Angeline King, author of Snugville Street, describes her book as: “a family drama bursting with comedy and sadness, centred around a French exchange in West Belfast.”
After receiving praise for her work in Northern Ireland, she took time out of her busy schedule to chat about her book and her writing for those of us across the sea that are yet to experience Snugville Street.
Above: Angeline with her editor at her French themed launch and her book’s front cover.
What was the idea behind Snugville Street and where did the inspiration come from when you were writing it?
The idea of the French exchange came from my own French exchange between Larne and the South of France in 1993, but the novel mainly draws from my year abroad in Brittany in 1997-8, where I learned all about Breton cultural identity and spent my weekends dancing at the traditional Fest Noz.
Events in Northern Ireland also inspired me to write. Northern Ireland was still gripped by violence when I did my French exchange in 1993, so much so that my female exchange partner pulled out at the last minute due to a bomb. A few months later, the IRA blew up a fish shop on the Shankill Road, killing nine people. I was 18 at the time and recall being really upset by the footage on the TV. Those feelings stayed with me, and the Shankill bomb serves as a backdrop to the fictional family’s situation in Snugville Street, which opens in 2003, almost ten years after the Shankill bomb.
Do you ever consider that your writing may be controversial?
Snugville Street is set in possibly the most “loyalist” area of Northern Ireland, and I was worried that some friends wouldn’t like the references to the Orange parades etc. What I’ve found is that the opposite has been the case. The cultural references have gone down really well with everyone who has read the novel. I would love to write a novel set on the Falls Road. When I finished the last page of Snugville Street, I found myself walking straight into another novel at the other side of the peace line.
I always try to give as balanced a view as possible by alternating voices from various communities in Northern Ireland.
Why do certain themes affect your writing so much, like identity. Does it have personal connections to you?
Yes, I was raised as a protestant in a mixed street and had a childhood filled with catholic and protestant friends. When I attended Queen’s University, I was shocked to find that everything I had considered normal in life was not normal. I was a little bit naive and didn’t realise how anti-British people were.
How and why did you become an author?
I was working full time in a senior management position in Sales and Marketing and trying to share my time between work and my two young children at home. When I got ill in the summer of 2014, I started to question the life I was leading and decided to try to finish the novel that I’d started years before.
Earlier that year, I’d also heard a motivational speech at a conference where the delegates were challenged to write down a goal. My goal was ‘Finish that novel,’ but I never dreamed I’d actually do it. It took me one month to finish it, but it was a pretty rough draft. I decided to take a gamble, resigned from my job, and used savings to take a year out to concentrate on novel writing. I started Snugville Street in January 2015 and self-published it by the end of September, the same year. It was a gruelling routine!
Tell me about a typical working day for you.
I take the kids to school and then try to do some writing in the morning before they come home. In the last few weeks, it’s been hard to find the time to write, as I keep getting caught up in the marketing activities. Now that I’m writing one novel and promoting another, I find myself jumping all around the place. After the kids go to bed, I return to the computer to do some more work. I find the morning is the best time to write.
What has been the biggest difficulty in your career?
In my career as a writer, the difficulty I’ve encountered is that I don’t have a publisher to back me. I’ve only made submissions to small publishers, but I’ve written to about ten agents, and been rejected by all of them.
How does it feel to finish a novel?
It’s amazing, but nothing compares to holding the physical book in your hand. I was blown away by that experience!
What happens next, another novel?
The prequel is currently being re-written to bring it up to the same standard and style of Snugville Street. It should be ready for publication in early 2016.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Hire a good editor or ask a friend with good editorial skills to help you. A good editor can turn a raw piece of art into something much stronger.
What is your opinion on publishing houses and the fact that so many writers never get published, yet celebrity writers such as YouTubers do?
To be honest, I don’t think I ever really believed a publisher would pick me up without me putting in some hard graft first. I’ve always applied for my own jobs and I’ve never benefitted from the advantage of knowing someone in order to get ahead, so I have a practical attitude. I want to go to a large publisher in eight months time and say, ‘Look what I’ve managed to do on my own. Will you consider working with me?’
What’s your opinion – should writers really write what they know or use their imagination more?
I’m at my best when using my imagination. I write first and then do the research afterwards to verify the facts. Luckily, I have enough life experience and education to not have to spend a great deal of time on research.
Tell me about your favourite author/book.
The best book I have ever read is Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. I discovered it at the age of 35, which is the right time to read that book. It’s a beautifully written book of life that deals with a wealth of themes that interest me. I don’t think I’ll ever read another book that compares, although I have yet to read War and Peace! My favourite modern day author is Victoria Hislop. She writes the most enchanting page turners that deal with hard themes like war and identity in a very accessible way.
Jess is also a regular contributor at BAM magazine.
Jessikah Hope Stenson