The Bit In Between
Writing a love story is a lot easier than living one
Author: Claire Varley
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
My Rating: 4/5
*I was supplied a copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher, but it in no way influences my thoughts on the book.
The debut novel from Australian author Claire Varley, The Bit In Between was plucked out of the slush pile. And it’s clear to see why.
Opening in an airport lounge, the first scene of the book is brilliantly written. Captivating, comical and clever, it draws you in and before you know it you’re hooked. You just have to know what happens next.
The Bit In Between explores just that – the bit in between the initial fireworks of attraction and the happily ever after. The bit where relationships are often made or broken. Oliver and Allison, the main characters, meet and are wildly swept up in each other, ending up in the Solomon Islands, where Oliver intends to write a novel and Allison, fill in time and perhaps find what she really wants from life. From here, the story heads down a path exploring the dynamics of relationships and life.
Varley is particularly talented when it comes to characters and this drives the story well. Oliver and Allison’s internal discourse is detailed and honest allowing the reader to relate and understand each character intimately. Even with her minor characters (and ones only passing by the story), Varley shows rather skillfully, that everyone has a story to tell.
Of particular interest is Varley’s ability to weave in meaningful subplots, examining issues important to the Solomon Islands. These themes empower the novel and take it from a simple romantic read, to a deeper level.
Although, slow in parts, I was engaged with both Oliver and Allison’s stories and had to keep reading to see their fate. The Bit In Between is engaging, funny, and will keep you thinking long after you finish reading.
….may I introduce Claire herself! Claire was lovely enough to answer a few of my questions regarding her writing and The Bit In Between.
Me: Hi Claire, it was a pleasure to read ‘The Bit in Between’, I really enjoyed it especially the characters Allison and Oliver.
CV: I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for wanting to ask me questions and making me feel special!
Me: So tell, what sparked the initial idea for The Bit in Between and how did it develop from there?
CV: I lived in the Solomon Islands for almost two years in a remote part of the country. With no internet, television, radio or newspapers, it was the perfect opportunity to write. I wanted to write something that explored ideas of how we get to be the people we are. I also wanted it to be set against the backdrop of a country incredibly close to Australia in which we have so much invested, yet we really don’t know too much about. In a country as small as the Solomons you get to meet many of its permanent and temporary inhabitants and you learn so much about the stories we all carry within us. The first thing I wrote was the final scene and then basically set about working out how my characters got to this point. Kind of like my own private version of Memento but with less murder and Guy Pearce.
Me: The story is very much character driven, is that how you originally intended or did it become more that way as you wrote?
CV: Very much intended. From the start I wanted it to be both Alison and Oliver’s stories, as well as those of all the people around them. I wanted it to move around the world – Australia, Solomons, Cyprus, China – and to involve in-depth and fleeting meetings of the many people that make up this world. I had one of those epiphanies when you realise something astoundingly obvious, which was that every single person has an entire backstory that has led them to this exact point in time. Some are painful and some are glorious, while some are conscious decisions and some are thrust upon us.
Me: So true. Now, The themes woven through the book are done so beautifully, was this intentional?
CV: I’m going to say yes because it makes me sound clever, but between you, me and the readers, I didn’t even pick up on some of the themes until it came to redraft time. Then I stumbled across them and went ‘ooh! Look at that! How unconsciously intelligent I seem to be! Let’s sharpen those babies up so that it looks like I meant to do that all along…’ Redrafting is a pretty magical time because you get to sit back and look at the manuscript with a bit of distance and suddenly all these little-unworked themes appear.
Me: This is your first book, and it was discovered in the slush pile. How surreal was that situation? Tell us about your journey to publication and the way you went about it, any rejections, obstacles etc. Did you ever feel the book would never get picked up?
CV: It is only now, a week into the book actually being on shelves, that I have found peace with the idea that the publishers aren’t going to change their minds. It is fairly largely supremely surreal. When I returned to Australia in 2012 and finished the manuscript, I then sent it to pretty much everyone who took unsolicited manuscripts. I waited patiently, absorbing each ‘thanks but no thanks’ with the standard writerly response to rejection (that is, cry-singing an Adele song while eating peanut butter from the jar) then sent it to the next one. Pan Macmillan was the ninth publisher and I had dramatically declared (to myself) that after them I would confine the manuscript to the bottom drawer. Just to clarify, they weren’t ninth by preference, but all the publishers seem to have their own unique unsolicited manuscript submission window (first Monday of the month/first week of the month/the week of a blue moon during the gloaming) and my submission order was purely based on what day/week happened to correspond. I was 100% certain that the book would never be picked up because I know how rarely they do, but I kept submitting anyway because why not?
Me: What advice do you have for any aspiring, yet to be published authors?
CV: Buy lots of peanut butter and just keep submitting. No’s are better than not trying, and sometimes you get really nice or useful feedback.
Aside from that aspect, keep writing because that’s what you love. Write regardless of if you are being published because writing is the best practice we have. And read. Read everything. It is the second best practice. They are like the cardio and strengthening combo of the literary world. (Am not confident in this analogy. Do not gym.)
And lastly, believe in yourself. If you don’t why would anyone else?
Me: Tell us about your next project.
CV: I’m working on a second novel that will hopefully be out next year. At this point it explores various levels of political engagement in Australia through one family, and is a bit of a snapshot of race, identity and self in Melbourne at the moment. I think this is what it is about, though who knows. I haven’t yet examined it for unconscious layered themes so it could be about anything.
I definitely don’t think this is going to be the last we hear from Claire and look forward to her next book.
The Bit In Between by Claire Varley, Macmillan Australia, RRP $29.99
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