Wednesday’s Interview with #Honno: Today With Caroline Oakley, Editor for Honno

Today I’m really pleased to be chatting with Caroline Oakley, Editor for Honno (and,  by the way, Editor of  two of my Pattern trilogy)  Besides letting us learn a little about herself and her career as an editor, Caroline gives us an insight to Honno. It’s fascinating, I promise.  

Please introduce yourself

Hello, I’m Caroline. I’ve been working in publishing since 1985, after studying English and Drama in London. I’m from Staffordshire, originally, and moved to Wales in 1999. I was taught to read by my librarian mum before I went to school at four…which was just as well because when I got there I had learn all over again through ITA, or the initial teaching alphabet, which was an innovative and not wholly successful 1960s initiative supposed to introduce children to reading and writing before moving on to standard spelling. Some of my fellows never quite got the hang of it! However, once we got back to normal English I throve and my nose hasn’t often been out of a book since.

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What brought you into editing as a career?

An advert in one of those freebie magazines they used to give away outside Tube stations in London… I’d been working in Bond Street for a cosmetics company (though one of my tasks was to buy crime novels for the boss’s wife from Hatchards!) when the opportunity came to move on. I was interviewed by one person but offered a job with another. It was a joy to be paid to read books for a living – rather than pay for books and try to find time to read them outside of work!

Life before Honno?

Ten years at the Centre for Alternative Technology as Publisher of their small list of ground-breaking titles on renewable energy, sustainable water provision and treatment, organic growing etc. Before that, 20 years in London culminating in a position as Editorial Director of Orion Paperbacks editing luminaries such as Ian Rankin, Michael Moorcock and writing cover blurbs for Maeve Binchy.

How long have you been Editor for Honno?

I started part-time in 2005 and full time in 2008 – so around ten years overall, including a year out to do an MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff University (which Honno kindly allowed me to take and then return to my job – a literary sabbatical, if you like). I thought I’d better see if I could ‘do’ it myself having spent decades telling others how to ‘do’ it!

Please tell us about the background of Honno. When and how Honno was founded?

Honno is a mutual and provident society – a non-profit organisation – founded by a group of women interested in promoting Welsh women’s writing to a new audience in the mid-eighties. They began by publishing one book at a time and sold £5 shares in the company to fund their publishing activity. After a couple of successful years they got funding for titles on a book by book basis from the Arts Council of Wales and then, with the founding of the Welsh Books Council, a revenue grant to enable the publication of seven books per year and the employment of permanent staff – as opposed to the volunteers that had begun the Press, who continue to manage the company on a voluntary basis today.

What are the philosophies/principles/objectives of Honno?

To publish great writing, by great women born or living in Wales… The ethos of the founders was to provide a publishing space for Welsh women writing in the English language – and of women of previous generations whose published works had fallen out of print. Also to provide work in publishing for women in Wales. Honno publishes genre and literary fiction and non-fiction; its authors have been awarded prizes and shortlisted by the Crime Writers’ Association, The People’s Book Prize, the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel of the year and the Wales Book of the Year among others.

Do writers come to you or do you deal with agents only?

We have an open submissions policy – anyone meeting Honno’s criteria (you must be female and born or living in Wales, or writing work of interest to women in Wales) is able to submit work to Honno year round. This means we still source most of our writers and books through the ‘slush pile’, as it’s known in the trade. In this way we are able to spot talent at an early stage and often work with writers on several titles before they receive an offer to publish. You’ll remember this process well, Judith, as that’s how you came to Honno! As did Thorne Moore – who is now reaching the giddy heights of top ten best-seller for eBooks in trade magazine the Bookseller. We also offer workshops and ‘meet the editor’ mentoring sessions which bring new writers to our attention. On occasion literary agents will send us work and we’re always happy to liaise with them, too. Sometimes I or another Honno member will approach a writer with an idea and commission a title that way.

What advice would you give to a writer about to submit her work to Honno?

Read the submission guidelines on the website carefully – this applies to all submissions to any publisher. Also take a look at the range of books we publish – do we have anything similar on the list in terms of genre or tone? Have you read any of our books and, if so, do you think your work will appeal to our readers? These are the questions a writer should ask herself.

How do you decide that a manuscript is one you can work on?

That’s a tricky question – it depends on the material. I would usually read all of the fifty pages asked for before making a decision. It’s not often I reject something after a glance at only a page or two. I always try to include a tip or two on how to improve the work when I return it, or give a reason for not taking it further. If I like the material, I will either write and ask to see the balance of the book, or perhaps call the author and ask them to meet for a chat about the book and how we might work together. Very rarely I might write with an offer of publication after reading a full manuscript and then discussing it with my colleagues and the Honno Committee.

In the main, I’m looking for a genuine feel for the genre the book is written in, a winning voice, a great sense of place, a twist in the tale; something that makes me want to read on, whether that’s a character, a plot line or beautiful writing – which of those makes it a winner will depend on the sort of story it is.

How do you feel when you first discover a talented author?

Excited! And interested. I want to know how they got here and what motivates them.

Has there ever been a writer whose work you had to reject but who later found great success elsewhere.

Lots of them. There won’t be an editor who can honestly say no to this questions. J K Rowling was turned down many times before a junior editor at Bloomsbury took a punt on her. The same is true for all of us. There are lots of books I offered for and didn’t win, too. You have to concentrate on the ones you won not the ones who got away. I wanted to offer for Lesley Pearse’s first novel, but was told no by my bosses at the time. She didn’t do too shabbily. Another one that got away was Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.

Does Honno deal only in hard copies of authors’ novel or are they produced in different forms? For example, eBooks, audio books, large print?

Honno publishes across all formats, but some of them, such as large print and audio, are not produced by Honno but by specialist companies who purchase from us the right to publish in that format. All our titles are now published simultaneously as print and digital (or eBook) editions. Our titles are distributed in Wales, the rest of the UK and internationally by a range of established companies in print and eBook. So wherever you are in the world you should have access to Honno titles and great Welsh women’s writing.

How do you see the publishing world progressing?

That’s interesting. I wish I knew…that way we could make a fortune! I don’t think the book as ‘big papery thing’ (to quote Blackadder) will disappear, but the formats might change. It could be that the paperback is priced out by the eBook, but that the hardback remains and becomes much more of an elaborate gift object or beautiful self-purchase. Something like the leather-bound editions the Folio Society has been printing for eons. You might read the ebook, love it and the author and then move to buying beautiful, enhanced hard-cover editions to keep on your shelves and admire, reread. Collector’s editions if you will… After all, lots of people said DVD and video would kill the cinema, but in fact more people now watch films at home and at the cinema than used to when the new formats were released. Perhaps the children growing up today will become a generation of avid short story and serialised fiction readers on their phones and notebooks (don’t forget that Dickens’ classic works of literature began life as serials in the London Daily News). Short fiction has languished in the sales doldrums for some time, as has poetry, but there are now new and growing markets for these genres on-line and for download; their time to shine may be coming round again.

How do you see Honno progressing in the future?

I’d like to see the organisation become financially sustainable – funding can never be truly guaranteed – and growing eBook sales are helping us towards that target. I’d also like to see Honno grow its commissioned non-fiction list: so if any of you out there have a fascinating untold story of a forgotten woman, town or trade from, in or relating to Wales do get in touch! We’re after great stories that demand to be read rather than celebrity biogs. What have you heard about that’s incredible and little known? Honno has just published the amazing story of Lily Tobias, a little known Welsh-Jewish writer who took an active role in some of the most famous movements of the 20th century from women’s suffrage, to supporting conscientious objectors in WW1 and the setting up of a Jewish state in Palestine in the 1930s; she lived through a momentous time writing political polemic and gripping fiction. She deserves to be read and known about, and not just for being the aunt of more famous men (her nephews Danny and Leo Abse are known for their writing and politics, why not Lily?)… http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?lang=en&ISBN=9781909983236

Thank you for your time, Caroline. Is there anything you’d like to add?

 No, not really, just that Honno is the only remaining UK independent women’s press in existence and that we aim to stick around for at least another 30 years publishing great writing from women in Wales. If you can help us do that – either by writing for us or joining Honno Friends (http://www.honno.co.uk/friends.php) – please do get in touch! You can find us at www.honno.co.uk

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Another Wednesday’s Interview with #Honno authors – today with Caroline Ross

Today, I’m thrilled to be talking to Honno’s Caroline Ross, the author of one of my favourite books, The War Before Mine

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Who or what inspires you?”

A lot of things. Historical events, in the case of ‘The War Before Mine’, when I had the good fortune to ‘bump into’ history through meeting survivors of the WW2 raid on St Nazaire. I love history – especially medieval history, though I have never written about it. I’m also inspired by what happens to me and who I meet. ‘Small Scale Tour’ was inspired by living with members of a touring theatre company in the 1970s early 1980s.

 

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Why do you write?

 I think my best writing comes from strongly held feelings – so my desire to set down my own ‘truths’, usually based on my experiences.

Do you have to plan to write or are you constantly jotting ideas down?

 

The best plans fall apart quite often! I try to jot things down and sometimes succeed.

What does your writing space look like?

It’s a converted outside loo, but much nicer than that sounds! It’s at the bottom of the garden, has a heater, a kettle, computer, a battered Roget’s Thesaurus. It’s lovely. You can see it on my website: www.caroline-ross.co.uk

Tell us about your next/new book,

 

My last book ‘Small Scale Tour’ was about a touring theatre company in 1970s Newcastle. I am now writing a novel set mainly in the 1950s and 1960s on the Isle of Wight. It starts with a plane crash that actually happened in 1957.

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What keeps you writing?

To be honest, a need to make myself a bit more interesting to myself! To have something else besides work and family (fulfilling as they are)

What do you think it takes to stand out from the crowd?

 A brilliant idea – one that someone else has not had – or at least not had for a good while.

What is the ultimate goal you hope to achieve with your writing? 

 I suppose having my work read by as large an audience as possible.

What are your three favourite books including the authors?

The Inheritors by William Golding, Middlemarch by George Eliot – either Catch 22 by Joseph Heller or Persuasion by Jane Austen

Is being an author your dream job? If so, how long have you been chasing the dream?

It sounds lovely but I’m not sure it’s good for your writing. Better to do something else as well. I’ve been writing, as a journalist and then as a writer of fiction, for 30 years.

What has been your best moment as a writer?

Hearing people laugh at the funny bits.

What challenges have you faced in your writing career?

Greatest challenge is getting down to it.

How do you find the promotional aspect of being an author?

I think, like most writers, I feel ‘I’ve written the bloody book; why do I have to do all this stuff?’ But I accept that it is now an essential part of being a writer.

How much time a day do you spend on social media

Maybe 20 minutes

What is your preferred genre to read?

I’m an English teacher so I am into what is called ‘literary fiction’ and aspire to write it – but I have had a great time reading in other genres, science fiction, for example. Lots of people writing so-called genre fiction are very great writers – John Le Carre for instance, who is seen as a writer of spy thrillers, and Cormac McCarthy, who writes what are sometimes called Westerns. Both of these are brilliant, superior to most in the ‘literary’ category.

Do you read your reviews and if so, how do you cope with a bad one.

Certainly I read them. If I recognise a critic has a point, I just have to suck it up. If it feels unfair the result is rage!

Please give us a random fact about yourself.

 I’m married to a Vietnam vet.

Links to Caroline’s books:

http://www.caroline-ross.co.uk/

http://www.honno.co.uk/

You can link up with Caroline on Twitter

Twitter – https://twitter.com/jcarolineRoss

http://www.honno.co.uk/

Wednesday’s Interview with #Honno authors – today with Manon Steffan Ros

Time for another Wednesday interviews with one of my fellow Honno authors. And today I’m pleased to be chatting with Manon Steffan Ros

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Tell us a little bit about yourself as a writer and as a person.

I started writing when I was pregnant with my first child, who’s almost ten now. I had to give up my job as an actress because I was quite unwell, and needed something to fill my time and take my mind off the daunting prospect of impending parenthood! I had some success in the National Eisteddfod, which gave me the confidence to go for it.

I’m now fortunate enough to be working full-time as a writer, and the jobs I take on are varied- novels, plays, scriptwriting, game story-lining. I can’t quite believe how lucky I am to be doing this. When people ask me what I do, I’m always faintly embarrassed when I answer – saying “I’m a writer” sounds a bit like “I’m an astronaut” or “I’m a rock star”!

Tell us about the concept behind your book.

The Seasoning is a novel with recipes. I love food, and have always found cooking to be very therapeutic. In the novel, we are told the life story of Peggy, and the recipes which form parts of her memory. Taste is so evocative- who forgets the flavours of long-ago school dinners? Also, I wanted to explore the complex relationship people have with food, especially the generation which have gone from rationing and undernourishment to being faced with endless amounts of cheap, mass-produced food.

The Seasoning is a Welsh novel at its heart-I wanted to portray what it’s really like to live in a small rural village, with its comforts and claustrophobia. It is set in the small (and very real) village of Llanegryn, which is a few miles from Tywyn on the Meirionnydd coast.

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How much research went into sculpting the manuscript?

I am a bit of a history buff, and so I knew a lot of the historical context of that area anyway. For me, the story comes before historical accuracy. However, I did have to test the recipes over and over again. They are mostly my own, though a few have been passed down by my grandmother, and another is based on a Staffordshire oatcake recipe (a nod to my grandparents in Stoke-on-Trent!)

How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?

I think one process feeds the other. Writing is, of course, lonely work, which suits me fine- but I do sometimes think that more social interaction would be good for the development of the characters which I’m writing. So when I go and talk to various groups of societies about what I do, it gives me that opportunity to meet new people and observe them. I know that makes me sound a bit odd, but the truth is that I’m not very gregarious- when I’m observing people and the way they behave, I admire, respect and love them, but I do feel like an outsider looking in.

Can you tell us about your writing process? What’s a typical writing day for you?

I have two young sons (5 and 9) and so my working day starts when they’re at school. I try to write from 9-3 every day, with an hour off at lunchtime to go for a walk. I visit the library every other day, as I don’t have an internet connection in my home and so rely on the library to send work and do any research. I work again when the boys are in bed, from eight to around ten. I have my lazy days, but I find that I feel flat and a bit down if I go a few days without writing. It has become my way of processing the world.

Which novelists do you admire?

I am a voracious reader, and I love all kinds of books- I tend to read 2 or 3 books a week. I adore Kate Atkinson, Sue Monk Kidd and Fannie Flagg. I collect and chain-read books by Judy Blume, Paula Danziger and Ruth Thomas- the young adults’ genre appeals to me.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I ADORE Lego. Honestly. I play with it until my fingers get stiff. My children and I have pyjama days where we play with Lego all day. It’s fantastic stuff.

What would you like to take to a lonely island?

A radio. It’s my constant companion- I flit between different stations depending on the time of day, but generally find that the sound of radio is very comforting.

Hope you don’t mind Manon – I thought I’d add a little extra here. This is the write up for your book which is published 21st May 2015 – Oh!!! That’s tomorrow!

“Peggy is eighty and the family are having a birthday party. Her son’s gift of a beautifully crafted notebook comes with a request…

Peggy’s not so keen on telling her own story, but each of her family and neighbours has a story to tell, revealing not just Peggy’s life but that of her village, tucked beneath Cader Idris on the southern fringes of Snowdownia. Bookended by Peggy’s own shocking testimony, each chapter has a different voice and a different take on events, from the jolly fat woman who is feeding not just Peggy but her own sense of emptiness, to the generous shopkeeper and his young son, who has had his eye on Peggy for a long time, and Peggy’s best friend, who’s not sure she’s cut out for marriage to the church and its curator. As the village voices fill out the picture of life in Llanegryn, slowly the reader realises that all is not well, and that Peggy’s eccentricities have a terrible dark secret hidden behind them – and not just that she was a neglected child.”

Buy a copy here:

Honno: http://bit.ly/1Jxss3y

Amazon.co.uk

http://amzn.to/1HfFvSr

Amazon.com:

http://amzn.to/1Ak0S7Y

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http://www.honno.co.uk/

Wednesday’s Interview with #Honno: Today With Janet Thomas, Freelance Editor for Honno & Editor for Firefly Press

Today I’m really pleased to be chatting with Janet Thomas, Editor for Honno and Firefly Press.

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How did you come to be an editor?

I studied English at university, which taught you to analyse writing and also how to explain your views of a text, which isn’t always easy. I did it because I loved the subject, I had no idea what I was going to do afterwards. After college I got a job as a secretary to an editor at Hodder and Stoughton, and worked my way to editor from there. All the editors I was working for were willing to explain their decisions, etc, so I learned from them. I was very lucky in who I worked for, but I was also incredibly lucky to have support from my family so I could live in London on a tiny salary. After doing that for a while, I wanted to move back home so I went freelance, which suits me as I don’t really fit a big business environment.

Now (years and years later!) I work as a freelance editor, I am on the Honno management committee and I’m Firefly Editor. Honno has been a fantastic part of my life since 2001 — I get to work with the brilliant staff and committee and to work on some wonderful books with authors I think the world of (like you, Judith, though I’m not your editor). Last year Penny Thomas, Firefly Publisher, and I set up Firefly Press, specialising in children’s books, and that’s been a whirlwind but such an exciting project. Penny’s extraordinary. We’ll have 17 books by the end of 2015, and each one makes me burst with pride. Small publishing is very exciting because it’s really personal. The downside is that we never have enough money or time for all we want to do!

My great enthusiasm is for stories. I love working on fiction and children’s books — that’s where my heart is. Editorial is a lovely job, but like anything it has its negative sides. Nobody knows what will sell — you have to have (or fake!) tremendous belief in your own opinion, and when you have times when you lose faith in yourself, you can’t get the job done. Juggling all the different books is hard, and it’s always horrible to have to turn down books you know a writer has put their heart and soul into — but we can’t do every promising book, we only have limited resources. I have to tell myself that I can only do justice to the authors I have taken on if I don’t overstretch the press. That’s what I want to do — to do justice to each book in every element of how we publish it. I’m not saying I achieve that at all, but it’s the aim.

What do you look for in a manuscript?

It’s really hard to put into words. You know that feeling where you only meant to read a page and you’ve read ten pages before you could stop yourself, because the story pulled you in? I love being surprised. As a reader, I love an author who does whatever they do full-bloodedly, whether it’s escapist entertainment or tiny eccentric stories or a literary epic.

Generally, the mistake I see most authors making is trying to stuff too many good ideas into one book, and ending up not doing justice to any of them.  Sometimes that’s because they don’t have enough confidence in their ideas, so they keep adding more. Sometimes it’s simply that structuring a novel is hard. I think it’s one area where an editor can really help. And sometimes I think authors get caught up in the sheer fun of making stuff up and just get a bit carried away!

Write a book you would love to read. Imagine yourself in an enormous shop or library, as a reader what are you naturally drawn to? Write that, and then find the right publisher for it, rather than trying to second-guess what a publisher wants and copying it. Write what you love, whether it’s genre or literary, fantasy or historical — stories connect to the reader’s heart more than their head and you can’t generalise about how to do that, but it’s more likely to happen if you are writing something that you feel passionate and brave about. A story that people will lose themselves in, that they’ll love and remember — and talk about. Almost all sales for new writers come from readers recommending books to each other. To succeed your book needs to inspire such passion in a reader that they must tell their friends all about you.

What are your tips for submissions?

All the obvious stuff really. Read the agent or publisher’s website, see how they want work submitted, and do that. Do your best with the synopsis, but don’t agonise over it — nobody says, ‘Brilliant sample chapters, poor synopsis, let’s say no.’

Your first job is to get the reader to care. Give us a character and situation we can invest in, start focussed on one storyline, and once we’re invested, then you’ve got us for the rest of the book — then you can expand the story, build the world and weave in the other plotlines, etc.

s well as starting the plot, your beginning tells the reader what kind of story it is. You need to have the confidence to say to the reader, by how you begin: ‘This is the kind of book this is. If you don’t like this kind of book, you should stop reading now. If you like this kind of book, you’re going to LOVE this one.’

What does an editor do?

At a big publisher an editor is the middle person, working with the author and making sure the production, design, accounts, contracts, marketing, PR and sales departments all know what they need to do and when. At a small press, the editor has cover many more of those areas themselves. It will vary from small press to small press which ones.  Generally you don’t have anyone to delegate to, so you do everything from the big business decisions like which books to do, right down to the admin, masses and masses of admin!

Honno’s an established firm with a staff of four and a management committee of nine volunteers. I simply help with some of the admin for the meetings, attend meetings, take part in some of the grant bids (Honno is supported by the Welsh Books Council) and edit a couple of books a year to help Caroline Oakley, Honno’s editor, with her huge workload. Most of Honno’s authors are Caroline’s. It’s a privilege to be part of it.

Firefly Press is new and is Penny and me, with several people helping us with marketing, particularly at the moment the brilliant Megan Farr. It’s a completely different game from working as an editor for someone else. We read the scripts, select them, plan them, book the printers, commission the covers, get everything designed, send out review copies, organise events, store books in every spare corner of our houses, etc etc, and do all the admin. Masses of admin!

All that work has to be done before the unsolicited manuscripts are read. It’s a constant battle to find any time to read them. I have to prioritise the books we are doing. We’ve just come to the difficult decision that we’re not going to accept any more submissions at Firefly for the next six months, as our list is full till the end of 2016 and we’ve had so many submissions I’ve not been able to keep on top of managing them and replying to everyone. I apologise very deeply to anyone still waiting to hear. We will still read everything we’ve already been sent thoroughly.

I think an editor’s job in the editorial process is to help the author but at the same time represent the reader, the person who paid their money to read this book. Writing is hard work and sometimes things get fudged when the writer is tired, so it’s my job to find those points in the story and push the author to come up with a better idea. It’s not my job to tell them what to write, only which bits to look at again. Or sometimes the writer is too close to the material to see that they haven’t said what they think they’ve said, or they have a little tic that they don’t notice that they repeat too often. It’s picking up things like that. And then there’s all the issues of what books to do, when to do them, how many to print, what market to aim for…

I think if you get useful advice, you know it straight away. Sometimes you might have to compromise on smaller issues, but if any advice will make your story something you never intended, that goes against why you were writing it in the first place, don’t do it. Even if you have to pull out of the deal, don’t do it. I think that when advice is right, you already knew it really, you were just too tired or scared to do it. Sometimes an author needs an editor to give them permission to tell the story they want to tell.

Any tips for building a career as a writer?

As I say, I don’t think you should worry about what a publisher wants till at least you’ve finished the first draft. But I will say that you make life easier for a publisher if you choose a type of story and concentrate on that at least for a few books, to build a readership. Sometimes writers feel they should be able to turn their hand to anything, and I meet writers who want to show me a fantasy novel, a historical novel, a children’s book and a radio play, and that’s great, don’t get me wrong. But thinking as a business person, a writer who chooses a type of story to specialise in, and builds a reputation in that, writing books at consistent intervals, is more likely to do well in the current trade. But if that’s not who you are as a writer, then you must trust who you are.

The best advice is the hardest — keep going. Tell your stories.

Wednesday’s Interview with #Honno Authors: Today with Margaret Redfern

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1: Please introduce yourself and your book to help our readers get to know you.

 A: I’m a Yorkshire woman by birth. ‘New Welsh’, to use Gwyn ‘Alf’ Williams’ expression, by adoption, but have been fairly itinerant throughout my life: as well as Yorkshire and west Wales, I have lived in Lancashire, Dorset, southern Turkey and, past and present, Lincolnshire.

The ‘Storyteller’ books reflect this nomadic tendency.

 

Q2: Please explain how you came to be a writer, what inspired you to write your book(s) and how long it took.

A: The earliest so-very-serious writing was in my early teens. I was besotted by the 1960s TV series, ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, and my adolescent heart was ripped between Captain Lee Crane (David Hedison) and Admiral Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart). I wrote each episode in fiction format. No, I no longer have these early efforts.

B: Years later, a not-that-young first-time mother, I started writing for IPC magazines and, later, Bauer Publications’ new magazine ‘Bella’. Then, the fiction editor of Woman’s Weekly was the redoubtable, amazing Linda O’ Byrne who encouraged all her writers to develop character, plot, sub-plot, sub-characters, setting, style. She had a super-efficient red pen and downright approach to the ‘too many words’ syndrome – especially of the polysyllabic variety – exactly what I needed. I still have to be on my guard but she armed me. She was head-hunted for ‘Bella’, and persuaded me I could write short stories just as easily as long. She was right, and I enjoyed a modest success as a writer of Rom Fic serials and short stories for a number of years.

C: Years later, now in west Wales, I started writing again – first for the MA in Creative Writing (Trinity-St-David’s University of Wales) and then for Honno.

D: Inspiration? Comes in many forms. For example, in my early 30s I was an assiduous jogger. I could think through possible plots whilst jogging. One afternoon, loping along beside a field of barley, I decided I would have a blond heroine and explode the stereotype. I gave her a red Kawasaki to ride and freedom to roam. I guess this tendency has continued – Storyteller’s Granddaughter, for example, I was still exploding stereotypes and clichés. In this case, the girl-masquerading-as-boy scenario.

E: How long does it take? Too long! I cannot write a rough draft and then go back to ‘polish’. It has to be painstakingly re-drafted and re-drafted throughout. Also, I spend far too long on research.

 Q3: What did you enjoy most about creating this book?

  1. This series of books? Research! Actually, this means not only researching books and internet info but boots-on-exploring, meeting and talking to chance-met folk who contribute ‘gifts’ of unexpected information, building up a disconnected portfolio of ideas until all explodes and settles into ‘the story’. That’s the thrill. Then comes the slog of writing…

 

Q4: What facets of your life, both personal and professional, are woven into your book, if any? 

  1. For ‘Flint’ I am indebted to Robert Evans of ‘Bragod’, crwth-player extraordinaire, and his incredible knowledge of both medieval music and the medieval world.
  2. Storyteller’s Granddaughter: I lived and worked in southern Turkey in the early 1970s – a different world from now – and it was then I first learned of the great Sufi mystic, the Mevlana. His philosophy has stayed with me.
  3. In all my books, place is of great importance so travelling/research becomes ‘justified expense’. I admit, also, to using a camera as much as notebooks. For example, in ‘The Heart Remembers’, a chapter begins by describing the sun setting on a late winter’s afternoon between dark clouds and dark sky. I had rushed along to Bloxholm Woods (Lincs) especially to observe, note-take and photograph. Similarly, the 800 year old coppiced lime tree really does exist and yes, I wept salty tears when I hugged one of its multiple trunks.
  4. Is this ‘personal’ or simply observation?

 

Q5. How did you get published?

  1. Years back, during the IPC days, I entered a competition run by Woman’s Weekly. I didn’t win but Linda (O’Byrne) phoned me with an offer to buy the MS to be published in the then-monthly WW fiction series. After that, I regularly submitted MS. A number were serialised and sold on to Robert Hale.
  2. During the MA days, I occasionally had poetry published in Roundyhouse; wrote an article on Bob Evans that was published in Planet, and of which I was very proud; submitted (and had published) autobiographical ‘childhood’ stories (part of the MA coursework) to Down Your Way, a Yorkshire magazine that is affiliated with The Dalesman. I still write occasional pieces for them. Living in west Wales, I became (and still am) fascinated by the Gentleman Antiquarian, Richard Fenton whose ‘Tour of Pembrokeshire’ was published in 1810. I spent many happy years toddling around Pembrokeshire in his company, and subsequently had the pieces I wrote regularly published in ‘Pembrokeshire Life’.
  3. Now, I am also published in the SLHA (Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology).
  4. Honno? Isn’t it strange? I can hardly remember. The first five chapters of ‘Flint’ were written for my MA dissertation and I seem to remember I submitted them to a couple of the Welsh publishers before they were taken up by Honno. There was no official acceptance until I had to ask, ‘are you going to publish it?’ I feel I’ve been part of the Honno family for ever.

 

Q6: Did you have any surprises or hiccups along the way during the book writing and/or publishing process?

  1. Hiccups? Losing my way, usually. That awful moment of realisation that you’ve reached stalemate, it’s just not working/credible/in character…realisation often comes during the most mundane of domestic chores, and then the unwilling acceptance of scrapping chunks of text.
  2. Surprises? Many. The elation of discovering another unexpected detail, another aspect of history, another setting, another writer, dead or alive, who becomes a part of me…Jehan Iperman, Ibn Battuta, long since dead: Peter Brears, very much alive.
  3. I am not a historian so I am in a state of constant astonishment when researching. The Black Death supposedly ‘changed the western world’ but that world was already changing in the 1330s, and it was a very different world from that of Flint (1277).

 

 Q7: What one thing did you wish you’d known before you started this project?

A How to go about historical research! As I say, I am not a trained historian. I suppose ‘I’m getting there’. SGD, for example, set in the 1330s because this was the best time-scale to accommodate generations – but I hadn’t registered that this was an ‘in-between time’ in Turkish history, ie between the Selcuk and the Ottoman Empires, and very little is written about it. Serendipity came in the form of Kate Flett’s edition of the CUP History of Turkey. Would I change the dates? No. In fact, just as well I didn’t know anything about the 1330s before I started.

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 Q8: You’re a fly on the wall when readers are discussing your book.   What would you hope to hear them say about it?

  1. That they think it’s great, of course! No, seriously, that they recognise themes, subtleties, shifts in point-of-view, language difficulties in all three books – after all, this is a melting-pot world, linguistically speaking as well. Would anyone notice, for example, the boy-narrator in Flint uses non-Latinate vocab?
  2. I’d hope, as well, that they might want to look up the Mevlana, of Jehann Iperman, or Ibn Battuta, or any of the places referred to. In the latest book, the settings are Venice, Ypres, Lincolnshire, Wales, and identifiable, but 1330s.

 

Q9: Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know or would surprise them.

  1. Crikey! I have two heads? OK. I’m a cynic who belongs to no religion – doesn’t mean to say I have none – but given that all three ‘Storyteller’ books bang on about religion, I suppose that’s possibly a surprising thing.

Q10: What single piece of advice would you give new authors?

  1. The same advice that was given to me: write every day and don’t go anywhere without a notebook and pens. Er – no – I don’t always follow that advice. I do carry a notebook, though, and jot down ideas and impressions and vocab as it filters through the brain cells. If you don’t, it will vanish. Also, not ideal advice to give to a new wordsmith, but I use a handy little camera to record places/info etc

 

 Q11: Share a short summary of a typical day in your life with us please.

  1. Do I have ‘typical days’? Get up, feed the cat…

 

 Q12:  Describe where you do most of your writing. What would I see if I was sitting beside you?

  1. Initially, not sitting beside me but walking – not talking! You’d have to stop-and-start while I made notes. HB pencil preferred. Back home, the initial ideas are handwritten (using that nicely sharpened HB pencil) until the lap top is fired up. And that moves around the house. Quite often, I like to sit at the dining room table in the conservatory until sunlight-stops-play. I inherited my mother’s gate-legged 1930s Jacobean oak furniture, now stripped back to light oak, but it’s where I used to do my homework when I was a Grammar School girl back in the 1960s. Sometimes I shift down to the breakfast bar in the kitchen – not ideal but the cat likes it. Or – as now – in the study space upstairs, conveniently close to the Broadband point.

 Q13: What’s your motto or favourite quote you like to live by?

  1. A couple, and not dissimilar. The first I came across in my early teens, when H G Wells’ ‘Mr Polly’ was on the syllabus. ‘If you don’t like your life you can change it’.
  2. Then there’s Jalal al Din Rumi, the Mevalana, quoted by Dafydd in SGD:

 

‘Come, come, come again,

Whoever you may be

Come again, even though

You may be a pagan or a fire worshipper.

 

Our Centre is not one of despair.

Come again, even if you have

Violated your vows a hundred times.

Come again.

 

How are those for comfort and encouragement? I suppose ‘J’y suis’ is not far behind.

 

Q14: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us in closing such as your website, an imminent book launch or what you’re working on presently?

  1. Well, The Heart Remembers, the last of the Storyteller books, is due to be published in August. I may be at the Penfro Book Festival in September
  2. Website? ‘In progress’, as they say, but it’s getting there.
  3. Similarly, I’ve Good Intentions to start an Author’s Page on Facebook
  4. Currently, I’m torn between two writing projects. I want to crack on with a biography of Richard Fenton and his three sons. The second son was first curate, then vicar, in Lincolnshire so I am strategically placed, so to speak. It helps sugar the in-exile pill. One of the reasons for creating a website is to up-load the P Life articles, photos, illustrations written while following the Richard Fenton Itinerary. I can include maps as well. Otherwise, it’s a Publisher’s Nightmare!
  5. The second project is one that’s been simmering for a while. Again, non-fiction so another departure from what Honno has published. Writers, both male and female, who were famous, household names in their day and now largely forgotten. I want to associate them with particular places. So it’s what I love: getting to know new people-writers; research, both book-bound and physical; lots of lifting of stones to see what scurries out from underneath; travel, exploration…bliss! And reminding readers of amazing, astonishing people who are now forgotten writers.

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Interview with #Honno authors – today with Sarah Todd Taylor

Today, I’m chatting with Sarah Todd Taylor. Sarah’s work has appeared in several Honno anthologies, including, Mirror, Mirror,

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Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re currently working on or promoting.

My name is Sarah Todd Taylor and my début book, Arthur and Me was published by Firefly Press in October last year. It’s about a young boy who is being bullied at school who finds the sleeping King Arthur on a school trip. Convinced that the old hero will sort out all his problems, he wakes him up, only to find that Arthur has problems of his own and that the history books don’t always tell the truth. It’s a time-slip romp and very silly, but I hope people will see that at its heart it’s a story about friendship and about believing in yourself.

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What advice do you have for writer’s just starting out?

Definitely write every day. It really is true that writing is like a muscle – the more you use it the more you find that the words flow freely.

The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is not to edit while doing my first draft. It used to take me far too long to write a first draft because I was trying to perfect it as I went along. I would get stuck in the detail and fed up with each project, then get despondent because I had a load of unfinished projects. Now I cut the first draft as quickly as possible to get the shape of the book, and then go back and rework until I’m happy.

Please explain how you came to be a writer, what inspired you to write your book(s) and how long it took What does your writing space look like?

I’ve been a ‘scribbler’ all my life. Encouraged by a lovely teacher in my primary school I threw myself into writing and when I was ten I won ‘Writer of the Year’ in my Primary school. Most of my early teen writing was about an inept King ruling over a tiny imaginary country and making a hash of things through various schemes that never quite came to anything. Writing became a dream and when I was 13 my Dad caught me pushing the books aside in the ‘T’ section of our local bookshop. On being asked why I apparently said “They’re going to need some room for my books”. I was first published when I was 16 in the Cadbury’s Children’s Poetry competition anthology and the thrill of seeing my name in print was immense. Ever since then I’ve been scribbling away, helped by some fantastic local courses and a supportive writing community in Aberystwyth. I started to write short stories when I was doing my PhD and was thrilled when one was accepted for publication by Honno press. The desire to write for children, however, never left me. In my short stories I often dabble in a bit of magic. I like to make the world obey slightly different rules, and I think that’s what draws me to writing for children. It’s immense fun because you can be wackier and indulge your imagination so much. It’s also a huge challenge, because children will put up with a lot in fiction, but they will not abide being bored, so as a writer it keeps you on your toes.

What are your three favourite books including the authors?

My favourite children’s books are all ones I grew up with. I love Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and have far too many copies of it (including a pop up theatre, a facsimile of the original hand-written work and a treasured 1898 copy of Through the Looking Glass). I love the world that Carroll produced and the language is so playful.

I also love Michael Bond’s Paddington books. Paddington is such an instantly loveable character and I love how Bond uses his innocence and helpfulness to create humour.

Children’s books are having a fantastic resurgence right now, which is wonderful, and there are so many great ones out there that it will be difficult to choose just one favourite, but I do read and re-read the Lemony Snickett Series of Unfortunate Events, laughing out loud at them.

What project are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a detective series for 7-9s and a historical action adventure for 9-12s.

What has been your best moment as a writer?

The best moments are always when someone enjoys your work. A friend told me that when she took her children to a castle they ran around it shouting out scenes from the book and incorporating it into their play. That, to me, was one of the biggest compliments I could ever get.

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Sarah with her new children’s’ book published by Firefly Press – new venture for Honno editor, Janet Thomas.

How much time a day do you spend on social media?

Probably too much. Facebook and Twitter have been fantastic, though, as a way of connecting with other writers and getting hints and tips from industry insiders. I am a member of a group of writers who all had their first book published over the age of 40. We met on Twitter and then in real life and we now chat regularly on Facebook. It’s a wonderfully supportive group of writers who I would never have met without social media.

Please share your social media links with us :

On Twitter I am @scraphamster. (because one of my hobbies is scrapbooking and I keep hamsters).

I also have a blog – https://sarahtoddtaylor.wordpress.com/

 http://www.honno.co.uk/med full colour honno logo

Wednesday’s Interview with #Honno authors – today with Carly Holmes

Today I’m chatting with multi-talented Carly Holmes.:-

Carly Holmes cover photo

Please tell us about your writing background and history

 

My path to becoming a writer is so common as to be a stereotype: I was an introverted child, painfully shy and insecure. My favourite pastime from about age 5 was curling up with my cat in my bedroom and reading books. I lived mainly inside my own head, creating rich and fantastical worlds; I still do, which may be why I’m at my most content when I’m at home. Unlike the rest of my family, who gad about the globe, eager to explore the world, I get anxious if I’m away from home for any length of time. My deepest fulfilment comes from having the time and space to be, either in my garden or at my writing desk. With or without a gin and tonic.

I started writing excruciating poems and implausibly plotted short stories when I was in primary school, copying my idols (fairy tales and Enid Blyton through to Georgette Heyer and then the Brontes), and I continued to write creatively through my teens. After completing my first degree (in English Lit) I went straight on to a Masters in Creative Writing. I focused on writing short stories and was thrilled to start getting them published. I then, for reasons I’m still struggling to understand, stopped writing creatively for over a decade. There was no impulse to. I didn’t even miss it.

Now  I fear that happening again. I have a very conflicted relationship to writing. It’s an unhealthy mix of dread and need. If I’m not writing then I’m thinking about it, fearing it, missing it, worrying about not being able to do it. In writing I experience a concentrated peace and contentment that I’m unable to reproduce in any other area of my life. You’d think that alone would mean I make it a daily occupation, but as strong as the desire is the desire to resist it.

Having my début novel, The Scrapbook, published last year was, in my view, the biggest achievement of my life so far. Actually, writing it was the biggest achievement but having it signed by Parthian was incredible. It gave me, my very existence, a validation I think I’d always been looking for.

What are you working on now?

 

I’m currently writing a collection of ghost stories. I was lucky enough to receive a bursary from Literature Wales last year to work on these, which range from traditional chillers to inversions of the standard ‘ghost story’ trope. It’s great fun. Hauntings are as much a construction of human loss and longing as of actual apparitions so there’s a lot of room within the genre for the imagination to rove.

I’ve also started writing poetry over the last few months, for the first time in nearly 30 years. After my novel was published I found myself unable to write anything lengthy for a long time, I think because I wasn’t ready to let the book go. I tend to self-edit as I write so the manuscript was largely in a finished state by the time it reached Parthian and I didn’t have months of tearful wrestling with it. I suspect the re-writing process eases the writer away from their creation and allows them to turn from it, towards something new. Or maybe I just need to learn to overcome my separation anxieties!

In the last month I’ve started writing a new novel. It’s very early days and I’m still looking at it out of the corner of my eye rather than straight on, in case it takes fear and runs away, but I’m excited and hopeful.

What do you do when you don’t write?

 

It seems that all of my non-writing life revolves around writing to some degree. I pay the bills by editing and case-managing other writers’ books from manuscript through to publication, which is incredibly creatively fulfilling. I’m also on the editorial board for the Lampeter Review which is (for the acting editor of an issue) a huge amount of work but rewarding with it. I’m currently in the hot seat for issue 12 so I don’t expect to get out in the garden a great deal this summer.

My novel is due out in paperback in May so I’ll be promoting it as much as I can via readings etc over the next few months. Marketing and self promotion are necessary evils for any writer who isn’t a bestseller. If you don’t push your book then it won’t get noticed.

I host and manage The Cellar Bards, a group of writers who meet monthly in Cardigan, usually with a guest reader, for an evening of spoken word. We’re a thriving group and the evenings are very popular.

When I’m not doing any of the above I’m likely to be reading, sleeping, walking the hound or eating. I discovered the gruelling joys of rowing a Celtic longboat last year and loved it. The season should be starting again this month so I’ll be back to doing that a couple of times a week in the evenings.

What would you like to take to a lonely island?

 

I would take a king size bed with a good mattress, because I can handle most adversity if I’ve had a comfortable night’s sleep. Something to write with and on. An unlimited supply of good coffee (and a kettle/coffee machine). Insect repellent. Books. The ridiculously out-sized sun hat I bought once and have never had the courage to wear.

Find Carly’s website here:

www.carlyholmes.co.uk