So far best known as a regular on the Scottish poetry scene, Charlie Roy is the author of The Broken Pane, a debut novel which focuses on similar themes as her poetry, including women’s lives, mental health, and family. It’s an emotional and honest novel, with an impact that stays with you long after you finish the last page. SNACK caught up with Charlie Roy, eager to learn more.
Why did you want to write The Broken Pane?
In my twenties, I had decided to write a young adult/fantasy trilogy and, while I didn’t have the story, I did have a character – a young woman whose mother is gone and whose father who is struggling to cope, and who is left to care for a brother. I was very interested in who she might be…and then I shelved it, became a teacher, started going to poetry events, and writing and performing my own work. When I became pregnant, I stayed home a lot more, and at this point I ‘met’ Tam. I really didn’t want to write YA any more at all. I wanted to write Tam’s story. I had to. Initially, I didn’t intend for anyone else to read it. It is not my story, but it was one that I felt compelled to tell.
It’s an intensely emotional read, one which feels personal to you. Is that the case, and, if so, was it difficult to write?
I have had my struggles with depression, have self-harmed, and as is the way of things, many of my friends have had their mental health struggles and some have had difficult home lives. I have friends who have alcoholic parents, and friends who have their own problems with alcohol. I have lost a friend to suicide and have close friends who have lost siblings far too young. I didn’t take any of their stories – those are theirs to tell. This all coalesced into the first draft of The Broken Pane. Writing it was very hard at times. and it’s hard to explain how it flowed. It felt cathartic, like Tam was there with me, urging me on to tell her story.
It was re-reading the drafts that I found harder. By then I knew Tam and Bugs, and I was more than once tempted to just erase a scene to spare them going through it. I felt awful for what I put them through!
Were there certain themes and ideas that you felt you wanted to investigate, and how did you approach writing about them?
I am very interested in writing about mental health, and that of women in particular. I was thinking about domestic violence and abuse, the effects of alcoholism and domestic violence on children as they grow, and how that might meet the intersection of memory and self. It was imperative to me that this should not be salacious or voyeuristic. What is told has to be important to the plot. I want the reader to know Tam, for her to be tangible and real, so I had to show what she had lived. I wanted to treat her and her brother with respect, with kindness. Most importantly, while I was not looking for an easy ‘happy ending’, I wanted to find a positive resolution, show hope that Tam could heal even though she had been through hell.
It concerns the secrets and lies that are often used to make sense of family life. Did you learn something about your own, and yourself?
All families have secrets and lies. Sometimes they are essential. Often, I believe, one person has good intentions but has found these have unintended consequences – I think Nana’s story in particular demonstrates this. She was caught between the laws of the time, the expectations for young women, limited opportunity, and bad luck. More often than not, just as we polish an anecdote for our friends, we tell ourselves our own view of events, of family lore. I have two young children and something as simple as their age means they understand what we do and will remember what we do differently. Writing The Broken Pane has made me aware that in many ways I am the author of their lives. Not exclusively, of course. I want to make sure they have great chapters, and when the days aren’t so good we take time to stop and talk about why.
You create many memorable characters, but this is Tam’s story. Were you clear from the beginning how it would unfold, or did she surprise you?
Thank you. Both! I knew I wanted to tell the story of a young woman who had really been through it all and found the strength to find hope. I knew what the big, key events would be and was clear on that from the outset. Initially I tried to tell the story from several points of view, all centred around Tam – we heard from Nicky, Nana, Ange, Lou and even Mick. It didn’t work. It was stilted and repetitive. So I let go of that and spent time with Tam – my husband jokes that I would hang out with my imaginary friend! I let her tell the story. I tried to make her go straight from her discovery at Nana’s to search for Ange, but it wasn’t right – she wouldn’t let me! She needed to run away, to start healing, before she could go and look for her mother.
At one point I wasn’t sure she was ever going to be ready!
You’re perhaps better known as a poet, and this is your debut novel. How do the two forms of writing differ?
I love stories that illuminate the human experience – from microfiction to sprawling multi-book epics. Stories in songs, films, or TV; photos & paintings that tell me something about how others understand the world. If a story is well told in whichever medium, whatever the genre, if it helps us to understand each other then I enjoy it. Aligned with that, I love telling stories, exploring other understandings. When I find a story I need to tell, I try to choose the best form to achieve that.
Having written The Broken Pane, do you have another novel planned, or is it too early to say?
Yes! I have several ideas. My brain is a bit like a computer with too many open browsers. However, one of them is really starting to take shape. I know my main characters, the big beats. I just need a clear week to press go. It is about memory, self, how we build ourselves, and I’m also interested in how we connect to others – how that sense of connection can sometimes anchor us, and sometimes weigh us down.