Today I’m delighted to revisit my Five on Friday interview with Rose Alexander which was first posted in May 2018. It’s been brought up to date to reflect Rose’s latest publications.
Over to Rose:-
I’ve had more careers than I care to mention and am currently working full-time as a secondary school English teacher. I write in the holidays, weekends and evenings, whenever I have a chance, although with three children, a husband, a lodger and a cat, this isn’t always as often as I’d like. My books are the result of much hard work, research and patience and my biggest reward is my readers’ enjoyment.
Which piece of music/song would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
Heroes – David Bowie. I don’t think I could have got through my teenage years without David Bowie. I truly believe he is a genius on a level with any great classical musician. I could have chosen any number of tracks but Heroes is one of those songs that I think people will still be listening to many decades from now. RIP, David, you were so loved and admired. The world needs inspirational talent such as yours.
Songbird – Fleetwood Mac. When I was eighteen I met someone I fell desperately, obsessively in love with. This is part of the inspiration I drew on for my first novel, Garden of Stars. I first heard this song during that time and it will forever remind me of being young and in love for the first time. Such a powerful emotion that I don’t think is ever replicated in later life.
Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads. This track was ubiquitous when I was at university and it spoke to me at a time when I was really quite lost and suffering deeply from depression and anxiety. I couldn’t have felt more as if I was on a personal road to nowhere and the articulation of that in this song was oddly comforting.
Rust – Echo and the Bunnymen. There are so many reasons why I love this track, most of which can’t be divulged here! I think, like all good writing, the lyrics have layers of meaning, and the tune has one of those part-depressing, part-uplifting riffs that I really enjoy.
(Something Inside) So Strong – Labi Siffre. This is the anomaly here in that all my other choices are representative of bands I love and listen to frequently, but I don’t really know anything else of Siffre’s work. But this track has such importance and universal application, and I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by it. I grew up reading books about apartheid South Africa – by Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing and Gillian Slovo – which deeply affected me. My university days were full of gigs and fundraisers in honour of Nelson Mandela and the ANC, and at that time, campuses and cities all over the country were renaming public places Mandela Square or Nelson Mandela Street. As students, we boycotted Barclays Bank and any other institution deemed to have connections to the apartheid regime. I think the horror and injustice and violence were so impossible to comprehend and yet were happening somewhere not so very far away at that very time. The song has been used in films about FGM, and I think it is very applicable to the current ‘Me Too’ campaign. It truly is an anthem for all time.
Looking at my choices, I’m clearly stuck in a musical rut firmly centred in the 1980s! Let’s hope my children don’t read this or I’ll never hear the last of it. I could have added tracks by Pulp, The Smiths, Belle and Sebastian, The Psychedelic Furs, Everything But The Girl, Mumford and Sons, The Fleet Foxes, The Eurythmics, The Stranglers, Joni Mitchell – and don’t even get me started on all the classical music I’ve completely ignored here. It’s really very unfair; at least on Desert Island Discs they let you choose eight!
Having said that, the reality is that I can’t listen to music when I’m working on a book. It distracts me too much, and affects my mood and therefore what I’m writing. The first ten years of my working life were spent in TV production offices and newsrooms where there is always a bank of televisions playing different channels, so I got used to having the constant noise of voices around me, to the point where I can’t now work in silence. So Radio 4 and the World Service are my writing companions and they honestly feel like friends. Which is a little sad, I admit….
What (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
Mascara – those with naturally red hair and translucent eyelashes cannot do without it!
Pen and paper – to write.
Books – to read.
Hand cream – bad hands are so ageing… they’re always on show and they need looking after.
Sewing machine – sewing is my mindfulness; I love it and I could happily do nothing else with my days but read, write and sew. Shame that a full-time job has to get in the way of that.
Can you offer a piece of advice for your younger self?
Get help. As a teacher and a mother, I’m so pleased that we live in a more enlightened age. Of course there are many, many children and young people who aren’t getting the help that they need with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health problems, and children’s services are desperately overstretched and underfunded. But at least they exist, schools have counsellors, young people are listened to and often those with difficulties are spotted by teachers if not by parents. I’m not aware of any of that existing when I was a teenager. If it did, I didn’t know about it. I’ll always believe that if I’d had the opportunity to have help when I really needed it, the course of the rest of my life would have been different – and better. Instead, it was decades before I finally confronted my inner demons. Today I feel immeasurably better for doing so – but I wish I hadn’t had to deal with everything alone for so long.
Follow your dreams. I only ever wanted to write – my ambition was to be a print journalist and novelist. But I got a job at a TV channel, Meridian Broadcasting, and ended up following that path instead. I was successful, becoming one of the country’s first Videojournalists at Channel One TV, and subsequently working as a TV Director. But my heart was never really in it. I was too scared to give it up, though, and concentrate on what I really wanted to do. I came runner-up in a national travel writing competition and that should have been the spur but I didn’t have the confidence, self-esteem or know-how to make it a launch pad for a writing career. I was really interested to hear author Jane Gardam, whose books I love, on Desert Island Discs recently, and to discover that she only started when she was 40. It reassured me that there’s hope for me yet!
Listen to advice – but don’t necessarily take it. I was far too easily swayed when I was younger, trying to do what was expected and what was right and to please everybody – so much so that I forgot to take care over what I wanted and needed.
Red heads shouldn’t wear purple. I didn’t have a coat when I went to Edinburgh University and I also didn’t have enough money to buy one. So I made myself one out of purple corduroy. I absolutely loved it and it probably was quite a nice coat. Just not on a red head!
Take chances. If there’s ever a time you can get away with anything, it’s when you’re young. So go for it because you’ll never have that freedom again.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you
Depression. I’ve successfully managed to keep to myself that I’ve suffered from severe depression and anxiety for most of my life. I do think there’s a stigma around mental illness, however many advances have been made, but for me the fact that I don’t discuss it is more that I’ve never really thought anyone would be interested. Writing about it in forums such as this is much easier because no one has to read it.
Experts say that depression doesn’t start until the teen years, but I definitely remember having feelings from the age of four or younger that I would now say were depressive, or at least the precursors of depression.
The thing is that I genuinely didn’t realise what it was I was suffering from until about six or seven years ago, when the mental pain I was feeling was so intense that I finally sought help from a psychotherapist. With her expert assistance, I began to uncover what had been wrong with me all these years. I knew there was something, but mental illness was such a taboo subject that I had never really entertained the possibility. If it ever did cross my mind, I would dismiss it instantly because I really thought that if you were depressed you would be someone who rolled around at home in your pyjamas and had neither friends nor a job. I didn’t realise that you could be perfectly ‘normal’ on the outside whilst slowly dying inside. It was my GP who told me that many people – especially women – deal with depression by keeping busy and then it all fell into place. That’s what I’d been doing all my life. Even though I think the worst of the depression is under control now – most of the time, anyway – I still can’t stop being busy. Doing something all the time has become such a habit that I can’t break it. On the positive side, that’s how I manage to hold down a full time teaching job in an inner city comprehensive, bring up three children, make clothes (see below) and write books.
I’m a qualified PADI advanced scuba diver. I’ve got my PADI diving certificates, plus extra dry suit and Nitrox qualifications, all courtesy of the wonderful London School of Diving. There’s something so incredible about exploring the underwater world – as we all know from Blue Planet, it is another universe going on all around us without most of us ever noticing. The only thing is that I get cold incredibly quickly and really only enjoy diving in warm, tropical water – Bali, Malaysia and Indonesia and the Caribbean are all wonderful destinations. Sipadan Marine Park, off Malaysian Borneo, is the best diving I’ve ever done. Turtles in amazing abundance, sharks, barracudas, bumpheads, rays, clownfish etc etc etc – there’s so much to see it’s overwhelming. If I went there again, I’d combine it with a visit to the mainland, to see orang utans in their natural habitat and perhaps climb Mount Kinabalu.
I still have my first teddy bear. According to my mother, I saw it in a shop as a young baby and wouldn’t let go of it. Teddy Edward has been my constant companion ever since. One of my sisters once threw him into the fire, but I rescued him, and he’s also had his head almost twisted off, which my mum repaired by stitching a green scarf onto him. One of my earliest memories is of standing beside her, probably rather irritatingly breathing down her neck, as she sewed on a button to replace one of his eyes. The fact that it was during a power cut and she was doing it by candlelight only added to the difficulty of her task – but I had to have it done then and there, despite the lack of electricity.
I’m a pretty handy dressmaker, or sewist as we are apparently now called. I guess no one wants to be a sewer! I had absolutely no money when I was growing up – literally not a penny, other than what I earned when I was old enough to get a job. From the age of 15 until I left school I worked all day Saturday in the local book shop (dream job but very badly paid!) and on Sundays from 2-8pm in the tea rooms in town. I served cream teas to countless tourists and I dread to think of how many photo albums display a picture of me with my coffee pot and my ditsy floral uniform dress; tourists, particularly Americans, always seemed to want a snap of the red-haired English rose to show the folks back home. Embarrassing in the extreme, but I think we’d have been sacked if any of us waitresses had dared to say no to these impromptu requests.
Back then, it was cheaper to make your own clothes and my mother had always made everything for me and my four sisters (she was even hired to make the aforementioned ditsy floral uniforms for entire tea room staff). I’m rubbish at art, so sewing was a good outlet for my creativity and, once my mum had taught me the basics, I made everything for myself. I’ve had long periods of not really sewing but I’m hugely back into it now and trying to make the majority of my own clothes. Despite having three daughters, I don’t sew for them – none of them are remotely interested in homemade clothes, sadly. When I get round to it, I post my creations on Twitter, so keep your eye out if you’re interested.
I love burnt food. I know it’s really bad for you and carcinogenic and all the rest of it but I don’t care. I love charred vegetables from a barbecue (I don’t eat meat), really crispy potatoes or crusts of toast burnt black.
Tell us something you’d still like to do or achieve.
This is so, so difficult! If you ask me next week, this list will probably have changed again but for now:
Costa Rica. I travelled extensively in South America when I was younger, spending a university summer backpacking through Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, and then living in Brazil for a year after graduation, teaching English and travelling. But I’ve never been to Central American and Costa Rica is not only beautiful but also leading the world on ecological and environmentally friendly initiatives. What’s not to like?
Russia. I had to turn down the opportunity to go on a university trip to Russia and the Baltic States during my degree course because I couldn’t afford it. I’d love to go now; I’m fascinated by Russian history, culture and literature. I tried to change to studying Russian at university but wasn’t allowed to and I’ve always regretted that.
The British Islands. I’d love to do a tour of all the islands around the mainland here in Britain. I know that there’s a new travel book out on exactly this subject and I have it earmarked to read. Our little country is fascinating and I don’t know enough about it – yet!
Komodo National Park, Indonesia. I find the Komodo dragon absolutely intriguing and repellent in equal measure. Everything about how they live, how they kill their prey etc is fascinating and disgusting. In London, I live very near the zoo and had membership for many years when my children were little so we used to go all the time. We watched the Komodo dragon enclosure being built and then read in horror about the dragon who died from falling after trying to scale the glass partition to get to its mate. To see these prehistoric-seeming monsters in their natural habitat would be amazing. Plus there’s some really good diving in those parts, too.
New Zealand and Tasmania. I have visited Auckland because an old friend from my first job in TV lives there, but I didn’t have much time and didn’t travel around at all. I would love to really explore both the north and south island and enjoy all the outside activities on offer. Not to mention the wine…. I remember being shown a documentary about Tasmania at school and it looked so beautiful. I’ve always wanted to go but not managed to get there yet.
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Out of the Mountain’s Shadow
A secret from the war with the power to change one woman’s future…
1939: War has broken out, and in Albania Bekim’s family take in a Jewish family fleeing from Nazi Austria. The years of war will shape his life in unimaginable ways as Bekim grows to love Hannelore, doing everything in his power to protect her. But will he be enough to keep her safe?
2019: Following a shock redundancy, Ruth is taking an extended holiday in southern Italy where she befriends local Zak. When Zak’s dying father asks them to solve a mystery from his past, Ruth leaps at the chance. Journeying through his homeland of Albania, Ruth and Zak race to find the sacred artefacts hidden in the mountains during the war.
Along the Endless River
In the heart of the rainforest, Katharine will fight for her life and for love
1890: When Katharine and her husband, Anselmo, set sail to Brazil to reap the spoils of the rubber boom, it seems as if they cannot fail. But when Anselmo dies suddenly on the treacherous waters of the Amazon, a pregnant Katharine must decide whether or not to continue her husband’s dream, alone. And when new love appears on the horizon, she must determine if she’s brave enough to risk her heart again…
Meanwhile her sister Mabel is struggling to support their family back in London. Navigating new worlds in the upper class, she discovers that life as a housemaid has its own dangers, and Mabel soon learns that the whims of men can prove deadly…
Mabel and Katharine must both fight for their futures if they are ever to be reunited. Can they find love and happiness along the way?
Under an Amber Sky
When Sophie Taylor’s life falls apart, there is only one thing to do: escape and find a new one.
Dragged to Montenegro by her best friend Anna, Sophie begins to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. But when she stumbles into an old, run-down house on the Bay of Kotor, she surprises even herself when she buys it.
Surrounded by old furniture, left behind by the former inhabitants, Sophie becomes obsessed by a young Balkan couple when she discovers a bundle of letters from the 1940s in a broken roll-top desk. Letters that speak of great love, hope and a mystery Sophie can’t help but get drawn into.
Days in Montenegro are nothing like she expected and as Sophie’s home begins to fill with a motley crew of lodgers, the house by the bay begins to breathe again. And for Sophie, life seems to be restarting. But letting go of the past is easier said than done…
Garden of Stars
The Alentejo, Portugal 1934
I am Inês Bretão and I am 18 years old. Now that I am finally an adult and soon to be married, I feel like my real life is about to begin. I have decided to document everything that happens to me, for my children and my grandchildren…
As Sarah Lacey reads the scrawled handwriting in her great-aunt’s journal on a trip to Portugal, she discovers a life filled with great passion, missed chances and lost loves – memories that echo Sarah’s own life. Because Sarah’s marriage is crumbling, her love for her husband ebbing away, and she fears the one man she truly loves was lost to her many years ago…
But hidden within the faded pages of the journal is a secret Inês has kept locked away her entire life, and one final message for her beloved niece – a chance for Sarah to change her life, if she is brave enough to take it.