Article published on February 21, 2018.
After reading The Shark Club (and reliving the fear inspired by her first viewing of Jaws!), Jade Craddock had some questions for author Ann Kidd Taylor.
Jade Craddock: Aside from Jaws, which I must admit I’m more familiar with in its film version than its book version, I haven’t come across any other novels featuring sharks; was this important to you when you wrote The Shark Club and are you surprised by their absence from literature?
Ann Kidd Taylor: I’m not surprised sharks haven’t turned up in more in literature. Like you, I was more familiar with the film version of Jaws. Many of us have the movie poster seared in our brains: a huge, menacing shark aiming for a hapless swimmer. And who can forget that music? For years, sharks have unfairly been burdened with the reputation as vicious, mindless, people-eating machines. There’s a lot of TV shows about shark attacks, but not so many about their impressive biology or their incredible migrations. When I wrote The Shark Club I wasn’t thinking about their absence from literature, but I I hope through their presence in my novel readers develop a fondness for them to rival our fascination.
Jade Craddock: What was the inspiration behind the inclusion of the sharks in your novel?
Ann Kidd Taylor: The character Maeve took up all the space in my imagination. The more I listened to her, I understood that she belonged in the water. Once I knew this, I began to read and watch voluminous amounts about the ocean and its creatures. After viewing a documentary on shark finning I knew I’d found the animal Maeve would do anything to save.
Jade Craddock: What do you think the sharks bring to the novel, perhaps that other creatures wouldn’t? And do they have a role in reflecting the personalities of the various characters?
Ann Kidd Taylor: The fact that Maeve is devoted to sharks and not puppies I hope shows readers that sharks can evoke more from us than fear. Readers might be surprised to learn how at risk sharks are from finning—the abhorrent practice of slicing off a shark’s fins while it’s alive. Sharks need protections to not only preserve their populations, but to preserve the health of oceans and humans. We’re all linked. Generally speaking, I didn’t use sharks to reflect the characters’ personalities. However, there is one scene in which Maeve is “working up” a bull shark named Rosie. Later, it became clear to me that I’d created a parallel between them. Hmmmm. You’ve made me want to look at every character now.
Jade Craddock: How much did you know/what was your experience with sharks before writing the book and how did that change in writing the book? What research did it entail?
Ann Kidd Taylor: Until I began my research, I was largely educated about sharks from the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week. For research, I relied on scientific articles, but I also read the work of oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle who has a poetic way of capturing her experiences in the water. The most helpful part of my research was a trip to the Ten Thousand Islands in Southwest Florida to tag sharks. The whole experience was invaluable. In addition, I spent a lot of time visiting aquariums to observe sharks up close.
Jade Craddock: Sharks tend to have a reputation and image as dangerous, predatory creatures, so it was really refreshing to see a different perspective, did your own views about them as a species change?
Ann Kidd Taylor: Absolutely. I didn’t love sharks before, but I love them name. Sharks have been around for millions of years. They’re older than trees! I learned how exquisitely evolved they are for living in oceans, and how devastatingly human actions can impact them.
Jade Craddock: The book also has an environmental conscience at its core, how important is it do you think that books help to raise awareness about nature/the environment? And what role do books play that other media don’t?
Ann Kidd Taylor: I’m in favour of any medium that raises awareness about protecting the members of our world family. Books are special, though. Kafka said, “A book must be the axe on the frozen sea within us.” People seem to inflict harm onto what they fear or don’t understand. If we can dispose ourselves to the suffering of others, whether they’re sharks or people, then we can become more empathetic and fiercer about protecting them. Books are magical in their abilities to transform us.
Jade Craddock: I loved the Hotel of the Muses – and its literary associations – was this based on a real-life hotel at all? And picking up on a couple of ideas from the novel – which author room would be your favourite to stay in and which literary character would you dress up as for the Book Bash?
Ann Kidd Taylor: While some of the Hotel of the Muse’s architectural features were inspired by The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL, the hotel in the novel was conjured from my imagination. I’m pretty sure I created the hotel I most would most want to visit. If I could, I would check into the Austen room, although the Anais Nin room was rather intriguing. Ah, the Book Bash. I don’t think my character Perri’s costume can be topped (I won’t give it away), but I would go as either a windswept Cathy Earnshaw or a spirited Jo March.
Jade Craddock: There’s a lovely range of individual and developed characters in the novel, Maeve’s twin brother, Robin, in particular is quite a complicated figure – what was the motivation for giving Maeve a twin and how much is his character shaped by his relationship to Maeve?
Ann Kidd Taylor: From the beginning, I knew Maeve had a brother. Making Robin and Maeve twins seemed to intensify their bond in uniquely complicated ways. At times, Maeve works hard to compensate for Robin’s bad behaviour. During their lives, dynamics developed between them out of love, grief, pain. It’s interesting to me that even in the thick of relationships, we can be blind to the dynamics at play.
Jade Craddock: I must admit Hazel rather steals my heart in the novel; how did you find the experience of writing Hazel – given both her difficult family situation and her infectious personality? And how important was she as a character in helping develop Maeve’s character and story?
Ann Kidd Taylor: I relished every second of writing Hazel. She spoke at a pace that my fingers could barely keep up with. The scenes of Maeve and Hazel interacting during shark club meetings were some of the most joyous to write. Hazel’s presence becomes very important for Maeve’s journey. They share the experience of losing a parent, their love for Daniel, and ultimately, it’s through six-year-old Hazel that Maeve sees the writing on the wall about her own life.
Jade Craddock: I really wanted a happy ever after for Hazel and though we don’t know how things turn out for her, was it hard to leave her at the point at which you do in the story?
Ann Kidd Taylor: Without giving away the ending, I wanted to leave Hazel in a place where the reader knows she’s okay. There are a lot of shark club meetings in Hazel’s future. That makes me happy.
Jade Craddock: How has your mum’s career as an author had an effect on your own relationship to books and writing?
Ann Kidd Taylor: My mother modelled what was possible for me. I saw that it wasn’t crazy or impractical to pursue writing a career. Growing up, I rarely saw her without a book. She most certainly passed on her affection for books to me.
Jade Craddock: Did your mum give you any advice for the novel?
Ann Kidd Taylor: Ever since we co-wrote Traveling with Pomegranates, we’ve shared a creative partnership. We worked so closely during the writing of that book that after we were done we were looking for ways to continue working together. We read each other’s work, toss out ideas, and encourage one another. Every writer needs a trusted creative ally.
Jade Craddock: And going forward, are there any more books in the pipeline?
Ann Kidd Taylor: Yes! I’m excited to tell you that after recently settling in North Carolina I’ve begun a second novel.
Jade Craddock: And finally, for anyone out there who doesn’t particularly like sharks and is a bit worried about reading a book in which they feature, do you have any fun facts that might make them more appealing?
Ann Kidd Taylor: I love this one: a person is more likely to be hit on the head by a falling coconut than bitten by a shark. If that doesn’t ease the worried reader’s mind I would offer that, ultimately, The Shark Club is a love story and about all the ways love haunts, sustains, and inspires.
Out thanks to both Ann and Jade for this excellent Q&A.
The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor
Headline Review 9781472247162 pbk Feb 2018
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