1: Please introduce yourself and your book to help our readers get to know you.
A: I’m a Yorkshire woman by birth. ‘New Welsh’, to use Gwyn ‘Alf’ Williams’ expression, by adoption, but have been fairly itinerant throughout my life: as well as Yorkshire and west Wales, I have lived in Lancashire, Dorset, southern Turkey and, past and present, Lincolnshire.
The ‘Storyteller’ books reflect this nomadic tendency.
Q2: Please explain how you came to be a writer, what inspired you to write your book(s) and how long it took.
A: The earliest so-very-serious writing was in my early teens. I was besotted by the 1960s TV series, ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, and my adolescent heart was ripped between Captain Lee Crane (David Hedison) and Admiral Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart). I wrote each episode in fiction format. No, I no longer have these early efforts.
B: Years later, a not-that-young first-time mother, I started writing for IPC magazines and, later, Bauer Publications’ new magazine ‘Bella’. Then, the fiction editor of Woman’s Weekly was the redoubtable, amazing Linda O’ Byrne who encouraged all her writers to develop character, plot, sub-plot, sub-characters, setting, style. She had a super-efficient red pen and downright approach to the ‘too many words’ syndrome – especially of the polysyllabic variety – exactly what I needed. I still have to be on my guard but she armed me. She was head-hunted for ‘Bella’, and persuaded me I could write short stories just as easily as long. She was right, and I enjoyed a modest success as a writer of Rom Fic serials and short stories for a number of years.
C: Years later, now in west Wales, I started writing again – first for the MA in Creative Writing (Trinity-St-David’s University of Wales) and then for Honno.
D: Inspiration? Comes in many forms. For example, in my early 30s I was an assiduous jogger. I could think through possible plots whilst jogging. One afternoon, loping along beside a field of barley, I decided I would have a blond heroine and explode the stereotype. I gave her a red Kawasaki to ride and freedom to roam. I guess this tendency has continued – Storyteller’s Granddaughter, for example, I was still exploding stereotypes and clichés. In this case, the girl-masquerading-as-boy scenario.
E: How long does it take? Too long! I cannot write a rough draft and then go back to ‘polish’. It has to be painstakingly re-drafted and re-drafted throughout. Also, I spend far too long on research.
Q3: What did you enjoy most about creating this book?
- This series of books? Research! Actually, this means not only researching books and internet info but boots-on-exploring, meeting and talking to chance-met folk who contribute ‘gifts’ of unexpected information, building up a disconnected portfolio of ideas until all explodes and settles into ‘the story’. That’s the thrill. Then comes the slog of writing…
Q4: What facets of your life, both personal and professional, are woven into your book, if any?
- For ‘Flint’ I am indebted to Robert Evans of ‘Bragod’, crwth-player extraordinaire, and his incredible knowledge of both medieval music and the medieval world.
- Storyteller’s Granddaughter: I lived and worked in southern Turkey in the early 1970s – a different world from now – and it was then I first learned of the great Sufi mystic, the Mevlana. His philosophy has stayed with me.
- In all my books, place is of great importance so travelling/research becomes ‘justified expense’. I admit, also, to using a camera as much as notebooks. For example, in ‘The Heart Remembers’, a chapter begins by describing the sun setting on a late winter’s afternoon between dark clouds and dark sky. I had rushed along to Bloxholm Woods (Lincs) especially to observe, note-take and photograph. Similarly, the 800 year old coppiced lime tree really does exist and yes, I wept salty tears when I hugged one of its multiple trunks.
- Is this ‘personal’ or simply observation?
Q5. How did you get published?
- Years back, during the IPC days, I entered a competition run by Woman’s Weekly. I didn’t win but Linda (O’Byrne) phoned me with an offer to buy the MS to be published in the then-monthly WW fiction series. After that, I regularly submitted MS. A number were serialised and sold on to Robert Hale.
- During the MA days, I occasionally had poetry published in Roundyhouse; wrote an article on Bob Evans that was published in Planet, and of which I was very proud; submitted (and had published) autobiographical ‘childhood’ stories (part of the MA coursework) to Down Your Way, a Yorkshire magazine that is affiliated with The Dalesman. I still write occasional pieces for them. Living in west Wales, I became (and still am) fascinated by the Gentleman Antiquarian, Richard Fenton whose ‘Tour of Pembrokeshire’ was published in 1810. I spent many happy years toddling around Pembrokeshire in his company, and subsequently had the pieces I wrote regularly published in ‘Pembrokeshire Life’.
- Now, I am also published in the SLHA (Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology).
- Honno? Isn’t it strange? I can hardly remember. The first five chapters of ‘Flint’ were written for my MA dissertation and I seem to remember I submitted them to a couple of the Welsh publishers before they were taken up by Honno. There was no official acceptance until I had to ask, ‘are you going to publish it?’ I feel I’ve been part of the Honno family for ever.
Q6: Did you have any surprises or hiccups along the way during the book writing and/or publishing process?
- Hiccups? Losing my way, usually. That awful moment of realisation that you’ve reached stalemate, it’s just not working/credible/in character…realisation often comes during the most mundane of domestic chores, and then the unwilling acceptance of scrapping chunks of text.
- Surprises? Many. The elation of discovering another unexpected detail, another aspect of history, another setting, another writer, dead or alive, who becomes a part of me…Jehan Iperman, Ibn Battuta, long since dead: Peter Brears, very much alive.
- I am not a historian so I am in a state of constant astonishment when researching. The Black Death supposedly ‘changed the western world’ but that world was already changing in the 1330s, and it was a very different world from that of Flint (1277).
Q7: What one thing did you wish you’d known before you started this project?
A How to go about historical research! As I say, I am not a trained historian. I suppose ‘I’m getting there’. SGD, for example, set in the 1330s because this was the best time-scale to accommodate generations – but I hadn’t registered that this was an ‘in-between time’ in Turkish history, ie between the Selcuk and the Ottoman Empires, and very little is written about it. Serendipity came in the form of Kate Flett’s edition of the CUP History of Turkey. Would I change the dates? No. In fact, just as well I didn’t know anything about the 1330s before I started.
Q8: You’re a fly on the wall when readers are discussing your book. What would you hope to hear them say about it?
- That they think it’s great, of course! No, seriously, that they recognise themes, subtleties, shifts in point-of-view, language difficulties in all three books – after all, this is a melting-pot world, linguistically speaking as well. Would anyone notice, for example, the boy-narrator in Flint uses non-Latinate vocab?
- I’d hope, as well, that they might want to look up the Mevlana, of Jehann Iperman, or Ibn Battuta, or any of the places referred to. In the latest book, the settings are Venice, Ypres, Lincolnshire, Wales, and identifiable, but 1330s.
Q9: Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know or would surprise them.
- Crikey! I have two heads? OK. I’m a cynic who belongs to no religion – doesn’t mean to say I have none – but given that all three ‘Storyteller’ books bang on about religion, I suppose that’s possibly a surprising thing.
Q10: What single piece of advice would you give new authors?
- The same advice that was given to me: write every day and don’t go anywhere without a notebook and pens. Er – no – I don’t always follow that advice. I do carry a notebook, though, and jot down ideas and impressions and vocab as it filters through the brain cells. If you don’t, it will vanish. Also, not ideal advice to give to a new wordsmith, but I use a handy little camera to record places/info etc
Q11: Share a short summary of a typical day in your life with us please.
- Do I have ‘typical days’? Get up, feed the cat…
Q12: Describe where you do most of your writing. What would I see if I was sitting beside you?
- Initially, not sitting beside me but walking – not talking! You’d have to stop-and-start while I made notes. HB pencil preferred. Back home, the initial ideas are handwritten (using that nicely sharpened HB pencil) until the lap top is fired up. And that moves around the house. Quite often, I like to sit at the dining room table in the conservatory until sunlight-stops-play. I inherited my mother’s gate-legged 1930s Jacobean oak furniture, now stripped back to light oak, but it’s where I used to do my homework when I was a Grammar School girl back in the 1960s. Sometimes I shift down to the breakfast bar in the kitchen – not ideal but the cat likes it. Or – as now – in the study space upstairs, conveniently close to the Broadband point.
Q13: What’s your motto or favourite quote you like to live by?
- A couple, and not dissimilar. The first I came across in my early teens, when H G Wells’ ‘Mr Polly’ was on the syllabus. ‘If you don’t like your life you can change it’.
- Then there’s Jalal al Din Rumi, the Mevalana, quoted by Dafydd in SGD:
‘Come, come, come again,
Whoever you may be
Come again, even though
You may be a pagan or a fire worshipper.
Our Centre is not one of despair.
Come again, even if you have
Violated your vows a hundred times.
How are those for comfort and encouragement? I suppose ‘J’y suis’ is not far behind.
Q14: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us in closing such as your website, an imminent book launch or what you’re working on presently?
- Well, The Heart Remembers, the last of the Storyteller books, is due to be published in August. I may be at the Penfro Book Festival in September
- Website? ‘In progress’, as they say, but it’s getting there.
- Similarly, I’ve Good Intentions to start an Author’s Page on Facebook
- Currently, I’m torn between two writing projects. I want to crack on with a biography of Richard Fenton and his three sons. The second son was first curate, then vicar, in Lincolnshire so I am strategically placed, so to speak. It helps sugar the in-exile pill. One of the reasons for creating a website is to up-load the P Life articles, photos, illustrations written while following the Richard Fenton Itinerary. I can include maps as well. Otherwise, it’s a Publisher’s Nightmare!
- The second project is one that’s been simmering for a while. Again, non-fiction so another departure from what Honno has published. Writers, both male and female, who were famous, household names in their day and now largely forgotten. I want to associate them with particular places. So it’s what I love: getting to know new people-writers; research, both book-bound and physical; lots of lifting of stones to see what scurries out from underneath; travel, exploration…bliss! And reminding readers of amazing, astonishing people who are now forgotten writers.