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 the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire.
If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno.
Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Liz Jones
Hello and welcome, Liz. Good to have you with us here today.
Glad to be here, Judith.
Please tell us, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?
The Queen of Romance is my one and only (so far…)
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Through a long and tortuous process… My original title, The Many Lives of Marguerite was okay, but didn’t really tell the reader anything. Eventually, I came up with The Forgotten Queen of Romance. The ‘forgotten’ was later dropped…
What inspired the idea for your book?
It all began when I visited what I thought was just her husband’s grave (that of the controversial Welsh author Caradoc Evans). Then I discovered Marguerite, this incredible woman who had been a bestselling romance author, whose book The Pleasure Garden was became Alfred Hitchcock’s first film, who had appeared in a film alongside the legendary Gloria Swanson, and had run a thriving repertory theatre company in my home town of Aberystwyth. Yet now she lay forgotten alongside her husband, without even her name on the gravestone. I had to find out more…
What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?
The scenes about Marguerite’s childhood in India, during the days of the Raj. I have never been to India and knew little about the Raj, so I had to draw heavily on a combination of research and imagination. But I found this research fascinating. The mindset of the British in India was astonishingly racist and elitist. They were also making huge sacrifices for the sake of the British Empire, which they genuinely believed to be a noble project.
What part of the book was the most fun to write?
I enjoy visiting places and getting and writing about them in situ. Visiting Broadstairs, where Marguerite lived and ran a theatre company just before the war, was great fun, as was visiting the site of another of her homes, near Aberdyfi, high above the Dyfi estuary.
Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why.
Marguerite as a biographical character was eccentric, endlessly fascinating and also infuriating! The men in her life were (with one exception) pretty awful to here. The character I felt by far the most empathy for was Pauline Bloch, the German Jewish refugee who was Marguerite and Caradoc’s live-in maid during the war. The poor woman was traumatised and not receiving the help and support she needed – least of all from Marguerite who was too wrapped up in her own marriage and money problems to care.
I was privileged to read some of Pauline’s letters, written some thirty years later, where she reflected on her time with Marguerite and Caradoc. She was a strong, determined and remarkably fair-minded woman who had overcome so much.
If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?
Pauline, without a doubt.
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?
All I can say is I’m researching another biography. It’s far too soon to reveal any more!
At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?
I don’t think you can really call yourself a writer after just one book. Although now I do write most days – features for magazines, mostly.
Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?
With a name like Liz Jones? Of course I have! If ever I write a book that’s completely different (a novel, for instance), I might just dream up a far more exotic name for myself!
What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?
Writer’s block is something I experience every day. Sometimes I can overcome it. Other times, I suddenly find that cleaning the sink or organising my bookshelf is suddenly far more pressing than writing… Yet once I’m really in the writing zone, I find it difficult to stop. If only I found it easier to get there in the first place – I’m still working on that!
What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?
Peace, quiet, not too much clutter and, above all, a room of my own. (Virginia Woolf said it all really…)
Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?
As a writer of non-fiction, I’m afraid I can’t really answer this!
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
That’s a very big question! There are so many different kinds of good writing. If I had to say, I think it’s honestly – writing where the author strips away any ‘show-offy’ bits and tells the story with sincerity and integrity, rather than indulging in writing that draws attention to itself. Having said that, I can’t resist the odd flourish or purple passage, although I try not to overdo it!
What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
As a biographer it has to be character! I have to feel fascinated by a character to want to write about them.
How do you use social media as an author?
I’m on Twitter, which I’ve found pretty useful, in a low-key sort of way. I know Twitter has a bit of a toxic reputation, but it’s great for connecting with other authors and keeping in touch with Honno and the wider world of books. What I also like about Twitter is that it’s okay to promote your own work there – unlike facebook, where too much self-promotion tends to be frowned upon!
Why did you [choose? Honno as a publisher?
The honest answer is because Honno is based in my home town of Aberystwyth. When my idea was still embarrassingly sketchy, I contacted the lovely Janet Thomas (a member of the Honno committee and hugely experienced editor). Thanks to Janet’s unstinting encouragement, I began to feel that my idea really could work as a book. Later, as a first-time Honno writer, I felt supported by the team throughout the whole process – from the initial edits to the marketing. Becoming a Honno author is like joining a very special women’s club!
Dr Liz Jones is a prize winning writer of creative non-fiction and journalism, and a creative writing tutor at Aberystwyth University. Her book, The Queen of Romance (Honno), a biography of Marguerite Jervis (aka Oliver Sandys and Countess Barcynska), ‘the most successful author and theatre entrepreneur you’ve never heard of’, was selected for The Independent‘s book choices for May, 2021.