Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Author Interview with novelist, Helen Spring

Helen Spring is the author of among other things, The Chainmakers, Memories of the Curlew and Strands of Gold. I am delighted that she has agreed to let me interview her for my blog. Both a wonderful writer and friend, she has offered vital assistance to my own career and I hope that the tips and advice she offers will be useful to all my readers.

Strands Of Gold takes the reader from the shores of England to colonial Singapore and on to the gold fields of Kalgoorlie in Australia.
Lucy Rowland’s childhood comes to an abrupt end when she returns home from England to Singapore to find her father and her childhood home at risk of financial ruin. Although on the verge of losing her heart to Greg Lamont she is coerced instead into marriage with the rich and powerful Sir Gilbert Howell. Lucy withstands the brutality of marriage to Gilbert until freed by the violent intervention of her uncle Matthew.
Together with childhood friend, Jarvis, Lucy and her uncle flee to Australia where, with new identities, they attempt to start a new life. Lucy’s new found peace and prosperity is destroyed when she challenges the corruption of the wool trade and makes a new enemy in the shape of George Carmody. As her past threatens to overwhelm her she is whisked from danger and embarks on yet another journey with her rescuer.

Helen Spring weaves a wonderful tale of adventure and love that immediately emerges the reader in Lucy’s world. Her language is rich and tasteful, like good chocolate, and the well-drawn characters exist within a fully realised setting. This is a story of love and friendship and as the strands of gold wrap around you, you will found yourself totally absorbed. This novel does not let go until the end is reached and Lucy’s story lingers long after the last page is turned.
Works by Helen Spring include:

The Chain Makers: ISBN: 978-0-59544765-7

Strands of Gold ISBN: 978-1-907986-16-9

Memories of the Curlew ISBN: 978-1-84923-490-0

Hi Helen

Welcome to my blog and thank you for agreeing to an interview.
As you know I am already a fan of your work and greatly enjoyed your medieval novel, Memories of the Curlew, featuring Gwenlian, the twelfth century Welsh princess and her battles with the Normans. I came to Strands of Gold with great expectations and I wasn’t at all disappointed.

First of all can you tell us a bit about yourself, when you began to write, your ambitions, your experiences of the process of becoming a published author? I have a lot of aspiring author friends and I know they will appreciate any tips you can offer.

I have always written, but when I was young it was just articles and short stories, to fit in with earning a living. I did not start to write novels until I took very early retirement to look after my elderly mother. When Mum had a nap after lunch each day, I would write for a couple of hours, and I wrote my first two novels in that way. I then had lots of very complimentary rejections! They always said things like ‘We love this but....’ The best tip I can give is to write the kind of thing you enjoy yourself, in that way you develop your own distinctive voice.

And you certainly have a strong voice. I think what makes Strands of Gold great for me is its unique story and setting. It took me to some very unexpected places. Where did you come up with the idea and the setting? Have you been to the places you write about?

I love the period from about 1880 – 1920, and originally I wanted to write about Colonial India, but then I decided that writers like Paul Scott and John masters had done it all so well already. I investigated Singapore and found that was interesting too, and the story came to me. I had never been to Singapore or Australia at the time, although I have now. When you are writing history, the settings will be so different from today, and so I feel a good archive makes for better research than any personal visits. For example, I found some wonderful letters which were written from English emigrants in Australia back to their families in Britain, where they described their feelings about the strange new world, making it possible to see Australia through their eyes.

When I was reading it I really bonded with Lucy straight away. She is a great character. In some novels with a female lead, the feminine characters can emerge as a bit insipid, indecisive, soppy even but Lucy is none of these things, without being too feisty she is a perfectly balanced, believable character. Did you base her on anyone you know?

Gosh! I find the question a little embarrassing because I really didn’t base her on anyone at all, I just made her up. I think I was perhaps looking to myself for the kind of reaction I would have to Lucy’s various troubles. I suppose I can be a bit feisty, but I don’t think I’m particularly well balanced. I go off at a tangent sometimes, but usually come down again fairly quickly. Perhaps Lucy behaves as I wish I had done when I was younger!

I know from personal experience how much research is necessary for a period novel and I often find I do far more than I need and end up with reams of notes that are never used or referred to. Do you have any tips for streamlining the background reading?

Yes, the research can become so interesting you never want to start the writing! With hindsight, I think it is best to read two or three books on your subject first, to get a ‘feel’ for it, and then just start writing. If I get stuck about something, I just type in ‘INFIL LATER’ and carry on. When you have got the story down and have your first draft, you can go through and look up what you still need. I think this saves a lot of time.

That is a great tip; I will use it! Now, I have to ask about your sexy male lead, Greg Lamont; he is drop dead gorgeous. Is he a figment of your imagination or do you have your own Greg stashed away at home? You don’t have to answer that!

Wow! I wish I did! Yes, he is rather gorgeous isn’t he? I was quite in love with him when I was writing the book. Greg is entirely a figment of my imagination, but he’s given me lots of fun in spite of that! I have never met a real man quite so dishy, but I can always hope!

He may be waiting just around the next corner, Helen! In the second part of the novel when Lucy is in the outback you can almost taste the dust and feel the flies biting. How did you manage to come up with such a realistic depiction?

I think I just put myself into Lucy’s place and imagined to myself what it must feel like. This is the kind of detail you can fill in when you do your re-write, to make the description really intense. Sometimes I find it useful to get out the Roget’s thesaurus and look up a few words, and get lots of alternatives to consider, to make it all become richer and more detailed.

Good old thesaurus, where would we be without one? I know followers of my blog will want to know what you are working on now and when it will be available. Can you give us some teasers?

At the moment I’m working on a sequel to an earlier novel, ‘The Chainmakers’. It is set in occupied Rome during the Second World War. It is intended to be a great love story, but at the moment the war keeps getting in the way! (Which I suppose it would have done at the time!) I am only into the eighth chapter, but have done all the research, so I hope to crack on and perhaps get it finished for Spring next year.

I shall look forward to it. That is brilliant, Helen, thank you. I wish you all the luck in the world and I am waiting impatiently for your next novel.

Thank you so much for inviting me.

It was my pleasure. More details of Helen’s work can be found on her website: http//www/helenspring.co.uk