Umderwater Breathing by Cassandra Parkin ** Book Review and Author Interview**
I am delighted to introduce you to author Cassandra Parkin today and to feature her wonderful novel, Underwater Breathing. Before Cassandra answers some of my questions, here is a little about this intriguing book:
Can a crumbling family structure mend the ties that bind them?
On Yorkshire’s gradually-crumbling mud cliffs sits an Edwardian seaside house. In the bathroom, Jacob and Ella hide from their parents’ passionate arguments by playing the ‘Underwater Breathing’ game – until the day Jacob wakes to find his mother and sister gone.
Years later, the sea’s creeping closer, his father is losing touch with reality and Jacob is trapped in his past. Then, Ella’s sudden reappearance forces him to confront his fractured childhood. As the truth about their parents emerges, it’s clear that Jacob’s time hiding beneath the water is coming to an end.
Welcome to Books, Life and Everything. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing.
Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started as a writer?
Thank you so much for welcoming me! I was born and raised in Hull, although my family are Cornish. When I was five I had two ambitions; I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to be the Godfather and run the Mafia. There was then quite a long period in my life when I assumed both of these were equally out of reach, because the one thing I “knew” about writing was that it was insanely hard to break into and therefore I shouldn’t waste my time trying. So I just kept writing in private, and as presents for friends and family.
I got my first break when I wrote a set of short stories for some very dear friends in America, as a Christmas present. Each short story was based on their favourite fairy-tale, and in the New Year they all ganged up on me and told me I had to at least try and get it published. So I submitted it to a competition, and several months later I was unpacking yoghurts in the kitchen when my husband called me to tell me I’d won and “New World Fairy Tales” was going to be published. That was a very good day.
What was the inspiration for Underwater Breathing?
Years ago, I saw a news report about the village of Skipsea, whichis gradually falling into the sea. There was an interview with an older couple who had bought a house there to retire to. They said they knew from the start that the sea would take their house in the end, but they’d been counting on them both being dead before it got there. And I thought that was such a brave and terrible bargain to make; to bet your own mortality against the power of the sea. I scribbled the line family makes a bet with the sea and loses into my notebook, and then promptly forgot about it until one day the story of “Underwater Breathing” floated to the surface.
Did you base the setting on any place that you know?
Jacob and Ella’s house is based on a house I saw once advertised for sale. It was a massive Edwardian place, utterly beautiful but completely neglected, and probably the most impractical purchase anyone could ever make in their lives. So naturally, I fell completely in love with it. (It’s probably a good thing I had zero money or credit-worthiness at the time.) I don’t know what happened to it or if anyone ever bought it, but I loved it so much that I wanted to resurrect it somehow.
There’s a secret at the heart of Underwater Breathing. Have you got a secret of your own you’d like to share?
When my brother and I were little, we used to play a game where we would try and stick used teabags to our garden fence by throwing them against it very hard and making them stick (winner = sticker of the highest teabag). Only sometimes we’d get a bit too enthusiastic and throw our teabags right over the fence and accidentally stick them to the immaculate, white-painted wall of our next-door neighbours’ house, leaving a giant orange stain.
Our neighbours - who were utterly, utterly lovely and did not in any way deserve to have teabags thrown at their house – never mentioned the random teabag-from-the-sky incidents. They would just quietly repair the damage and get rid of the evidence. I have no idea if they knew it was my brother and me, or if they blamed their own kids, or if they just thought it was some inexplicable Fortean event. Part of me is truly sorry for this, because it really wasn’t okay and we should have at least gone round to apologise. But mostly, I just can’t quite believe we did this on a regular basis for literally years, and completely got away with it.
Of all the books you have written, do you have a favourite and can you tell us why?
Blimey, that would be like picking your favourite child, wouldn’t it? But I do have a special soft spot for my second, “The Beach Hut”, which is about a grown-up brother and sister who build and live in an illegal beach hut on Perranporth beach in Cornwall. It has dozens of little Easter eggs hidden in it that only my family will recognize.
What do you like to read when you are not writing?
Anything I can get my hands on! Ideally I like to have at least one non-fiction book, one book I’ve read before and loved, and one new book, all on the go at one time. So right now I’m reading Margaret Forster’s biography of Daphne du Maurier, re-reading “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen, and tearing my way through “The Visitors” by the brilliant Catherine Burns.
Finally, have you three words which sum up Underwater Breathing?
While I was working on it, the answer would quite definitely have been “Hard to write”! But now it’s finished and launched into the world, I think I’d have to go with “dark family drama”.
Thank you so much, Cassandra.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Underwater Breathing. I appreciate books which don't hand you all the facts on a plate and this one certainly does not do that. Secrets from the past slowly are revealed and some of them take you by surprise. Relationships in the story are beautifully set up and are multi-layered. An impressive element is how you see parts of the story through the eyes of the young 7 year old Ella and the adolescent, Jacob. As they come to realise themselves, events can be open to misinterpretation and it calls into question how reliable they are as observers. Standing in the background is the mysterious Mrs Armitage who is a wonderful creation, who you feels deserves a novel to herself.
The imagery in the novel is a strong feature with the symbolism of the houses teetering on the edge of the cliff an obvious metaphor, not only for the crumbling family structure but also, various individual's state of mind. Water spreads throughout, from the cover, through the opening chapter and on. You come to feel that there is a dark, unsettling energy in the air just off stage, always there, an inevitable force. There are also some interesting thoughts which emerge about motherhood and family structures and the effect of the lack of it on an impressionable mind.
In short: Atmospheric writing reveals a depth of character which totally involves the reader.
Here's what others think:
‘A dark, powerful and emotional novel with hauntingly beautiful prose. It will compel you to read on even as it sends chills up your spine’ Nicola Moriarty
‘This is a glorious, emotional novel about who we really are, where we belong in the world, and how truly at mercy we are to the events that shape us. I can't recommend it enough’ Louise Beech
About the Author
Cassandra Parkin grew up in Hull, and now lives in East Yorkshire. Her short story collection, New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing, 2011) won the Scott Prize for Short Stories. Cassandra's writing has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies.
You can follow Cassandra here:
Book links: Amazon UK (published May 3rd 2018)
Thanks to Cassandra Parkin and Imogen Harris of Legend Press for a copy of the book and a place on the tour.
Don't forget the rest of the tour