Interview with Laura Spence-Ash - BEYOND THAT, THE SEA

Interview with Laura Spence-Ash - BEYOND THAT, THE SEA

In this interview, Laura and I discuss Beyond That, the Sea, exploring how someone moves forward when they can't quite figure out who they are and where they belong, telling the story through multiple points of view and why she selected the people she did to tell the story, the source of her title, the timeline in the footer, and much more.

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In this interview, Laura and I discuss Beyond That, the Sea, exploring how someone moves forward when they can't quite figure out who they are and where they belong, telling the story through multiple points of view and why she selected the people she did to tell the story, the source of her title, the timeline in the footer, and much more.

Laura's recommended reads are:

  1. Violets by Alex Hyde
  2. The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken
  3. In the Orchard by Eliza Minot

My Read-Alike Request Recommendations for Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley:

  1. Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
  2. The Lido (Mornings with Rosemary) by Libby Page
  3. Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin
  4. The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page

Support the podcast by becoming a Page Turner on Patreon.  Other ways to support the podcast can be found here.    

Beyond That, the Sea can be purchased at my Bookshop storefront.     

If you enjoyed this episode and want to listen to more episodes, try Kate Manning, Lynn Cullen, Sadeqa Johnson, Shelley Read, and Jennifer Rosner.

Ask Me Anything question for me for April's episode? Submit it here.

Want to submit a Read-Alike Request for the podcast? Submit it here.

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[00:11] Cindy:Welcome to the award-winning Thoughts from a Page podcast, a member of the Evergreen Podcasts Network hosted by me, Cindy Burnett, a voracious reader and book columnist who provides you with casual author conversations and book recommendation episodes, as well as insider information on all of the newest releases that I personally endorse and on the publishing industry in my Behind the Scenes series. With so many books coming out weekly, it can be hard to decide what to read, so I find the best ones and share them with you. For more book recommendations or to find my backlist of interviews, visit my website at


Have you read a book recently that really resonated with you and makes you want to read a book more like it? If so, submit a Read Alike Request to me through my Google Form located in today's Show Notes and tell me why you loved it, and I will suggest some similar reads on a future Tuesday episode.


If you are interested in reading some great books before they publish, I hope you will consider joining my Patreon group to access additional content, including early reads and pre-pub author chats and bonus episodes. For March, there are two books: Colleen Oakley's new book, The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise, and Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl by Renee Rosen. And for April, my selection is The Comeback Summer by writing duo Ali Brady. The link to join is in the Show Notes.


Today I am chatting with Laura Spence-Ash about Beyond That, the Sea. Laura's fiction has appeared in One Story, New England Review, Crazy Horse and elsewhere. Her critical essays and book reviews appear regularly in the Plowshare's Blog. She received her MFA in fiction from Rutgers, Newark, and she lives in New Jersey. I hope you enjoy our conversation.


And now for my Read Alike Request segment. While every book is unique and stands alone, certain elements of books we really love stick with us. While lots of websites use algorithms to try and recommend similar books, I rarely find that these recommendations make sense because they do not focus on what it is I liked about a particular book. That is what I want to tap into the aspects of the book that appealed to the requester and to focus on finding those elements in other books. Today's request is from Rebecca, and she selected Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley, which was one of my favorite books of 2022. Magazine columnist Iona Iverson rides the train to and from work every day, seeing the same people to whom she has privately given nicknames such as Mr. Too Good to Be True and Smart, but Sexist Manspreader. None of the commuters ever speak to one another until the day when one of them chokes on food and is saved by another rider. This incident makes Iona realize that she wants to learn more about her fellow writers, and she begins to develop relationships with them as she rides, inserting herself into their issues, helping resolve their problems and even becoming friends with some of them. Rebecca enjoyed the book because she loved the characters, especially Iona. She says, I guess as I am growing older, my heart is tender toward those older female characters that just don't quit. I am currently reading The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise and so far it is giving me similar feels. I just love Louise and I will say here I also just love Louise. Rebecca continues, I am wondering if you can suggest some backlist titles with equally delightful characters. So this is one that I was so excited to see come through because as I mentioned, I loved Iona and I love these type of books where a group of people come together and really become a community. The first book I'm going to recommend as a Read Alike to Iona Iverson is Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson. Rebecca is looking for books about strong older female characters and Tina Hopwood, the main female character in Meet Me at the Museum, comes to realize that she is just that type of woman. As the book progresses, the book is told solely through letters between Tina, a farmer's wife in England, and Anders Larson, the curator at a Danish museum. As they continue to write back and forth to each other, their lives, loves and losses are unveiled to each other and the reader and Tina really comes into her own. My next recommendation is The Lido by Libby Page. When the book came out in paperback, the publisher renamed it Mornings with Rosemary because Americans do not use the term lido, which is an outdoor pool and rec center, so it may be easier to find it under that title. The book tells the tale of Kate, a lonely 26 year old suffering from anxiety, and Rosemary, an 86 year old widow who swims daily at her local Lido, which is being targeted by a development company who wants to buy the land and build an expensive apartment complex there. Kate works at a local paper and is assigned to write a story about the closing of the Lido. As she begins working on this story, Kate meets Rosemary and the two form a life changing friendship that benefits and transforms both women. Rosemary is a fantastical fictional character and how I would like to be when I reach her age. I think The Lido is a great read alike for Iona Iverson. The third book that I am recommending is Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perron, which is translated from the French. Violette is a caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Borgon. Random visitors, regulars and most notably her colleagues, three grave diggers, three groundskeepers and a priest visit her as often as possible to warm themselves in her lodge, where laughter, companionship and occasional tears mix with the coffee that she offers them. Her daily life is lived to the rhythms of their hilarious and touching confidences. This book is very French and very character driven and just a delightful read. Violet reminds me so much of Iona, and I think Freshwater for Flowers is a great read alike for Iona Iverson. This time around, I'm going to recommend four books because while Rebecca asked for backlist titles, there is a new book that has just come out that is such a perfect fit that I didn't want to pass it up. So the last book that I am recommending is The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page. It is one of my top reads so far of 2023. When Janice starts cleaning for Mrs. B, a shrewd and tricky woman in her 90s, she meets someone who wants to hear her story. But Janice is clear she is the keeper of stories. She doesn't have a story to tell. Mrs. B is another character who reminds me so much of Iona. They both have lived for a long period of time and have such great information to impart to others. And so I think this is another great read alike for Iona. While Rebecca mentioned loving stories about older women, I have also read a couple of other stories about older men that I loved as well. The first is The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen by Hendrik Groen, which is a pseudonym. It is the start of a series of which I have read. The first two. They are set in a retirement community in Sweden and are translated into English. I just love them. I love Hendrik and I love all of his friends. The other is The Big Finish by Brooke Fosse, also set in a retirement community about two men and one of their grandchildren. It is a great read with more depth than the COVID would make you think. Thanks so much, Rebecca, for submitting a read alike request and I hope you enjoy these recommendations. And now onto my conversation with Laura Spence-Ash. Welcome, Laura. How are you today?

[07:08] Laura:I'm fine, thank you, Cindy. Thank you so much for having me on.

[07:12] Cindy:I'm so glad you're here because I absolutely loved your book. I read it a while ago and I just refreshed myself on it this morning and you just have such a way with words.

[07:23] Laura:Thank you so much. I mean, it's really important to me and it's lovely to hear that because I spend a lot of time on my sentences in my paragraph, because that's part of the writing process that I enjoy so much is making each sentence as good as it can be.

[07:37] Cindy:Well, it definitely worked and it's one of those books that will stay with me. It has stayed with me and refreshing myself on it this morning just reminded me why I loved it so much. So before we dive into my questions, why don't you just give me a quick synopsis of Beyond That, the Sea?

[07:53] Laura:Sure. So Beyond That, the Sea is the story of two families whose lives become intertwined when the daughter of a British family is sent to live with an American family during the war, and she's there for five years and then goes back to London. But the novel follows both families from 1940, when they first come into contact with each other for the next 35 years. So you get to see the impact of this decision that one family made to send their daughter away on the members of that family, but also on the family that took her in.

[08:23] Cindy:How did you decide to write about this topic? How did you learn that children were sent all the way to the US and then how did you decide to turn that into a book?

[08:31] Laura:So, a very long time ago, in 1998, I read an article in The New York Times about a group of older adults from Britain who came back to the States to see where they had been during the war. And that was the first time I had learned that children were sent out of the country. I knew, of course, that children were sent to the country. That's where most children went. But in fact, somewhere around 14,000 children were sent out of Britain through both public and private programs. And I was just fascinated by this at that time. When I read the article, my kids were one and five, so it really resonated with me, both from the child's perspective as well as from the parents perspective about having to make a decision like that. And I wasn't really writing at the time, but I was so fascinated by this, and so I started reading. I read a number of different books. I was in London. I went to the Imperial War Museum. So I read some things there, and I got a sense of what domestic life in Britain was like during the Blitz. And then I read a memoir by a man who, coincidentally, was sent with his brother to live in the town where I went to high school, a town south of Boston. And that was the thing that just opened it up for me. All of a sudden, I could see this place. I knew this place. I knew what it was like in all seasons. He and I went to the same school, so I could see that as well. And out of that sort of grew these families and grew the whole story.

[09:56] Cindy:Because I was the same way you were originally. I knew that children had been sent all over England, but I did not know that they had been sent outside of the country until I read your book.

[10:05] Laura:Yeah, it's really fascinating, and it actually tragically stopped. I put her on the boat, the same boat that the guy who wrote that memoir I was just talking about was on. And the next boat, the next ship that went out was actually torpedoed and a number of children died. And that was the end of sending children out of the country. That was the final reason why they didn't do that anymore. I suspect if they'd continued, the number would have been much larger than 14,000.

[10:34] Cindy:Well, as a mom of young children when you first learned about this, and I'm a mom of older children now, I really struggled with the idea of sending my kids that far. Did you?

[10:44] Laura:I did. I mean, I totally understand why people made that choice. I think to live in London at that time must have been incredibly frightening and that you had to go to these extreme places to think about the safety of your child. But to know that you had the option to send them to the country or so far away that I struggled with a bit more, it felt to me like, for me, the safer solution would have been to send my child to the country, because at least that was close enough that I could potentially see them. But to think of putting them on a ship by themselves and sending them across an ocean just seemed almost unfathomable to me. And I think that's partly what drew it to me. What drew the idea of the story to me was thinking about making that kind of a decision.

[11:31] Cindy:Well, in your main character's name is B, and her mother is Millie. And Millie really struggles after they've sent B because they had no idea how long the war was going to last. And I guess that's another thing you have to keep in mind. We're not living during this time period. You mentioned London and how horrific it was to be there during the Blitz, but also, no one really expected the war to go on forever. So Millie thinks, okay, we'll send B away for some defined amount of time, but I'm sure she never dreamt it would be five years.

[11:59] Laura:I think that's right, and I hope you see that in the book, that you see her kind of struggling with this and struggling to come to terms with the decision that she and her husband made. We all regret so many things, and I think she absolutely regrets that decision and regrets it for probably most of her life. I mean, I think it's something that she can't quite ever get away from that decision that she made.

[12:22] Cindy:You definitely do demonstrate that. And Millie struggles, and I don't want to have any spoilers, but there's some things that happen that be really misses, and I think that also makes Millie struggle with her decision.

[12:35] Laura:That's right. And she was an interesting character to write because I think the first couple of drafts, she was a harsher person. And I sort of made her I think I got to know her better and I got to understand her struggle a little better. And so therefore, I became more sympathetic towards her, and she became a little softer on the page because of that.

[12:56] Cindy:That makes sense. The other thing that really resonated with me was that once B has been sent away and returns home, she never really gets settled again until later in life. Like trying to decide what is home, what does home mean? I think she almost feels like she's kind of without a set home.

[13:15] Laura:I think that's right. And that was what I was really interested in exploring for her, is how do you move forward if you kind of can't figure out who you are and where you belong? I think she does absolutely feel quite split between the two places and the two families. And I think she tries very hard. We see her for just a few days in the, then when we see her again in the, think she's really trying to make London her home and make her mother her mother again and really get settled there. But she's always a little bit got one eye towards the States and the family that she had there.

[13:54] Cindy:I agree. And you think it's the so she came back over a decade before that and she's still struggling to kind of reconcile her childhood and where she belongs.

[14:06] Laura:That's right. And that's why the prologue actually opens in 1963. So we get a little sense of her then. And that's why I decided on that for the prologue, because I wanted a moment where she's almost got herself set in England, but she's still feeling that tug from the States because she's just been back there for a trip. And that's kind of a moment, a shift for her is that moment in 1963.

[14:31] Cindy:And you tell the story through multiple POVs. How did you decide to do that and then how did you decide who would tell the story?

[14:38] Laura:So I worked on this book for a very long time. I know I first workshopped a chapter in 2009, so it's been in my head and on the page for a long time. And I originally thought I would write it all from Bea's perspective. And so I tried that for a while and it wasn't really working. And then I thought I would write it from Bea and from William and Gerald. Those are the two boys in the family in the States where she goes to live, that they would each narrate a section of it. And I tried that for a while and that also didn't work. And then I wrote a short story separate from this that had two characters over the course of 30 years, and it just pinged back and forth between the two characters. And because it was a short story that was really just a paragraph, I would just do a paragraph and then move forward in time and it would be the other character and a paragraph. And I loved the way that felt, this idea of kind of these moments, not even scenes, but just kind of moments. And I thought that combined with the fact that I was getting very interested in the perspectives of the parents as well as the children. I thought, well, let me try this. Let me try to have the points of view of all the members of both families and to write in these shorter chapters so that I can kind of move through time quickly. But let us hear from everybody in both families. And it turned out that that was the way that felt right for me. The right way to tell this story was to hear from everybody and to move very quickly through time.

[16:09] Cindy:The parents are such pivotal characters that I think making sure they can tell part of the story is really imperative.

[16:17] Laura:I agree. I think it would have been a very different book to not have the parents there at all. I mean, I think it's so important because I think originally I was thinking of this as Bea's story, but in fact, I think it is the story of the two families. And so it's really important to hear from everyone if that's the story you're trying to tell. I think.

[16:36] Cindy:I think that's right, because I particularly enjoyed the mom's points of view, obviously, because I am a mom. But understanding where both Nancy, who's the mom in the States and then Millie, as we mentioned, is Bea's birth mom, how they are approaching it, how it seems to them, how they're living through it, how it makes them feel.

[16:54] Laura:Yeah, I think it's a much more three dimensional approach to telling the story. Right. We really get to hear from everyone, and we get to understand this from so many different angles.

[17:06] Cindy:Well, which character was the easiest to write and which was the hardest?

[17:10] Laura:I would say I'll start with the hardest first. I think the hardest was William, who's one of the brothers, the older brother in the States. He's a character who's not very happy, I think, in his own skin. And that was difficult for me to access because that's not something that I'm familiar with. So it was a challenge for me to kind of understand him and to portray him accurately on the page. I think Bea was probably the character that I enjoyed writing the most. She was certainly the one because I had originally thought it was going to be her story and her story alone that I had spent the most time thinking about and writing about. And so when I wrote her sections, I was always very familiar with her. I knew her very well.

[17:53] Cindy:You'd spent the most time with her.

[17:55] Laura:Exactly.

[17:56] Cindy:Well, what about the highlight of writing the book?

[17:58] Laura:It was really fun for me to write the later sections again because I think when I was writing those earlier drafts, I'd spend a lot of time thinking about the three characters as children. But when I got to the think about them as adults and to see the adults that they had become from the children we had seen earlier was really fun and surprising and exciting. Like, I was excited to write the section in the 60s because I didn't always know exactly what was going to happen, and that was a really fun place to be.

[18:32] Cindy:I think it's so interesting because a theme that just appears in book after book after book is the fact that unless you reconcile your past, it's hard to live in the present. And I definitely felt like that was a theme of this book.

[18:45] Laura:Those are the books that I love. I love books that are sort of thinking about the past and its weight on the present and how characters often need to reconcile something that's happened in the past in order to move forward. Colm Toibin is one of my favorite writers, and he does this all the time. I think every single one of his books is sort of negotiating that space between the past and the present. And so, obviously, I love reading that, and so that's what I like to write about as well.

[19:15] Cindy:Well, I obviously love reading that as well because I feel like it's popping up in book after book, and it is important and I think it's correct. I mean, the past informs the present, but it's just interesting to see how often that arises.

[19:28] Laura:I think it's fascinating. Yeah, the whole idea of sort of time passing and what that does to characters. I mean, that's one of the reasons I wanted to write about such a large span of time, is that I'm always fascinated to see what happens over many, many years, not just over a weekend or a night or, you know, a few months.

[19:48] Cindy:Well, and you're mentioning the time makes me think of something that I really liked in your book. It's divided into parts, and within each part in the footer, you have the time frame. So in the earlier ones, when there's a span of the war, you have all of the years listed, and then you have the year that is, the present year for that chapter highlighted. And then as you move on, you have the 1950s or the 1960s. I really like that. I don't think I've ever seen that in a book before.

[20:12] Laura:I know I came up with that while I was drafting the book, and partly I came up with it for myself because I was losing track. I was moving pretty quickly through time, and I'd have to stop and say, Wait, what year am I in? Is it 1960? Is it 1961? So I came up with it for myself, but then I put it in there, and when I workshopped that, everyone really liked it. And I've heard other early readers say that as well, that it's just a really nice way to kind of stay on top of where you are in the story. The other thing I think it does is that it sort of underscores the importance of time in this novel and that this novel is in part about time passing and what happens over a large stretch of time.

[20:54] Cindy:Well, that's what made me think about it right now because it was on my list to ask you about later on after we talked about the cover, but once you mentioned time passing and that being a theme of the story, I thought, well, this is the perfect place to mention it. But yes, it really does underscore the time passing and it helps you place yourself as where you are in time in the story, which a lot of times in stories I'm having to flip back and forth the beginning of the chapter, what year is it again? So I thought that was just so helpful.

[21:19] Laura:Yeah, I'm so glad it's there. I was worried that it might get taken out in the editing process, but everyone seemed to love it and I love the way it looks on the page. It's really wonderful.

[21:30] Cindy:I agree. Another thing that I have been interested in lately is how authors choose their character names. So many associations go with a particular name. So as you were sitting down to write, how did you decide on Bea and Millie and Nancy and everyone's names?

[21:45] Laura:So B, I think, was there from pretty early on. I like the fact that she could sort of have three different names, right? She could be Beatrix, she could be Bea and she could be Trixie. And I liked the idea that she would have different names in different places. That sort of was nice with this idea of her identity and trying to figure out who she was. The fact that she would have different names depending on where she was and what family she was with, that worked really well for me in terms of some of the other names. Some of them had just came to me. Nancy just seemed like a Nancy to me. So that's how she got that. And I think the same with Millie and Reg. Ethan is interesting because that was not his name for most of the time I was working on this book. In fact, that did not get changed until we were well into the editing process. His name had actually been someone that I'd gone to high school with. And as I mentioned, this was based, although never named, in the town where I went to high school. And I just always liked this person's name. It wasn't that it was based on him. I just liked the way his name sounded. But I realized as we got towards the end that I really needed to change that. And then I was actually on Facebook and a friend of mine from high school had posted a picture of her father who had taught at this school. And I looked at the photo of him and I realized that his physical, his face was the face I was imagining for Ethan, and his name had been Ethan. And so I borrowed his name for the character and it just seems so perfect now. Like. Of course he's Ethan. But yeah, I love thinking about names and making sure they're the right names. And for William and Gerald, Gerald was actually my mother had a cousin named Gerald, and I always liked that name. It's not a name that you hear a lot now, I feel. And so I liked that. And again, it very much fits the character of Gerald. And William I liked because again, it's a name sort of like Beatrix that can be used in different ways. Right. You can have William, but you can also one of the characters calls him Willie. His brother calls him Willie. Some people call him Will. So I like the way that that could also be a name that could change over time.

[23:53] Cindy:And William is one of those characters that is so complex. As you mentioned earlier, he's just never comfortable in his skin and for some reason his name fit him, I think.

[24:02] Laura:So, right. It's almost not the right name for him, I think. And I sort of like that because I think that's very fitting to who he is. But even his name doesn't seem quite right.

[24:12] Cindy:So, Laura, this is your debut. What did you do prior to writing?

[24:17] Laura:So I had way back in college, I had written not very well, but I had written, and I always thought I would get back to it. But life kind of took a different turn and I ended up getting an MBA. I worked in finance and marketing, mostly in the television industry. And then I was home with my kids for a little while. And when I went back to work, I worked at Princeton University in administrative capacities. But again, the writing was always sort of there something I wanted to get back to. And then my father died in 2007, my mother died in 2012. And those were both sort of moments, I think it happens for a lot of people, where I sort of sat down and said, okay, what do I want to do with the rest of my life? Right. I think it's really one of those kind of life moments that a lot of people reassess their own lives when their parents are gone. And writing was the thing for me that I wanted to get back to. So I started going to some summer workshops, started taking a few classes here and there. And then I had the amazing opportunity of having a story published, my first story publication in One Story magazine, which is a wonderful literary journal. And that gave me the courage and the self-confidence to apply to MFA programs, which I'd always wanted to do, but just never really had the courage to do that. But I did that. And even when I was thinking about MFA programs, I always thought I would. Go to a low residency program and keep working. But I ended up applying to Rutgers, Newark and getting a teaching fellowship there. So I was able to quit my job and do that full time for two years. And it was just the most wonderful experience ever. It allowed me not only to just spend my time thinking about writing and reading a lot, it gave me a community of writers to be a part of. And most importantly, I think it allowed me to kind of own the fact that I was a writer. Up until then, I really hadn't told very many people I'd like to write or that this was something that I was interested in doing. That was all really wonderful. And I got to study with the amazing Alice Elliot Dark who teaches there. She is just a wonderful teacher and a wonderful writer, and I got to take workshop with her. She was my thesis advisor. So all in all, that was just an amazing experience, and I'm so thankful that I got to do that.

[26:38] Cindy:Can you tell me a little bit more about a teaching residency? I mean, you are discussing parts of it, but it's not something I'm really familiar with. My listeners may not be as well.

[26:46] Laura:So Rutgers, Newark is a full time MFA program, and if you get a teaching fellowship, then you're teaching undergraduates. In my case, I was teaching composition. So I was teaching one course a semester while I was there for the two years and then taking the MFA classes and being in workshops, et cetera. So that was just wonderful. If I had done a low residency MFA program, those run people are allowed to sort of keep their jobs, keep their regular lives, and two times, I think, during the year, they go off for a week or ten days as part of a residency and get their MFA in that way.

[27:26] Cindy:I was wondering what the low residency meant as well. So thank you.

[27:30] Laura:Yeah, it's a great way to sort of have everything right. You can keep working, you can keep your job, you can keep your home life, but then you can get your MFA in this other way. So it's really a wonderful opportunity for people who can't sort of stop everything they're doing and do a program full time.

[27:48] Cindy:Absolutely. So after you did that program, then you began working on your book?

[27:53] Laura:Not quite. I worked a little bit on it, actually, the fall after I finished the program, which was the fall of 2016, that was when I sort of realized what I was speaking about earlier, about using all the different points of view. So I did start working on it in that format then, but I wasn't working a lot on it. I started the founding editor of a journal called Craft, and that took up a lot of time. And for the time that I was doing that, which was about a year and a half that we were getting that up and running. I really didn't write at all. But I left there partly because of that, because I really wanted to be writing. So I left there in the fall of 2018, and it was over the course of that next year that I wrote the book. I took a yearlong novel generator class at Catapult that was led by Lynn Steger Strong, who's just a wonderful writer and a fantastic teacher. And there were twelve of us in that class and we all wrote a novel over the course of that year. It was really wonderful. It was terrific for me to have that structure, to have Lynn and everyone else in the cohort waiting for pages and knowing that I had to produce this thing and that structure allowed me to actually do that.

[29:10] Cindy:It's amazing to me how many fabulous resources there are for writers.

[29:15] Laura:It's really fantastic. I mean, as I said earlier, part of what I loved about the MFA was becoming part of their writing community. And I just love it. I love being part of this world that is so supportive. And as you say, there are so many resources for writers out there. Sometimes it takes some time to research them and find them. But it's just such a wonderful world to be part of.

[29:40] Cindy:Well, you must have made some wonderful connections at both programs.

[29:43] Laura:I really did. And it's just been so wonderful to be part of this writing community. The other place where I've made a lot of connections is going to some of the summer workshops, like Tin House or Sewanee. I've met so many wonderful writers there and set up relationships. And every year I go to the National Writing Conference, which is called AWP. This year it's going to be in Seattle in March. And one of the reasons I love going in fact, the main reason I love going is to see all my friends, to see all these writers that I've gotten to know over the years from various places, all in one place. It's really a lot of fun it.

[30:22] Cindy:Is to reconnect with people, talk about trends, talk about what you're working on, whatever it is.

[30:27] Laura:Exactly. It's so much fun to talk to writers. It's my favorite thing in the world.

[30:32] Cindy:Mine too. And I'm not writing. I just enjoy hearing about it all. So I totally get that. If I were writing, I'm sure I would really love it. Well, let's talk about your gorgeous cover and how the title came about.

[30:44] Laura:So thank you. Yes, I love the cover; I love the font that they used. I love the fact that the woman is somewhat timeless, right? She could be from 1940, she could be from 1960. She could be standing in the States looking out towards Europe, or she could be in Britain looking out towards the States. So I like the ambiguity about that. And I particularly like the way that she's situated between the words the and sea. Again, I think it goes back to that idea of be struggling with her identity of where she belongs. And I think that sort of nicely, subtly underscores that. The title comes from a Virginia Wolf quote that's at the beginning of the book, and I will read that the quote is, in the beginning there was the nursery with windows opening onto a garden, and beyond that, the sea. And that's from the waves by Virginia Wolf. And I had written that down years and years ago. I just loved it because to me, that's sort of the story of a life, right in a sentence that you start in this very contained place. In the beginning there was the nursery and we all start in that place, and then the windows opening onto a garden. You get this sense of things opening up and air coming into the room and light, and then the idea of Beyond That, the Sea, things opening up and unfurling even more. And I had thought about that for the title for quite a long time, but I wasn't sure that it worked for a long time. The title was Stay With Me Now, and that was partially the title because there were sections that were in first person originally, and so it made sense to have Stay With Me Now, but once I switched to third person, I didn't feel it worked as well. It also felt a little generic, a little vague. I wasn't sure it was quite right. And someone said to me, you should do something that has this imagistic because there's a lot of visual imagery in the book. And so I returned again to that Beyond That, the Sea. And it wasn't until we submitted to editors that I actually changed it to Beyond That, the Sea. And I was again worried, like with the timeline that it would need to change. But no, they all really like the title. And now it just feels like the perfect title for the book.

[32:59] Cindy:I feel like it's the perfect title too. It's unique. But also Bea has to go across the sea and then back across the sea. So The Sea is kind of what separates her two lives. And to me that also resonated with.

[33:11] Laura:Me with the story exactly. And this idea that there are people on both sides of the Atlantic yearning for each other. And I think the cover imagery does that and sort of underscores then the title.

[33:24] Cindy:I agree completely. Well, before we wrap up, what have you read recently that you really liked?

[33:30] Laura:So I have three books that I would love to recommend. The first is a book called Violets by Alex Hyde. She is a British writer and I believe this was her debut. I don't think it got a lot of coverage in the States, but I just loved it. It's about two women whose names are both Violet, hence the title. And when the book starts, one woman has just had a miscarriage and the other woman has just gotten pregnant, and we're in the final days of World War II. And the book follows the trajectories of these two women until they finally meet towards the end of the book. And it's just beautifully written. It's just such smart writing. Like, she's really thinking about the fact that the two characters have the same name. And there's some almost deliberate confusion for the reader because these two women are ultimately going to share pieces of their lives with each other. And I think she wanted us to think about their differences, but also the ways in which they are the same. So I would highly recommend that another book that I read this fall that I just loved was the hero of this book by Elizabeth McCracken. I love Elizabeth McCracken’s writing. She's written nonfiction. She's written fiction. She writes short stories, she writes novels. Everything is wonderful. This book, though, it is a novel, but it's also memoir. It really straddles that. And it's also she's a marvelous teacher. She teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and their MFA program. And it's also a craft book, like, for a writer. She's giving you so many lessons throughout this book. And it's a book I know I will return to again and again and again. The character is sort of processing her mother's death. So it's a lot about grief, it's a lot about love. It's a lot about, as we were talking before, a lot about the past weighing on the present. It's just lovely. I highly recommend that, too. And then finally, a book that hasn't come out yet but is coming out in April is In the Orchard by Eliza Minet. This is Eliza's third novel. She is a beautiful, beautiful writer. Her prose, I am underlining almost every sentence on every page because she is such a stunning writer. And this book is about a woman. A day in the life of a young mother takes place in the present. And it's just beautiful. It's really a stream of consciousness, even though it's in third person. But you get such a sense of who this woman is and what she loves and what she fears, and you can generalize that to all of us. It's really lovely. So I hope people will pick that up when it comes out in April.

[36:13] Cindy:Well, these are wonderful wrecks, and I'm only familiar with the middle one, so I'm always happy when I can add new books to my list.

[36:20] Laura:That's great. I'm glad I could do that.

[36:22] Cindy:Yes, absolutely. Well, thank you again, Laura, for joining me. I just truly, truly loved your book, and I can't wait for everyone else to get to read it.

[36:30] Laura:Thank you so much, Cindy, and thank you for this opportunity. It was wonderful to talk to you.

[36:36] Cindy:Thank you so much for listening to my podcast. If you like this episode, and I hope you did, please follow me on Instagram at @thoughtsfromapage, consider joining my Patreon group to access bonus content and support the podcast, tell all of your friends about the show, and rate it or subscribe to it wherever you listen to your podcasts, I would really appreciate it. The book discussed in this episode can be purchased at my storefront, and the link is in the show notes. I hope you'll tune in next time.

Laura Spence-AshProfile Photo

Laura Spence-Ash


Laura Spence-Ash’s fiction has appeared in One Story, New England Review, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. Her critical essays and book reviews appear regularly in the Ploughshares blog. She received her MFA in Fiction from Rutgers-Newark, and she lives in New Jersey.