Sunday 14 December 2014

Things We Couldn't Explain by Betsy Tobin with Author Q&A

It's the summer of '79 and the small town of Jericho, Ohio is awash with mysteries. 
Annemarie is beautiful, blind, virginal - and pregnant. 
Ethan is the boy next door who'd do anything to win her heart. 
But when the Virgin Mary starts to appear in the sunset, the town is besieged by zealots, tourists and profiteers. 

Can love survive amidst the madness?

Things We Couldn't Explain by Betsy Tobin was published by Accent Press on 20 November 2014 and is the author's fifth novel.

Set in the late seventies, in a small town called Jericho in Ohio, Things We Couldn't Explain is a quirky story filled with charismatic characters. The story could be described as a little strange, possibly eccentric and certainly unlike anything that I've ever read before. It can also be described as touching and quite beautiful.

Annemarie is blind and pregnant, she's also a virgin. Ethan is her next door neighbour, he's in love with Annemarie, he's assumed to be the father of her baby, he wishes he was.

Doctors assume that there is some sort of genetic, medical explanation for this most unusual of pregnancies whilst others in this town of Christians are sure that this is an act of God and that Annemarie is the chosen one. When local people begin to see visions of the Virgin Mary in the town they are convinced that Annemarie's conception is indeed immaculate.

As is to be expected, the town becomes the focus of believers, bigots, zealots and the downright nosey. The Church is determined that Annemarie is a miracle, whilst the medical men do their best to prove that this is purely a medical blip.

Throughout this, Annemarie and Ethan continue to grow closer, they still have to find themselves and to deal with what is before them.

The characters are divine, they are funny and they are human, there are good and bad, there are those who are right and those who are wrong.

The author has brought this little town to life, she has very cleverly mixed a romantic comedy with a coming of age story, and added the unusual plot line to make this story quite unique.

A novel that brought a smile to my face as I was reading. Quite a different read for me, but nevertheless I did enjoy it and will certainly look out for more from this author.

My thanks to Becke who sent my copy for review on behalf of the publisher. Becke also kindly arranged for the author, Betsy Tobin to join me here on Random Things and answer a few questions. So please welcome Betsy to my blog and a huge thanks go to her for taking the time to respond to my questions.

Do you read reviews of your novels?  Do you take them seriously? 
Of course.  Anyone who says otherwise is dissembling!  I take all feedback seriously, at least in the first instance.  But one of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me was to read a bad review once, then never look at it again.

How long does it take to write a novel?
Three years.  Six months to gestate, eighteen months to deliver a reasonable draft, six months to remedy the inevitable imperfections.    

Do you have any writing rituals?      
Um…work…work…more work?  So I guess that would be no!  I have four kids and a partner who travels all the time.  Rituals are a luxury I can’t afford.

What was your favourite childhood book?     
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (written in 1936 and still in print) in which Ferdinand the bull refuses to fight, preferring instead to sit beneath his favourite cork tree and smell the flowers.  My kind of bull.

Name one book that made you laugh?    
Joshua Ferris’ Man-Booker-shortlisted To Rise Again At A Decent Hour had some terrifically funny moments.  And I was pleased to see a comic novel on the list.

Name one book that made you cry?    
As a teenager I was hugely affected by SE Hinton’s coming-of-age novel The Outsiders, one of the first ‘YA’ novels ever written. Hinton was only 15 when she began writing the book, and it was published in 1967 when she was 18.  Its portrayal of gang violence and class warfare in Tulsa, Oklahoma was ground-breaking at the time. I read it in high school, and the scene where Jonny dies after the rumble is gutting.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?
One of my own!  I fell quite hard for Dvalin, the half-man, half-dwarf protagonist of my third novel, Ice LandHe was a gruffer version of Darcy: arrogant, defensive, stubborn, reclusive, hairy and short. But he was also clever, principled, good-hearted and funny.  And to this day if he came knocking at my door, I’d be off in a shot.

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?      
Last month I gave my best friend an advance copy of Things We Couldn’t Explain and she passed it to her rather dour eighty-five year old mum.  A week or so later her mum rang me up to say that, while she was not generally a fan of my work, she absolutely loved this one.  A back-handed compliment to be sure, but one I appreciated.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?      
Constantly.  Books that are very good at what they set out to do inspire me. In recent years that would include: Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, for it’s extraordinarily evocative sense of place; Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard, a textbook example of the perfect psychological thriller, and written in second person, a neat trick if ever there was one; Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour for its fabulous metaphors, spot-on dialogue and characters that make you want to move in with them; and Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife for what I would call ‘perfect pitch’.

What is your guilty pleasure read?     
Bella Pollen’s Hunting Unicorns.  Hilarious.

Who are your favourite authors?  
I have a goldfish memory, so whomever I’ve read most recently that really impressed me.  See all of the above.

What book have you re-read?     
All of Austen.  Though admittedly, not recently.  I’m overdue.

What book have you given up on? 
Loads. Too many to number, which is a dreadful admission.  As a reader, I’m every author’s worst nightmare – if a book doesn’t engage me fairly quickly, I’m on to the next.  Most recently, I wasn’t convinced by LalinePaull’s The Bees.  Could have used a little more anthropomorphism for my taste.  But as I didn’t make it to the end, wouldn’t like to pass sentence.

Betsy Tobin is a novelist and playwright, born and raised in the American Midwest, now living in the UK. She is the author of five novels; Bone House, short-listed for the Commonwealth Prize and winner of a Herodotus Prize in America; The Bounce; Ice Land: Crimson China, a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, and shortlisted for Epic Romantic Novel of the Year; and Things We Couldn't Explain. She is a past winner of the London Writer's Competition for her short story, Joyride. In between books she also writes for stage and radio. Betsy lives in London and Wales with her husband and four children.
Read more about her work at
Follow betsy on Twitter @betsytobin
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