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Hazel playing her new Celtic Harp
  • I loved your tweet about ordering a new harp to celebrate the publication of Ellie and the Harp Maker. I just had to ask what drew you to playing the harp, and the Celtic harp in particular?

Thanks so much, Juliet! Yes, the new harp was a ‘reward’ for my debut novel, although it ended up being two year’s wait before I actually got it! This was because it was hand-made to order … and then of course COVID made everything take even longer. It’s a beautiful instrument though, and I’m delighted with it.

The harp in the workshop

I first started harp-playing when I was at university, many years ago. I’d always loved music but never played an instrument. It was a happy accident that led me to a locker that contained a battered, broken old harp. It belonged to one of the music societies but I instantly loved it, so I kidnapped it that summer and had it mended. I realised then how much I longed to play it. It took me a long time to learn but I’m so glad I did!

Although it was chance rather than choice that paired me up with this particular instrument, it’s the perfect one for me. I’ve always been drawn to anything Celtic (I have some Scottish blood, which could be a reason) and I do prefer Celtic harps to classical harps. To my ears the sound is more organic, more ancient, wilder and wiser. It moves me deeply and somehow, in this complicated world, seems to heal and help put things right again.

A harp begins …
  • What were the origins of ‘Foxwillow Trio’? Have you managed to keep on playing and composing during lockdown?

I joined Foxwillow a few years ago. Martin and Celia, the other members, had already been together as duo for over a decade. We met at an informal gig where I was doing some harping and they were singing with guitar, flute and clarinet accompaniment. They invited me and my harp over to theirs the following week and I busked along to their lovely, nature-themed songs. They seemed to like it… at any rate they still keep inviting me back! They write all the songs for this group but I compose the harp parts.

We had masses of gigs lined up for 2020, all of which were cancelled, along with my solo performances. It’s been a sad time for musicians (and I’m extremely grateful that writing is now my main income.) Whenever regulations eased and weather permitted we met up in gardens to keep practising. 2021 has, at last, given us opportunities to perform again. We’ve recently been on stage at the Mid Devon Show and will be playing again at Watchet Festival in August. But it will be a long time before I’ll be able to return to Care Homes with my harp.

  • Do you find the process of writing music for your harp differs from writing a book, or do you find there are similarities?

They’re pretty different, but they complement each other well. Writing drives me slightly crazy because there’s so much intensive thinking involved, so I do need the less cerebral process of music-making as a break from it. Songs or harp pieces are much quicker to write than novels, too, so you have the satisfaction of actually completing something more often.

The two creative processes do have similarities, though. Both take a lot of energy and experimentation. I’m not a very systematic person and when I start a new project I tend to blindly follow my gut instinct. But once I’ve found something I like I’ll doggedly hone and hone. I delete a large proportion of everything I write and I never perform a huge chunk of my repertoire, so masses of work doesn’t actually get used. Maybe I’m too perfectionist?

  • Can I ask you what inspired you to write the story of Ellie and the Harp Maker?
The beginnings of Hazel’s harp in the workshop

My first inspiration was all the people who came up to me after harp performances and said: “I’ve always wanted to play the harp.” I was amazed at the number of people (both women and men) who have this dream. I thought about how much of life we spend dreaming and how we sometimes follow these dreams but often don’t; about what happens when dreams come true… and how they have a habit of not quite turning out the way we expect.

A harp skeleton…

As I was pondering, I was going on a lot of walks in the Exmoor countryside and that became an integral part of the story too. Dan (the harp maker) emerged as not only somebody who could make Ellie’s dream come true, but also someone living a solitarily life, immersed in the local landscape. Then came Phineas the pheasant, who plays an important role in the drama. He was inspired by Exmoor as well.

  • The character of Dan and the details of harp making in Ellie and the Harp Maker were fascinating. Do you think it takes a special kind of person to create a Celtic harp? And were you able to see your new harp being made?

I’d say it does take a special person to create a harp, yes. Of course a great deal of woodworking experience is required, and masses of patience, precision and passion. I’ve never met anyone quite like Dan in real life, although I’ve met several harp makers.

Most harps are factory-made these days, but there are still quite a few skilled harp makers around. My old harp (which I still love, by the way!) was made by a German harp-maker called Frank Sievert. To research Ellie And The Harp Maker I went down to Cornwall and quizzed Tim Hampson, who patiently explained a lot of harp-making details to me and showed me around his workshop. My new harp was made by Mark Norris, who’s based near Peebles in Scotland. It was too far to visit to see the harp being constructed (and it was lockdown anyway) but he generously sent me lots of photos of my harp-in-the-making.

This is just how I imagine Dan’s workshop!
  • I loved the description of surroundings, do you find nature important for the creative process?

Absolutely! I couldn’t do without my ‘thinking walks’. It’s unhealthy to be stuck behind a computer screen all day anyway, and the act of walking is scientifically proven to help problem-solving. Fresh air, flowing water, blowing breezes, buzzing insects, singing birds, green hills… I’m greedy for them all and my writing would lose so much without them.

  • Can you say what you are working on now, both for books and music?

I’ve just finished proof-reading my third novel, Call Of The Penguins, which will be out in November. I have something up my sleeve for book 4, which I’m very excited about but not quite sure how it will pan out so I’d probably better not say more than that.

Music-wise I’m out and about with Foxwillow Trio again and getting my solo repertoire together, with a few private gigs booked. Normally at Christmas I play a glorious festive selection at Dunster Castle and I’m hoping that will happen again this year. I’ll be appearing at some literary festivals too (e.g. Taunton, Exeter and Yeovil) where I’ll be accompanying readings with my harp and playing my song about penguins, Waddling On. So it’s a good mix, and all good fun!

Thank you so much for having me, Juliet. It’s a real pleasure and honour to be featured on your website.

Thank you, Hazel, it’s been a huge pleasure – and I’ll keep my fingers firmly crossed for live audiences being able to enjoy performances of Waddling On!

You can find out more about Hazel, her harp and her best-selling books Away with the Penguins (currently just 99p on kindle!) and Ellie and the Harp Maker on her website, and there are also details and buying links below. Enjoy!

https://www.hazeltheharpist.co.uk/

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Copy edits are funny things.

 

After months of working on The Ferryman’s Daughter, writing and re-writing, editing, rewriting again and then tweaking, this is the final time I’ll see the book in manuscript form. It’s also the last chance to make any changes. Not major transformations, it’s already too late for that. Copy edits are about consistency, making sure the whole thing hangs together as a whole, with events taking place in the right year with everyone with their right ages all the way through. It’s more about the technical aspects of a story than any previous edits. It’s also where the joins from the different versions (when things like an age change can slip through the net) are smoothed out to make the final whole.

 

I always find it a strangely satisfying process. Frustrating at times. Even irritating, as you hunt down some little detail that then requires changing throughout the book and can drive you mad, as well as zapping all those repeated words you never spotted (may I never use ‘just’ again!). It’s where you have to stand back from the story as a writer and become a proofreader, complete with electronic tracking, with comments on the side to be addressed and corrections in the text. As someone who earns her living as a proofreader (although not for fiction), it’s quite surreal to see my own work this way – and crawl away into a corner at the recognition that I make the same mistakes! Why is it that the brain always adds that missing word, even though you’ve been over that paragraph a hundred times?

The copy edits are a final distancing from any emotional attachment to the story, which is vital to root out any tiny errors that might otherwise slip through, and also a goodbye to the characters and locations that have lived inside your head, 24/7, for the past year or so.

Up to this point, the book is fluid. Nothing is set in stone. It can change, and frequently does. But once you press ‘send’ on this particular email, with the corrected manuscript attached, that’s it. This is where the baby grows up, ready to go out into the world and take on its own life – starting with its appearance in ‘The Bookseller’ (super-proud moment).

The Ferryman's Daughter in The Bookseller

The Ferryman’s Daughter in The Bookseller

 

You could go on with copy edits forever. As with anything, there’s always some tiny mistake, some minor tweak that can be made. But at some point you have to call it a day. Personally, I always know when I can’t do any more. It’s when I loathe the book with a passion you would not believe. When I never want to see another word of it, or have to have anything to do with its dratted characters, ever again, and I seriously question why I thought this was a good idea in the first place.

This may sound disastrous, when there’s promotion just around the corner. But that’s the thing. It’s like childbirth. The moment the book comes back in proof form (okay, even before that), the agony is forgotten. It’s time to fall in love with the story, all over again.

 

Roll on the proofs!

 

Porthgwidden Beach, St Ives, where part of the story takes place

Porthgwidden Beach, St Ives, where part of the story takes place

 

 

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Idwal

Lake Idwal in Snowdonia – an early morning walk!

I’m at that odd point in the writing life, where ‘The White Camellia’ has been waved off to the copy editor, and so finally complete, never to appear in manuscript form again, and the next WIP has reached that grind-to-a-halt stage where it looms large as a complete dud. This happens to every book at some stage or another, but (like childbirth) it’s the bit you forget, or you might never attempt another, ever again. No way.Camellia 2

What I had forgotten, of course, is my old remedy. It’s been too cold and damp a spring here to really get into walking, but now the sun’s arrived, I’ve taken a few hours each day to lengthen the dog walk.

Despite the creaking, it’s worked. I’d wondered if it had been wishful thinking, and this was just a way of avoiding getting down to writing. But there’s something about walking, ambling along with a dog, taking in the view and not too much a slave to the 10,000 steps a day, that doesn’t half get the brain de-knotted. I’ve realised I’m still processing the last bits of ‘The White Camellia’, still letting go of the characters I’ve lived with for so long, and that I’m still at the fluid, early stage of the new book where anything could happen. Indeed, one has already inadvertently changed sex, and several have appeared from nowhere at all.

 

Pool 1The light is stunning at this time of year, and I’m lucky to live near to forests and rivers, with the mountains of Snowdonia a few minutes’ drive away, where I can shoot off in the early morning before the day job and the writing calls. Taking the time from bashing at the keys to be out there has calmed me down, loosened up the creative muscles, and reminded me that writing is a process. It’s always hard to go from the final finishing touches, where a book falls into place, back to hewing a vague shape out of nothing, before the real work begins.

Gate reflection

 

I always start with an amorphous mass of stories and ideas, however hard I think I’ve planned. I always get to the point where it feels totally beyond me, and I ask myself why I don’t just stick to proofreading others’ work and have a nice life in between. But of course, I’m always called back. My battered old writing laptop is always sitting there calling. I can’t walk away. The characters and stories are still there, demanding to get in, taking over the place, and leaving a trail of havoc behind.water art 2

In the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way. So thank you to the rivers and lakes, and the pristine light of early summer in Snowdonia. My doubts (and my plot) have been de-knotted (for now), and inspiration has returned.

Let a summer of walking (and a new book) begin!

We That are Left is on Amazon UK at £0.99p at the moment: Click here

At on Amazon.com at $1.45: Click Here

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Finding the Snowdon Lily

Today, I would like to introduce my good friend Heather Pardoe, who writes serials and short stories, and is now published by Endeavour Press.

Heather’s first book with Endeavour, ‘Finding the Snowdon Lily’, (if you are in the US click HERE) is a historical adventure sent on and around Snowdon during the great Victorian fern-collecting craze (yes, there really was such a thing) is published today.

Dolbadarn Castle with Snowdon behind

I was going to celebrate the occasion by interviewing her, only this might be a little predicable, as, er, (as most of you will already know), she is, in fact, me.

I’ve written before about the pros and cons of writing under two names for the Novelistas Ink Blog http://novelistasink.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/serials-or-novels-that-is-question-by.html Over the past few months I’ve been in even more of a whirl between my two identities. I’ve been writing the next serial and editing further books for Endeavour as Heather, while at the same time bashing away at the new book as Juliet, trying to get as much done as possible before the edits land for the novel out with Honno next year.

And yes, I have ended Daughter of Conwy 4 smallup talking to myself! Luckily, my four-legged secretary and research assistant takes such things in her stride.

Today, however, I’m going to celebrate as Heather. There I was, taking it all in my stride, telling myself, just another Heather adventure out there – but now it’s come to it, I’m just as excited as when a Juliet book comes out!

And so, what does Heather write? Well, much shorter books, for one. But they are also historical exciting adventures, inspired by the many wonderful women we generally don’t hear about, who never let a crinoline or corset get them down, but were off up mountains and outwitting villains with the best of them. And like her serials, they are set in Snowdonia – including on Snowdon itself.

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Climbing Snowdon in the mist

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Reaching the summit

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The cloud clears – this is what Catrin would have seen from the top!

So this evening Heather and I will be raising a glass of champagne (possibly of the homemade elderflower variety, it being a weekday, and having a hero to rescue from particularly dire straights) to ‘Finding the Snowdon Lily’ – and Heather Pardoe’s future writing career!

Heather’s website is HERE

You can follow her on Twitter HERE

And on Facebook HERE

 

Elderflower 1

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Congratulations to the winners!

First of all congratulations to Shirley who won the Oapschat competition with a prize of a signed copy of ‘We That are Left‘ and a box of handmade Cathryn Cariad chocolates inspired by the recipes in the book. Choc 1 small

Congratulations to the winners of the Goodreads giveaway of ten (hotly contested) signed copies of ‘We That are Left’ which are currently being packed up all ready to go winging their way towards you.

WTAL pile small

My publishers have generously found me a second box of Cathryn Cariad ‘We That are Left’ chocolates in need of a good home.

Watch this space!

And thank you to everyone who tweeted and posted and shouted out loud that ‘Eden’s Garden’ was in the Amazon Kindle sale on April 1st – propelling it to number #1 in the Women’s Historical Fiction Charts for the third time in a year.

Eden's Garden Full Price 1 in Womens Historical Fiction

I think this calls for Elderflower champagne – and cake!

We That are Left’ UK       ‘We That are Left’ USA

‘Eden’s Garden’ UK     ‘Eden’s Garden’ USA

Seed cake

Elderflower 1

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Eden's Garden COVER

My first inspiration behind ‘Eden’s Garden’ is based on a family story – but I can’t tell you anything about that because it would give the game away – and then there would be no mystery at all!

My second inspiration was an ancient Welsh myth. It’s the story of Blodeuwedd, the woman made out of flowers to  a perfect wife. Blodeuwedd is beautiful and perfect – until she finds a mind of her own and is turned into an ugly old owl to be cast out and despised. As a woman, I’ve found myself growing more interesting and more human as I’ve grown older. So I have a feeling that, for Blodeuwedd, maybe that’s the point where the real story begins. And if you look at an owl – really look – it has a rare beauty all of its own…..

Cool green

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My third inspiration was a garden. It’s a place I used to go to when I went to see my father during the last months of his life. It’s on my way home through the mountains of Snowdonia, and was a place for me to gather myself and absorb my own sadness and get back to facing everyday life again.  The gardens are Brondanw Gardens which are the home of Clough Williams Ellis the creator of Portmeirion. They are full of life and eccentricity and a mischievous kind of joy.

Garden Avatar

And so that’s where the mystery began to form in my head, of Carys rediscovering the mysterious statues of her childhood and embarking on a journey to find a mysterious woman from the past who holds the keys to the future. A woman who was once bred to be a perfect Victorian beauty, and who has the longest journey of all to make – the journey to becoming truly human.

Brondanw Statue for video

Eden’s garden is on promotion today

In the UK 1.69p click HERE

In the US $2.10 click HERE

 

 Click HERE to join Carys as she unravels the past – finding some unexpected secrets along the way. 

You can watch the trailer for ‘Eden’s Garden’ here

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Thank you to everyone who tweeted and retweeted and shared on Facebook about ‘We That are Left’ being in the Kindle Daily Deal.

 

 

Seed cake

 

Thanks to all your support it soon became a ‘mover and shaker’ in the Kindle charts. It reached #31 in the Kindle store and the dizzy heights of #1 in the ‘Family Sagas’ category!

WTAL 1 Family sagas Nov 14 full price

 

So thank you to everyone who downloaded it – and everyone who got the word out there. 🙂

Thinking time

 

 

 

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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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Thank you to everyone who downloaded a copy of Eden’s Garden in the Daily Deal

And to all who tweeted and retweeted and shared on Facebook and sent the word out from my little crog loft halfway up a mountain in Snowdonia into the world. 

And sent it to number eleven in the Amazon Kindle Store

And number one in all its categories

And finally enabled me to fulfill my ambition to be above ‘Fifty Shades’!

The only answer to this is cake 🙂

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EG at 11 in kindle store nov 2014 At number 11 EG Nov 2014 EG Womens Hist Fict 1 Nov 2014 Number 1 above 50 shades

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 The kindle edition of ‘Eden’s Garden’ is a 99p Amazon Daily Deal 

But just for today!

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Finalist for The People’s Book Prize 2014

You can buy a copy HERE

Watch the trailer for Eden’s Garden

 

Sometimes you have to run away, sometimes you have to come home.

2011 – Carys agrees, with mixed feelings, to look after her mother after a fall. This decision unsettles everything – her job, her plans, her relationship with Jo. Once home she is drawn back into village life, into her family history hidden in the attic, and into the history of Plas Eden, the ramshackle great house that was so much part of her childhood. Where, at 18 she forced herself to say goodbye to David Meredith. How will she feel when they meet again?

1898 – Ann, destitute, stands on London bridge. She remembers her last visit to London, a spoilt aristocratic bride, sure of the power of her youth and beauty. Now she is running from everything she trusted. Is the river her only option, or will the Meredith Charity Hospital hide her?

Two women struggling with love, family duty, long buried secrets, and their own creative ambitions. But over a hundred years ago, Ann left a trail, through North Wales, Cornwall and London, that may help Carys find her true path. What is the secret of the statues in the garden?

Welsh Book of the Month May 2012

Juliet in Brondanw

Juliet in Brondanw Gardens –  one of the inspirations for ‘Eden’s Garden’

Praise for Eden’s Garden
“a wonderful, scrumptious read…”
Sharon, Magical Musings (http://magicalmusings.com/)

“this story covers multiple generations of a woman’s struggle and heartache with a deft touch. Sensual and romantic, the story swept me away with its strong female characters… It is filled with Welsh charm and romance, and delights with a sweet, lovingly tended story that leaves the reader deeply satisfied”
Nadine Galinsky Feldman (http://www.nadinefeldman.com)

“don’t hesitate to immerse yourself in this delightful, intriguing tale which unravels family secrets”
Claire McAlpine, Word by Word

“Written on the grand scale, this powerful and moving story of two deeply creative women, seperated by time but both struggling to balance the conflicting demands of family duty and the desire for freedom, held me gripped until the final family mystery was resolved and the entirely satisfying resolution reached.”
Trisha Ashley

“A great romantic read and also a very atmoshperic, ingenious mystery.”
Margaret James, Writing Magazine

“Beautiful writing and a charming, intriguing story.”
Sue Moorcroft

“Juliet’s characters are so believable and richly drawn – the reader really cares what happens to them…”
Anne Bennett

 

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