Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK – who will be at theHonno Book Fairon the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing the each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno, the publishers.
If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.
Today, I’m really pleased to be joined byCarol Lovekin
Hello and welcome, Carol. Lovely to see you here today.
And glad to be here, Judith
Please tell us, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?
Four. Favourite is tough. Like my children, I love them all for different reasons. But I’ll pick Wild Spinning Girls as it’s the one everyone says they like best. And it was shortlisted for a prize: the Wales Book of the Year (Fiction Award) 2021.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
During a read through, I spotted it, almost at the end. It was a moment when one of my characters was musing on the essential nature of ‘girls’ and it was perfect.
What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?
The openingchapter! It wasn’t until my editor pointed out, during our initial structural edit,that I’d started the story in the wrong place, I realised I had. Once she told me, ‘It begins with Ida’s accident’ (which feeds into the fairy tale element and the story of The Red Shoes), the penny dropped. I was able to draw on my own background in ballet and had the scene written in my head almost before I got home!
What part of the book was the most fun to write?
The scenes involving Olwen – my ghost. I love her. She is my role model and any hauntings I plan will be an homage to her!
If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?
Heather, probably. And some of my readers have expressed an interest in Roni, wanting to know more about her. This is the nature of story however – they are never finished and some threads get left to spin in the wind.
If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it? If not, your plans for your next book?
My next book is due out this May. Which is perfect, as the story takes places over themonthof May. Only May is the story of May Harper, a girl who can look you in the eye and see your lies. As gifts go, it’s a double-edged sword; May doesn’t always want to know people’s secrets. But at the heart of her family hides the biggest lie of all, one she is determined to see.
At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?
Before I was published, I was a scribbler with no directions. Once I retired, I decided to take my writing seriously, with a view to publication. And I had an idea I knew could work: if I could write it, it had legs, so to speak. Luckily for me, it had wings. When Ghostbird was published, that was when I knew I was a writer.
What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?
Get a grip!? In my view and in my writing life, there’s no such thing. Sometimes (mostly) I write, sometimes I don’t. Regardless of any circumstances which may take me away from physical writing, I’m always thinking about my current story. Every aspect of creating a story is a writer’s work.
Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?
Absolutely. I did it with my second book, Snow Sisters. Allegra, the mother in this story is a narcissist. While I was writing the book, I finally said ‘No’ to a long-time friend whose narcissism had pushed me to my limit. ‘No’ is anathema to a narcissist and she instantly ended the friendship. Stealing a few of her attributes was a small but satisfying therapy. And the thing about a narcissist is, they will never guess you have modelled a character on them because in a narcissist’s world, everything is about them anyway. They are perfect, and that arrogant, self-involved, manipulative character couldn’t possibly be them!
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Beginnings. On every level. Sometimes, even though I know exactly what a chapter is about, I can’t start writing it. Can’t find the perfect opening sentence never mind a paragraph. It can takes hours. And don’t get me started on – well – the start! Once upon a time . . .?
How do you use social media as an author?
Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?
Although, ultimately, Honno chose me, I always had them in mind. I thought they would be a perfect fit for the first book I submitted. Ghostbird has a quintessentially Welsh feel to it. Added to that was my admiration for Honno as a feminist women’s press supporting women’s voices. I got my debut break with them as a result of taking part in a Meet the Editor session with Janet Thomas. This was life-changing for me. At the age of 71 I became a published author and my fourth book is on the horizon.
Hello, dear reader, and welcome. Like you, I am a guest; invited by Judith to appear on her blog and answer some questions. This is an event, frankly. Since lockdown has put paid to physical book launches and fairs, sitting down to write about my author self and my books is a treat. So thank you, Judith! Judith and I are both published by Honno, the Welsh women’s Press. It’s the longest standing women-only press in the UK and I think I can safely speak for both of us when I say it is an honour and a privilege to be a Honno Girl. That said, we’re not girls anymore! We are both women of a certain age who, although we were already writers, came to publishing later than some. Judith was first published by Honno in 2010; my debut came out in 2016. Although we write in very different genres, our stories share some similarities. We both write strong women characters and explore family dynamics, not least, the relationships between mothers and daughters, and sisters. I recall first meeting Judith at a Honno gathering before I was published. Ghostbird, my debut, had been accepted but I was very much the new girl. Judith immediately struck me as down-to-earth, friendly and very funny. I was soon to learn her dry wit and no-nonsense Northern persona sat comfortably alongside her kindness and supportive nature. Over the years we have become good friends. (I’m still a bit star-struck to be honest. Judith really is a wonderful novelist and her published output is prolific.) It’s an extra special pleasure then to chat with her on her blog.
Now let’s learn a little about Carol and her books
Judith: What do you love most about the writing process?
Carol: The opportunity to create story, Judith. Showing up and losing myself in the process. The lightbulb moments which illuminate a previously dim corner, or the ones that change the narrative’s trajectory. Being led by my characters because I threw away my breadcrumbs and allowed them to show me the way. Days when I punch the air because an unexpected tangent is about to make the story so much better.
Judith: Are your characters based on real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Carol: I’ve never knowingly based a character on a real person. I do confess to having ‘borrowed’ certain character traits. For instance, the narcissism of Allegra in Snow Sisters definitely has echoes of someone I used to know. The wonderful thing about it is of course, you don’t have to worry about being accused of writing negatively about a narcissist. They would never believe they could be that flawed therefore the character couldn’t possibly be based on them!
Judith: If you could write about anyone fictional/nonfictional who would you write about?
Carol: No one comes to mind. My writing feet are firmly set in the land of make-believe. I would be scared of mucking up a story about someone I admired!
Judith: What do you think makes a good story?
Carol: The perfect hook. An opening sentence that causes me to stop, go back and read it again. A sense of place and a central character who immediately piques my interest. To use a cliché: somebody who makes me care about them. They can be unreliable so long as they are largely sympathetic. And language – I am quickly put off by lazy language, which isn’t the same thing as bad editing. A good storyteller with a grasp of her craft will still shine through a tardy edit.
Judith: How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
Carol: The only ones I’m prepared to own are the three I’ve seen published plus the one in transit. There are the cobwebbed stories of course, in the back of metaphorical drawers. And the one I seem to have been writing forever, whose destiny is to be discarded each time a new, more exciting idea crops up. (My mentor calls it ‘the one my other books bounce off’ and a writer friend described it as being like ‘an old lover you parted with on good terms – between great passions, this lover is comfortable. . ’ (Like old lovers, some stories are best left to fade?) Not sure I have a favourite but okay – for the sake of a good yarn, I’ll have a go. Ghostbird because it was my first published book and Cadi, the central character, retains a special place in my heart. She presented herself, fully formed from a dream and I knew everything about her. She made writing what was a vague outline a possibility. Snow Sisters because it validated me as more than a one-trick pony and I love the relationship between the sisters, Verity and Meredith. My heart still aches for Allegra – a narcissist yes, but made that way by circumstances and upbringing. Wild Spinning Girls, my most recent book is my favourite because I can see my process as a writer; the improvements that come with practice I guess. And it has the best ghost! If I ever come back, as a ghost, I want to be Olwen!
Judith: Have you considered writing in another genre?
Carol: Good question, Judith. When I began writing Ghostbird, I thought, naïvely and a little smugly, that I was writing literary fiction. I had nothing else to call it to be honest. I knew nothing about how genre works in publishing – in book shops – and in any case, I disliked the idea of being pigeonholed. Time has taught me that the Lit Fic label is as meaningless as the Women’s Fiction one. (My favourite quote about genre comes from Matt Haig who said: “There is only one genre in fiction. The genre is called book.”)
Once I realised Ghostbird was a ghost story my first thought was, ‘Who knew?’ My second was that it suited me. There was a palpable shift in my thinking and my next two books were specifically planned as ghost stories – with hints of Welsh Gothic – and with an emphasis on family dynamics. Having found my “niche” so to speak, I see no reason to deviate.
Judith: Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book? And why it’s a must read?
Carol: Wild Spinning Girls came out just before the first lockdown and unlike so many of my writer friends I was able to have a physical launch. I remain hugely appreciative of this. The book is, like my previous ones, a ghost story. It concerns Ida Llewellyn, a young woman who loses her job and her beloved parents in the space of a few weeks. Her life thrown off course she sets out for Wales and the remote house her father has left her. When Heather, the daughter of the last tenant turns up, Ida is confronted by a series of terrifying events, not least the ghost Heather claims is her dead mother. The two young women embark on a battle of wills and in the process uncover a dark secret that has lain hidden in the house for twenty years. Anyone who likes a ghost story rather than a horror one; family intrigue and mother daughter relationships will, I think, like Wild Spinning Girls. There is a ballet theme too and allusions to the fairy tale, The Red Shoes. It has been described as ‘stunning and utterly unforgettable’ and ‘a timeless tale alive with a wild, old magic.’
Judith: Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?
Carol: Reins!? I was about to say, ‘I wish’ but as I mentioned previously, what I particularly love about the writing process are the tangents. Yes, I am a serious plotter – other than scribbled outline notes I’m reluctant to type Chapter One until I have a pretty good idea what the story is about, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Equally, I’m open to suggestions! Like real people, fictional characters evolve. And often indulge in spontaneous hijacking. It can be startling, but it really is part of the process. When characters behave in ways that differ from my original concept, it makes them more real to me. I can only hope it does the same for my reader.
Judith: If you could spend a day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that time?
Carol: What a brilliant question! It would have to be Olwen. I adore her as a ghost and love her as a living woman. Her story is a thread though, with only hints about her life before she died. I’d like to go for a long walk with her, take a picnic and sit “out on the wild moor near the stone where the black birds watch” where she grew up; ask her to tell me about her life, the one I have half imagined for her and only vaguely outlined.
Judith:When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Carol: I wrote my first story when I was about ten or eleven. It was called The Veiled Lady and although I hadn’t written the end, I read it to my younger sister. I told her she would have to wait until the next day for the dénouement. The next day came but because she did something to annoy me, I refused to finish the story. We are both in our 70s now and she still hasn’t forgiven me.
Judith: Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
Carol: I used to be a ballet dancer and drew on that dormant past when I wrote Wild Spinning Girls.
Judith: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk? Carol: I have a pair of writing earrings. They’re odd – their partners lost. Because they were so pretty, I paired them up and wear them when I’m working.
Judith:What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Carol: In the middle of what Marion Keyes calls, The Pandemonium? Think about not being in it? *Wry grin* Covid restrictions on meeting family and friends and attending book events apart, my life is pretty much as it was. I walk (I’ve always walked alone), read a good deal the way most writers do. In the morning I practice Qigong and have recently taken up yoga. I like to knit, watch long series on telly and tend to my house plants. Currently, I’m obsessed with growing avocado trees from the stones. It’s fascinating, watching the tap root emerge in water, the stone splitting and a tiny green shoot pushing its way up. Potted on these shoots soon begin turning into tiny trees and over weeks and months they can become really tall.
Judith: What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you? Not particularly to do with your writing?
Carol:Does tripping over outside the chip shop and landing on my face count? Or on my knee, running (why would I even do that) to open the door to answer the postman? Or breaking my leg tripping over an inch of iffy pavement in the dark? Three times in two years and I’m not even kidding. I’m an accident waiting to happen, Judith, but you have to see the funny side. And small things amuse me every day. I am drawn to the absurd and see it everywhere. It’s what keeps me cheerful I think.
Judith:Give us a random fact about yourself.
Carol: I’m continually and endlessly home-schooled. Seriously – I left school with two O-levels and once I caught up with myself and refused my father’s “education is wasted on girls” doctrine, I began educating myself. I’ve been doing it ever since.
Today I’m really pleased to be chatting with Honno’s latest find, Carol Lovekin
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re currently working on or promoting. Hello, I’m Carol. I’ve lived in mid-Wales since 1979. My novel, Ghostbird will be published by Honno in March 2016. It’s a very exciting time for me. I always hoped that if the book was ever deemed good enough to warrant publication it would be with Honno. I’ve been a fan and a supporter of this unique press for years. I’m currently working on another story set in Wales.
Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write? I’ve always been inspired to write. My problem has been arrested development – which I’ve suffered from for far too long frankly – and a sense of myself as not quite good enough or ready for publication. I allowed my personal life to get in the way for too long as well. I self-published my first book in 2008 – a venture I now view with mixed feelings although I learned a great deal from the experience.
Where do your ideas come from?
I love this question, even though it’s virtually impossible to answer. It makes me smile because more often than not an idea is ‘a moment’ I can’t necessarily describe. Ideas come when the word birds drop them in your path or leave them on the pillow. Ghostbird began life when I reimagined the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd from her point of view, as a reclaiming and a feminist issue. When I first read the story, my initial reaction was: why would it be considered a curse to be turned into a bird? What a gift! Blodeuwedd can fly away and escape her fate! From there the story began to take shape in my head. I have no clear memory as to why I decided on a teenage main protagonist. Not the likeliest choice for someone of my age. Cadi arrived one day, fully formed, and I fell for her.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you? Before I begin, I like to know as much as possible and create a fairly detailed outline. That said I don’t necessarily stick with the plan. I love it when paths open and characters boss me around or when missed opportunities present themselves.
What genre is your book?
It’s a contemporary ghost story with slivers of magic. Although it’s been suggested it might have YA cross-over potential and would appeal to upper-age teens, essentially, it’s a story for adults with adult themes.
How did you come up with the title of your novel?
In more than one mythology ‘ghostbird’ is another name for the barn owl – which is how Blodeuwedd is often depicted in illustrations for The Mabinogion, the book in which her story originated. The title began life as something entirely different however and the decision to change it was initiated by my editor, the discerning, sharp-eyed and lovely, Janet Thomas. A book cover is about perception and reader appeal. Janet was right about numberless aspects of the book and she was right about the title. As I was able to choose the alternative myself, it wasn’t hard to let go of the original. And in any case, I think having to change the title is a positive thing. It allows me to let go, in preparation for sending the book out into the world. The old title was pre-acceptance; the new one celebrates affirmation.
What has been your best moment as a writer?
Best moments are the ones when someone tells you what you write has touched them. Getting the email from Janet with the news that Honno were going to make me an offer was absolutely a ‘best’ moment!
Do you have a special time to write and how is your day structured? My stories begin life as random, handwritten pencil notes. I’m not a linear writer and this note-writing process is ongoing. I often write in bed first thing in the morning accompanied by tea. Deciphering and working out where these isolated scraps and scenes fit into the main narrative can be challenging. At times it’s like having a dyslexic spider running round inside my head. I like to be at my computer by or before ten, or as I call it, writing o’clock. I work for at least four hours. When I’m on a roll, I’m disciplined and can self-manage. I swim two mornings a week and after the Wednesday session, hang out in a local café with my talented writing friend, Janey. We feed each other’s brains!
Do you write every day?
Yes, although I don’t necessarily work seven days a week on my current story. The ‘write everyday’ mantra is a stick writers can easily learn to beat themselves with. What matters to me is writing something every day. I write a letter to a friend in America 365 days a year which flexes my writing muscles.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I’m not sure ‘career’ is the right word. I’m seventy-one! I definitely intend to carry on writing. I’ve almost completed draft zero of my next story and I have another one tangled in the edges of my hair.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I don’t give advice. I do suggest: don’t give up! If you have a story you are passionate about and if you are willing to work hard, take advice, re-write, edit and work some more – and if you’re good enough – you are more likely to succeed. Who are your favorite authors and what is it that you love about their work?
Top of the list has to be Virginia Woolf. I became mesmerised by her vision in my early twenties and remain fascinated by her writing. Reading her encouraged me to take risks. Although I love her novels, it is her letters and diaries I find most intriguing. I’ve read the major biographies about her life and most of the novels based on it.
Other writers I admire include Edna O’Brien, A S Byatt, Alice Hoffman, Cormac McCarthy, Susan Hill, Doris Lessing, Sebastian Faulks and Elizabeth Von Armin. And I recently discovered the rather splendid, Patrick Gale. Each of these writers possesses the ability to instantly create a doorway through which the reader simply has to step. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle has the best fictional opening line ever and I reread Jane Eyre every few years. To Kill a Mockingbird would be my Desert Island book. It has everything. I own a lovely collection of books by Joanne Harris – all her adult novels in pretty, hardback editions. She understands authentic magic and knows the spells that makes it probable. All of these writers (and a myriad others) have encouraged me to do as Francine Prose suggests and “read like a writer” in order to maybe learn a few tricks of the trade, from my betters.
Tell me something unusual about yourself.
I overcame my fear of deep water two years ago and I’m now a MerCrone!
What’s your view on social media for marketing? Used wisely, it’s hugely effective. Twitter in particular, opens doors. I’ve met many generous writers both famously published and on their way, and got to know some of them in real life. I’ve been encouraged and supported and taken care of.
Which social network works best for you? Twitter for introductions and making contacts. After years away I recently re-joined Facebook, which to my surprise is proving useful too. Social media is like cake. Too much of it makes you sick. Get is right and, as we say in Wales, it’s lush!