My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the first of a new set of interviews and today I am with my friend, Carol Lovekin
Please tell us a little about yourself.
My mother was from Northern Ireland, my dad was Anglo-Irish. They met during the war when Ma was a nurse and Dad was in the army. I was born and brought up in Warwickshire. I’ve lived in Wales since the late seventies and in Lampeter for the last fourteen years, in a small first floor flat. In summer it overlooks rolling hills and bird-laced drifting skies. Come winter the mist encroaches, the sky grows wilder and the birds are in their element.
When did you start writing?
My parents disagreed about the importance of education for girls. Having been denied an education herself, my mother wanted better for me. Dad had other ideas and in spite of his socialist leanings, patriarchy won out. In the 50s, the husband’s word was still law. I left school with no qualifications and went on to educate myself. (I’m still home-schooling.) One thing I did do, from childhood, was write. Decades later, my mother told me how much she regretted not fighting my corner. I don’t blame her – she did her best for me in other ways. Always made sure I had an endless supply of books to read and encouraged my scribbling. She would have been proud of my publishing achievements.
It took a long time though. I never settled into a disciplined writing state of mind and spent too many years in a state of arrested development. Life intruded, the way it does for many women. Finding myself older, wiser, retired and settled, I chose to make time and take my writing seriously, with a view to being published. Three books later, I hope my dad would have been proud too.
What genre do you write in and why?
Now, there’s a question. And a tricky one to answer. I write outside mainstream notions of genre and I’m still not sure where my books fit. When I began writing my first published book, Ghostbird, I vaguely imagined I was writing literary fiction. Largely because there was – and remains – no obvious slot for my stories. (Joanne Harris called Ghostbird “quirky” and I’ll take that.)
The truth is, were it not for the publishing world’s preoccupation with categories and shelf appeal, I wouldn’t give the genre of my books a second thought. On the edges of Gothic mystery with a nod to ghosts and magical realism?
Although they do contain these elements, conversely, my stories are rooted in reality: they’re intimate, small in scale and grounded in the commonplace dramas that exist within apparently ordinary families. I write about women with witchy heritages and a penchant for chatting to birds; eccentric mothers, absent fathers, lonely teenage girls, old houses and village life.
And I’m a collector of old stories – fairytales and legends. In particular, the patriarchal ones (which is most of them, frankly) denying women a voice. The motif of the ghost – particularly as the ‘presence’ of a previously silenced voice – has been the main factor in the trajectory my writing has taken. Each of my books feature encounters with ghosts of one kind or another. The crux for me is though, I find fiction a perfect vehicle for retelling women’s stories – old and new – in a modern setting. I leave my reader to decide on the genre.
How important is location in your novels?
Hugely. My books are almost exclusively set in Wales. The vivid, mysterious landscape of my adopted home is the backdrop to each of them. Verity and Meredith in my second book, Snow Sisters, do go off to London for a while but essentially, my settings are Welsh villages, its old houses and magical gardens. The hinterland too – the wild moorland with its endless skies.
Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?
Impossible to answer!If I’m reading a fantastic book, in the moment, that author is my favourite. I’m a lifelong admirer of Virginia Woolf. My favourite Irish author is the sublime Edna O’Brien. Daphne du Maurier is superb. Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird are my favourite books, except when they aren’t, because I’m reading something brilliant and how do I choose?
Where do you write?
In the first instance, when a new idea begins to come into focus, I write a lot by hand. Non-linear, random notes, often in bed first thing in the morning. My preference is for spiral-bound, A5 artist sketchpads and a pencil. These scribbles eventually translate to the main event, and once I’m in the World of Word, I’m in my study on the PC. I know how fortunate “a room of my own” makes me.
Who is your favourite character in your books?
Cadi Hopkins in Ghostbird. Possibly because she was my first. When I met her, coming out of a dream – in itself remarkable as I rarely recall them – I knew her. Her name, what she looked like, where she lived and that she had a dead baby sister; that this baby was somehow connected to the Welsh legend of Blodeuwedd, the woman made from flowers who was ‘punished’ by being turned into an owl.
I’m fond of Allegra in Snow Sisters, too. She’s a deeply misunderstood character who acts out her pain in appalling, attention seeking behaviour, because she has been betrayed by the men in her life and feels unloved.
My favourite ghost is Olwen, in Wild Spinning Girls. If I’m ever a ghost, I want to be Olwen.
What was your favourite bit of research?
My stories don’t require a great deal of research per se. I’m very familiar with Welsh villages, old houses and so forth. I do like to check details however and if I’m writing about specifics – the bureau in Wild Spinning Girls for instance – I enjoy looking for something that best fits my initial vision. For my fourth book, I’m currently researching tasseography – the art of reading tea leaves!
What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses?
The intimacy. The sense of being part of a family. Honno’s reputation as an independent press publishing writing exclusively by women appealed to my feminist heart from the start. And it felt like the right fit for my debut, with its connection to The Mabinogion and the legend of Blodeuwedd.
A small press may not have the financial resources available to bigger, mainstream houses; they do tend to have a broad vision. They’re less bureaucratic, more collaborative and if they believe in a project enough, will invest time, expertise and energy in it. This has certainly proved to be the case for me with Honno.
Honno translates as ‘that one (feminine) who is elsewhere’ which is beautiful. And we are: Honno authors are elsewhere, here and everywhere.
About the author:
Carol says, ‘I am a writer, feminist & flâneuse based in west Wales. I write contemporary fiction exploring family relationships & secrets, the whole threaded with myth, fairytale, ghosts, Welsh Gothic mystery & slivers of magic.
My third & most recent novel, WILD SPINNING GIRLS, is now available! Published on 20th February 2020 by HONNO, the Welsh Women’s Press. It has been selected as Books Council of Wales BOOK OF THE MONTH for March.’
Links to find Carol:
Lovely to meet Carol and hear about her life, Judith. My mother’s father also did not believe in educating girls. She achieved a place in grammar school and he wouldn’t buy her the uniform.
Thanks for dropping by, Robbie. I love Carol’s writing. And yes, fathers did have the upper hand in those days. x
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I LOVE this post!
Thanks, Linda. I love her books. Thanks for dropping by.
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You’re both brilliant!
Aw, thank you. Hope all is well with you, Linda. ❤
I’m fine thanks. Hope you are too x
Lovely interview – thanks to both of you!
Thanks for dropping by, Trish. And for your comments.