I first met Irene at the Rhondda Book Fair. An interesting and entertaining person to chat with I was thrilled when she gave me her books to read. I especially loved The Valley Beyond, which is why I’ve added a short review in the middle of this interview.
Hi Irene, please introduce yourself to everyone.
Hi Judith, here goes. I was born in my Granny’s house in the Rhondda Valleys and later moved to Pontypridd where I spent the remainder of my childhood. I lived in Wales for most of my adult life however I spent 5 years living in France running a bed and breakfast before returning to this side of the channel and eventually settling back in South Wales. Before embarking on my overseas adventure, I worked in the health sector both in administrative and practical roles and ran my own private chiropody clinic. I have an amazing husband and beautiful children and grandchildren who give me joy and purpose in life.
I wrote my first novel under the name of Sheila Cooper which was my mother’s maiden name, it is my little tribute to her and the main character Annie is just like her. My other projects are written under my actual name, particularly the ones in the chic lit books, as I think my mum would have been quite disapproving of the language I used in them.
Tell us what were you like at school?
I loved junior school, I was bright and enthusiastic and did really well right up to the start of high school where my academic success plummeted. I wasn’t the best pupil and fiercely resented the fact that the year I was due to sit the 11+ exam, was the year it was scrapped and instead the new assessment plan came into force and I wasn’t chosen to go to grammar school. I couldn’t understand this, I felt cheated and that all my hard work was for nothing so I suppose it stands to reason that from that moment on I hated school. However, older and wiser and with plenty of hindsight, I wish I had realised then what an important part of my life was being frittered away with frustration and dislike of the system. Luckily I realised my wasted youth was a by product of my own despondency and took solace in the propriety of being a successful mature student.
Were you good at English?
Yes, I was pretty good at English, I loved reading and more particularly writing, it was one of the subjects I enjoyed most at school, together with history and home economics.
Which writers inspire you
As a small child I read all the Enid Blyton books I could get my hands on, followed by the usual classics like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Kidnapped, which, although mainly written for interest towards boys I found were full of the adventure and historical flavour which I still love today. I love Alexander Cordell’s Rape of the fair country, Hosts of Rebecca and Song of the earth, so full of Welsh history in the iron-making industry in the valleys although some say they are quite political, I love the insight into the generational makeup. I love Catrin Collier’s Hearts of gold as I can relate to life in Pontypridd where I was brought up and Catrin’s obvious love of Wales reflects in her stories. I love Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt’s numerous historical novels, based around our Royal families and giving a great insight into life at that time. I was recently and instantly hooked on the Girl with the dragon tattoo trilogy by Steig Larsson, what an amazing writer he was it is so sad that he died before the films were made of his work, his writing was so committed and the storylines were incredible.
What genre are you books
My ideas are varied from Historical/romance to Chic lit and Murder mystery
So what have you written
My first published book, The Valley Beyond, is a novel set in the heart of the Rhondda Valleys in the early 1900’s. The story tells of one woman’s struggle and the harsh reality of life in a mining village. The characters are loosely based on members of my own family and the story is a little tribute to my mother who died very young and the protagonist is much the same in temperament as her.
The story is set in the heart of the Rhondda Valleys in the early 1900’s – Her idyllic life is shattered and Annie struggles to make ends meet as her badly injured husband becomes more and more unbearable. Meanwhile, the community already on the brink of revolt, seek someone to blame following a mining accident, which killed several men and boys.
Two comments firstly: I love the cover and I don’t think the blurb sells this strong story. That being said I did enjoy reading this book. Writing under the name of Sheila Cooper, Irene Husk writes with a easy-to-read, down to earth style that instantly portrays the characters and the world they live in. The harshness of both the era the book is set in and the existence within a Welsh mining village comes through on every page. The descriptions are detailed and evocative. The characters are mostly all multi-layered (I especially liked the protagonist, Annie, with her pragmatism and practical ‘Welshness’). The dialogue, both internal and spoken, is excellent and identifies whoever is speaking. There is humour, pathos and as a reader I could empathise with a lot of the rich portrayal of both the lives of the minors and their families. A novel to be recommended.
I have also published a chic lit: Five Nights in Ponty
How much research do you do
I think it’s pretty important to do your research, particularly if you are using factual information and giving information. Also it makes your story more accurate and believable if your research is done well.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand
On anything to hand when I get an idea, I’ve amassed mounds of scraps from sweet packets and parking tickets to loo roll. But I mainly work on the computer as my typing speed is quite high so my ideas can flow from my brain to my fingers uninterrupted. For The Valley Beyond I already had the storyline from start to finish as the characters are loosely based on my own family. However for my other projects I usually just see where an idea takes me and go with it. The plot for Five Nights in Ponty came from embellishing on overheard gossip.
What are your thoughts about good or bad reviews
I think constructive criticism is always really helpful, I don’t think there is a need for anyone to be ungracious about other author’s contributions, as everyone has their individual style, acerbity can be very disheartening and anyway, there are always nice ways to say things even if they have a negative aspect about them. It’s always nice to be complimented on your work, particularly if you have put your heart and soul into it but writing is so diverse, not everything is everyone’s cup of tea and one man’s honey is another man’s salt.
Whats the hardest thing about writing
Writing is it’s own reward so sometimes when I feel depleted of ideas or not in the mood or perhaps even feel I can’t be bothered, I still do it because as soon as I begin the actual act of writing (you know that thing I had to persuade myself to do) , I usually find I don’t want to stop even if the end product goes nowhere, at least it is a good shot at making a contribution and using your imagination as who knows where it will take you.
What made you become a writer
I have always been a scribbler and written short stories, most of which went in the bin, However, I have had the entire book of The Valley Beyond inside my head for years wanting to put it in print, I finally plucked up the courage to write and publish it after having it professionally edited and finding that the feedback was unexpectedly good.
How do you organise your writing day
I work full time and I am currently studying to be an accredited counsellor, so it’s pretty hectic and although I have a couple of ongoing projects, I have to fit them in when I have a spare moment. I usually find myself grabbing my computer during my lunch break but the time always to fly by, so the progression is pretty slow. When my course is finished I will write in the evenings, after work and in the company of my uncomplaining husband and a large glass of sparkling white.
What do you enjoy most about writing
Everything, but it’s really exciting when an idea flows and you find your beginning, your middle and the end of your story. Inspiration is gratifying.
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing etc come from
I have always been aware of the joy books can bring, I was brought up in a fairly impoverished family, we didn’t have a lot but we always had books, our mum used to get second hand ones from Pontypridd market where they had a book exchange stall. Later when I had my own children, I often made up bedtime stories for them, unfortunately I never wrote any of them down and they are lost forever in the obscurity of my consciousness.
What are some of the references you used when researching your book
I needed to know what vehicles were around in 1912 and how much things cost, for instance how much a loaf of bread was and the cost of renting a miners cottage etc., so I used my trusted search engines and discovered several historical sites that offered a fantastic insight into the cost of general living during the dates relevant to my story. I also found sites like, for instance The history of electric powered motor cars, I could deduce from this what type of horseless carriages were available by gentry in the period of interest to me. I also used Mining disasters in the Rhondda Valleys to find out some information and relevant dates which I embodied in my history information when describing a tragic accident in my story. I looked at several pictures of clothing worn in poor communities and found old sewing patterns to show the more elegant garments worn by the affluent which helpfully gave me hem lengths and suggested materials etc.
What is your favourite motivational phrase
It’s a ten minute walk if you run.
Which famous person living or dead would you like to meet and why
I would love to have met Sir Walter Raleigh and I would have asked him – why on earth did you bring tobacco back to this country?
Do you think giving books away free works and why
Yes it helps to get unbiased feedback from sources that might not read that particular genre and it’s always nice to be generous. Also, it stands to reason, in any case, that not all of us can be the next JK Rowling and become millionaires so if I don’t give some away there’s a pretty good chance that no one would choose to read them as no one knows who I am.
Do you proof read/edit your books or do you get someone to do it for you
My first offering was professionally edited by Doug Watts at Jaqui Bennet Writers Bureau, but all other projects are proof read and edited harshly by my English Teacher big sis.
What books are you reading at present
I am halfway through Tom Jones Biography
What are you working on at the minute
I currently have a murder mystery and another chic lit waiting in the wings until I finish my studies.
What are your ambitions for your writing career
Several people have told me that my book The Valley Beyond would make a great TV play, so obviously, if this ever happened it would make my day. But be that as it may, I write mainly for the love of it and just to see my work in print and have positive feedback is an amazing achievement for me.
Whats your motto or favourite quote you like to live by
I hope I don’t die while there is still dessert in the fridge.
Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know or would surprise them.
My birthday is the same day as Her Majesty’s and my dad wanted to call me Elizabeth.
What single piece of advice would you give new authors?
Don’t let anyone put you off your writing, have faith in yourself don’t forget that any negative feedback is simply the opinion of that one person. Be true to your work and write about what you know.
How did you get published?
I sent my work to Doug Watts at Jaqui Bennet Writing Bureau for editing, via that source, I found and self published through Createspace.
Find Irene at:
The Valley Beyond: Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2fkeThy
Five Nights In Ponty: Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2eJv7ig
Both books also available from
The Rhondda Arts Factory Arts Factory
Highfield Ind Estate
Tel: 01443 757 954 Fax: 01443 732 521