#RBRT Author Interview and Review: Hilary Custance Green

hilary            rosie3

I recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing ‘Border Line’ for Rosie Amber’s book review team. It’s an unusual and thought provoking book and I’m delighted to welcome Hilary to the blog today to find out a little more about her and her writing.

Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

As a child, I saw myself as a poet (like my grandmother), but reading the best poets, made me disenchanted with my efforts. I became a sculptor and many years later a research scientist. Then there was a moment in my forties, when my back was bad from my sculpture days, and I thought, what can I go on doing until I fall off the twig? Writing. Novels don’t have to be brilliantly written to give people pleasure. I’ll learn.

How did you come up with the title of your novel? 

Aaargh! Titles are serious angst territory. I had a working title of Across the Border, but when it came to submitting to agents, I changed the title many times. I tried surveys and no one agreed. I would have loved to title it Before I Sleep (from the Frost poem… but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep), but everyone else has used this title many times. Border Line is my husband’s suggestion and incorporates the Slovenian trek with the mental instability, but there are too many other books with the same title.

Who is your favourite/least favourite character in your novel?

I grew fond of them all in the end. Perhaps Imogen was most comfortable for me to inhabit. Ben was horribly slippery, so I let him become slippery on the page, if that makes sense.

What was the hardest part of writing for you? Were there any particular issues or hiccups when writing your novel?’

The hardest part was deciding to write in the first person, which I had not tried before. It seemed to be the only way to give the story immediacy without revealing the outcomes. I also had ethical issues over the subject matter. I did not want to write something that a vulnerable person would interpret as an encouragement to suicide, yet I believe passionately in choice over the issue of dying. When I have had feedback, I notice that people’s life experience has a direct effect on their reaction to the book.

What are you working on now? 

I have two projects. The one nearing completion is a non-fiction account of the experiences of Far Eastern POWs and their families back in Britain. I have hundreds of letters between my parents and between my mother and the wives, mothers and grandparents of the families left in silence when their men were captured. I also have my father’s memoirs of being a prisoner and building the Burma-Siam Railroad. My second project is fiction. It is about Jeannie, a successful middle-aged woman in the classical music business, with a confusing past and a tendency to land in trouble-spots and her biographer, a young man with spinal injuries.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Don’t stop.

Which writer would you choose as a mentor (alive or dead)? 

George Eliot. All the things I struggle with, she does so well.

Who is your favourite author and what is it that you love about their work?

Mary Renault, Jospehine Tey, Michael Frayn, Richards Powers. They all move me by writing about what it feels like to be human and they tell us of people bravely facing what the world throws at them.

Tell me something unusual about yourself.

I used to be a dab hand at welding. Since Christmas I have concluded that a onesie is ideal sleepwear.

You can find Hilary on her blog

on her website

on Twitter

and on Facebook

border line ebook

Border Line – extract

I am in my right mind.

It seems important to mention this because I sense my right mind slipping away – a sea-change over which I have little control. Before this goes too far, I need to record a transformation of a different kind; one as joyful as the distant sail to a castaway. Somewhere, no doubt, a butterfly flapped its wings to kick-start events. For me, the beginning is a freezing April night when the enchantment to come is way beyond the horizon.

Devon – Day nought

The smoothness of the mouse under my hand is comforting. When I turn it over, its crimson underside glows like a living organism – an illusion of heat. I look up at the screen again and there’s a pop-up message blinking at me. It says:

<Before you make any final decisions, please contact Daniel, I may be able to help you.>

My hand jerks away in case I respond by mistake. There’s an address, an email and a phone number. No purple flashing banners or suggestive graphics and the wording quite restrained; yet I feel exposed, watched from inside the screen. I hit the close button and breathe more easily.

The whole village is asleep. I’m sitting in Dad’s old wicker chair looking up Dignitas on the internet. If I have a choice, then dying in a dignified manner with someone at least within earshot would be better than vomiting alone in my bedroom. Having no visible illness or injury I don’t qualify for Dignitas, but I have to start somewhere. The founder has written an essay on why we should be able to choose when we die. Many people make failed attempts and end up injured or in mental homes. I worry about that.

The heating went off hours ago; my nightwear is poor cover and the weave of the chair is printing on my skin. I should go to bed.

I’m not as alone as I thought in wanting to opt out, though apparently seventy per cent of people who get a green light from the Dignitas clinic never actually take it up. Some who get as far as Switzerland change their minds at the last minute and come home.

I wish I owned slippers. I could fetch a pair of socks, but I daren’t stop now. There’s a Pied Piper drawing me on from website to website. I can’t help believing there is help or an answer somewhere out there.

<Before you make any final decisions, please contact Daniel, I may be able to help you.>

Again? I scrunch myself in the chair so I can hold my feet in my hands and rest my chin on my knees. This way the cold has fewer entry points as I watch the screen. The message blinks, but doesn’t move. Who is Daniel? Is he offering a quicker route? Is he hoping to cure me of my foolish intentions? Perhaps he’s religious. Most likely he wants to relieve me of my money and leave me washed up and still alive.

Of course he could be – no, he’s likely to be – something rather more sinister. I dream up a sadist with a taste for human flesh. I’ve given him my home address and here he is on my doorstep. I’m several minutes into this scenario before I stop myself. Feeling shaky and foolish, I’m a finger click away from the close button. Yet this Daniel is the only person in the world who knows that I want out, and he sounds… well his words are not unkind or unbelieving.

My Review

This book starts with a really intriguing and almost shocking opener – Grace is searching the internet for ways to kill herself. So we begin our journey with her and several other like-minded souls as they travel through Slovenia on one of the strangest ‘holidays’ I’ve ever encountered.

During her internet search, Grace, who at thirty-five certainly has a lot of years left to her, finds Daniel – a tour operator with a difference. Every year, Daniel takes a select few on a last trip, through the beautiful towns and countryside of Slovenia, until they reach the border – where they must decide whether to live or die.

Grace’s fellow travellers are an appealing and intriguing bunch, each extremely well-crafted and believable. At various points they give their reasons for wanting to die, some heart-breaking, some frustrating. I won’t give details here as these stories are a poignant part of the book that the reader needs to discover for themselves; suffice to say though that I wanted to shake Anita, hug Vicky and scream at Adam.

The subject matter is incredibly unusual and the book could be maudlin and depressing. However, the writer paints such a beautiful picture of Slovenia, with lovely descriptions that seem built on either experience or extremely thorough research, and most of her characters are so warm and real that rather than sadness, this book left me feeling uplifted. It was a really sympathetic look at why people despair of life, and how events and circumstances affect people in different ways.

My only criticism is that some of the stories weren’t developed quite enough to give solid reasons for some of the characters’ decisions to end it all – I’m thinking of Lyndsay in particular. I would also have liked Ben’s character and to have been developed further – I wasn’t quite sure what the brought to the story. I also wasn’t convinced that the epilogue was needed.

Don’t be put off by the subject matter – do give this thoughtful, though-provoking book a read. I thoroughly recommend it and will be reading more of the author’s work.

4 stars

Find a copy here (UK) and here (US)

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