Simon’s Choice by Charlotte Castle

Simon’s Choice
Charlotte Castle

But, Daddy? Who will live with me in heaven?
Doctor Simon Bailey has everything a man could ever want. Then his beautiful daughter is diagnosed with Leukemia. He can almost accept her impending death. He can almost accept the fact that he will have to live without her. But he cannot stand the thought of his little girl having to face death alone. He answers her innocent question in a moment of desperation, testing his marriage, his professional judgement and his sanity to the limit. As cracks form in Simon’s previously perfect family, we wonder, as do his loved ones … will he really make the ultimate sacrifice?
Combining poignant moments of both humour and pain,
‘Simon’s Choice’ is a penetrating account of parenthood at the sharp.

Charlotte Castle is a 29 year old mother of two. She lives with her husband, children Arabella and Alexander, and Deborah the Bad Cat in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. The daughter of novelist Rosemary Enright, Charlotte had no initial interest in writing and only came to write Simon’s Choice after a chance comment from a friend. She is currently working on her second novel ‘Management Material’. I asked her some questions:

1. Tell us about your Simon’s Choice. It’s a character based novel following the central character Simon, as he struggles to come to terms with his seven year old daughter’s terminal illness. The crux of the novel – and the issue that keeps readers turning pages – comes when his daughter asks “But Daddy, who will live with me in heaven?” Simon offers to go with her. Despite the grave subject matter, I’m told the book is quite funny. I had to work very hard at ensuring it never became maudlin or mawkish – I’m not a fan of misery lit’ and Simon’s Choice certainly isn’t – though it probably will make you cry, unless you have a heart of stone!

2. What is one of your all-time favourite books? I loved Memoirs of a Geisha. I was at secretarial college in Leeds at the time and was being very badly bullied. I used to slope off and sit in cafes and bars instead of going to classes. I was reading this book during one very bad stage – it helped me get through. It reminded me that bad behaviour usually stems from jealousy – I was better than the bullies and they knew it.

3. What gives you the innovation to write a particular genre? Most people say that my writing is reminiscent of Jodi Picoult. This certainly isn’t intentional though I do very much enjoy her work. I think it is simply the fact that both Jodi and I are mothers. They say to ‘write what you know’, well the last 5 years have been dominated by nappies, tantrums and the occasional row with my husband and I think that filters down into my work. Not that you need to be a mother to read my novels. They breakdown the family unit and examine what makes us strong… and also what breaks us.

4. Has your characters or writing been inspired by friends/ family? This novel, yes! Simon’s Choice was born when a friend made a throw away comment that if his daughter was dying he would “offer to go with her to heaven.” It sent a shiver down my spine and I sat down and began the novel that very afternoon.

5. Did you experience writers block? If so, what did you do to get rid of it? I like to think that I don’t believe in writers block – but I do occasionally find that I need to clear my head in order to work out where a book should go next. In these instances, I always take a bath! The bathroom is probably the only place I can get away from the kids (though the 7 month baby invariably comes with me, in his little chair) and something about the water soothes me and helps me think. I do all my best thinking in the bath.

6. What are you working on now? I’m working on Management Material, a novel set in 1930’s Coventry following a man and his corruption at the hands of a more senior manager in the firm that they work for. It also explores grass-roots fascism in between the wars Britain.

7. What is your favourite scene in your book? Probably the last chapter. There are also a few back story vignettes which are there to lighten the mood – the terrapin story is rather sweet….

8. Had you previously written anything before? Only copious amounts of sales literature, in my role as a Marketing Manager. I’d had a couple of false starts with novels but the plots were shaky and I soon gave up. With Simon’s Choice everything just fell into place.

9. How long does it take you to write a book? Simon’s Choice took 3 months. I’m very disciplined and write 10,000 words a week. Sometimes I delete whole swathes if I know it’s not right though. Management Material will take six months – it is a far more complicated book.

10. Which comes first for you – characters or plot? Oh definitely characters. I’m interested in examining the ‘human condition’ and I can’t do that through plot. The plot comes from what my characters would do.

11. How did you get into writing? Did you always want to become a writer? Not at all. My mother was a successful novelist in the nineties and I had absolutely no interest in doing it myself, though I always knew I was good at it at school. Actually, I wanted to be an actress. I got completely turned off during my A-Levels when it all became horribly ‘lovey’ and everyone had to be method acting. I just wanted to make people laugh. Now I appear to be making them cry!

12. If you were stranded on a desert island, what are three material things you couldn’t be without? Would it be very bad if I said red wine? Okay, scrap that. Like most people nowadays it would be my laptop – so I’d need a generator and a great big barrel of oil to keep it going as well. That’s three – is that cheating?

13. What are you reading now? I am re-reading the last Harry Potter book. There was nothing else to read and I can read JK Rowling again and again. I find the world she creates very comforting and cosy. Rather like the Narnia books.

14. Which author has inspired you the most and why? Well, as I said above, I am a big fan of Jodi Picoult. She juggles being a mother with writing (as I do) and she writes about topics I’m interested in. I recently loved ‘The Island’ by Victoria Hislop. David Nobbs makes me laugh out loud.

15. What advice would you give aspiring authors? Be willing to take criticism. Set yourself targets and keep to them. Be willing to cut things that don’t work – it may be a fantastic line but you will write other fantastic lines – keep the story moving forward. Ignore people banging on about the ‘rules’ of writing. Write well, that’s the only rule.

16. To finish off, do you have a quote or poem that has stuck with you over the years and what is the story behind it? I’m a bit of a philistine when it comes to poetry, but I do have a quote that has become a bit of a mantra to me. “To fail is not the greatest failure, never to have tried is.” I might be paraphrasing that a bit, but it always sticks with me. I’m a have a go kinda girl. Most recently I’ve been threatening to enter Britain’s Got Talent… you have been warned.

Read more about Charlottoe on her blog:

Simon’s Choice
out August/September 2010

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