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 new set of interviews and today I am with Stevie Davies. Although new to Honno with this genre, Stevie is a prolific writer of many genres, on many platforms, as you will see when you check out her website
Welcome, Stevie, please tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Mumbles, Swansea, 10 doors down from where my parents once lived. I am a feminist, cyclist, sea-swimmer, music-lover, mother of 3 and grandmother of 4. I’m a long-time member of CND. I stood for Cheadle Council in the 1990s as a Green Party candidate. I didn’t win.
I taught English Literature at Manchester University, leaving to concentrate on writing fiction, before coming home to Swansea University in 2001 as Royal Literary Fund Fellow and then Professor of Creative Writing. I’m a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the Welsh Academy. The Party Wall will be my fifteenth work of fiction. I’ve published 14 books of non-fiction. Euan Thorneycroft of A.M. Heath is my agent.
When did you start writing?
I started writing stories at the age of 5 or 6, which was more or less the age when my feminism kicked in: I saw the way the world was organised along gender lines and felt compelled to argue with it. My Morriston-born father was an Air Force sergeant so we were constantly on the move. My home from home was always the public lending library, from Oystermouth to Cornwall; from Kinloss to Hildesheim in Germany. My earliest works included an illustrated tale set in the Second World War, in which a group of Nazis gunned down everyone in sight, including one another – at which point the story found its natural terminus.
What genre do you write in and why?
I like to experiment. Writing is a process of exploration and discovery: it’s boring to repeat yourself. In non-fiction, I’ve written biography (Emily Brontë, Henry Vaughan), literary criticism (Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Virginia Woolf), popular history (17th century). In fiction: historical fiction, novella, short story. In The Party Wall, I’ve tried a slow-burning psychological thriller, domestic noir. For me the most powerful form of realism is tragicomedy because it represents a spectrum of experience and response.
How important is location in your novels?
Super-important, and especially location set in a historical period – from 20th century Yorkshire (Four Dreamers and Emily), Shrewsbury (The Web of Belonging), 17th century Cheshire and Wales (Impassioned Clay), Northern Germany pre- and postwar (The Element of Water), South Wales (Kith & Kin, The Eyrie, The Party Wall), 1940s Egypt (Into Suez), 19th century Gloucestershire (Awakening), Manchester (Equivocator).
When I came to write novels, I found that the varied landscapes of my childhood had given me different settings, enabling me to ponder history in a very personal way. From my early childhood in Egypt came Into Suez; from the lakeside Forces boarding school in Northern Germany, where I had been profoundly homesick, came The Element of Water, when I discovered that in 1945 High Admiral Doenitz had been named as Hitler’s successor, in those same buildings. Such coincidences enable us to focus the great wheel of history from the small arc of an individual’s destiny.
In The Party Wall, interior space is the central motif and the way people’s lives connect and are separated by the walls of home. I’ve lived all my life alongside party walls – overhearing the coming and going of neighbours, snatches of chat, arguments, muffled laughter. If you stop to think about it, how strange it is that we live our lives side by side, a few metres apart, hidden but throwing out unconscious clues. How little we know one another’s inmost hearts. I’ve sometimes imagined all the walls of a terrace turning to glass – we’d all be revealed in our most private (and embarrassing) postures and activities. Perhaps a novel functions like those glass partitions, revealing what is intimately concealed. In its double narration, oscillating between male and female narrators in adjoining terraced houses, The Party Wall tracks the convergence of a traumatised outsider and a free but broken spirit.
Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?
I read voraciously and my tastes are catholic – forever changing and broadening, often according to the joyous principle of serendipity, so I can’t give you a favourite. Since 1981, I’ve kept a Commonplace Book as people used to do in the past, noting the title of every book I read, with comments and quotations. Here are the openings of the first notebook and of the current one.
Where do you write?
At the dining room table and at a desk in the loft. With coffee. Up to and including the writing of The Eyrie, the first draft of every novel was handwritten. I redraft drastically many times and find it just as fascinating to revise as to create an original draft. You learn so much from your mistakes – and I think I have been a decent teacher of writing precisely because I have, over the years, committed every technical mistake in the book. You can’t beat a life rich in examined mistakes.
Who is your favourite character in your books?
It’s a mistake to keep looking back and ogling one’s earlier works. Probably the historical radical women I studied for Unbridled Spirits: Women of the English Revolution, 1642-1660 (Elizabeth Lilburne, Katherine Chidley, Anna Trapnel, Margaret Fell , Mary Fisher etc), have been the greatest inspiration. The characters of radical Quakers Hannah and Isabel in my novel, Impassioned Clay, are based on this research. Then come the complex, never-say-die rebels of my later novels: ‘Red Dora’, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, in The Eyrie; Ailsa Roberts, the adventurous spirit in Into Suez; Hannah Pentecost in Awakening; Quinta and Tertia in the Roman Britain of the title story of Arrest Me, For I Have Run Away.
What was your favourite bit of research?
Research might involve travel, a reading odyssey, and/or the learning or relearning of a language: for The Element of Water I read widely in German history, relearned German at the Goethe Institut and travelled to Lűbeck in Schleswig-Holstein. To research Into Suez, I made two unforgettable trips along the Suez Canal with my daughter Grace and corresponded with veterans of the Suez War.
What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses.
Being published by Honno is like going home. The first publisher of my fiction was The Women’s Press, where writers experienced warm support and a shared outlook on the politics of gender. At Honno (as also in other Welsh presses like Parthian, who have been wonderful supporters of my work) there is a sense of solidarity such as one rarely finds in larger and more impersonal firms. Caroline’s editing skills are second to none and I have been grateful for her experience and insight.
Find Stevie at her website: http://www.steviedavies.com/