Exclusive Interview with International Book of the Month author Leslie Lokko
Courtesy of Quality Paperback Book Club...
QPB has given new meaning to the term International Book of the Month; our newest pick, Saffron Skies, isn't available in U.S. stores. But we were so taken by Leslie Lokko's sharp, glamorous, globe-trotting saga of four women that we had to share it with club members. Before you take in this thrilling U.S.-exclusive – which reminds us of Judith Krantz and other greats – read our one-on-one interview with its talented Scottish author, which we've included below. Enjoy!
Q. You flesh out all of the major characters in Saffron Skies so thoroughly. How did you decide what would happen to each character, what their family’s pasts would be, etc?
A. I found that getting to know the characters properly—really understanding what they were like—helped enormously. In each case, with Max, Amber, Madeleine and Becky, for example, I spent a lot of time imagining everything about their lives—what their rooms looked like, what they liked to eat, wear, do—and making notes about each one. I ‘lived’ with them for a period of about 6 weeks, ‘talking’ to them in my head, and so on…once I’d got to know them, the rest followed almost effortlessly. They ‘told’ me what was going to happen, not the other way around!
Q. Did any of the characters in Saffron Skies do anything that surprised even you, their creator? If so, what?
A. Paola and Kieran surprised me; I hadn’t planned on their illicit relationship developing at all…the scene literally just came to me as I was writing dialogue between them; Becky also surprised me a little…I’d almost written her off half-way through the novel and then she came back, a little gutsier and more determined than before.
Q. With which character in Saffron Skies do you have the most in common, and why?
A. I think Madeleine is closest to me in the sense of having been an outsider within a certain culture for part of her/my life; I recognize the same desire to find ways to fit in, make myself likeable and acceptable—as, I suspect, nowadays, many people experience.
Q. You’ve been credited with “bringing brains to the blockbuster.” How do you feel about that statement?
A. Good! I’ve always loved fat, juicy books that had something more to them than sex and shopping and I’ve always been attracted to books that don’t fit easily into genres. I remember reading Andre Brink’s An Act of Terror, set in South Africa, which combines serious political and historical research with a thriller feel and reading it over three days, hardly sleeping. I love reading books I can’t put down.
Q. How did you feel when you heard that Saffron Skies would be the newest International Book of the Month?
A. I was absolutely thrilled!
Q. Saffron Skies is a big book—almost 500 pages. How long did it take you to write it? And were you developing each character’s story as you went along, or did you do it one at a time?
A. The actual writing didn’t take that long—about 9 weeks, although I spent a lot of time beforehand thinking it through. As I said before, I spent a lot of time getting to know each character before letting them loose on the page, so to speak. Also (of course), having trained as an architect, I can’t resist the urge to plan everything through well in advance of execution! It’s not all that different from building a house…start with the foundations, then move upwards, making walls, spaces, etc., then getting into the details. Writing, for me at least, is curiously three dimensional.
Q. What was the most important lesson you learned from writing Saffron Skies?
A. Know the people and places you write about. And don’t stay with one person for too long.
Q. You’re trained as an architect. What made you decide to pursue a writing career?
A. In architecture, I was always interested in the relationship between culture, identity and architecture, and not just in more straightforward building…writing was an opportunity to talk about some of the same issues (race, cultural identity, movement, migration and so on) but in a much more plastic and malleable form. Architecture generally takes a very long time to come off—there’s something about the immediacy of writing that has always appealed to me. Plus, architecture tends to be quite serious and pedantic, especially when talking about these sorts of issues. I was looking for a medium that could be fun and spontaneous, as well as informative, in some small way. I spent some time working in South Africa in 1992-94, and the idea for my first novel, Sundowners, developed from the experiences I had over there . . . Saffron Skies is a continuation of the same sorts of themes, but with religion, family secrets and sibling rivalry thrown in!