Mave Fellowes Q&A + Chaplin & Company Giveaway

Giveaway now closed.

Last year I reviewed Mave Fellowes lovely, quirky debut Chaplin & Company.


Introducing… Odeline Milk, an unusual young lady from a sleepy market town.

She’s on her way to London, to make her name.

She hopes.

And with the small inheritance left her by her mother, she’s bought herself a home, an old canal boat.

What she doesn’t know yet is that for some the city’s canals have an appeal of their own. They are below the eyeline, a sort of half-world, a good place to hide for a community of curious outsiders, all with their own stories to tell, stories which might help a certain young lady to think differently about life.

I enjoyed Odeline’s story and that of the people she meets on the canals (click on the book cover to read my full review). To celebrate the publication of the novel in paperback, i’m delighted to welcome Mave to the blog to tell us more about Chaplin and Company and the female writers she loves.

Fellowes, Mave (c) Nick Pettman 2013

(©Nick Pettman, 2013)

Odeline is a quirky character, where did the inspiration from her come from?

I’m intrigued by spiky, antisocial characters, particularly cantankerous young people. I once saw a terrible children’s entertainer doing a magic performance at a Christmas party. She had the air of someone who thought she was far superior to that kind of work. The tricks were really obvious and the children lost interest and started heckling. She snapped at them and threatened to leave, by the end the parents were heckling too. She was a sad, brittle figure, so furious but so ridiculous in her polyester Father Christmas outfit. I felt sorry for her and wondered what she thought she ought to be doing with her life instead – what she dreamed of being. Odeline grew from this.

Odeline makes a number of friends in London who each have a story; how important was it to you that their stories formed part of the novel?

It became very important as I began to care about them more. I tried to weave them in without too much digression but could have gone deeper and deeper into their stories for chapters. I hoped they would provide a break from Odeline’s intensity, and also mirror her growing awareness of other people’s realities. Also, I wanted to create a strong sense of life around Little Venice; for me the people on their boats, and why they have come to be there, is what makes that.

For most of the novel, Odeline lives on a barge in London. What sort of research did you do about life on the towpath?

Much of my research was looking out of the window (I used to live next to the canal) or going for walks up to Little Venice. I got to know a few people who lived on the boats and asked them technical questions. My husband’s grandmother used to have a narrowboat and gave me some brilliant books on Canal history. The Canal Museum in Kings Cross was also very useful and run by people who know the answer to any canal-related question.

The barge brings together the novel’s dual narrative. Did you always intend for there to be a dual narrative and how did you go about structuring it?

I always felt the boat was more than just a stage for Odeline to play out her story. Narrowboats are very individual – each differently named and decorated, with a personality of its own. They are also part of a canal system that was once celebrated and is now largely neglected. This was something I wanted to get across and so decided to make it a story about the boat’s fortunes too. I wrote those historical sections and then placed them every few chapters where it felt like there could be a break, and where I hoped they could best inform the present narrative.

My blog focuses on female writers; who are your favourite women writers?

I keep a list of favourite reading so here is a comprehensive answer! For short stories: Janet Frame, Flannery O’Connor, Joy Williams, Zadie Smith, Lorrie Moore, Jhumpa Lahiri, Muriel Spark. For novels: Marilynne Robinson, Angela Carter, Anne Tyler, P.D.James. For non-fiction: Siri Hustvedt, Iris Murdoch. And Poetry: Emily Berry.

A huge thank you to Mave for such a great insight into the book and for the wonderful list of female writers, I’ve certainly noted several to take a further look at.

And that’s not all, thanks to Vintage books, I have three copies of Chaplin and Company to giveaway. Rules as usual are leave a comment below by 5pm on Tuesday 8th July U.K. time. Winners will be chosen at random and notified shortly after the closing time. The competition is open worldwide.

Edit. I’ve allocated each entrant a number in order of entry:

1 – Rebecca Foster
2 – Samstillreading
3 – Claire
4 – Cath Martin

The random number generator says:

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 17.12.12Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 17.12.24Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 17.12.36



Winners, check your emails. Sorry, Cath. Thanks to all of you for entering.

Thanks to Mave Fellowes for the Q&A and to Vintage for the giveaway.

Chaplin and Company – Mave Fellowes

Odeline Milk is the product of an accountant mother and a clown father – a two-week stand that took place when Cirque Maroc arrived in Arundel to entertain the locals. Odeline’s mother has died recently and, with the money from the sale of the house they shared in Arundel, Odeline has bought a houseboat – Chaplin and Company – moored at Little Venice in London.

[Odeline] makes for an unusual figure. From a short distance away she looks like an overgrown boy dressed in his father’s clothes. Not that many fathers these days wear the baggy pinstripe suits of a 1920s banker – or leather brogues, which in this case are several sizes too big, even for Odeline’s size 9s. She has the height for the suit but not the breadth and so the shoulder pads slip down, making the sleeves longer than they should be. The trousers are bulky under the jacket but held up by a pair of bright-red leather-buttonholed braces, which are probably Odeline’s favourite accessory. More preferred, even, than her bowler hat, which she is not wearing as she walks along the canal. It is wrapped in tissue paper inside her prop box. Her hair is absolutely black and forms a bowl round the back and sides of her head. A crudely short fringe sticks out slightly at the top of her forehead. It looks like she has cut it herself, and she has.


Odeline has come to London to make her fortune. She is a mime artist (her hero is Marcel Marceau), sick of playing children’s parties and being misunderstood. She hopes that in London she will find an audience who appreciate her talent.

She also hopes that she will find her father. She has written to him via the circus and her dream is that he will invite her to see him and ask her to join the company.

But of course, life’s never that simple.

Firstly, Odeline’s a little bit, well, odd. The kids at school called her ‘Odd-bod’ because:

[in] Provincial England, genteel England[,] nobody needed an unmarried mother in their town, or a dark-skinned girl in their child’s classroom…The Milks received no invitations. They were not acknowledged on the High Street, in the post office, or in the queue at the bank. They kept the shutters of their big red-brick house closed, to prevent townsfolk prying. They had no friends, but they did not want any.

Of course this means that Odeline’s social skills are somewhat underdeveloped and her outlook on life can be naïve and simplistic.

Secondly, Odeline’s life is going to be further complicated by the cast of characters who also live in Little Venice: John Kettle, the warden; Vera, the Eastern European woman who runs the barge café, and Ridley, the owner of the barge moored next door.

Amongst all this we also hear the story of the barge – how and why it was built; how it ended up in London – and the people who are part of its story.

I enjoyed the stories that Fellowes tells us, that of the barge’s conception and history and Vera’s history in particular. I also thought the tale of the barge’s past life and the way it connected with its present situation was rather neatly and quite amusingly done. However, it felt as though there were too many stories for a novel of this length. This meant that there wasn’t enough room to explore these interesting characters in a way that left me satisfied. It also meant that Odeline’s own journey felt a little truncated and perhaps not as convincing as it should have been.

However, this is a debut that shows a lot of promise – it is well written and I definitely wanted more. I look forward to reading Fellowes’ next offering.



Thanks to Jonathan Cape for the review copy.