Where were you born, and what was your childhood like?
I was born in 1946 in a place called Hollinwood. From the name you might imagine this was a pretty place deep in a forest. Not a bit of it. It was a small area on a main throughfare halfway between the smoky northern towns of Manchester and Oldham, in Lancashire, England. My family had a little shop selling sweets and tobacco, just by the side of the very busy road, where cars and buses sped past my bedroom window at all times of the day and night.
I lived with my mother and father and my brother, two years my senior. I was surrounded by aunts and uncles, and grandparents and life was good. My earliest memories are of sitting on the little wooden bench at the back of the shop, observing customers coming in and out, and listening to my mother chatting to them as she weighed out their sweets or handed them their packets of cigarettes. I always felt loved and cared for, even though we didn’t have much money.
- Do you remember the first book you ever read?
The first book that I remember stimulating my imagination was ‘The Cloud’ by Arthur C Clark, mainly because for some reason I ended up reading it out to my classmates at the end of a busy school year, during that lazy period between the end of exams and the start of the summer holidays. I have to admit, I was something of a success!
The first classic novel I remember reading was Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. His writing transported me into another world, far away from the smoke and grime of the Northern mill town, which was the only place I had known, at the time.
- As a teenager, what were you obsessed with?
As a teenager, I enjoyed the world of pop music as did most of my friends, but I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with any particular artist or type of music, but I did love to dance!
- What is the earliest experience you had with books/writing that you remember?
The first piece of creative writing I remember producing was a short story I created when I was 14, about being marooned at sea. My English teacher was impressed and gave me an ‘A’. Unfortunately I subsequently switched my attention to science and my writing career had to wait another forty years before I tried again! At the age of fifty I began writing poetry, but it was to be another twenty four years before I wrote my first novel.
- What challenges did you face while publishing your book, Karma: A Mystery in Paris?
My first book, Karma: A Mystery in Paris was born during Covid lockdown. I had enjoyed a school holiday in Paris when I was sixteen years old. This was my first journey into the world outside the UK, and I fell in love with the place. It was inevitable that my first novel had to be set in that wonderful city. Having for many years, been editing my husband’s books and attempting to get them published by the traditional routes, I was well aware how difficult it was to find an agent, let alone a publisher. At seventy four years old, I figured I didn’t have time to travel down that particular road, and decided to self-publish. I already had quite a bit of knowledge of self-publishing, having dealt with several books for my husband and various private clients. I decided to use Ingram Spark, mainly for their extensive distribution network, so the actual publishing process was fairly straightforward. The problem, as always, is promoting my books, as I only have limited financial resources. So, I just keep on writing and have just completed my fourth novel.
- Who inspired the character of Sophie in “Secrets and Lives”?
The inspiration for Sophie in ‘Secrets and Lives’ didn’t come from any particular person. I find that most of my characters are amalgams of many people I have come across over the years.
- What made you decide to study Person Centred Counselling?
I decided to study Person Centred Counselling with a view to becoming a Bereavement Counsellor, but also because people and their motivations have always fascinated me. In fact, my counselling training has proved to be extremely useful as far as my writing is concerned. I love exploring my characters and what ‘makes them tick’, why they make certain decisions, and how they interact with each other. I think this adds depth to my writing.
- What is your writing kryptonite? Inversely, what is something that never fails to inspire you?
My writing kryptonite would have to be spending too long in front of my computer. More than three hours at a stretch and my creative juices dry up! The solution is always to take a walk through nature. We are fortunate to live within two minutes of the beautiful Embankment along the River Great Ouse in Bedford, and that is where I clear away the clutter from my mind to free up my imagination.
- What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
I work each day, writing for around three hours at a stretch. The rest of my working day is spent proofreading and editing my husband’s work, or creating books for other people.
- Which is the best compliment or fan-mail you have received for your work?
The best compliment anyone can pay me is to say ‘I just couldn’t put it down!’
- How do you spend “quality time” with yourself?
To be honest I view the time I spend writing as my personal quality time. Being creative in any way is rewarding, but when I’m writing I enter another world, one that I can shape and people with interesting characters. Apart from that, quality time is also time spent with family and friends.
- How did your friends and family react to your first book?
Mainly with amazement, as I published my first book just after my 74th birthday, and no one, not even me, thought that I even had a book in me!
- Which one do you prefer: writing a series or a standalone novel? Why?
I have written three standalone novels and the first book of a series of four, a family saga. I enjoyed writing the standalone novels best because I get to craft the whole arc of the story from it’s beginning to it’s conclusion. The first book of the series of books about the Bangham family spans the first half of the 18th century, and has many characters, each of which has their own story, all beginning and ending at different points in the narrative, which somehow isn’t quite as satisfying as telling one complete story.
- Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
I am now working on the second book in the Bangham Family Story, which is based on my own ancestors. Like so many families, their story began in the countryside, albeit in their case at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, working for Abraham Darby in his ironworks. This formed the backdrop to the first novel in the series, Coalbrookdale. From there the family migrated to the area around The Wrekin, in Shropshire, where they worked for the famous ironmaster and philanthropist Richard Reynolds and his son the innovator William. This second novel in the series will span the years from 1750 to 1800 and will tell the story of the family, intertwined with some of the amazing developments that took place during those years in Shropshire.
- What advice would you give someone with an urge to write, but who isn’t sure how to go about it?
I would say, start small. Begin by keeping a daily or weekly journal, just jotting down your thoughts and feelings about the events of the day. These could be events in your own life, someone else’s, or even what’s happening in the outside world. Get into the habit of writing regularly, however short or long the pieces. Don’t worry too much about accuracy or punctuation or spelling – there is plenty of software around that can do that job for you!
Once you feel more confident, try writing a short autobiographical piece, describe a person who has been important in your life, or perhaps recount an incident or event that had a profound impact on you.
Gradually, in my experience, your ‘writing voice’ will emerge and you will feel more comfortable about setting your thoughts down in writing. Above all, enjoy the experience, it can transform your life, transporting you to worlds you can only, literally, imagine!
18th September 2022