TIES THAT BIND

WEAV­ING MAGIC AND MEM­ORY, THIS YOUNG BRI­TISH WRITER’S HIGHLY AN­TIC­I­PATED ADULT NOVEL EX­PLORES THE POWER OF THE PAST

NewsMail - - BOOK CLUB - WORDS: DENISE RAWARD

English au­thor Brid­get Collins’ first novel for adults caused quite the buzz in the lit­er­ary world.

There was an eight-way auc­tion for the pub­lish­ing rights and the UK re­lease of the fan­tasy his­tor­i­cal fic­tion has been greeted with an en­thu­si­asm sel­dom seen since Harry Pot­ter.

It’s come out of the blue for Brid­get, who trained as an ac­tor at the London Academy of Mu­sic and Dra­matic Art and be­gan writ­ing young adult nov­els as an out-of-work thes­pian.

With seven young adult ti­tles to her name, the clam­our has come as a “com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence”.

“It was over­whelm­ing,” Brid­get says. “Af­ter I fin­ished the man­u­script, I said to my agent, ‘Do you think it will be pub­lished?’ and she said, ‘I think it will’.

“I had no idea it would be a big deal. It was amaz­ing.”

Brid­get had been be­tween con­tracts af­ter her old edi­tor left her pre­vi­ous pub­lish­ing house.

Seven ideas she floated with her agent were all re­jected as be­ing “not com­mer­cial”.

“I was at the stage where it was re­ally hard to write any­thing,” she says.

“So I said to my­self, I’m just go­ing to write some­thing and not go­ing to think if it’s a chil­dren’s or an adult’s book.

“I did it with­out sec­ond guess­ing the

au­di­ence. It was the book I wrote for me — in that way, it’s the most au­then­tic thing I’ve ever writ­ten.”

The Bind­ing is the page-turn­ing story of young field worker Em­mett Farmer who is sum­monsed to be an ap­pren­tice book­binder, a trade that is greeted with fear, su­per­sti­tion and prej­u­dice in his fam­ily and vil­lage.

It is a time when books do not con­tain sto­ries but the erased mem­o­ries of peo­ple.

Their pasts and se­crets are stored away in el­e­gantly bound vol­umes kept in a vault un­der the book­binder’s work­shop.

Em­mett’s mistress is an ar­ti­san but he en­coun­ters a cast of char­ac­ters with darker, more am­bigu­ous mo­tives.

When Em­mett dis­cov­ers a book with his own name on it, it will change the course of his life.

Early re­view­ers have praised the orig­i­nal­ity of the con­cept, which is part mys­tery, part love story and part fable, but the idea is grounded in Brid­get’s own ex­pe­ri­ences.

“I started book­bind­ing classes be­cause writ­ers lead a soli­tary life and I de­cided I needed to get out and meet peo­ple,” she says.

“Most peo­ple would get away from books but I en­joy the craft of it, work­ing with my hands, ma­te­ri­als and tools when I work so much in my head.”

The art of book­bind­ing is lit­tle changed over the cen­turies, lead­ing a fer­tile mind such as Brid­get’s to imag­ine the life of a book­bind­ing ap­pren­tice.

The sec­ond seed of the idea came from her vol­un­teer work with the Sa­mar­i­tans, a tele­phone cri­sis ser­vice sim­i­lar to that of­fered by Life­line in Aus­tralia.

“It’s a great priv­i­lege to talk to peo­ple and lis­ten to them tell their sto­ries,” she says.

“Af­ter a while, you be­gin to speak to the same peo­ple and they tell the same trau­matic story over again.

“You get this sense they are com­pletely stuck. Some­times you feel like you are re­in­forc­ing the trauma by lis­ten­ing to it again.

“I started to think if I could just reach out and take that mem­ory away, they could start again.”

Brid­get de­scribes The Bind­ing as ul­ti­mately a story about love and kind­ness — in the end a love story of the kind she loves to tell.

She is now edit­ing the man­u­script of the sec­ond book in her two-book pub­lish­ing deal. It is not a se­quel but she says she’s no­ticed the same themes run­ning through it, only on a much big­ger can­vas.

As for her act­ing am­bi­tions, Brid­get has rec­on­ciled that it prob­a­bly won’t be her ca­reer now but she still ex­pe­ri­ences the joy of act­ing through am­a­teur pro­duc­tions.

“I think I’ve made my peace with that now,” she says.

No doubt many of her new read­ers will be very happy to hear it.

“YOU GET THIS SENSE THEY ARE COM­PLETELY STUCK. SOME­TIMES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE RE­IN­FORC­ING THE TRAUMA BY LIS­TEN­ING TO IT AGAIN.”

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