Interview with Thorne Moore, author of ‘A Time for Silence’, published by Honno Press
Welsh Books Council Book of the Month October 2012
Be careful when you look into your family history.
You may not like what you find…
Today I’m delighted to be interviewing Thorne Moore, author of the gripping mystery ‘A Time for Silence’, finalist in The People’s Book Prize. You can find more information about the novel and buy a copy from Honno here or on Amazon. The Kindle edition is currently on a special offer of 99p and is available here.
Hello Thorne and welcome to my blog. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind ‘A Time for Silence’, please?
It’s very difficult to explain that without giving away the plot to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Climb over the fence at the end of my garden, cross the field (minding the cows), wriggle under some barbed wire and down a bank into another field bordering some very tangled woodland, and you come to a ruined cottage. That’s my image of the cottage in my book, but I was told of a murder – an alleged murder – at another abandoned cottage in the area. A murder that was known about but not pursued. I was intrigued enough to search in old newspapers for more information, but never found anything. Instead, I stumbled on a magistrate’s court report, concerning a young girl. This is the bit I can’t explain unless you’ve read the book. It angered me and upset me in equal measure, and, added to the story of the alleged murder, became the basis for the book. I couldn’t just keep quiet.
You create a really strong picture of a small Welsh community in the book. Is this based on a village or a community you know?
Not exactly. I grew up in a large industrial town that had virtually no sense of community, and then moved to a Pembrokeshire village, which was a bit of a culture shock. But the community in my book is based not so much on my own experience of village life as on the stories related by many of the villagers. Some of the older ones had never been out of the area. I was impressed (with a shudder) by one woman, only a bit older than me, who told me, while we were discussing the Welsh language, that her mother had always addressed her father respectfully as “chi’ and her father called her mother “ti.”
Then there were my mother’s tales of her upbringing in a Welsh chapel community (even though that had been in the middle of Cardiff). And newspaper articles, WI reports and such, from old newspapers.
I loved the way the story was told in two different eras and especially the ironies brought out as the reader begins to understand more of Gwen’s story before the truth begins to fall in place for Sarah. Did you deliberately set out to write a timeslip, and how difficult was it to keep the two stories working together?
I was born less than 10 years after the end of World War II and I know all about what happened in that period, but I know I can never really comprehend what it was like to live through it all, to face bombings, evacuation, rationing, constant fear, uncertainty, and the possibility that the Nazis might actually win. This dawned on me when I was a teenager, listening to my mother telling how she had run home from school in terror to find out if her father had survived the huge bomb that had just dropped on Vauxhall’s. It fascinated me to realise that the past, even the very recent past, is a foreign country, as the man said: they do things differently there. What I wanted to do, with A Time For Silence, was to show Sarah as being completely divorced from Gwen’s world not just by time, but by economics, culture, religion, language, education and expectations. However much of the truth she discovers, in terms of factual evidence, she will never fully understand. But as the same time I can take the reader into that past, where, hopefully, they can understand it.
I did think, when I started, that it might be difficult to weave the two stories together, without making it seem too contrived, but as I got going, it seemed to fall into place quite naturally, so I didn’t have to force anything. At least, I hope it works.
It definitely does! Did your experience in taking a degree in law influence your decision to write a thriller when you were inspired to write ‘A Time for Silence’? Or maybe you didn’t set out to write a thriller at all?
I learned quite a lot about conveyancing, consumer protection, European law and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, when doing my degree, but to be honest, I don’t think it had any influence on my writing – except that I suppose it encouraged me to keep writing, rather than seek work as a solicitor’s little helper. I’ve never thought of A Time For Silence as a thriller. I didn’t even intend it to be a great mystery really, except from Sarah’s point of view. My interest was in exploring not what finally happened, but how things got to that point.
‘Be careful when you look into your family history. You may not like what you find…’ Have you looked into your own family history and, if you have, did you find anything unexpected?
I’ve spent years delving into my family history – I’ve even taught Family History Research in evening classes. I’ve traced some branches of my family back to the 16th century, and I have more than 2000 names I can link into one big web, but for the most part, that’s all they are: names. It only gains colour and meaning when you find something to make them a little more 3-dimensional. Like the 17th century Devonshire farmer who contributed 2d towards the rebuilding of St. Paul’s. There are one or two characters who would generally be considered noteworthy, like the Pembrokeshire draper who finished up as knighted mayor of Capetown, but the ones I appreciate most are the women. Quite a few of them, in the 19th century, finished up abandoned by their men and fending for themselves in the big cities, listed in census returns as ‘seamstress,’ or ‘washerwoman.’ Since they invariably finished up with illegitimate children, I’m guessing they supplemented their income in the only way open to them. I don’t know if their lives were wretched and miserable, or triumphantly defiant, but it shows a gritted determination to survive, in the teeth of Victorian righteousness, that I admire hugely. Well, I have to, because I’m the end product.
‘A Time for Silence’ is your first book. Can you tell us more about your journey to being published? Did you always want to be a writer?
It’s my first book to be published. I think, and I’ve lost count, it’s probably my fifteenth book to be written. I’ve come to see it as a very long apprenticeship.
I remember perching on a radiator at school, when I was a prefect and could perch on warm radiators while ordering the snivelling underlings out into the cold at break. Anyway, that means I was about 16, and I tentatively confided to a friend that I wanted to be a writer. It was something I’d nursed in private for a long time before that, but this was the first time I’d dared tell anyone, and I was greatly relieved when she didn’t laugh. Later, at VI form, my headmaster suggested I ought to study law, probably because I was opinionated and argumentative. He even sent me to a weekend taster course at Oxford. My feeling was that you only study law if you want to be a lawyer and become very rich, whereas I wanted to be a writer and live on gruel in a garret, so I chose history instead. Once I was at university, and realising, a bit too late, that I had chosen the wrong course (I really don’t CARE who won the battle of Tinchebrai), I spent most of my time writing, which might explain my miserable history degree. What I wrote then was fantasy, which got more and more complex over the years, before attempting children’s literature, and then moving on to science fiction. The trouble was that although I received a fair batch of straightforward rejection letters, I also had plenty of invitations to give publishers more time while they thought about it. I received long reader’s reports explaining how they so very nearly said yes, and why they finally said no. In those days,(just after the invention of the printing press), you could send manuscripts to even the biggest publishers. It was just enough to keep me convinced that I would make it in the end. I did nearly give up – hence the belated law degree, but with encouragement from a writing friend, I kept going. I had agents. On one occasion, one of them convinced me I had a publisher: it was just a question of waiting for the contract to be drawn up. A year and a half later and there was still no contract, so I decided to go it on my own, and met Honno! And now, at last, I have my very own ISBN number.
Ouch! That is such a familiar story of a long apprenticeship as a writer. I’m very glad you finally found a home with Honno. I know we share an editor, the wonderful Janet Thomas. Can you tell us more about your experience of working with an editor?
I thought I might hate it, but when it happened I actually found it very flattering and heart-warming, to have someone take so much interest in every word, every nuance, critically examining style and structure, as if it actually mattered! I had worked with agents before, who first raved about my work and then made vague or totally senseless recommendations that made me think they’d missed the point entirely, but it was sheer balm to have an editor who understood and whose opinion, therefore, I could trust. Janet could do what I could not, which is look at the end product without seeing it through the prism of all the twists, adaptations, alterations, rethinks and rewrites that I had been through. An outside viewer can see the whole forest, whereas the writer can easily get lost in the trees.
Hear, hear! Congratulations on ‘A Time for Silence’ being in the running for The People’s Book Prize. That must be very exciting for you!
I’m delighted. It still gives me quite a flutter seeing it there, and the comments are very flattering.
And finally, I have to ask about your ‘day job’ of making miniature furniture for collectors – that is so intriguing. Can you tell us more about it, please?
I left university and started work at a library, intending to train as a librarian, on the assumption that it would fit in reasonably well with my real career of writing. After about one month, I realised that no matter what the job was, I really didn’t want to be an employee. I didn’t want to be an employer either. I just preferred, since I had to work, to work for myself. I seriously have no idea how I hit on making miniature furniture. It just crept up on me in my despair. First I had to teach myself woodwork. I even invented the lathe, only to discover that someone else had invented it thousands of years earlier.
Then I had to discover that there was a market for miniature furniture. You’d have thought I’d have done this first, but I didn’t.
Once I got into the collectors’ market, I looked at what other people did, decided what I liked doing, and just kept going. It’s very big in America, and I have customers across Europe, in Australia and in Japan, as well as in Britain.
I do a couple of fairs a year, in Birmingham and London, but mostly I discuss things with customers and make pieces to order. More interesting than having to stick to stock designs. I make mostly Mediaeval and Tudor furniture, for customers who range from those wanting authentic kitchen fittings for an intricately detailed Tudor merchant’s hall to those who want an Elizabethan coffee table for their ever so cute mouse house.
These exquisite pieces are tiny! Check them out, and much more, at www.peartree-miniatures.co.uk
Thank you Thorne for that fascinating insight into your writing.
Then – 1933:
Gwen is a dutiful wife. But as the years pass, on their desperately poor smallholding, her duty to her husband John will have a terrible price for herself and her children. Something that cannot be spoken of.
When Sarah finds her grandparents’ ruined farmhouse, she becomes obsessed with restoring it and turning it back into a home. Adrift after a personal tragedy, she needs something to believe in. She starts digging into her family history and is appalled to learn her grandfather was shot. Can she find justice for John? Is justice what she first thinks?