Sunday, 29 March 2015

My Lovely Blog Hop

I’ve been invited by the multi-talented Berni Stevens, who designed the cover for ‘A Suitable Young Man’ and who is a writer herself to participate in the Lovely Blog Hop. The blog is intended to let you in on some of the less well-known things about me. If you’ve not dropped off to sleep before you get to the end, I’ve added some links to other Lovely Bloggers who’ve agreed to carry the baton forward.

First Memory
Me aged about 18 months
The hazy recollections I have of my early like are like snapshots, faded, none too clear and all of them connected with the Second World War. My earliest memory is of my Mum and me running through a blacked-out Manchester at the beginning of an air raid. Who could forget the bloodcurdling wail that struck fear into the hearts of everyone or the same sound of the ‘all clear’ which always sounded much lighter, less fearsome? A further click of my mind’s eye shutter and we were on the train to Bolton on our way back home, seeing in the black night outside, fires leaping and flaring from buildings that were being bombed. 

I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read or when I haven’t had my nose stuck in a book. One of my favourite books of all time has been ‘My First Two Thousand Years’ by George Viereck and Paul Eldridge, first published in 1928. It is supposedly the story of the Wandering Jew, a legend about a Jew, Cartaphilus, who taunted Jesus on his way to the cross and was then condemned to remain alive until the Second Coming. The book follows his adventures throughout history, covering all the major events and figures up to the First World War. The style is archaic and the content somewhat esoteric, but the story fascinated me as a young girl and still does. As much as anything, the book reminds me of my late Dad. A working man all his life who didn’t have much education, he nevertheless had a sharp and enquiring mind. He was an inspiration to me and I still miss our lively conversations, even though he’s been dead sixteen years.
My lovely Dad and Mum

I adore libraries. To me they’re a treasure trove of books all waiting to be read and I can never enter their portals without a feeling of anticipation, wondering what gems I’m going to find there. Sadly, with the effects of local council cutbacks and the increasing emphasis on being an information/computer centre, there isn’t as much space for books. And increasingly, it seems to me that the choice is more limited. I’m finding that I’m buying more books now, particularly for my Kindle, whereas at one time, library books would be my main choice for reading. All good news for us writers, of course!

Now that bookshops are more geared up to market and promote specific books, bookshops don’t excite me as much as they used to, though I do love a browse in a second-hand bookshop. In Chesterfield (my nearest large town), the last independent bookshop closed down some years ago. All that remains is a WH Smith and a Waterstones – sad but true of many towns and cities I fear.

My Passion
History! My preferred reading choice is historical novels, I don’t mind how far back in time they go. But it’s not just books. I will eagerly watch a tv programme if it’s about history, one of my favourite presenters being Lucy Worsley, who has a way of making history come alive. I’ve been doing my own family history now for close on 30 years and, as I’ve learned about their lives, feel closer to my ancestors. All four of my grandparents died before I was born and I have felt their loss all my life. Through my research, they’ve come alive for me.

Me as a schoolgirl
Oh dear, what can I say about this one? My old school report says, in several different ways, ‘Anne would do much better if she didn’t day-dream quite so much.’ That’s stood me in good stead as a writer but not much help in the academic department! Some people seem to sail through their education, finding it easy. I never did; I always had to work hard. It didn’t help that, with my parents being in domestic service for much of my childhood, we moved around a lot and that meant changing schools. Most of my education was sheer slog and I left school without taking any O levels (the equivalent of GCSEs) though I did manage to gain two later in life, Sociology and English. I’ve always had an enquiring mind though which has stood me in good stead.

A long time ago, when working as a weaver, the work of tending the looms was repetitive and boring and I used to scribble notes down on whatever paper I could get my hands on, often to the detriment of my weaving. I did scribble on and off over the years as I lived a full and varied life, including living and working in the United States. I even wrote three novels prior to ‘A Suitable Young Man,’ now gathering dust on a shelf, probably the best place for them. It wasn’t until I took early retirement that I started writing seriously. I’ve had quite a lot of success writing family and social history articles for national magazines, something I still do. Creating a fictional world and the characters who inhabit it is still my raison d’etre’ though. ‘A Suitable Young Man’ and its follow-up novel ‘Bittersweet’ (working title at the moment) are set in 1950s Lancashire, my home county but my next writing project may well be a ‘proper’ historical novel, set some time in the Victorian era. I have a heroine in mind, Emily, and a hero, Giles, and may well utilise my knowledge of the cotton industry and/or the early days of immigration to the United States.

I’ve loved doing this blog, it’s really made me think about what makes me tick, and hope that those I have nominated to follow me, enjoy the experience too.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Meet my guest Wendy Clarke

Wendy Clarke, has had phenomenal success in getting short stories published in the notoriously difficult area of women’s magazines. Recently I read a collection of her short stories, ‘Room In My Heart,’ and was blown away by the scope of subjects she covered. I was particularly struck by one called ‘The Courting Cake’ which was set in the Lancashire town of Chorley, a town I’m familiar with. Somehow she’d managed to convey the Lancashire-ness of it even down to mentioning a dance hall that I used to patronise when I was younger! When I asked her if she knew the said dance hall, she admitted she didn’t but had done her research. That’s what I call dedication.

She now has a new collection of short stories out, ‘The Last Rose,’ and to celebrate its launch, I asked her to describe how she’d first come to write, what inspires her to write, how long it takes her to write a story and, as she’s now writing her first novel under the auspices of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme, how it will affect her short story writing. Here’s what she had to say.

At school, English was always my favourite subject. Being pretty much a dunce at anything bordering on scientific or mathematical, I would look forward to these lessons and find my shoulders relaxing when I walked through the classroom door.
              I met my old English teacher last year. He’s over eighty now and it was the first time I had seen him since school. He asked me what I was doing with myself. “I’m a writer,” I said, surprised he remembered me. It was the first time I had been confident enough to say these words but I had just sold my hundredth magazine story and felt that I had earned the right!
              “Now why doesn’t that surprise me?” he said.
              I can’t describe how wonderful it was to hear him say that, for I had always looked up to him as a writer and a teacher. It was all the more pleasing because just three years earlier, I had heard the sad news that the school I was teaching in was closing and that I no longer had a job. His words gave me faith in my career change.
              Having not written anything, except exam papers, school reports and lesson plans, since leaving school, this new path had been an unexpected one. The memory of those English lessons where I had created the stories and poems that I loved, must have stayed with me, though, for when my brother suggested I try the online writing course he had just completed, I jumped at the chance. I loved it and went on to do a second.
              After the course ended, I carried on writing and started sending stories to women’s magazines. To my surprise, I had my first acceptance quite soon, quickly followed by sales to two other magazines. A few weeks later, my first story was published, complete with illustration. I was thrilled but not only that... I was hooked! In fact I’ve been writing short stories ever since.
              I’m often asked where I get my inspiration from and I would say all over. I read papers, I listen to the news, I watch the adverts, I eavesdrop on peoples conversations and I keep my eyes open. Sometimes I feel like a spy! A story can take anything from two hours to two days to write – it depends on the length and how inspired I feel. Historical stories take longer because of the research.
              My success as a short story writer is in large part down to my tenacity. I’m a great believer in setting goals and achieving them. In the early days I would say to myself, ‘I will not stop trying until I have had a story accepted by this magazine.’ Later the goals became, ‘I will have a serial accepted’, then ‘I will have an article published.’
              Once these goals were achieved, I realised there was one final one left – to write a novel. Having decided the genre would be romance, I joined the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writers’ Scheme in January of this year and I would like to say that I am forging ahead with it... only I’m not. The reason for this is because I can’t shake off my love of the short story, so I am doing both.
              I have also just put together and published my second collection of short stories, The Last Rose which has taken up time. My writing friend Tracy Fells would say it’s all procrastination... but I call it trying to do everything I love!

That was fascinating, Wendy, especially the bit about meeting your old English teacher. Many congratulations on your success – and the best of luck with writing your novel. 

Here are the details of Wendy’s book Wendy has a terrific blog if you’d care to take a look here

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Journey to a novel

My little promotion display

I held my first author event yesterday. It was only to my local Townswomen’s Guild, of which I am a member but, in a way, that was harder than giving a talk to strangers. I couldn’t help wondering if they were thinking, ‘Who does she think she is?’ and the scriptural thought sprang to my mind, ‘no prophet is accepted in his home town.’ (Matthew 4:24). In the event, I needn’t have worried because it went down well. I’d called the talk ‘Journey to my novel’ and talked of certain aspects of my life that had contributed to me becoming an author. I’d been advised that it ‘wouldn’t do’ just to talk about one’s book, one should give some background to it, so that’s what I did. The main thrust of my talk was about how much influence my home town of Horwich, Lancashire, had had on my life. After many years away from Horwich, we returned to live in the town when I was thirteen and thus I spent my formative years there. Francis Pryor, the archaeologist, said in his book ‘Britain in the Middle Ages,’ that ‘the person you are is synonymous with the town where you grew up.’ This is, I believe, very true of me. As readers of this blog know, up to that point, I’d led a very sheltered life, growing up as I did in other people’s houses while my parents were in domestic service. Returning to Horwich was the beginning of my journey to adulthood. And, as Horwich is very much featured in ‘A Suitable Young Man,’ it necessarily formed a large part of my talk. One person said to me afterwards that she hadn’t realised how sheltered a life she had led compared to mine!

Having been a Leeds tourist guide in the past, I am used to speaking in public so I was surprised to find that I was exceedingly nervous. My voice sounded shaky and quavery, not helped by the sore throat I was suffering from. Of course, it may have been with it being the first time I’ve done this talk but I hope I do better than that next time. I think I’ve said before that I’ve put my name forward as a speaker for other Townswomen’s Guilds in the area but I’ve not had any takers yet.

At the end of the talk, I gave a reading from the book. I had chosen a passage which had an element of humour in it and that went down really well. Although there were only thirteen members there yesterday, I did manage to sell eleven books so I was well pleased. Of the other two, I was one of them and my friend, who’d done a beta read for me was the other.

All in all, a worthwhile experience even if I was a nervous wreck beforehand!