Published: 6th July 2017 (Dome Press)
Haunted by a tragic childhood accident, Chala’s whole life has been moulded by guilt and secrets. After the death of the stepfather she adored, Chala is thrown into turmoil once again.
Volunteering in Kenya seems to offer an escape, and a way of re-evaluating her adult relationships, although violence and hardship simmer alongside its richness and beauty.
The secrets of the Yellow Room are still with her and she can’t run away forever…
I’m thrilled to welcome Shelan Rodger to Have Books, Will Read…
What was the inspiration behind Yellow Room?
Yellow Room grew out of a fascination with the meaning of personal identity and the role of truth and lies in our lives. I wanted to explore the boundaries between relationships, the power of secrets, the forces that shape our sense of self – and what happens when the goalposts change. We tend to think of our identity as something fixed inside us, something waiting to be ‘found’… but does this ‘I’ we believe in really exist or is it just an illusion? A comfortable and comforting illusion to confer order and meaning on the myriad identities actually swimming around inside us. In Yellow Room, Chala’s sense of identity is bound up with something that happened when she was only four, but reality is slippery, and the evolution of her sense of self is the real drama at the heart of the book.
What made you set your book in Kenya?
I have a strong emotional connection to Kenya (where my father grew up and is buried, and my mother still lives) and I was living there at the time I started writing the book, so it made sense to write about somewhere I know and love. My character, Chala, needed to get away somewhere completely different to reevaluate her life, so Kenya was the perfect setting for her. What became part of the book subsequently, were the events that unfolded around the post-election violence that killed over a thousand people in 2008. Chala’s personal story by then had become utterly connected to what was happening in Kenya in reality.
Can you share your journey to publication with us?
A long and winding road! I was so frustrated by the standard rejection letters in the first phase that I even resorted once to writing a limerick in the attempt to catch an agent’s attention (it didn’t work). Finally, someone wanted to actually see the manuscript and that – very special – someone is now my agent. Then came masses more rejection letters, this time from publishers, a couple of them even ‘rave rejections’, but nevertheless rejections. And then one day when I was coincidentally passing through London from Spain on a work trip, I got a call from my agent to say that there was a publisher who ‘was of a mind to make me an offer but wanted to meet me first.’ Gosh did I feel nervous; suddenly it wasn’t even about the book, it was about how I came across as the author – ouch, if it didn’t come off I couldn’t even blame it on the writing! But it did, and by now I had written two books, so suddenly they both had somewhere to go…
What is your writing process, are you a planner? Where do you like to write?
No, I’m not really a planner, more of a wishful thinker! If the book is a tree, then I start with a vision of what I’d like the tree to look like, plant the seed, nurture it and let it grow. I never lose the idea of what I want it to grow into but the final shape of the tree can turn out to be quite different to what I envisage before it takes root.
As for where I like to write, I love writing either outdoors or in front of window. A place that connects me to a view or a horizon or a sense of space. Writing on the verandah of the log cabin where my mother lives in Kenya is my absolute favourite!
What are the best and worst things about being an author?
Writing at its best is like being in a time machine. You forget that time exists, you flow with the wave of words that wash through you; it’s almost like a state of meditation and there is something joyful and transformative and connected about this feeling. The worst moments are when doubt creeps in and looks over your shoulder and tells you that it’s all a pile of crap and who do you think you are anyway!
Are you working on your next book? Any clues that you can share with us?
Yes, this one is another psychological twisty tale and is also set in Kenya (but this time on a flying safari). A box of writing by the father she never knew finds its way into the hands of a dramatherapist living in London called Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past that she never wanted to meet. The book was inspired by something that happened just before my own father died. My mother and I had found an old type-written manuscript of a novel he’d forgotten he’d written. He read it, changed the last line with a shaky hand, and handed it to me. That was the last time I ever saw him.
Finally, when you’re not writing yourself, what books do you like to read?
I like books that are both compelling and thought-provoking, books that make me want to turn over the page but also swim in the language on the way, books that push the boundaries, question and explore, books that linger with me after the last line. Books like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold or A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Just three titles out of so many I could have chosen to show what I mean. My taste in reading – as in most things – is eclectic. Sometimes, I just want a book to make me laugh and P.G. Wodehouse is one who does it every time.
Thank you so much for stopping by and answering my questions 🙂
Yellow Room opens with a chilling prologue detailing the terrible childhood accident that is the undercurrent for the book. This prologue is particularly difficult to read but is needed to set the course of the eat of the book.
We are first introduced to Chala when she is four years old and experience the accident with her – no more explanation is needed so we then fast-forward to the current day. It is clear that this accident has changed the lives of both Chala and her father, Philip, forever but in the aftermath of the incident, Chala and Philip become closer than ever. Chala adores Philip who has spent the years creating a protective bubble for Chala so she is absolutely devastated by his sudden death whilst she is travelling for work. What Philip’s death also does is make Chala question everything about her relationship with Philip, her marriage to Paul so needs some space to work things through and deal with her grief.
This need for space takes her to Kenya on a volunteer opportunity within a shelter for street boys. Chala meets some interesting characters during her time in Kenya who, in their own ways, help Chala process what she has been through and understand what she wants in life. As well as helping Chala ‘find herself’, Chala sees a very different side to Kenya than just the tourism, she is caught up in a period of civil unrest which puts her in danger.
I found it interesting to see Chala in the different locations; at home with Paul she seems to be constantly apologising for her every move whereas in Kenya, she becomes the Chala she should be – working through her problems and grief, taking time to help others which also serves to help herself.
Chala is a very believable character, her whole life being overshadowed by her guilt – this is an undercurrent to all the friendships and relationships she has. What I particularly enjoyed about this book was the flashbacks from Chala’s point of view which then brought her back to the present. This provided an insight into her life between being 4 and the present day.
The writing of Yellow Room is fabulous, the words just flow from the pages – this is a wonderful exploration of living with guilt and the secrets that we keep – either to protect ourselves or others….or both!