About the author:
Bridget Collins trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art after reading English at King’s College, Cambridge. She is the author of seven acclaimed books for young adults and has had two plays produced, one at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Binding is her first adult novel.
The Binding is an unforgettable, magical novel, and a boundary-defying love story. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Thank you so much! It’s set in the late nineteenth century, and it’s about Emmett, a young man who’s grown up on a farm, but he’s had a mysterious illness and can’t work any more – so when he’s summoned to be the apprentice to the local bookbinder he feels he has to go. He knows from his family’s reaction that there’s something a bit sinister and taboo about books, but it’s only as he spends time at the bindery that he discovers that books are really people’s memories, taken away and bound to keep them safe. So it’s about memory and identity, of course, and about how the stories we tell ourselves define who we are. But the heart of the book is a love story between two people who meet, fall in love, betray and forget each other – but not necessarily in that order!
What inspired the idea behind the novel?
I think there were two things that planted seeds for The Binding. The first was doing a bookbinding course. I just fell in love with it, with the materials (coloured papers, leather, cloth, gold) and the tools – it was all so tactile and lovely! And I loved the way the processes haven’t changed for centuries, which made me feel very close to the bookbinders of the past. At the same time, I was working as a volunteer with the Samaritans, a suicide crisis helpline, and I heard some very traumatic stories. Most of the time I was honoured to be part of someone else’s healing process, but every so often I’d talk to someone who’d got “stuck” in a specific memory, who wasn’t moving on – and then I began to wonder what it would be like if I could simply reach out and take that memory away, leaving them to start a new life, without that shadow falling over them. Would I do it, if I could? And what would it be like, really?
The Binding is your first adult novel. What was it like transitioning from Young Adult fiction to adult fiction?
It was challenging, but rewarding! When I wrote The Binding I was between contracts with my YA publisher and really didn’t know how to move forward, so I decided I was going to write a book for me and no one else, without second-guessing my audience. That meant that the first draft sat between YA and adult, and a big part of my first redraft was making sure it worked for the adult market. On one hand I wanted to add more detail, more of the world of the book, and I had more time to develop characters. In an adult book you have more room to breathe, as it were! But I was also taking things away, and spelling things out less. The subtleties of the relationships could be left to the reader to see, without me having to explain too much.
It was also very satisfying to be allowed swearwords…
The book deals a lot with themes of human emotion, and how we cope with and process particular memories and events. Did you conduct any research when writing this book to better understand the human condition?
Not exactly, but because the book’s genesis was my work with the Samaritans, I think I always had that at the back of my mind. I’m really interested in how we deal with “negative” emotions, and the pressures we feel to numb or deny them – and that definitely came from having those conversations with people who were struggling. Also, I’ve read about the way we make stories out of memories in order to make sense of them, and I’m fascinated by the importance of narratives in our lives, both healthy and unhealthy. (I suppose that’s par for the course, as I’m a writer!) So those ideas permeate the book. But I see my job as posing questions, so I just followed the threads of “what would this be like?” and “how would this work?” and “what would I do?” – I didn’t worry too much about knowing the answers!
What was your favourite book of 2018, and which book are you most looking forward to reading in 2019?
The books I’ve enjoyed most in 2018 have been Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, a brilliant, immersive fantasy based on the Rumpelstiltskin story, and Mary Renault’s The Charioteer, a 50’s classic which I discovered when I was researching the Quakers. In 2019 I can’t wait for Elizabeth Macneal’s The Doll Factory to be published, but as I’ve been lucky enough to read that already I guess it doesn’t count! I’m really looking forward to reading The Familiars, by Stacey Halls.