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Q&A with Audrey Ingram - The River Runs South

The River Runs South

By Ashleigh Cameron

We are excited to welcome Audrey Ingram to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release The River Runs South released on the 5th of September 2023.

When Camille Taylor’s husband dies unexpectedly, the carefully constructed life she worked so hard to build in Washington, DC, shatters. After struggling for almost a year, she reaches a breaking point, packs up her daughter, and heads for the Alabama coast where she grew up. The salt air and slow rhythms of the coast soothe Camille’s spirit, but when she meets local fisherman Mack Phillips, she learns that things have changed in her hometown. Runoff from an abandoned development site is polluting the water, and Mack has brought a suit against the site’s owners—Camille’s father among them. Battling her own fears for the fragile ecosystem of her beloved Mobile Bay, Camille joins her father’s defense team, but the more she learns, the more she wonders if she’s landed on the right side of the fight. Meanwhile, Camille is slowly drawn to Mack’s fearless resolve, his sterling ideals, and finally to the man himself. Faced with blurred lines between right and wrong, Camille must decide for herself what the next chapter of her life will bring.

The River Runs South

Congratulations on your debut novel! This must be an incredibly exciting time for you. How has the path to being published been for you?

It’s incredibly exciting and occasionally shocking that my life-long dream is finally happening. I always wanted to write, but with a legal career and three young children, I didn’t think it was a dream within possibility. Cue the pandemic. Like many families, we struggled and ultimately pivoted. I paused my legal career while I stayed at home with our children and found myself stealing moments to write this story. Much of this book was written in the early morning hours before my children woke or in between naptimes that were always too short. At a time of personal and global upheaval, writing this book was a complete joy, bringing hope into a confusing time. It took another year to edit and polish the book, and then a few more months before I signed with a literary agent and eventually signed a publishing deal. Legal work is fast-paced and urgent. I’m still adjusting to the slower pace of publishing, understanding that it can take years to get a book in readers’ hands, but it’s been a welcome change.

Please could you provide us with a little introduction about yourself, and the inspiration behind your debut novel, The River Runs South?

I wanted to write a story about a woman finding her second chance, in life and in love. As adults, the idea of starting over can seem scary. When I decided to pause my legal career, I wrote the book I needed to read. A hopeful, heartfelt story about a woman navigating change and finding the new beginning she desperately needs.

I found the evocative and poetic portrayal of the Alabama setting in The River Runs South so transporting. It’s evident that your portrayal was well-researched and reflective of your familiarity and affection with the area. How did your personal experiences in Alabama influence the novel’s setting and ambiance?

I grew up in Alabama but for the last twenty years, I’ve lived in and around Washington, DC. During the pandemic, I missed my family and that’s when this story of returning home came together. I spent months daydreaming about Fairhope, a small town on Alabama’s coast, and I started writing a story about the place I yearned to be. I have the best memories of childhood summers spent in Fairhope, swimming in the bay, riding bikes under ancient oak trees, and eating so much delicious southern food. Even though it seemed like an impossible task, I tried to capture a sliver of Fairhope’s magic.

The novel adeptly delves into the ecological and political challenges facing coastal Alabama. Could you elaborate on the significance of incorporating a narrative that revolves around environmental stewardship in your work?

Alabama’s coast is the most ecologically diverse region in the United States. Yet, it is often overlooked and underappreciated. I wanted to write a story highlighting this unique place but I didn’t want to gloss over the harm this region has already endured. This book is about Camille’s second chance after she reluctantly returns home and unexpectedly falls in love with the place she’d left behind. My hope is that more people will fall in love with coastal Alabama and protect its future.

When crafting this novel, did the environmental and ecological concerns dictate plot, or did the human stories of love, loss, motherhood, and family-relations take precedence in your creative process?

The characters came first. When I started writing Camille’s story, I noticed a surge of burnout among working mothers, an issue I personally experienced as I struggled to balance motherhood with my legal career. I began to imagine a story, of an already overworked mother, who tragically lost her husband and had to find a way to manage on her own.

I saw parallels between Camille’s struggle and the threat to our environment. Our time, our energy, and our surroundings are precious resources that are constantly depleted. For Camille, coming home is a stripping away of everything unnecessary about her adult life, forcing her to start over. We often think things will last, but after Camille loses her husband, she knows that time is precious. Similarly, she sees the damage the rivers have endured and the harm they continue to suffer. This book explores the idea of slowing down in order to focus on taking care of the things that are most important in our life before they are gone.

Alongside beautiful depictions of small-town, coastal living, there are evocative, detailed descriptions of delicious-sounding meals! We are introduced to Camille’s passion for cooking early in the story. Is this and the enthusiasm for Alabama’s coastal cuisine inspired by your own personal passions?

Yes, I love to cook and thankfully I have a family of eager taste testers. Food can be such a transportive experience. I wanted the reader to feel a strong connection to the setting of this novel. The descriptions of food were just as important as the descriptions of the landscape.

The examination of family relationships, particularly the complex dynamic between Camille and her parents, add layers of intrigue to the narrative. Older generations naturally wish to impart wisdoms accumulated from their own lives, own mistakes, however, can often translate as pressures to conform. What motivated you to delve into this and explore the interplay between generations and the pressures that can arise from these interactions?

I love books that tackle family drama, especially when love and strong opinions clash. There’s an inherent tension between tradition and progress that Camille and her parents find difficult to navigate. There’s no approach that’s necessarily right. Like most things in life, a lot of their conflict can be resolved by understanding the other person’s perspective. That can be tricky in family dramas, especially southern families, where there is an expectation that parents know best. But as they all learn, children are often the best teachers, especially when it comes to figuring out what is important in life.

Specifically in relation to complex mother-daughter relationships, I find the juxtaposition between Marion and Camille’s approaches to motherhood intriguing. Camille dedicates herself wholeheartedly to a highly successful career, but grapples with guilt when her time cannot be devoted to her daughter. Marion, on the other hand, clings to traditional notions of a woman’s primary role being caregiver, occasionally revealing an overbearing demeanour, as exemplified by the ‘shrine’-like preservation of Camille’s childhood room. These disparities poignantly highlight the immense pressures women encounter regarding parenting. What drove your exploration of these societal pressures, particularly as focused through the lens of Camille’s experience as a working mother?

It's unfortunate but the societal pressure of motherhood has become a universal feeling. I’ve been a working mother and a stay-at-home mother and in both situations, I constantly ask myself: Am I doing this right? Camille and Marion have very different approaches to motherhood but both fiercely love their daughters. I think whether readers relate more to one character than the other, we can all relate to the feeling of wanting the best for our child.

As someone who grew up in a small town and eagerly ventured to the ‘big city’ at the earliest opportunity, there were many moments in this novel that resonated with me. The confines of smalltown life and attitudes can often seem suffocating during earlyadulthood. In my own experience, these circumstances can exert pressures and instil expectations that deter us from returning for fear that it would equate to failure. Could you elaborate further on the prominence of this theme from the outset?

It sounds like we have a lot in common! Like the protagonist, Camille, I also left a small town for a much larger city and thought success meant thriving in a new, more exciting place. Once I had a family, however, I realized that I needed a slower pace and found myself embracing small town life once again. It took me a long time to realize that changing your mind does not mean you have failed. One of the best parts of adulthood is the freedom to make choices and recognize that what you need may shift over time.

The River Runs South is so emotionally and contextually rich in its exploration of varied themes. As an author, are there particular stories that have served as inspiration for you, that you would recommend to our readers?

I love the way Charlotte McConaghy writes about the environment. Her novel, Once There Were Wolves, is one of my favorites. Emily Giffin is masterful at writing about complex emotions in a way that feels intimate and relatable. She weaves together themes of privilege and family beautifully in All We Ever Wanted. No writer makes me cry as much as Kristin Hannah and I often think about her exploration of loss and grief in The Winter Garden. And I’m a huge fan of southern fiction. Kristy Woodson Harvey is a personal favorite.

And finally, where can our readers get their hands on The River Runs South?

In the US, The River Runs South is available through all the major retailers or your favorite local bookstore. In the UK, it’s available to order through Amazon.

The River Runs South

Audrey Ingram is a native of Alabama and a graduate of Middlebury College and Georgetown University Law Center. She practiced law in Washington, DC for fifteen years. When not writing, she can be found digging in her garden or hiking the Blue Ridge mountains. Audrey currently lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.

Audrey's Instagram: @audreyingramwrites


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