Category Archives: Interviews

The Chicken Soup Murder – Maria Donovan

 

I’d like to welcome the remarkable Maria Donovan to my blog today. Maria kindly gave me an in depth insight into her life and what inspired her novel, The Chicken Soup Murder. Full of humour and written with a big heart this is the book that will chase away your January Blues.

Michael lives with his nan in a little town near the sea with its magic hills and the three pebbled dashed semis in a long arc. But everything is turned upside down when the Bulls move in next door and Michael’s magical creative thinking lands him in trouble: why is he the only one who thinks a murder has been committed? Can we believe his story?

As Michael struggles to help himself and the people he cares for to move on, he learns about acceptance and grief, and to what happens to those who are left behind when a loved one dies.

 

I’ve been reading your blog Maria and what an amazing and varied life you have had. What was (or is)your favourite job and what is the best place you’ve lived in (or visited)?

My favourite job without question is being a writer. It’s all I have ever wanted to do, despite all the other jobs that came first. I’m glad of them though – it’s all experience and I’ve found something to enjoy in all of them. Working at other things just takes up a lot of time and now I want to spend it writing. I feel time is short.

Of the other jobs, I liked teaching creative writing at University, and made some great friends and met many creative people. It was an eye opener to me that I could do a job like that. Nursing is perhaps the most stressful job I’ve ever done but it taught me so much. After that, getting up on stage to perform in shows didn’t seem so daunting. Even now, I often remind myself, if I feel nervous about reading from my work or standing up and talking in front of people, that the possibility of making a bit of a twit of myself in public is really small beans.

I liked being a gardener and working out of doors too.

The best place I have ever lived is West Dorset and Bridport in particular. I don’t know what it is, maybe because I grew up here and I still see glimpses of Bridport as it was when I was small. I also loved experiencing life in Holland and the peace of rural Wales. And city life in Cardiff: I am a big fan of Bute Park. I used to walk my dog there every morning and it is such a vast beautiful space by the river in the heart of the city. It’s special. There’s a particular hilltop in Asturias too – I haven’t been there in 20 years but that was where I first spent day after day writing. I  was stuck there in a small caravan and it felt great: to be finally doing the thing that I was meant to be doing – though it was such a struggle at first to get anywhere. I had to learn to finish what I started. Now I can’t keep up with myself and just need more and more time to write.

I also love New York. It’s so busy that I felt peaceful there. Knowing that life is flowing all around me seems to allow me to be quiet and get on with something no one else knows or cares about. Though I think if I lived in New York I’d have to write about living in New York!

The trouble with moving around and loving where you are is that you feel a sense of nostalgia for places you have once called home. But they exist in me – I like to put them into my writing as well. I’m also starting to feel nostalgic about places I might never visit.

How important and inspirational is a sense of place to your writing?

Very! Every place has something special about it and some places seem to lend themselves to a certain kind of writing. I often have real places in my fiction – it gives the characters a place to be and gives me a handle on how they feel and how they experience the world. I like to play with setting. In my short story ‘Harvest’, I put much of the love I feel for the Dorset coastline from Cogden to West Bexington. It was easy for me, in a story, to put a house where no house exists, above the Chesil Bank.

I also wrote several pieces of short fiction set in the house I lived in with my late husband, in Bethania, on a plateau above the sea in the fairly empty countryside south of Aberystwyth. In a half-written novel I moved the whole house to a hillside in Dorset and invented a Dorset village, found it a place on the map and had a fair idea of what the main street looked like.

I like to see the place in my mind and the people moving about in it. I’m also very interested in hill forts especially in West Dorset. Some of my poems are embedded in the Poetry Parks on Eggardon and Maiden Castle.

The world is  a tremendously interesting place but in Dorset you don’t have to go far to find something fascinating and beautiful. I could spend the rest of my life exploring here. Having said that, the novel I’m working on now has a Dutch setting, at least to begin with. I do love bearing witness to how it is to be in a particular place at a particular time.   

In the Chicken Soup Murder you explore grief in such a subtle but profound way. How important was it to write through your own grief when you lost your husband? Or could you write at all?

I always kept writing while Mike was ill even when that was just half an hour sitting by his bedside. I kept on with that novel I mentioned above. To me it’s soothing to write. I really need it. But after Mike died, it was even harder. I felt lost. I remember my dear tutor and mentor Rob Middlehurst said to a friend of mine when her brother died, ‘You’re going to find it hard to be creative for a while’ and so I was patient with myself. Besides that, I felt such an uproar of grief I really wanted to shout and scream, not measure out my words. Walking was the only thing that seemed to ease the pain at all. I made some fairly desperate recordings on those walks.  

I didn’t continue with that novel set in an imaginary Dorset village – my first attempt at a murder mystery. I just couldn’t inhabit that world any more or go back to seeing things through the eyes of those characters. Maybe I could now but some works are really of their time (or where you are as a person) and you’d better write them quick before their time has passed. Short fiction is so handy for that but it’s great to have the space in a novel to explore the surroundings and what they mean to the characters.  

It was tricky for a while, after Mike died, to write anything, for practical reasons too. The way things had worked out, we had been moving house at Mike’s request when he died and I was effectively homeless. You really need your own space to write and I feel for anyone who doesn’t have that basic comfort of a warm quiet safe place to sit. Often, I did have that, but I was staying in other people’s houses and had to pick my moments.

Then I became ill too and in the midst of that I was supposed to fulfil a commission to write a short story for New Welsh Review. I had major surgery and didn’t know how I would manage but was persuaded to carry on. I am so glad I did it. That story was ‘Slaughterhouse Field’. It was set in a real place, a caravan park-up, where I spent some of my time in Holland. I am grateful for that experience now because it made me realise I could nearly always produce something. And that it was better to try. Deadlines are invaluable.

When I moved back to our house in Bethania after a year or so, I spent a lot of time there on my own. I wrote some short fiction that really mirrored how I was feeling myself, so when it came to writing a novel I wanted to move away from my perspective. That’s how I end up, in The Chicken Soup Murder, with a first-person narrator, Michael, a boy of eleven going on twelve. It’s the other end of the telescope.

The nub of the story is a true incident: my husband once nearly killed me while I was making chicken soup. That was years ago, long before he became ill, while we were still living in West Dorset, before we moved to Wales. I always said I would write something about it – but had no idea what. The whole genesis of the novel derives from being a tribute to him, fulfilling a kind of promise, and trying to see what my experience of grieving looked like from the outside – though Michael is grieving too, of course. The element of solving the mystery helped to keep me going, as I hope it does for the reader, but that became just one part of what the novel is about.

In my own grief, I felt some kind of longing to be like Janey’s mum, who simply refuses to ‘move on’ or even get dressed. But responsibilities to others are important too – people need to see that you’re going to be all right, so you try. Writing is like that too. You either give up or you carry on and do your best.

I loved Michael and his view of the world. So genuine and perceptive. Did you have any difficulty revisiting the sense of what it was like to be a child of eleven?

It wasn’t difficult to remember being that age: I’m glad I had a chance to revisit how I felt back then and express some of that interior life. There didn’t seem to be a way to speak about it in the real world at that time.

I needed to update those experiences too: luckily I had younger family members to turn to. It’s probably then that I first heard the term ‘resilience’ being used in the context of giving children coping skills. If I wondered about such things as whether a child of the times would think in yards or metres, it was good to be able to ask.

I did my share of observing behaviour too. That’s one of the things that makes writing so enjoyable. The smallest encounters can teach you something you need to know and if you know what you want to write about then your attention is drawn to those things that will help you understand your characters.    

You firmly anchored your story in 2012 by using the Olympics and other sporting events. What made you decide to use a particular year and why 2012?

It started because I began writing The Chicken Soup Murder in 2012 and wanted to keep myself on track by writing a novel that took place in real time. I soon found myself slipping behind though, because I wasn’t entirely sure of the route the novel was taking. I ended up keeping a very detailed diary of things that were going on (including the weather, events,  cricket scores, even the cricket commentary) so that I could go back and use what I needed when I knew where it would fit in. I remember 2012 quite well because I kept these close records and lived through it over and over while writing and editing the novel. There was so much that I had to leave out, things that weren’t right for the narrative. I tried to be strict about that.

I wanted the characters to be of their time and of their world so that they would respond as real people would to outside events. It was a very wet year and that was grim and yet there were highlights: there was a sense of hope (and a wee bit of sunshine) around the time of the London Olympics, for instance. Michael learned that if you had talent and showed dedication and weren’t held back by fear of failure, you could possibly do great things. The idea that you really ought to do your best somehow – that rubbed off on him. There are times when he felt like giving up but he really was inspired to carry on.

Also, the cricket in the background – if anyone is interested, you can work out the timing of events according to the commentary – is meant to show a continuity, a kind of reassuring comforting life going on outside of the events that affect the main characters in the novel. But there’s something else too that I think people notice when they are grieving: this odd sense that everything is carrying on just as before, while for you everything has changed. Sometimes we feel connected to each other through sharing common events, but when your world stops and everything carries on regardless it can feel quite lonely. The novel is partly about re-engaging: the characters, who have these bereavements in common, coming to an understanding of each other’s needs. It sounds so serious – but there are humorous moments too. It’s inevitable, because life is funny and strange, and new things happen whether we want them to or not.  

I think of Michael, Janey and Melissa in particular, who were a certain age in 2012 and it bothers me sometimes that I know how old they would be now – and I keep thinking about what they would be doing! I wonder how they’re getting on without me.

 

www.mariadonovan.com

 

Hunt you Down – Christopher Farnsworth

Hunt You Down

I have to confess that thrillers are not my usual choice of reading matter but when I was sent a copy of Hunt You Down I began to realise what I’d been missing.

I was hooked into the curious world of John Smith from the first page to the last. Hunt You Down is a real page turner, but Farnsworth handles the pace so well that you get enough time to catch your breath before riding the next wave of jeopardy.

The protagonist, John Smith is no ordinary gun for hire. He’s a former CIA man with  an extraordinary skill – the ability to read minds.

When reality TV star, Kira Sadeghi is gunned down at her own wedding, her wealthy father hires John Smith to track down the attackers. Smith comes across ‘Downvote,’ an encrypted site on the dark net with a list of celebrity names as targets.  But discovering the creator of Downvote is not so simple – even for someone of Smith’s specialised skills.

The premise of Hunt You Down really had me thinking about how little we are away from something like this actually happening. People can be spiteful and cruel when they are able to hide behind social media but given the chance, how many would take things further?

The plot was tightly woven and amid the thrills and action gives the reader something deeply worrying to think about. Happily, Christopher Farnsworth has put my mind at rest by contributing an article for today’s blog.

The World is Getting Better, Believe it or Not

Christopher Farnsworth

A couple of years ago, a preacher paid for a bunch of billboards that gave a firm date for the end of the world. And then the day came and went. The billboards were still there. So was the rest of the world.

 Today, however, most of the people I know check their phones every few minutes in case the President of the United States has decided to declare war on North Korea. Or to see if there’s been another mass shooting. Or to find out if a natural disaster has decimated another city.

 These days, the end of the world doesn’t look quite as distant as it used to, even to people who aren’t crazy.

 And for someone like myself, who spends his life imagining the worst-case scenario for everything, the news can be enough to start me researching the price of a condo in a luxury doomsday bunker.

 But here’s the thing: the world is not ending. We’ve been waiting on the Apocalypse and the Final Days and the End of All Things almost since the beginning of civilization, and we’re still here. I don’t really say this very much in my novels, but the world is actually getting better all the time.

 I know, it’s hard to see it. But these are the reminders that keep me sane when I start to fear that the zombies are on the march.

 1. The world is getting less violent.

As Steven Pinker has pointed out repeatedly, our species is less violent than it’s ever been before. Crime is down overall in the developed world. And despite high profile horrors like the Las Vegas shooting, we are safer than we have been in our history. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect yet — one nuclear bomb can just ruin your whole day, as the saying goes — but we are not killing each other in the massive, stupid numbers that we once did.

 2. Global poverty is on the decline.

Millions of people are being ratcheted out of extreme poverty than ever before — about 137,000 a day every day for the past 25 years, according to Oxford researcher Matt Roser. And life continues to improve for millions more. We still have a long way to go, but living standards are getting better, with fewer people suffering the kind of bone-grinding deprivation that used to be standard all over the world. That is something to celebrate.

 3. Renewable energy is on the rise.

By now I thought we’d have flying cars and atomic fusion. It’s admittedly disappointing that most of the world still gets its energy from burning coal in the 21st Century. But things are looking up. Energy from renewable resources is on the rise all over the world, mainly due to the adoption of solar power. Germany now generates 35 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. The UK is at 30 percent, and the United States is at ten percent. This means lower carbon emissions, which in turn means a better chance of heading off global warming.

 4. The infant mortality rate is at the lowest point in our history.

Once upon a time, the death of children was so commonplace that people planned their families around it. Children’s books were primers on death so that they’d be prepared for it. The great spiritualist boom in seances was at least partially driven by parents who wanted to talk to the ghosts of their departed sons and daughters. And to be honest, today we have kicked the shit out of death. Infant mortality has dropped more than 90 percent in the past 100 years. Even the United States, which lags behind other industrialized nations, has seen improvement in the past few years. The death of any child is still one too many. But thanks to vaccines and public sanitation and advances in health care, it is much rarer now than ever before in human history.

 5. People are getting smarter.

Yeah, I know. This one is the big ask. It’s easy to believe that the world is getting stupider, especially if you’ve just spent some time navigating heavy traffic or watching the news. But it’s not true. Nine out of ten children in the world receive some form of schooling today, almost twice the number in the 1970s. Literacy is at all-time high. And more girls are receiving education than ever. Literacy is the first step to joining the human conversation. It’s the first step to making the world even better.

 There is still a long way to go, in all of these areas. But it’s important to remember how far we’ve come. We did all of this. All of humanity, working together. In fits and starts, sure, with some horrible detours along the way. But we’re getting there.

 The future is coming at us, one day at a time, like it or not. But we can handle it. We always have.

 Christopher+Farnsworth

Christopher Farnsworth is the author of six novels, including HUNT YOU DOWN, available from Bonnier Zaffre.

The Waterway Girls by Milly Adams – Blog Tour

War Lands them in the same boat. Can they all pull together?

The-Waterrway Girls_Milly_Adams

I’m thrilled to welcome Milly Adams to my blog today to chat about her latest novel, The Waterway Girls.

October 1943, West London Nineteen-year-old Polly Holmes is leaving poor bI’m thrilled to welcome Milly Adams to my blog today to chat about her latest novel, The Waterway Girls.ombed London behind to join the war effort on Britain’s canals. Stepping aboard the Marigold amid pouring rain, there’s lots for Polly to get to grips with. Not least her fellow crew: strong and impetuous Verity, whose bark is worse than her bite, and seasoned skipper Bet. With her sweetheart away fighting in the RAF and her beloved brother killed in action, there’s plenty of heartache to be healed on the waterway. And as Polly rolls up her sleeves and gets stuck into life on board the narrowboat – making the gruelling journey London up to Birmingham – she will soon discover that a world of new beginnings awaits amid the anguish of the war.

Welcome, Milly!

Work on the canal was such a hard life it would make you wonder why anyone would volunteer for it at all. I think the reasons your characters had for taking on the job were totally reasonable but did many women take on the role?

Not an enormous number, and many didn’t stay because it was so hard. It wasn’t comparable in size, to the Land Girls scheme, but then there were many more jobs on the land.

 Does a boating community exist as such or has it died out completely? It came across as very much akin to the travelling community.

I think it’s a different community now. People do live on narrowboats, but don’t work them. There is of course, a different economy – the holiday rentals. This has come about fairly recently, and the renovation of the canals owes a great deal to the dedication of the voluntary organisations and their supporters who determined to get the waterways dredged, the banks cleaned up, and in working order again.

The trains, and lorries put the canals, or cuts, as they were called, out of business.

The boaters were fascinating. They lived on the ‘bank’ to begin with and merely worked their boats. But as times grew hard, they moved themselves onto their motorboat and butty, living with their children in cabins that were about 9’ x 7’ only. The bulk of the narrowboats had to be reserved for the holds. In this way, they eked out a living. If they didn’t work, they didn’t eat. Their accent owed more than a little to Birmingham, which is where Tyseley Wharf is positioned – the frequent destination of the freight they carried. Education was difficult because they were seldom in one place for more than one or two nights, but there was a strict code of behaviour. I could go on, and on – all interesting and praiseworthy.

The descriptions of working through the locks and canals was so authentic. Did you travel on a narrowboat for your research and if so where did you travel, and did you enjoy it?

I live at High Wycombe, and am close to the Grand Union canal route from London to Birmingham. I went on a narrowboats some years ago, but not recently, but walk the towpaths around here. There is a really pretty stretch, the Aylesbury Arm, which turns off the main waterway, and runs for just six miles to Aylesbury, where you can turn the pair (the motorboat and butty) once you’ve off-loaded your cargo, and return to the main cut.

Did you take notes, research and then write or were you writing the novel/scenes as you went along?

As I walked, it stimulated my imagination. Remember that it’s a work of fiction, so that though the setting has to be as accurate as you can make it, it is the story that the setting carries that brings it all to life. It is important to interweave the characters around it. So I always try to BE the characters, but use memories of my own efforts with a windlass at the locks, staying in that moment, the feel of it in my hands, the look and smell of the locks, and the banks, the wildlife – but at the same time, it is necessary to remain aware that you are writing about a different time, so an awareness of wartime must be included.  

There were a lot of unsung heroines in the war and I had never heard of the valiant work of women like Polly, Bet and Verity. The Waterway Girls did not have a glamorous uniform and the work was incredibly hard and dirty. Did you find that there was much recorded evidence of the work these women carried out?

There is some on the internet, and several books. They’re well worth reading, and of course, when you decide to write a book somehow or other you always, always find you are talking to someone, who knew someone, or you find someone who taught boater children. And you put all the reminiscences together and create what is hopefully the essence of that time and experience.

It’s the essence one is always after.

Milly Adams lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, dog and cat. Her children live nearby. Her grandchildren are fun, and lead her astray. She insists that it is that way round. Milly Adams is also the author of Above Us The Sky and Sisters At War.

The Waterway Girls is published by Arrow. Price £5.99

The next stop on Milly’s tour is Jaffa Reads Too. Thanks for stopping by.

 

At Long Last Love – An Interview with Milly Adams

at-long-last-love-milly-adamsAt Long Last Love

It’s July 1942, and twenty-three year old nightclub singer Kate Watson has made a home for herself in bombed-blitzed London. A motley crew of friends has replaced the family she’s not spoken to in years. That is until the evening Kate’s sister Sarah walks back into her life.

Sarah has a favour to ask: she needs Kate to return home to the west country for one month to look after her daughter, Lizzie. Reluctantly Kate agrees, even though it means facing the troubled past she hoped she’d escaped.

Kate is confronted once again by the prejudice and scrutiny of the townsfolk, including the new village vicar. As the war continues, Kate must fight her own battles and find not only the courage to forge a future but perhaps, at long last, love.

 

I’ve just finished reading At Long last Love. Another great read set in London and a village close to Yeovil? How well do you know those locations?

I lived in Dorset and Somerset for many years and the book is set reasonably near Yeovil, Somerset, which is where I was Writer in Residence and still go for their great Literary Festival most years, doing some talk or other. Last year I was on stage ‘In Conversation’ with General Sir Richard Sheriff discussing his book War with Russia. I quite forgot, so heady was it to have  the microphone in my hand, and asked, ‘Should I call you Richard?’

‘Oh yes,’ said he. ‘What about Dickie?’ ‘Oh no,’ he said.

I do get over excited on these occasions. One day it will bring about my downfall. A friend I was staying with said, as I left that morning. ‘Remember you are not the star.’ It falls on deaf ears, dear reader. I am a lost cause.

London? Well, I live much nearer now to London now and love it, but that’s partly because you never quite know it, there are so many places to explore. I certainly don’t know either in the 1940s but of course when living in an area for any length of time you start hearing stories of way back when so you feel as though you do.

I very much enjoyed your previous book, Sisters at War. What inspired this particular story of two sisters, Kate and Sarah, in At Long Last Love?

Thank you for enjoying my books. I haven’t written about the SOE before but as a child met Lucy, who had been an agent in France, was captured, tortured (her fingernails never quite regrew, though they can). I found it such a courageous thing to do, because one is so alone – who can you trust, who not? Does it leave you paranoid? Surely it must? I also knew that some of the women agents had children and could quite get my head around leaving a child knowing you might well never return. It was something that I felt like exploring, but also honouring.

So, there also needed to be a strong part of the novel which illustrated what people were fighting for – their nationhood and families. But also the private battles that people fight even when the world is fighting a larger enemy. Hence Kate. I loved her story actually,  her sacrifices when she would have been justified – it transpired – in telling Sarah: no.  The vicar was lovely too. I did rather have James Norton in mind, the vicar in Grantchester.

Which sister do you most identify with?

An author’s job is to identify completely with all her characters, nice, nasty, whatever or it doesn’t work so that’s what you do and I came to like Sarah, or at the very least, admire her. I didn’t to begin with. Kate I always liked because she was so brave on a much smaller stage, and she made me laugh, and cry.

I often wonder who of us would step up to the mark if war was ever declared in this country. Testing times make us do things which we never dreamed we were capable of. Both Kate and Sarah were brave in different ways but I do so admire the bravery of those who were in the SOE. Did you get to interview any of these incredible women as part of your research?

I have known men and women who were in it, their behaviour, their quietness, because of course they never talked about it. But then, again of course, they came to do so and trust is something that suffers. So yes I have talked to them, but in dribs and drabs and over years, knowing that one day I would write about it, but not anyone’s actual story. How could I? It’s not my right. So it’s always a composite character with an essence of what I want to convey .

How much research do you find you need to do before you start writing?

Less than I did because I find I have an understanding of 20th century history having written about it so much but there’s still a fair bit to do, to get it right, though I’m sure it still has errors. It’s strange really because if I wrote let’s say using accurate speech patterns and words it would sound ridiculously stilted so you have to adapt.

Milly, knowing you as I do I think you must have researched the London club scene in great depth. Have you recovered?

Oh crikey, just about, but have the tables I danced on?

What next for Milly Adams?

I’m writing a series about The Waterway Girls, the girls who trained to carry cargo on narrowboats in the war. It’s a deeply traditional hard, hard, life, with its own culture, and here were these robust young women bursting onto the scene doing a job which normally took generations to learn, living in stark unbelievably cramped conditions, with another two women they have to get on with, trying to earn their place. It’s their lives, loves and losses. Not to mention their experiences with the dreaded bucket.

The first one is out on September 7th: The Waterway Girls.

Jane Cable – Another You

Jane-CableI’ve been chatting with Jane Cable about her latest book and the importance of entering writing/literary competitions. She has given lots of really useful advice so if you are waivering over whether they are worth the submission fee or not read what she has to say. It might change your mind entirely 

 

You were a finalist in the Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist Award with your novel, The Cheesemaker’s House which also won the Words for the Wounded inaugural independent author award. How crucial are competition wins to getting yourself noticed?

Competitions have been absolutely crucial in my writing career for a number of reasons. The Alan Titchmarsh Show gave me the confidence to believe in my book, although it took a great deal of additional polishing before it saw the light of day. The experience – or rather Sophie Hannah, one of the judges – also made me realise that it needed work. As a completely self-taught writer I didn’t know what I didn’t know, if you see what I mean. When I realised I could tell a good story but there were serious technical deficiencies in my writing I took myself off to Winchester Writers’ Festival to learn how to hone my craft – and my manuscript.

By the time The Cheesemaker’s House won the Words for the Wounded independent author award I was in a much better place to move my career forward. I had two reasonably successful independently published novels under my belt and I felt so much more confident with how I was writing. So when, as a direct result of winning, I was signed by my agent Felicity Trew I was ready to create a manuscript to a standard she could sell.

Felicity is really committed to my work and shares the same vision for it, but I do think that without Words for the Wounded I could have very easily slipped through her slush pile.

Jane Cable The Cheesemakers House

 

 

You are involved with Chindi Authors, an opportunity for writers to network and support each other. What do you consider the main advantages of networking for writers?

The advantages are huge and it’s brilliant how most writers support each other and are generous with their time and their contacts. I met other authors through the Alan Titchmarsh Show and one of my closest author buddies, Claire Dyer, through a mutual friend. I also now regard Words for the Wounded’s Margaret Graham as my writing fairy godmother and she is unstinting in her support. Chindi raised about £900 for W4W and it was a brilliant way to say thank you.

Chindi (www.chindi-authors.co.uk) is a little different to many writers’ groups because we don’t critique each others’ work – we are more focussed on the mechanics of independent publishing and marketing and selling books. Chindi was initially set up in the Chichester area but we are on the verge of expanding into an online network (Chindi – Celebrating & Helping Indie Authors) so that we can help people who aren’t local connect with writers who have a wealth of experience in self publishing and book marketing. We like to think that between us there are very few questions we can’t answer and we’re more than happy to share that knowledge.

Another You Jane Cable

Your latest novel, Another You, is set in Studland in Dorset.  How important is the setting to each of your novels?

For me the setting is the driving force behind all my novels – it’s always my starting point and each of them rely so heavily on the history (or folklore, in the case of The Faerie Tree) of their locations they simply couldn’t be set anywhere else.

Studland has been a special place for me for a number of years. There is something about crossing the ferry from Sandbanks that makes you feel as though you are in another world, somewhere remote and almost timeless. In fact it was this very remoteness (for those who don’t know the area it’s a peninsular of land between Poole Harbour and the sea) that led to it being used as a practice area for the D-Day landings and this part of its history is crucial to the story of Another You.

The book opens on the sixtieth anniversary of the D-day exercises when a memorial is unveiled to the soldiers who died. That much is true, but the chance encounters which follow for pub chef Marie and lead to the rebuilding of her shattered confidence is where fiction takes over.

What comes first for you – character or setting?

Setting may come first but there is always one character who fits the location like the proverbial glove and drives the story forwards. In The Cheesemaker’s House it was Owen, the secretive village charmer; in The Faerie Tree it was vulnerable Robin who finds the strength to overcome both his and Izzie’s problems; and in Another You it was definitely Marie. Watching her change and grow over the course of the book was the most satisfying aspect of my writing life so far.

 

Do you plan in great detail or do you do a certain amount of research and then start writing?

I start writing as soon as I have the idea – I don’t plan over much, although I do have to be more organised now I have an agent. I need to at least have an outline for her to run her eyes over because there’s no point me wasting a lot of time on a concept that isn’t remotely saleable. It may sound harsh, but it’s the commercial world authors live in.

That said absolutely my favourite part of writing is when the characters take over and start to drive the story themselves. It’s the point you know you have created real people who readers will really care about.

 

Do you have tips (encouragement) for those who may be considering entering their writing into a competition?

Make your entry as good as it possibly can be and stick to the rules. If the competition is for a short story of up to 1,500 words for example, don’t submit 1,600. I recently judged a competition for ghost stories and had to discard a brilliantly written entry because there was nothing ghostly about it at all.  So it’s imperative to read the submission criteria carefully and if possible do a little homework on the judges and previous winners as well.

Finally, provided your entry is well written, even if you don’t do well in one competition don’t assume the same book or story won’t do well in another. Judges are people too and their personal preferences will naturally come into choosing the winner.

 

 

Helen Yendall – How to Start a Creative Writing Class

Helen Yendall’s  latest book How to Start a Creative Writing Class has recently been published and is available from Amazon.

It’s a comprehensive look at what it takes to set up a class, teach it and keep it running and will be a valuable guide for anyone thinking of starting their own writing class.

 

What do you enjoy most about running a class?

The teaching is definitely the best bit! I get a real buzz when a class goes well and there’s lots of laughter and lively debate. The time always flies, too. That’s one thing about teaching  – it can be nerve-wracking, challenging, hard work, fun –  but it’s never, ever boring!

 

And the least?

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I have a tendency to ‘over prepare’ – which means that preparation for a class can take me a lot of time. I wish I was more laid-back about it and could just turn up to teach a class with the minimum of preparation  – and ‘wing it’! But that’s just not me. So, the hours of preparation is probably the bit that I like the least.

 

What do you think are the benefits of joining a creative writing class?

There are lots of benefits – some perhaps more obvious than others – but in addition to improving your writing skills, I think a creative writing class can be a great way to meet like-minded people and new friends. I met one of my best friends at a creative writing evening class over 20 years ago and 5 years ago, the woman I was paired up with on a day course, later became my writing buddy.

It takes a lot of creative energy to promote and run a class – you have to be very giving and this can sometimes be quite draining. How do you protect your own writing time?

This is something I cover in the book because if you’re not careful, when you teach creative writing, your own writing can take a back seat.  It’s quite hard to do if you’re a softy like me but you have to be quite strict about what you will and won’t do, in terms of homework and contact with students between classes and over holidays. I also try to limit ‘social time’ spent with students – even if I really like them as people (and there are always students in my classes that I could quite happily count as friends). It’s important to maintain a little distance.

Your short stories have appeared in many magazines and you have published two collections. In  2015 you won The People’s Friend Serial competition. Was this your first attempt at writing a serial?

It was my first attempt at a serial – or indeed, at anything that long. The competition was only open to those who hadn’t had a serial published in People’s Friend before, so that encouraged me to have a go. It was a good discipline although I found it very hard to keep to the 16,000 words. I had so many ideas and material that I could easily have written double that!

Have you gone on to write more serials as a result or do you mainly concentrate on short stories?

I haven’t written another serial – yet – but I do have an idea for another one. It’s historical too (my first one was set in 1905) so I’ll need to do a fair bit of research before I start. The thought of that is probably what’s holding me back!