Inspiration behind Redemption Road by Lisa Ballantyne

A JOURNEY FROM THE PAST TO THE PRESENT: 
Lisa Ballantyne on the inspiration behind her new road trip novel, Redemption Road.

Redemption Road high resI’ve always loved travelling, have lived overseas and am never more happy than when I am on the road. My first solo journey was when I was 16 – travelling from Austria by train across what was Czechoslovakia to the then Deutsche Democratic Republic. It was the year that the Berlin Wall came down and the trip also opened up a whole new world for me. I caught the travel bug then and it seems as if I have never been able to settle since. I have been all over now: Africa, the Middle East, North and South America, not to mention Asia where I lived for just over six years.

It was therefore natural for me to pitch the characters of my second novel on a journey. George, the soft touch of a family of Glaswegian gangsters, steals his little girl and together they embark on a road trip from John O’Groats to Lands End, literally and symbolically from tip to the tail of Britain, chased by a maniacal and righteous journalist. In writing the 1980s scenes, I wanted the relationship between father and daughter to gradually soften as the road trip progresses, from one of captor and captive, to one of genuine affection and love.

As with my first novel, The Guilty One, this book emphasizes nature and nurture – good and evil. George and his family of Glaswegian gangsters came to me instinctively. I was attracted to the idea of someone growing up amid great violence but refusing to be inured by it. George is an example of the tragic questing hero, struggling to escape his environment and ultimately himself. I think George is the soul of this novel, and his failure is heart-breaking.

Once again, children and childhood is emphasized. In my writing, I always return to relationships between parents and children because it is such fertile ground. Families in general are a wonderful resource for novelists, but children in particular are useful because they are so truthful. I was also interested in the child, Moll, teaching her newfound father something – as all children are important teachers of adults. It was then that I hit on the idea of George being illiterate because of the institutional violence that he had experienced at school. Moll’s patient teaching not only liberates George but also repairs some of the damage that was done in his past.

All novels involve a psychic journey for the characters and in this novel the road trip itself is a mechanism for change. Redemption Road does not employ realism to the same extent as The Guilty One. The novel has a fable-like quality with large symbols, heroes and villains. Suspension of disbelief is nurtured as we explore the truth about family and love and the potential for change.

I really enjoyed writing this novel, and allowing my characters to visit the many sights and changing landscapes of Scotland and the British Isles. It is my great hope that readers will also appreciate the internal journey the characters undertake as they strive for redemption in their different ways.

 

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Q&A with Lisa Ballantyne

Redemption Road high resRedemption Road, Lisa Ballantyne’s second novel after international bestselling debut The Guilty One, publishes on 16th July 2015. Here, Lisa answers questions about both novels.

*Note: the final question contains spoilers so you may want to skip until you’ve read the book*

Both REDEMPTION ROAD, and your first novel THE GUILTY ONE deal with questions of nature vs. nurture. Do you believe one plays a more important role than the other?

I think the interplay between nature and nurture and free will is endlessly fascinating and I continue to hope for the power of human choice to overcome, but oftentimes this proves futile. George and his family of Glaswegian gangsters came to me instinctively. I was attracted to the idea of someone growing up amid great violence but refusing to be inured, broken by it. George is an example of the tragic questing hero, struggling to escape his environment and, to a large extent, himself, but who ultimately fails. I think George is the soul of this novel, and his failure is heart-breaking.

What was the first creative seed for REDEMPTION ROAD? Did a character or a storyline come to you first?

When I first began to work on REDEMPTION ROAD, I was interested in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the mechanism of memories from the past impacting on the present. The first scene of the book – involving the car crash and the strange saviour – came to me quite quickly and I knew that the burned man who rescues Margaret would be the key to her past. In writing the 1980s scenes, I knew I wanted to write about a man who steals his daughter and for the journey they took to be a redemptive one, spanning the whole country. I wanted the relationship between father and daughter to gradually soften as the road trip progresses, from one of captor and captive, to one of genuine affection and love.

Did any of your initial ideas change as you wrote?

In the early beginnings of the novel, the father-abductor that I sketched was too harsh and faceless and I had trouble with the relationship between him and his stolen daughter. I started over, and concentrated on George himself, his past and what he had been through to take him to the point where he would want to steal his daughter, after all these years. It was then that Big George was born and I fell in love with him straight away.

Children play an important role in your books, why do you think that is?

In my writing, I always return to relationships between parents and children because it is such fertile ground. Families in general are a wonderful resource for novelists, but children in particular are interesting because their personalities are still developing.
I was also interested in the child, Moll, teaching her newfound father something – as all children are important teachers of adults. It was then that I hit on the idea of George being illiterate because of the institutional violence that he had experienced at school. Moll’s patient teaching not only liberates George but also repairs some of the damage that was done in his past.

You grew up in the eighties like Moll, what, if anything was taken from your own memories of childhood at that time?

I enjoyed plundering my memory for the quirky details of those times, such as the insalubrious Tennent’s lager cans with the underwear models on the side. The ubiquitous powder-blue Volkswagen camper van that features in the road trip was something I remembered from childhood, as close family friends used to transport their seven children around in an olive-coloured VW. It was fun for me to revisit those years, with real telephones and telephone directories, and Angel Delight desserts.

Do characters ever take you by surprise while you are writing?

The scene where the teenage George and his loan shark father visit a debtor on a building site was an interesting one to write. It was one of the rare occasions when a character takes over and I as the writer watched the scene I was writing unfold. I knew George intimately, and I knew that he couldn’t do what his father was demanding of him. The outcome of the scene was George’s only choice and so he made it for me.

Did you ever imagine the book ending another way?

It is hard for both the writer and her readers when the hero dies at the end of the book and for me I wanted to literally bring George back to life – not just as he had become, but as he had been, all those years ago, in the dark recesses of Margaret’s memory. Ghosts are tricky to render if not infrequent in novels, but the ghost’s manifestation at the end of REDEMPTION ROAD is exactly how one of my aunts described her husband appearing to her, soon after he died. It was an image that had always stayed with me and so I chose it for the ending of my novel. It seemed right that the love between my main characters would survive in some tangible way.

Redemption Road publishes in paperback on 16th July 2015.

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Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship Poem

Lisa has written a poem inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson and her month-long residency in Grez-sur-Loing in France. In summer this year, she was the recipient of the prestigious Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship.

http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/blog/writing/2014/10/robert-louis-stevenson-fellowship-lisa-ballantyne

The Nature of Influence

To Robert Louis Stevenson, on a visit to Grez-sur-Loing

 

I read you were woken by doves
and here, too, so am I.

I read in the small, worn book
(size of my palm, smell of skin)
written by your cousin, published seven years after
you died.

This here the ninth edition, 1911,
in which I found a four leaf clover
pressed; its green matured inside the closed book
to dark spring, potent, owning its power,
a well-kept secret.

Four tiny veined leaves, perfect and precious
as baby’s fingernails.
It is a gift from the past I have received,
but I know not from whom.

The river is ever changing and yet I see it as the
Self-same river you called ‘pellucid’
but also ‘choked with sedge’.
I have walked over cobbles the soles of your feet have tread,
and now I slip into your water to swim.
The current is strong and your sedge shackles my ankles.

You are everywhere here:
in the sycamore seeds parched on the old stone
in the poise of the gecko that listens to my thoughts
in the whirr and beat of the invisible wings
of aquamarine dragonflies – heard but not seen –
as your enduring voice.

The tug of the river makes my strokes stronger.
I swim hard for shore, uncertain where I’ll end up.

And then, basking, skin drying,
I watch bees thin as wasps work the clover.
On my stomach, in the forest of short weeds
I find my own: can you believe, larger and greener?
I press it on the self-same page where I first found you.

By Lisa Ballantyne

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Lisa Ballantyne among recipients for prestigious Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship

Lisa is immensely grateful to Creative Scotland and Scottish Book Trust for awarding her one of the five prestigious Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowships

http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/blog/2014/05/recipients-of-2014-robert-louis-stevenson-fellowships-announced

Each of the fellows spend a month’s residency in Grez-sur-Loing in France, an area steeped in creative history.

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THE GUILTY ONE wins R&J Book Club Vote

Fantastic news! Lisa Ballantyne has won the readers’ vote for the Richard and Judy autumn Book Club titles at WH Smith with her “emotionally intense” debut novel The Guilty One.

Readers voted online for their favourite of the chain store’s autumn Book Club reads, with The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline) coming a close second in the poll and The Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell (Orion) coming in third place.

When asked why he and Judy had come to choose The Guilty One, Richard Madeley said: “It is of the most readable, emotionally intense novels of the year, and a debut one at that.  By the end of the first chapter, we were completely hooked.”

Ballantyne said: “I was utterly delighted that The Guilty One was voted the winner of the 2012 Autumn Book Club. It was wonderful to have been chosen for the book club in the first place and to be listed among other such established authors.”

Huge congratulations to Lisa – if you haven’t yet got your hands on a copy of this debut, it’s time to hot foot it down to the bookstore now!

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Extract from THE GUILTY ONE

At the beginning of The Guilty One, London-based lawyer Daniel receives a letter. But who is it from, what are they apologising for and why was he unable to forgive her?

Dearest Danny,

This is a hard letter to write.

I’ve not been well, and I know now that I don’t have much longer. I can’t be sure to have my strength later, so I want to write to you now. I’ve asked the nurse to post this when it’s my time. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the last bit, but I’m not frightened about dying. I don’t want you to worry.

I wish I could see you one more time, is all. I wish you were with me. I feel far from home, and far from you. So many regrets and bless you, love, you are one of them –if not the biggest regret that I have. I wish I’d done more for you; I wish I’d fought harder.

I’ve said it to you often enough over the years, but know that all I ever wanted was to protect you. I wanted you to be free and happy and strong, and do you know what? – I think you are.

Although I know it was wrong to do what I did, I think of you now, working in London, and it brings me a strange peace. I miss you, but that is my own selfishness. In my heart I know that you are doing grand. I am fit to burst with pride at the fact that you’re a lawyer, but I am not a bit surprised. I have left you the farm, for what it’s worth. You could probably buy the old place with a week’s wages, but maybe for a time it was home to you. At the very least, I wish that.

I always knew you’d be successful. I just hope that you are happy. Happiness is harder to achieve. I know that you probably still don’t understand, but your happiness was all I ever wished for. I love you. You are my son whether you like it or not. Try not to hate me for what I did. Release me from that and I will rest easy.

All my love,
Mam

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WIN a copy of THE GUILTY ONE to review

The Guilty One – the sensational debut novel from Lisa Ballantyne – is available in exactly two weeks.

Publishing into the same slot as Rosamund Lupton’s unforgettable bestseller Sister, we can’t recommend this novel more highly. Emotional and compelling, with all the pace and suspense of a thriller, The Guilty One is a book that will have you hooked from the very first page.

But don’t just take our word for it. We’re already receiving rave reviews from book buyers, sellers and press but we want to know what YOU think.

We’re giving away five copies of The Guilty One. In return, we’d like you to read it and write us a short review (100 words or less).

If you’d like the opportunity to read and review this incredible debut before it hits the shelves, head on over to the Piatkus website to enter the competition here.

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