much happened to the world during that time and it changed forever as a result. I believe I might have been 17 in the 1980’s..(difficult to comprehend I know because my actress age is 27.) It’s a time I look back on with such nostalgia, the last years just before the internet and social media revolutionised the way we live. A time of letters and telephones on telephone tables attached to the wall. A time that wasn’t as instant as the one we live in now. Perhaps it was a more innocent time as well.
Were you fully aware of how the novel would end before you started writing or did this change as you wrote?
I didn’t know how the novel was going to end when I started it. The story evolved and I followed where it led me. I wish I had had a master plan, but it is something that kept changing and developing – and in many ways I wrote all round the houses and back again, sometimes going down wrong roads, but I learnt a great deal by making mistakes, and as my agent Charlotte told me, nothing is wasted. It all helps you to create the world of the story.
Sue is a wonderful character and I loved the voice you gave her, especially her habit of amalgamating two existing words in order to create something new, and her interesting spelling and grammatical choices. How did you go about creating her?
I have often been struck when I’ve read interviews with authors who have said that their characters have marched onto the screen or the page. It was like this for me with the character of Sue Bowl, she made her entrance very early on in the process and dictated her story. She is very real to me…this way madness lies… It’s probably true to say that perhaps some of Sue’s character is autobiographical. I was quite naive, but I thought I was terribly sophisticated, without really even knowing what that meant! And I absolutely love word-play, from typos to spelling mistakes, spoonerisms and malapropisms, especially when they are unintentional. I also love the way we misunderstand our language, many of the misinterpreted words in the story are taken from real life. ( I confess!)
Not only does Aunt Coral play a large role in Sue’s life but we also learn a lot about her own life before Sue came to live with her. What made you decide to make Campari For Breakfast as much about her as it is about Sue?
Because Campari For Breakfast began life written in the first person, as Sue’s voice was so strong, I thought it might get a bit intense and I didn’t want to get trapped in one rhythm. I thought it might be a good idea to break up Sue’s voice with another voice, and this happened at the same time as the relationship between Sue and Aunt Coral was growing and becoming the heart of the story. One thing led to another and in that way, Sue led to Aunt Coral.
Green Place is a character in its own right and the house is well loved and important to all the inhabitants. Why did you choose to give it such prominence?
I gave Green Place such prominence because it’s somewhere I loved to be, metaphorically! A dream house to escape to, a building of great beauty and charm set in glorious gardens where magical things can happen. I’ve always loved old buildings, castles and country houses, especially if they are fading a little and you can imagine them in their glory days. It was very important to me to make the setting somewhere that a reader might want to go to as much as I did!
Once Sue moves into Green Place and she and Aunt Coral begin the writer’s group we get to know all the other characters a lot more intimately. Their desires and hopes come across from the exercises they do and the short stories they write. I was laughing so much of the time when I was reading these scenes. Were they as entertaining to write?
I did enjoy writing the writer’s groups very much, and I hope they are entertaining. Creative writing is such a personal thing, and the writing group turned out to be a good vehicle for revealing the character’s hidden depths and longings along with other little foibles!
You are known predominantly as being a comedy actress and with this background did you find the humour throughout the book easy to write?
I think that trying to make people laugh is a comfort zone for me. When people laugh in an audience during a play, you know that (hopefully!) it means that they are enjoying it. I found the darker side of things harder to write, but I learnt not to diminish serious moments by trying to make light of them, that in fact the serious moments are more compelling and enjoyable in a different way. But I do love the comedy- it’s in my bones!
More than anything I loved the scene where Sue’s short story is mistakenly and hilariously thought off as being satirical by the judges. Why did you choose to do this?
I didn’t know what a satire was when I was 17! But I think it just tickled me that Sue takes her writing so seriously when in reality it is pretty awful, but people are very kind and effort is very admirable!
What is next for you? Have you started planning your next novel?
I have started working on a continuation of the story for Sue and Aunt Coral. I love the characters and don’t feel ready to part with them. And (I’m sure I’ve heard someone else say this too) ‘they still bother me’. I hope to do another play later this year as well…but in acting terms as they say in the classics… ‘your availability is everything’!
Thank you Sara! Campari For Breakfast by Sara Crowe is published by Doubleday, 10th April 2014, £14.99. I urge you all to pick up a copy – it is so, so good.
And now onto the competition. From the pictures you all have seen just how beautiful the cover jacket is. Up for grabs is a poster of the cover jacket and a signed copy of the book. All you need to do is comment on this post and include a working email address so that I can contact you if you win. Winners are picked at ramdom and the contest closes on Friday the 18th of April. Good luck!