The Impress Prize is a celebration of new fiction and non-fiction writing talent. The author who manages to impress the judges the most (pun intended) will bag a contract with Impress and have their book published in the year. Not bad, eh?
Impress has given me access to three of the shortlisted authors and I’ll be talking to them about their books.
This time, we’re chatting to Chloe Turner about her shortlisted novel Figures Slumbering.
Hey Chloe. Welcome to Book and Brew. Could you summarise your novel in two sentences.
London painter Madeleine is still locked in grief for the husband and unborn child she lost two years earlier, while Tunisian stone-carver Amal has also been ‘slumbering’, caught between an ambitious girlfriend who belittles his art, and his country’s political and economic troubles. But when the two meet, Madeleine is at last able to picture the right memorial to put her lost family to rest, and through the commission – though there are hurdles to be overcome before their attraction to one another can be acknowledged – Madeleine and Amal find love.
What was the initial inspiration for your novel?
A few ideas had been bubbling away separately in my mind, and for some reason they sparked together to inspire The Figures Slumbering. I love Tunisia, having been there many times – as a young child and as an adult, including a stint working on an archaeological dig in Carthage as part of my degree – and always fancied setting a novel there. When the events of the Jasmine Revolution – Tunisia’s ‘Arab Spring’ – began to unfold back in 2010, they took place on a stage that was both familiar and suddenly horribly unfamiliar to me, and ever since I have wanted to explore them more deeply.
I had also wanted to write a love story for a while, partly because I am a secret romantic, and partly as a reaction against the gloomy state of the world in the latter half of 2016 when I was gearing up to write the book. So in The Figures Slumbering, I decided to explore the huge political shift that took place in late 2010 and early 2011 in Tunisia through the experiences of two people each undergoing their own ‘revolution’, and see if and how they could overcome the differences between them to end up together.
How long have you been working on the book? Did it involve any special research?
I started work on The Figures Slumbering in earnest early this year, although I had been pondering the story for a while beforehand, so the plotting came quite easily. As far as research goes, although I was broadly aware of the circumstances of the Jasmine Revolution, there was plenty to do to immerse myself in it before I could tell Amal’s side of the story: the news stories (concurrent and after the event), the blogs, the rap music that all helped carry the seed of revolution across the country in such record time. And of
As far as research goes, although I was broadly aware of the circumstances of the Jasmine Revolution, there was plenty to do to immerse myself in it before I could tell Amal’s side of the story: the news stories (concurrent and after the event), the blogs, the rap music that all helped carry the seed of revolution across the country in such record time. And of
And of course, lots of lovely swotting up to remind me about Tunisian food and culture, and the acquisition of a passing expertise in the niceties of stone-carving and the specifics of Tunisian stone and clay!
What was the most difficult thing about writing your novel?
Some of the defining real life stories involved in the Jasmine Revolution are shocking and tragic – young men driven to self-immolate, such was their despair at the economic and political injustice in their country and the lack of future they saw for themselves and their families. I wanted to touch on some of those
I wanted to touch on some of those stories because they are fundamental to why such a seismic political shift took place in Tunisia at that time, but they were not Madeleine and Amal’s story. So it was finding that balance between referring to those stories, paying them the respect due, but keeping to the narrative I’d chosen.
Which authors do you admire and why?
The career authors I will always return to include the likes of Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson, Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen – pitch perfect writers who write brilliant book after brilliant book. All of them seem to really gouge out their characters’ grubby little weaknesses and force them confront them. It makes for fascinating, page-turning stories.
What is your favourite genre and why?
Most of what I read is literary fiction, both contemporary and historical: Sarah Winman’s Tin Man was a recent favourite, Helen Steadman’s Widdershins was brilliant (love a bit of witchery), and just now I’m totally immersed in Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. Nature writing, especially when combined with narrative/memoir, is a recent discovery for me: I loved Amy Liptrot’s Outrun, and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.
List 5 fun facts about you.
- I learnt to drive in a little yellow 1930 Austin 7, which I still take out for a spin from time to time.
- I’m a bit of a nature nerd, prone to boring people about things like the need to put out water for hedgehogs in hot weather. I was a runner up in the Young Ornithologist of the Year in the late 1980s – I won a kingfisher poster!
- I can juggle, but only 3 balls. Luckily my children are easily impressed.
- I’m not known for my coordination. On my second date with my husband, just strolling along the pavement somewhere near London Bridge, I tripped over nothing and fell flat on my face.
- On our fourth date, we went cycling along a canal towpath. A bee landed on my leg and, inexplicably, in response I cycled straight into the canal, a few yards on from a dead piglet. HE STILL MARRIED ME.
Do you have any hints or tips for people who want to start writing?
Don’t feel you need to fork out for an expensive creative writing course, especially if money’s tight – there are so many amazing free resources online. Go to the Thresholds short story forum – listen to all their brilliant masterclasses from the leading lights of that world.
Make use of the generosity of writers like Emma Darwin who share their intricate knowledge of the craft (visit her blog, This Itch of Writing, with its amazing Tool Kit).
Put your new knowledge to the test – submit your work to magazines and competitions, some of which give free feedback as part of the submission process.
Get rejected, lots, and learn from it so that the next submission is even better.
Use Twitter to hear about submission opportunities and to build a supportive network of writing buddies (it can be a lonely game).
And when the time feels right, get yourself a mentor – the WoMentoring Scheme, for example, is free of charge and matches emerging women writers with senior women from the world of writing and publishing, and there are other similar schemes available – having someone who’ll hold you to account over your writing goals is a great way to push yourself on.