Connecting with Readers’ Emotions: An Interview with Caron Mckinlay

When a book blurb does it’s job, it draws me right to a story. In the case of 2022 Debuts author Caron Mckinlay and her novel, The Storytellers, this blurb by Victoria Dowd made up my mind for me: “Utterly mind blowing! If Stuart Turton had written Gone Girl it would look like this. Intelligent, compelling writing that is genre defining. Brilliant!” Caron’s book is now on my very long t0-be-read pile, and I hope to get to it this summer. The book just released last week, but so far readers are just as enthralled by it. One reviewer wrote, “This is one of the most beautiful novels I have read . . . Ms. McKinlay gave me chills, made me cry, made me laugh, and reminded me to love myself,” and another said, “The Storytellers is a modern feminist novel, which made me cry with unapologetic joy. It is an anthem for women everywhere, women of all ages and in all situations.” Feedback like that will, hopefully, keep Caron writing. In the midst of this book-launch madness, Caron made time to answer my questions, and for that, I’m extremely grateful.

Christina: Congratulations on The Storytellers, which “explores feminist themes as three women, trapped between life and death, revisit toxic past relationships and unravel a haunting truth.” What inspired this story in particular?

Caron: I love reading and really wanted to write a love story. Something moving, something that would touch people and make them feel something. Those are the kind of books I adore.

But it would have been inauthentic to write a story that did not reflect real life as it has been, and continues to be, for millions of women. While I wanted to write a book about love, it was important to also reflect societal concerns about women in relationships, especially the issue of women being treated badly by toxic men.

It would be difficult to find a woman who hasn’t been affected by a man behaving badly or knows someone who has, especially in these days of social media. So that was my starting inspiration. Can I write about those two opposing themes and create a book anyone wants to read? Something that might touch someone? Mean something to someone?

I hope I have achieved that.

Christina: Frances Quinn says that you’ve written “brilliantly flawed characters you can’t help rooting for, even when they’re bad.” That’s some high praise. How did you go about crafting characters? Did these flaws arise organically, or did you set out to write about a group of flawed characters?

Caron: Frances Quinn is an accomplished author who writes beautifully, so her words blew me away! For the characters, I drew on the traits of people around me, friends, family and stories that people had told me. It wasn’t too difficult to know the kind of characters I wanted to write about, but it was hard to make them appear realistic on paper. I didn’t want to make them particularly lovely or dampen them down. I wanted to write about how they really felt and, more importantly, what they thought as they said opposing words. All of them are obsessed with finding the one—it was hard to do that and keep them three-dimensional, but I felt it was important to pursue that theme. We are bombarded by that message in the media and also by friends. But what is the cost of that love?

Christina: You’ve mentioned that your father regaled you “with his tall tales” and encouraged you to tell your own, and that your “father’s death came as a shock and was the cause of deep introspection.” Did writing help you deal with your grief? What do you think you’re father would say to you right now if you could speak to him about your book?

Caron: My mother died twenty years ago. When my father died within a few weeks of being diagnosed, it was a real shock. There is a real sense of your own mortality when you lose both parents. I felt so alone and exposed. It made me think of what was important in life and if I was making the most of it. Should my teaching career really be my main focus?

I made some changes, mainly moving closer to my family and getting married, but the grief for my father remained. Until one day I saw a short story competition with the title “Blether.” I had never written before, but he was certainly one of those, so I decided to give it a try. The writing was cathartic, and I cried over every word. So, yes, writing helped me release some of my feelings, and I think he would have been proud of that story. If he were here right now and saw my debut, The Storytellers, he would cry (even though he wasn’t the crying type) and then show it to everyone in town. He would have loved showing it off.

Christina: One of your bios says: Working class | Writer | Feminist | Mother | Book Blogger | Secret Eater | Teacher.” Did you have trouble deciding which order to put those in? Which of those roles comes most naturally to you? Was it difficult to admit that you’re a Secret Eater?

Caron: I don’t think I really thought about it until you asked this question, and now I wonder why I chose that order too. I think the answer is that I wanted to connect with other working-class writers when I first started on Twitter. Being a feminist is vital to me, so that had to come next although, I am not sure why I put it before mother! Since seeing this question, however, my profile has changed as you only get so many characters, and I needed it to reflect my debut release.

It is very interesting to be asked which of those roles comes more naturally to me. I would say “mother,” as I believe it’s the most important role a person can play, and I so miss the times when my daughters were small. We are so exhausted when they are at that age that we don’t really appreciate how fast time flies by. It is definitely not “writer,” as writing doesn’t come easy to me, and I do not like the insecurities it gives me. But for some reason, I continue to do it.

I have always had an issue with food and struggled with my weight. Often eating in secret so as to not be judged. Which is silly really as your weight is a very visual thing that everyone can see. But it’s a hard habit to break, especially as it is comforting. Yes, it was difficult to put that out in the open, but then I thought others with the same struggle might see they are not alone.

Christina: You have a book blog that features book reviews. What do you like about reviewing books? What are your favorite types of books to review? Do you take requests, and if so, how do authors contact you for a review? If not, how do you choose which books to review?

Caron: I have always been a reader, even when I had demanding jobs. I adore finding new stories to read and entering new worlds. There is nothing better than looking forward to getting back to a great book. As an overthinker, it’s the only way I can immerse my mind into something and find peace.

I love to share books I’ve loved with other readers and to discuss our shared reads. It’s a great way to find new reads and to help an author be seen. I don’t really have favourite genres except for those books with a speculative edge like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue or The Time Traveler’s Wife. I just love finding something a bit different. As for requests, I prefer to choose the books I review rather than receive a request as I would hate to upset someone if it’s a premise that doesn’t appeal to me.

Christina: I laughed out loud when I read the part of your bio that says, “She doesn’t enjoy exercise—but loves running around after her grandsons, Lyle and Noah, to whom she is devoted.” How old are your grandsons? How often do you get to spend time with them? What have you learned from them?

Caron: Lyle is six and Noah is two. They are both adorable in their own unique ways. I am very fortunate to see them weekly and spend quality time with them both. I guess the most important thing I have learned from them is that life is fleeting and you should try to enjoy every minute. They are growing up so fast, and it makes me sad that I may never see what happens to them in later life.

Christina: What does literary success look like to you?

Caron: Obviously, like most writers, I’d love for The Storytellers to become a bestseller. But there are millions of books out there, so the chances are very slim if not impossible. However, if my book can connect with readers’ emotions and move them in some way—then that’s a literary success for me.

Caron can be found in multiple places!
Instagram: @caronmckinlay
Facebook: @MckinlayCaron
Twitter: @CaronMckinlay

Thanks to Caron for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.

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