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Archive for the ‘Author Interviews’ Category

Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow Honno Press author, Pembrokeshire-based Judith Barrow, to the blog. I’ve long been a fan of Judith’s brilliant historical family sagas, the ‘Patterns’ trilogy, which follows the story of the Howarth family. So it’s great to be part of the blog tour for Judith’s latest saga, ‘One Hundred Tiny threads’.

Hello Judith, and welcome to the blog.  ‘One Hundred Tiny Threads’ is a gripping prequel to your ‘Patterns’ trilogy that sets the scene for the stories that go down the generations. What drew you to write a prequel? Was it to delve further into the background of your characters, or was it the time in which ‘100 Tiny Threads’ is set?

I’ve said many times that these two characters wouldn’t leave me alone when I’d finished the trilogy; they wanted to explain themselves; to tell their stories. And I have to admit I didn’t resist too much; the era of the first decades in the twentieth century have fascinated me all my life.

It was the time of the most horrific devastating war; of loss of men and women; something that haunted me for a long time after the first time I saw images and read of it and since I studied the first World War poets.

And, socially, these were the years of dreadful hardships even through the weakening of class divisions that had been so rigid in the past.Then there was the political unrest between the UK and Ireland. My grandparents came from Ireland. My grandfather was a particularly angry man and I never knew why until I was older and I was told of his reluctance – and resistance – to moving to the UK until eventually being persuaded by my grandmother and the fact that he couldn’t get work to feed his ever growing family in the village where they lived. He hated it and, I think, always resented my grandmother. He loved the outdoors and spent much of his working life underground in the coalmines. And he was a strongly political man and a Union leader.

The story of the book is set against dramatic political upheavals. Was there a particular reason that you set part of the book against the background of conflict in Ireland?

I think I partially answered this in your previous question, Juliet but I would like to explain more. When I knew I was going to let Winifred and Bill tell me about their lives I knew I would have to do a lot of research about Ireland at the time that my grandad was a young man because I had the feeling that Bill had been there at the same time. Mind you, it’s no hardship to research; I love and spend hours (more than I should, by the way) researching for my books. Although, for some reason I didn’t have to do as much research for Living in the Shadows set in nineteen sixty-nine – ha-ha!! Sorry, I digress.

The research gave me a greater understanding of the reasons for the fight for Independence. I never knew that the Easter Rebellion had such little support from the rest of Ireland; that it was the execution of fifteen rebel leaders, ordered by General Sir John Maxwell, the Commander of the British troops in Ireland, that turned those leaders into heroes and established Sinn Fein so firmly in the hearts and minds of so many Irish people. Nor did I know an awful lot about the Black and Tans initially. There was violence on both sides but the Black and Tans became notorious for the killing and torturing of men and the burning and looting of property. For a man such as Bill with his unstable childhood, his mostly solitary life and experiences in the first World War, it felt inevitable that, coming out of the uniform of a soldier to unemployment and homelessness, he would succumb to the bribery of ten shillings a week and a familiar home of army barracks; he would join the Black and Tans

I know what you mean about research! That is fascinating. Can I also ask how  you went about your research into the actions of the Suffragettes? Was there a particular reason you were drawn to that side of the story?

I wanted to show that Winifred was a feistier woman when young, even if for such a short while. Growing up under her mother’s thumb she rebelled only in her thoughts. And it took the backing of her new friend, Honora to encourage her to break through the natural reticence and timidity that is shown in Pattern of Shadows. I think, with the loss of the people in her life that believed in the inner person (giving nothing away here!) it became easier for her to acquiesce and accept what she was given as she grew older.

You tell much of the story through the eyes of a complex male character. Did you find it more difficult to get inside his head that inside the head of your female characters? And did you find it difficult to balance the two sides of the story?

It’s never been difficult for me as a writer to get inside the heads of my male characters. I do ‘get on’ with men in real life… (Hmm, perhaps I should rephrase that?). In my working life I mixed mostly with men; I learned to stay quiet and listen to their conversations and how they felt about various subjects. That environment stood me in good stead in many circumstances and I’ve used those emotions to round out even the most difficult of my male characters. And, as I said, I also had a most vocal grandfather. And, by the way, a most difficult father so I had lots of memories to fall back on. As for the mellower, ‘nicer’ side of Bill I have my husband to study (but don’t tell him that). Oh dear it does sound as if I’ve studied men from an empirical slant doesn’t it.

For female characters I’ve used my imagination … well, I’m not going to say I’ve used my friends and their reactions to anything , am I? And, being a woman, it does help me to know how I generally feel about situations – and that can be turned on its head.

Keeping the balance in the story was quite difficult. I hope I succeeded… mostly.

I won’t mention a thing! (I’ve met Judith’s husband, and he’s lovely). I’m glad you’ve got such good research subjects. I liked the way your male characters were rounded human beings rather than heroes or villains, which can be the temptation! Can I also ask ifyou plot your novels in detail, or do you find they evolve as you write them?

Oh, I do try so hard to plot! But usually they evolve as the story continues; either because I realise a character wouldn’t do as I want them to or because a certain thread of the book isn’t working.

Do you have one thing you enjoy (and/or) hate about the editing process?

I enjoy, oh so much, the last draft of the book, when I know it’s the best I can do. Then I hate the editing when I realise it’s not the best I can do and I have to rework and alter until it really is finished.

That made me laugh – I totally agree. That’s the feelings I have too, and we have such really good editors at Honno, who don’t let us get away with a thing! So, I have to ask, what are you planning to write next? Will there be another story connected to the Howarth family?

Well, that’s a question! I have written eight short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy. Two of them are shouting out for me to write about them. But the book I have almost ready to go to the editor is different. It’s still about a family but it’s more contemporary and examines a different aspect of life. Still, I’m not sure I’ve completely left behind the Howarth family.

Thank you, Judith, and happy writing (and editing) – I’m already looking forward to the next book!

If you would like to meet Judith in person, she will be at the Narberth Book Fair on September 23rd.

A Hundred Tiny Threads

You can buy a copy of the novel from Honno Press HERE

And the Kindle edition from Amazon HERE 

You can learn more about Judith and follow her blog HERE

It takes more than just love to make a marriage… It’s 1911 and Winifred Duffy is a determined young woman eager for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter. The Great War intervenes leaving her facing difficult choices in love and life.

Praise for previous novels in the Howarth family series:
“Not… an ordinary romance but a book that deals with important issues which are still relevant today” Historical Novels Review

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Carol

Portrait of Carol by Janey Stevens

Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow Honno Press author, Carol Lovekin, whose debut novel ‘Ghostbird’ is described as ‘Charming, quirky, magical’ by Joanne Harris, and has just been nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize.

(You can vote for your favourite Not the Booker HERE)

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Welcome to the blog, Carol, and can I first ask you where the original inspiration for Ghostbird came from? Did you always see it as having a ghost as part of the story?

Mabinogion1Years ago when I first came to live in Wales I read the Mabinogion, the earliest collection of prose literature in Britain compiled in the 12th century from an earlier, oral tradition. The story that most appealed to me concerned Blodeuwedd, a woman created from flowers to serve the political ends of men. (The Mabinogion is of its time and deeply patriarchal.) For a transgression deemed a ‘betrayal’ Blodeuwedd is cursed by being turned into an owl: “I will not kill you … I will do what is worse: I will let you go in the form of a bird … you will never show your face to the light of day…”

My response was to question why it would be considered a curse to be turned into a bird. Able to fly, Blodeuwedd could escape her persecutors. This was the seed and it settled in the back of my mind for yearsBlodeuwedd until I was ready to reclaim it.

Cadi came first – my central character. I conjured her from somewhere and the ghost of her little sister attached itself to my imagination in much the same way as she attaches herself to Cadi. In the beginning the ghost was only ever intended as a gentle soundtrack to the story. It was my astute editor, Janet Thomas, who spotted that Dora’s ghost needed her own distinctive voice. She had to inhabit the book and not simply hang about in the shadows. Once I’d written her story in isolation and threaded it into the main narrative I realised I was writing a proper ghost story.

The village community feels very real, is it based on an actual village, or is it an amalgamation of communities (or maybe totally made up?)

There’s a village a few miles from where I live that oozes a sense of magic and mystery. It’s the kind of Welsh village about which people nod and say, ‘Oh yes, it’s a bit weird there…’ A mist-laden, mysterious place then, with its share of ‘characters…’ As part of IMG-20160423-01719my job description, I’ve embellished and subconsciously drawn on memories of this and other villages to create the one in Ghostbird. I decided to leave it as the nameless ‘Village’ because I wanted it to be a character in its own right, and allow people to see if they could guess where it is!

I loved all the different characters, did you plan them all from the start, or did some muscle their way in as you went along?

3 Deliberate or notCadi presented herself fully formed (and in full agreement with me as to the wrongness of Blodeuwedd’s supposed fate.) I knew Cadi. I knew what she looked like, her frustration, her quirks and personality. Writing a fourteen year old girl was less of a challenge than I thought it would be. And I quickly came to know her aunt Lili and Violet, her mother, too. These three were there from the beginning and at the centre.

The rest turned up. (I killed off an innocent postman en route. He was rather nice but sadly, destined for the dead darlings file.) One character changed a lot – another was completely unplanned. Once she arrived and presented her credentials, I gave her a cup of tea and let her stay.

I’m glad to hear it –  and commiserations on the nice postman. Talking of killing your darlings (ouch), can I ask how you found  find your first experience of the editing process? Was it what you had expected? Do you feel it has changed you as a writer?

Mind-blowing! No! Yes! Janet and I began the process of editing Ghostbird after one of Honno’s invaluable ‘Meet the Editor’ events, before the book was accepted for publication. She liked my story enough to take me under her wing. Initially, I was simply stunned by how insightful she was. Her generous comments were often tagged with a firm ‘but.’ As we progressed it quickly became a tick-box exercise, because everything she said was right and made sense. I did my homework, redrafting until it was time for the ‘big girl’ editing and where the real work began.

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Welsh Woodland by Jenny Gordon

 

Oh, yes, I can identify with that, having been through the same process with our mutual editor, the wonderful Janet Thomas. That is so true!

Although I often found it overwhelming, it was another part of the process and an exciting learning curve. Close, line editing is about letting go – negotiating cuts and changes in creative content that on the face of it can break a writer’s heart. Once I read the final result however, I was blown away. That was another lesson: a book is only as good as its editor. If you are fortunate enough to work with the best, your heart won’t break, it will burst with joy! (Copy edits are another thing altogether, Juliet and frankly, terrifying. Who knew there was so much red ink in the world?)

Copy edits … (hives off into a corner, traumatised).

Being published validated me. In a way it gave me permission to write with a bit more confidence. Writing my second book took me a lot less time. Having been well edited once facilitated the process. I had more tools at my disposal and hopefully, I’ve made fewer errors.

Yes, I agree. I think that’s hard to see, the first time you experience a good editing process that it is a learning process, and nothing IMG-20150813-00974will be quite as hard again. I’m glad you found it like that, too – and I’m already looking forward to your next book!

You are very active on social media, is that something that came naturally? Do you have any advice for anyone starting out?

My feeling is, so long as I play nicely and mostly stay away from politics, social media is a useful tool. I ignore the stupid and embrace the positive. Facebook and Twitter have been the making of me as a writer. I’ve met some amazing and genuinely supportive people who have had a massive impact on my book’s small success.

I don’t give advice as such. Watch how the big name writers you admire do it. Be wise with your words. Be kind – and reciprocate the kindness of others.

Can I ask what are you working on now?

My second book – another ghost story – is currently with my editor. I’m now working on my third. Stories know if what we’ve written is the right one. With a bit of distance I’ve been able to work out what this one is really about.

And finally – congratulations for being nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize. How did it feel when you found out?

Rachel Toll

By Rachel Toll

Thank you very much, Juliet. Like I was dreaming?! I’ve heard of the ‘Not the Booker’ of course but it wasn’t on my radar. I operate at a very low-key level with regard to accolades. Inside, I’m fluttering and obviously appreciative but because I’m genuinely happy to have been published at all, things like this feel as if they’re happening to someone else.

To be nominated by a reviewer and blogger of Anne Williams’ calibre, is an honour. She reads enormous numbers of books, many of them wildly successful. That she picked Ghostbird is what means so much to me. Anne’s support for my book is an on-going blessing. I’m up against stiff competition and unlikely to make the long list but that’s not the point – I’ve been nominated and it’s enough. (I did eat lemon meringue ice-cream with my daughter to celebrate!)

That sounds like the best celebration to me! Thank you, Carol for answering my questions and for the lovely photos – and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Tenby Book Fair this September.

You can buy Ghostbird from Honno  HERE,

Amazon UK HERE

and Amazon US HERE

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Somebody needs to be forgiven, somebody needs to forgive …

Nothing hurts like not knowing who you are.

‘Carol Lovekin’s prose is full of beautifully strange poetry.’  Rebecca Mascull, author of The Visitors and Song of the Sea Maid.

Nobody will tell Cadi anything about her father and her sister. In a world of hauntings and magic, in a village where it rains throughout August, as Cadi starts on her search, the secrets and the ghosts begin to wake up.

None of the Hopkins women will be able to escape them. Her mother Violet believes she can only cope with the past by never talking about it. Lili, Cadi’s aunt, is stuck in the middle, bound by a promise she shouldn’t have made.

But this summer, Cadi is determined to find out the truth.

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Interview with Eloise Williams

author of ‘Elen’s Island’, published by Firefly Press 

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Hello Eloise, and welcome to the blog! Can I start by asking you if you had any favourite books as a child? Were they the reason you became a children’s writer?

 I have always loved books and had the huge good fortune of living directly opposite a library when I was a child so my love of reading grew with frequent visits across the road. I suppose I didn’t think it was that unusual to be able to see into a library from your bedroom window and I certainly didn’t realise how lucky I was!

I had so many favourite books. All of the Enid Blyton’s – I believed in lands at the tops of trees and islands where mysteries occurred, but I spent most of my childhood in Narnia and that is what led me to write something for children so many years later.

My sister taught children in South Korea for a few years and during that time she made me a compilation to listen to, so I plugged my headphones in and walked the Pembrokeshire coast path listening to tunes that had meant lots to us both and then suddenly a recording of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came on and, although I know it sounds dramatic, I had an epiphany. That’s what I was meant to be doing with my life. Writing for children and Young Adults. It became clear in that split second and I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t realised it in the first forty odd years of my life. I literally stopped where I was and slapped my own head. Thankfully there was no-one else around to see me!

 Where did you get the idea for Elen’s Island? Is it based on a real island or somewhere near where you live?

And where did the puffin come from? (and can I have one!)

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The idea came from a stay on Caldey Island in Pembrokeshire where I was lucky enough to spend three nights in an old schoolhouse. It was such a magical experience. From the second I stepped onto the boat I was enchanted. There’s something very wonderful about being on a piece of land, surrounded by turquoise sea and cut off from all your problems and worries. At that time I had just moved to Pembrokeshire as I married a Tenby based artist and I had no friends there and was missing my family. If you read the book you will recognise these themes! I also went on a visit to Skomer Island and was over the moon to see puffins! So Elen’s Island is a mixture of Caldey and Skomer and imagination.

Caldey Island

Eloise on Caldey Island

You can have a puffin! Skomer lets you adopt puffins and seals so you can have your very own and help the Wildlife Trust with their brilliant work. It also gives you an excellent excuse to visit Skomer so you can see them and the comedic way puffins land and smile at their funny faces!

 How did you find out about ‘Firefly’ and what was the process of being accepted for publication?

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I found out about Firefly when they ran a competition for a new children’s book. I’d already been writing bits and pieces and had a short story published by Honno (who publish some wonderful female authors including yourself (thank you! 🙂) and the very impressive Thorne Moore) and some poetry and short stories placed in competitions, so I thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t win (sadly) but they were interested in seeing more of the story and I went back to it and wrote the whole thing. It’s very different from the first piece I submitted for the competition and much, much better! I was completely shocked and overwhelmed with happiness when I got the email from Firefly to say they’d like to publish it – it really was a moment that changed my life.

 We share an amazing editor, so I’m curious to know how you found the editing process.

Was it something you enjoyed, and did you feel it made you a better writer? And how do you think it made the story better?

We are very fortunate to have had the help of Janet Thomas and I agree she is AMAZING! The editing process came as something of a surprise to me if I’m honest. I thought it would be a case of the odd typo here and there and restructuring a few sentences. Little did I realise how much work was involved. I am very lucky that I’ve become good at taking constructive criticism through working as an actress for over a decade! It is quite a journey from the very first manuscript to the polished piece and I am so grateful that I have an editor who I not only like as a person (handy) but who has such a sharp eye and a brilliant understanding of how to tell a story. Elen’s Island was the first thing I’ve ever written for children and I really needed that guiding hand. It made the story tighter, funnier, with more rounded characters and really made me think about what I wanted the reader to get from the book. YES it has made me a better writer (I hope).

Watson flying

Watson flying

 How are you enjoying your time to write from your Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary? Do you find it makes a difference being able to concentrate fully on your next book?

I am having the time of my life! It makes such a difference to be able to give my writing my full attention instead of grabbing time here and there between work commitments. It’s also a real honour to have the faith of such a great institution willing to fund my writing for three months (as you know) and I am so grateful that I have this opportunity.

Can you say something about your next book? And what are the plans for the future?

 My second book Seaglass is a Young Adult ghost story set in Pembrokeshire. It’s a scary, thrilling page-turner which also has funny moments and is a story of survival and loss. Lots of lovely authors have read it in manuscript form and given me fantastic feedback so I’m very excited to see it land in the hands of young readers. At the moment it’s with my agent, the fabulous Ben Illis of The Ben Illis Agency, while he finds it a forever home.

My third book, and the one I’m using my Literature Wales Bursary to write, is called Gaslight and is again a YA but is set in Cardiff in the Victorian era. I’ve never written anything in a historical period so it’s yet another learning curve for me. I like to keep life interesting! Gaslight is a thriller which features lots of dastardly goings on, gothic stuff, pea-souper fog, ships, music hall, murder, midnight skinny-dipping and thieves. There is also a serious crush going on but the course of true love never did run smooth…

After that…. who knows?

I’ve already started work on another three books, all of which are for young people and again feature a female protagonist with a very strong voice. Now I’ve found what I should have been doing with my life I am never giving up!

Thank you, Eloise. I loved Elen’s Island, and I’m looking forward to ghosts and dastardly goings-on!

You can find out more about Eloise and follow her here:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

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‘Elen’s Island’ is for ages 7 – 9. Elenfront1

Summary and reviews

When her parents send her to stay with a grandmother she hardly knows for the summer, Elen is furious. Gran lives on a tiny island and doesn’t want her to stay either – it’s not an easy start.

Gran’s idea of childcare is to give Elen a map and tell her to explore. Who is the odd boy on the beach with a puffin? After saving Gran in a storm, Elen finds a picture that she’s sure is a clue to hidden treasure. She investigates – and finds a very different treasure from the one she expected.

Early praise for Elen’s Island:

‘Wildly imaginative, funny and poignant, Elen’s Island keeps us hooked from the first scintillating sentence. You’ll fall in love with the feisty Elen, her phenomenal gran and a magical island, in a tale spun with craft and brio.’ Stevie Davies, novelist.

‘Elen’s Island is beautifully written and will stir the imagination of a generation of children. Children everywhere will be asking their parents if they can visit Aberglad.’ Kevin Johns, Swansea Sound.

‘An absolute treat.’ Jamie Owen, BBC newsreader.

‘With a plucky, driven heroine, a magical mystery and a pace that never lets up, Elen’s Island is a rollicking read that promises to keep readers enchanted and engaged.’
Guy Bass, children’s author, including the bestselling
Stitch Head.

‘A meticulously crafted novel that will encourage the most reluctant young reader to keep turning the pages. Elen is a heroine every child will identify with.’ Catrin Collier, novelist.

‘A joyful adventure. Full of wonder and magic.’ Simon Ludders, actor, Renfield on CBBC’s Young Dracula

Eloise has crafted a beautifully written and magical tale that will keep readers, both young and old, enthralled from the first funny sentence right through to the final, poignant conclusion.’ BB Skone, Western Telegraph

‘I highly recommend it. This book has so many good ingredients. Together they make a fabulous book with a wonderful ending.’ Suze, Librarian Lavender

 

About Eloise

Eloise writes words. Lots of them. Sometimes in particular orders.Sixer of Pixies. Child of the 70’s. Survived encephalitis, pizza thrown in face, a decade as an actress, school, endless years of Heavy Metal abuse from younger sister’s room.

Likes confetti, bluebells, memories of Gran and Grampa, family, cwtches, the way ladybirds shelter in beech nuts, collecting seaglass on misty days, comfy jeans, stories about interesting things.

Spent too much money on ill-fitting clothes, too much of the 80’s planning marriage to John Taylor and/or George Michael, lovely times in Europe, one cold week in New York.

Lives in West Wales. Lives for the sea, love, repeats of ‘Murder She Wrote’, for as long as she can. Has dog called Watson Jones. Has husband called Guy. Both of whom are handsome devils.

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Writing my recent post for Novelistas Ink on using storytelling as inspiration led me to think again about the time I earned my living from running storytelling and puppet-making workshops.

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As with my more recent work as a writing tutor, I found I learnt as much from the sessions as the children and adults taking part. One of my greatest lessons from the puppet storytelling was spontaneity. I love the fact that I studied English at University, but it also made me excruciatingly analytical and feeling that my own writing needed to be of Deep Significance to Future Generations. Something I rather suspect was the last thing on Mr Dickens’ mind as he beavered away to hit the next deadline for his magazine serial and pay the bills.

Working with children – some of whom had been through some horrendous experiences – brought back the playfulness and the delight in creating that had overwhelmed me as a child and sent me writing endless stories (and one or two novels) in a completely unselfconscious manner. If in doubt, throw on more sequins!

The children's version!

Working with ancient myths, from King Arthur to Japanese folk tales, was also a reminder that even the simplest of tales can hold the deepest truths and touch the heart. It’s still there in ‘Shrek’ and ‘Despicable Me’ – simple tales that look like ‘children’s stories’ but still contain morality tales and poke fun at cultural assumptions. And children’s stories are never simple – the puppet plays revealed emotional conflicts beneath the surface that surprised us all. It didn’t have to be an extreme – one story was of two princesses working out where they were going to live when the kind and queen separated, as two sisters were absorbed for hours in this safe reflection of the intricacies of their own parents’ divorce.

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I suppose what I learnt most from the puppet storytelling was to let go and to have faith in my story. Simply write from the heart and the things that resonate deeply inside. It makes you vulnerable – like the two princesses, the deepest truths that you wouldn’t reveal in an ordinary conversation tend to slip out. But then we are all vulnerable. It’s our fears, our dreads, our strengths and our weaknesses – and yes, our vulnerability as human beings, both emotionally and physically – that storytelling is all about. And, looking back, it’s perhaps no surprise that my first novel for Honno Press, Eden’s Garden, was inspired by the ancient Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, the woman made of flowers who didn’t remain the passive creature of sugar and spice she was supposed to be …

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You can read my post for the Novelistas HERE

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My room 2November is Novel Writing Month and to celebrate NaNoWriMo, Webucator is asking writers for their perspectives on novel writing and to answer the following questions. I may not be trying to write a novel in a month, but I’m in hermit and no-housework mode as I wrestle with finishing one – so I’m delighted to part in answering Webucator’s questions.

 

What were your goals when you started writing?

When I wrote my first novel at the grand age of ten, it was to create my own version of the worlds I adored in my favourite books. The author I loved most was Rosemary Sutcliff and her vivid historical novels – so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that I eventually ended up as a historical novelist.

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The writer’s life …

My room with a view!

My ideal writing room in beautiful Portmeirion. One day …..

When I began to write seriously as an adult, around fifteen years ago, my goal was simply to be published. I knew that what I was actually producing was turgid, pretentious, and dreadful, but somewhere inside me that flame from my childhood passion still burned. As I could feel myself beginning to improve with experience, and even had a few short stories published in magazines, I found a new goal – the one I now know I should have had from the start of my adult writing: to work with an editor.

That chance finally came when Honno Press liked the book that was to become ‘Eden’s Garden’ and gave me the chance to work with the wonderful Janet Thomas. No promise of publication, just to work with an editor. That year working with Janet was the biggest rollercoaster ride of my life. I always say it was like having a personal trainer: I was pushed and prodded and inspired to be more ambitious and explore more depths in my writing than I could ever have believed, and to be more rigorous in my approach. It was the year that changed both my life, and my writing. (And yes, there were times when I wanted to crawl into a corner and for it all to go away – but who said writing was easy?)

You can find out more about my experience on working with an editor HERE and about throwing the best bits away HERE

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The proud moment I first held ‘Eden’s Garden’ in my hands.

 

What are your goals now?

 To earn my living from my writing! It’s begun, but it’s a long, slow process. My two books for Honno Press ‘Eden’s Garden’ and ‘We That are Left’ both reached the top 5 in the Amazon Kindle store earlier this year, so I’m moving in the right direction, but I still earn very little from my writing. I also write serials as ‘Heather Pardoe’ for The People’s Friend magazine, which helps. I find the real problem is time: all writing is speculative unless you have a contract for several books or a serial has been commissioned. Bills arrive come what may! But I’m plodding on. My three month Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary to finish ‘We That are Left’ gave me a small taste. And when I think that only a few years ago just being published seemed an impossible goal and the word ‘bestselling novelist’ was a daydream, to even have this goal feels a miracle!

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Becoming book of the month with ‘We That are Left’

 

 

What pays the bills now?

Some comes from my novels and serials and I have a small amount of PLR (Public Lending Right – the writer’s best friend) each year. But the majority still comes from an admin day job I do for one and a bit days a week, and I also work as a freelance academic proofreader, mainly for students with English as their second language. It’s fascinating – and good training for proofreading my own work.

 

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

I’d die if I didn’t. Like most writers, I sometimes wonder why exactly I put myself through the agony – but I know I couldn’t give it up if I tried. I don’t write to be rich (although that would be nice) but earn enough to be able to write. And I don’t care how long it takes …..

WWI Seed Cake

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In A Foreign Country

Ghana in 1976 with a baby and a suitcase

An interview with Hilary Shepherd

Today I would like to welcome to the blog fellow Honno author, Hilary Shepherd, whose second novel ‘In a Foreign Country’, set in Ghana, was published in March, and is currently in the Amazon Kindle summer sale. 

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I was 23 when I went to Ghana with a baby and one suitcase in 1976. All these years later the experience remains vivid, for the simple reason that I’ve never been back, nor have I ever been anywhere else quite like it.

Hilary 3There is an upside for a writer, writing about distant places, as authors like Peter Ackroyd have observed. However exacting it is to re-immerse yourself in faraway sounds, smells and colours, you don’t have so many decisions to make about what to include and what to leave out because the setting has been pre-edited by the limits of your memory. All you have to do is bring remembered detail to life. And because you are revisiting a place in your head, the detail that does come back is exciting, heart-rending, revitalising. That’s a pretty useful starting place for telling any story!

 

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As for the plot, I had written already about the trials and tribulations of living in the Sudan with a young family in my first novel and I wanted to write about somebody who thoroughly enjoys Ghana, however challenging she finds it. My character, Anne, is just out of university, keen to put her anthropological studies to good use at the same time as getting to know the father she has hardly seen since she was small. He has been working in Tamale for many years. Like him, she loves the place at once and decides to stay. And like him, she then falls in love awkwardly, perhaps unforgivably, with someone she finds there.

I didn’t want to write about northern Ghana outside the rainy season I experienced because the dry season is so different, so something had to happen to Anne within the same short time-scale of seven months. Hospitals I knew a bit about, having spent an unscheduled day in one in Tamale. I threw in some of my maternal experience in scenes with a secondary character, and drew on a brief trip we made to Burkino Faso, and horse-riding in Kumasi. But schools and teaching, which is where Anne gets to know her priest – that bit I had to shamelessly invent. After all, we’ve all been there, at some stage. It just needs a bit of imagination to go back as a teacher and in a West African setting.

As for the priest himself, a friend once told me the merest outline of something experienced by someone she knew, which has fascinated me ever since. What happens to a charismatic man if his life outgrows the framework he imposed upon himself long ago? And if you find yourself emotionally implicated, should you keep away or should you stay?

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 I’m not living in Ghana inside my head anymore. The book I’m currently working on is set in Spain in the aftermath of the Civil War. Writing historical novels is another foreign country in itself.

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Currently just 99p in the Kindle Summer Sale, you can get your copy HERE

Even in your father’s house you can feel like an outsider…

Recently graduated, Anne is in Ghana for the first time. Her father, Dick, has been working up country for an NGO since his daughter was a small child. They no longer really know each other.

A few days into her six-month stay, the houseboy Moses returns
from a trip. As the weeks pass, Anne has a growing feeling that she’s surplus to requirements. Dick is grumpy and distant; Moses distinctly put out at her continued presence. She finds respite teaching eager young pupils at a local Catholic school. Then, out of the blue, a terrible accident changes everything.

In its aftermath, Anne’s closeness to a priest in trouble with his superiors at the Mission, reaches a tipping point that endangers them both.

Praise for In a Foreign Country

“intelligent, subtle and sensitive… I was conscious throughout of the author’s deft control and understatement. Less was definitely more, and what she chose to omit, as well as what she included, made it a much greater book… a thought-provoking, absorbing and rewarding read, which I highly recommended.”
Debbie Young (Debbie Young’s Writing Life)

“Will leave you thinking about the characters after you put it down, and wanting more as you read the last words…[Shepherd’s future as an author looks bright]”
Gwales

HILARY SHEPHERD

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 After a lifetime of organic farming, and more recently making windows and stairs in oak for a living – and kitchens in all sorts of woods – Hilary Shepherd published her first novel with Honno in 2012. ‘Animated Baggage’ is set in the Sudan, where she lived with her young family for two years during the 80s. It is a wasp-on-the-wall view of the world of international aid but sadly is no longer in print. Earlier this year Honno published her second book. ‘In A Foreign Country’ follows a young English woman as she arrives in Ghana, where nothing is quite as she expects it to be, including the hidden faces of love.

Hilary is married to Nick and they live on a wild Welsh hillside where they spend a lot of time pushing rocks about. They also spend time in Spain, in a remote mountain village in the Maestrazgo, where the book she is working on now is set.

You can follow Hilary on Facebook: 

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Interview with

LINDSAY ASHFORD

AUTHOR OF

‘THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS AUSTEN’

 This week fellow Honno author Lindsay Ashford’s ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ is the Radio 4 Woman’s Hour serial.

I loved the book, and can’t wait to hear the radio version.

And congratulations to Lindsay for winning her Mastermind heat this week. Exciting times, indeed!

 

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This interview with was originally posted in 2011, when ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ was published. 

Today, on December 16th, Jane Austen’s birthday, it’s my great pleasure to interview Lindsay Ashford, acclaimed crime-novelist and journalist, and author of ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’, recently published by Honno Press.  ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ is also the first of Honno’s books to be available for download as an ebook. 

Most appropriately, I chatted to Lindsay while she was in Chawton House in Hertfordshire, the former home of Jane Austen’s brother, and so a place familiar to Jane Austen herself, and now home to a unique collection of books focusing on women’s writing in English from 1600 – 1830. The Chawton House Library also works closely with Jane Austen’s House Museum. So a perfect setting!

Lindsay Ashford is best known for her popular gritty contemporary crime series featuring forensic psychologist Megan Rhys. So I began by asking what had inspired her to delve into the past to write a historical mystery? Lindsay explained that it was when her partner was offered the chance to work for Chawton Library that she began to spend time there, as they divided their time between Chawton and their home in Wales.

 Gradually, she became fascinated by the letters and archive material in the library and found herself being draw into the world of Jane Austen’s family. While reading Jane’s letters, she came across Jane’s description of her final illness: ‘I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour.’

For a writer who has studied criminology and researched the symptoms of arsenic poisoning for her Megan Rhys books, alarms bells immediately began to ring.… But it was only when, not long afterwards, she met the former president of the Jane Austen Society of North America, who told her that a lock of hair which is now in a nearby museum had been tested for arsenic by its former owners and come up as positive, that the kernel of a story began to stir. The writer’s mind began working on ‘what if’. Just supposing Jane Austen had been murdered rather than died of ignorance of the effects of arsenic in treatments for rheumatism, then who in her immediate circle might have wanted her out of the way, and why? And so ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ was born.

I then asked Lindsay what she found as a challenge in writing a historical fiction book rather than a modern urban thriller and was this research process very different from when she is researching her Megan Rhys books, such as ‘Frozen’ and ‘The Killer Inside‘?

 Lindsay explained that she found it more relaxing in one way undertaking the historical research. Keeping up with all the latest forensic tecniques, when so many people are so knowledgeable about them nowadays (thanks to all the police ‘procedurals’ in print and on TV) is demanding when researching her Megan Rhys books. On the other hand, writing a novel in a historical setting meant making sure every detail of setting and language rang true, which meant checking everything to make sure there were no glaring mistakes.

Lindsay tells ‘The  Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ very much in her own style. As Jane Austen’s own writing is so much a part of our psyche, I wondered if Lindsay had found it difficult not to imitate her style, or unconsciously lift bits from her books, especially as there are shades of so many of her well-known characters in the novel. Lindsay explained that she had not really read much Jane Austen since she was at school, when she had really been too young to appreciate the perceptiveness and humour. When she first arrived at Chawton, she read all of the novels and so came to them with a fresh eye. Something she feels was definitely an advantage when she began researching Jane Austen’s family for ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’.

Fortunately, after living with Jane Austen as a character in her head, Lindsay can switch off from all her research and still very much enjoy all Jane Austen’s novels now. Lindsay’s favourite is ‘Persuasion’ and Anne Elliot is her favourite heroine. When I asked Lindsay if she had a favourite hero, she confessed to having a soft spot for Greg Wise as the caddish Willoughby in Emma Thompson’s film version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’. And I’m definitely not going to argue with that!

Lindsay says she would like to tackle another historical mystery at some point, possibly set in the Regency period – but probably not with real historical characters so closely involved. Which sounds intriguing.

And lastly, I asked Lindsay about her experience of working with the wonderful editors at Honno Press, and if she had any tips for aspiring writers. Lindsay confessed that – like most published writers – she has a draw full of rejections for her work, alongside novels that will never see the light of day. Again like many published writers, it was only when she began to work with an editor that she began to truly perfect her craft. For her, she says, an editor is an impartial eye that will tell you just as it is. It will not be kind, like friends and family will be tempted to be, but a good editor will give a new writer the benefit of years of experience. Lindsay’s advice is to listen and learn. Even an experienced writer still needs the input of an editor, as every writer gets so close to their story it’s quite impossible to see it with a clear eye. Even for ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’, it took about four drafts to get the book right and the best it can be. There’s always room to learn!

And so thank you to Lindsay Ashford for being interviewed for my blog!

About Lindsay:

Lindsay Ashford became the first woman to graduate from Queens’ College, Cambridge in its 550 year history. She gained a degree in Criminology. Lindsay Ashford was then employed as a reporter for the BBC before becoming a freelance journalist, writing for a number of national magazines and newspapers.

 In 1996, Lindsay took a crime writing course run by the Arvon Foundation. Her first book, Frozen, was published by Honno in 2003. ‘Strange Blood’, also featuring forensic psychologist Megan Rhys was shortlisted for the 2006 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. She wrote The Rubber Woman for the Quick Reads series in 2007.

 ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ is published by Honno Press.

You can find Lindsay at her website:

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