Friday, 23 November 2012

The Next Big Thing: Authors Tagging Authors!


I am really pleased to be taking part in The Next Big Thing: Authors Tagging Authors!
I was tagged by my really good friend, author Karen Aminadra and it's my pleasure to keep this going.

So, what I do is answer the questions below, tag a new set of authors, then they answer, tag authors, etc.

I’m answering questions about my novel, The Winchester Goose which will be available very soon in paperback and is also currently available through Amazon Kindle.

What is the working title of your book?
The title has always been The Winchester Goose. I did consider ‘Geese’ at one point, since there is more than one ‘Goose’ involved but I decided the singular had more impact.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The Winchester Geese were prostitutes, living and working in Southwark who paid their rents to the Bishop of Winchester. I have studied medieval women for years and most of them have been depicted in historical fiction in one way or another, so I was delighted to find a social group that is largely overlooked. I began to think about how a prostitute from the lowest segment of society might have viewed the goings on at Henry VIII’s court.

What genre does your book fall under?
It's Historical Fiction with a dollop of romance and a hint of adventure.

What is the one sentence synopsis for the book?
Tudor women, high and low, living and loving beneath the shadow of King Henry VIII.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Drafting the first manuscript is the easy bit, it took about a year but the research took a great deal longer than that …and then the redrafting and the edits longer again.
Simon Woods to play Francis Wareham
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Alex Kingston to play Joanie Toogood

A movie! What a lovely thought. I am not very good at remembering the names of actors but I will give it a shot. Francis Wareham is very dashing and handsome but not very old. He would need to be played by someone like, erm …Simon Woods who was Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, the Keira Knightly one. I think Alex Kingston would make a brilliant Joanie Toogood, the ‘goose’. She did a great job with Moll Flanders and I think she has all the necessary credentials. 
Rupert Grint to play Peter the Costermonger
Isabella and Evelyn Bourne are gentlewomen from court. Emma Watson (Hermione in Harry Potter) would be good as Eve, and the girl who plays Edith in Downton Abbey, Laura Carmichael, would make a lovely Bella. For Peter, who is a costermonger from Southwark it would have to be Rupert Grint – wonderful young actor who played Ron Weasley in Harry Potter. Henry VIII would not be played by Jonathon Rhys Meyers (as gorgeous as he is) I think the role is better suited to Steven Waddington who played Lord Buckingham in the Tudors. As to Katherine Howard and Anna of Cleves, goodness, I have no idea. I will leave that to the directors!

What other books would you compare this story to, in your genre?
I’m not sure. It is quite different coming as it does from the mouth of a prostitute. Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White is similar in theme although that is set much later in Victorian England.

 What else about the book might pique the readers’ interest?
It offers a new perspective on events in Henry VIII’s reign and looks at how the lower echelons of society might have viewed matters. It contrasts the rougher side of life in Tudor England with the glittering royal court.

The Winchester Goose will be available on Amazon Kindle before Christmas and in paperback early in 2013.

And for the authors I have tagged:

Helen Spring – Author of Memories of the Curlew, Strands of Gold and The Chainmakers.
Mary MiddletonRomance Author of  Vittorio’s Virgin, Come, Dance with Me and Where the West Wind Blows.
Cas Peace - Author of The King's Envoy and The King's Champion
Gregory House - Author of The Red Ned Tudor Mysteries
Anna Valentine -Romance Author of Love Torn

Over to you guys!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Winchester Goose - Coming Soon

I am just applying the finishing touches to The Winchester Goose now and it should reach the shelves in time for Christmas.
Writing this one has been a whole different experience to my other books. My confidence in it waxed and waned like the moon; sometimes I hated it and thought I should bin it, other times it seemed to be the best thing I have written so far.
As usual I am breaking all the rules, writing in the first person present tense but I make no apologies. My books are conceived in my head and nurtured in my  heart, they just sort of happen. Planning and rules go out of the window.
My characters are always flawed,  and the first person narrative, that gives voice to all those inner thoughts that we usually conceal, makes them human. 
You won't find many unstained characters in The Winchester Goose. Francis Wareham is a serial womaniser, thoroughly charismatic but incurably disloyal, and I have  made no attempt to dress him in prettier armour. 
I haven't hidden Joanie Toogood's flaws either. Probably the most endearing person in the book, Joanie is a prostitute from Southwark who, rather like a saucy Florence Nightinglae, seeks to nurture anyone who will let her. As a result her business flourishes and she is popular with both commoner and nobleman alike. Her downfall begins when she meets Francis and is unable to resist his boyish charm.
Although she is a bit of a bad girl, her  humanity is very close to the surface, and it is Joanie's uneducated observations of events at the Court of Henry VIII that make us smile.

Tudor London: 1540. Each night, after dark, men flock to Bankside seeking girls of easy virtue; prostitutes known as The Winchester Geese. Joanie Toogood has worked the streets of Southwark since childhood but her path is changed forever by an encounter with Francis Wareham, a spy for the King’s secretary, Thomas Cromwell.

Meanwhile, across the River Thames, at the glittering court of Henry VIII, Wareham also sets his cap at Evelyn and Isabella Bourne, members of the Queen’s household and the girls, along with Joanie, are drawn into intrigue and the shadow of the executioner’s blade.

Set against the turmoil of Henry VIII’s middle years, The Winchester Goose provides a brand new perspective of the happenings at the royal court, offering a frank and often uncomfortable observation of life at both ends of the social spectrum.

The Winchester Goose will be available on a Kindle near you very soon.
Paperback to follow in 2013.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Vice in Tudor London

Henry VIII

Historical fiction usually concentrates on virtuous, upper-class women and the less fortunate, poorer women are often over-looked. Many ordinary women worked as prostitutes on the Bankside in Southwark and it is those women I will be discussing today.

In Tudor Britain there were no poor laws, no welfare, you either survived or you didn’t and every woman, even the most unskilled, was equipped to earn a living from vice should she need to. But that doesn't mean it was an easy option.

In the sixteenth century men tended to marry later, often not taking a wife until they had gained a foothold in society. They did not enjoy the sexual freedoms we have  today and prostitutes were to some, a necessary evil. Sometimes the girls who earned their living in this way were raised to the business from childhood and their bawds were often their own mothers. Sometimes innocent girls were left with no choice but to turn to vice. There were few doors open to a girl who was ‘soiled’ before marriage.

It was a hard, dangerous and undesirable lifestyle but it was also a lucrative business for some, often providing the easiest and the most profitable path. Early in the Tudor period the Reverend Symon Fysshe wrote:
“Who is she that will set her hands to worke to get three pence daye, and  may have at least twenty pence a daye to slepe an houre with a frère (friar) or a moncke (monk) or preste (priest)?”

When you consider, even today, the difficulties of housing and feeding a family, he may have had a point. 

What might a prostitute, living just across the water, have made of the high-jinx going on at Henry's court? I began to think that it might be interesting to flip the coin and present a prostitute as the protagonist in my next novel. Digging into the lives of less affluent woman opened up a whole new area of interest for me and I spent the next year or two researching the dark side of Tudor London, up to my ears in vice and crime. And some of the things I've learned are eye-opening and disturbing.


In my novel, Joanie Toogood is a tough, hard-working, resolute young woman who is bred into the life of vice and, at the death of her mother, is left with two younger sisters to provide for. She works to keep a roof over their heads and bread on the table and, when the time comes, her sisters work hard too. 


The Winchester Palace

The area of Southwark on the south bank of the Thames was renowned since Roman times for the nature of the entertainments it provided.  In 1161 Henry II officially handed over the land to the Church and licensed a cluster of Brothels which became known as the ‘Bankside stewes’, servicing the needs of Londoners and passing travellers.

Since the brothels paid their rents to the Bishop of Winchester and his sumptuous palace was situated bang in the middle of the Southwark stewes, the prostitutes who worked the surrounding area provided a source of both recreation and profit for the church. It is for this reason that the girls became known as The Winchester Geese. Needless to say, the phrase ‘bitten by a Winchester Goose’ referred to a dose of syphilis, a condition that was both widespread and incurable.
Stephen Gardiner, The Bishop of Winchester
It has been suggested that Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, pandered to Henry VIII by keeping him supplied with the cream of the Geese. However, I could find nothing in the primary source evidence to support this claim and it may have been propaganda against his conservative views on church reform.

The Tudor monarchs made several attempts to close down the brothels. During an outbreak of syphilis in 1505 Henry VII succeeded to do so for a short period of time but they quickly re-opened, albeit under a different guise and subject to fresh legislation.  

Fabyan, writing at this time, said, ‘This year the stewes or common bordello beyond the water for what help or consideration for certain I know not, was for a season inhibited and closed up but it was not long ere they were set open again.”

If this was an attempt to quench the spread of the disease it was unsuccessful. The girls simply crossed the river looking for work, some into St Katherine’s parish, some settling in St Giles, and others close to the King’s palace at Westminster. Even after the brothels were reopened, any woman found to be suffering from syphilis was fined 100 shillings and expelled from the Bankside, presumably to work independently. This dispersal of the girls brought them into contact with new customers and aided the spread of the contagion. The infection may have been better contained by leaving Southwark well alone.

The court records of the period contain many references to the Southwark Stewes and the names of the Inns were varied. One was called The Castle, another The Antylopp (antelope). Then there was The Unycorn, The Cardinal’s Hat and The Cock, the last of which features in my novel as the haunt of Joanie and her sisters.

The street names of medieval and early modern Britain reflect the trades that took place within them, so names like Tanner Street and Fish Street, Market Street, speak for themselves.  The small lanes that intersected Southwark were named Maiden Alley, Love Lane and Addle Street and it does not strain the imagination too far to see how they came by them. 

Red light districts in other areas of England are quite easily located in this way on medieval maps. My favourite example, if you will pardon my French, is ‘Gropecunt Lane’ now adapted to the more genteel, Grapenut Lane.  What went on there is really rather self-explanatory and I am far too ladylike to discuss some of the street names to be found in medieval Paris.

Why Henry VII allowed the bawdy houses to open up again so quickly when on the continent such places remained closed for years remains a mystery. But after his death, his son Henry VIII, continued the crusade against them, ordering Wolsey to ‘purge London and Southwark of its vagabonds and loose women.’

This proved to be as ineffectual as the previous attempts.

During the time in which the events of my novel take place (1540 -47) the vice continued to thrive. The brothels served nobles and commoners alike and the women, earning a living as they did, lived in constant danger of attack and even murder. Higher class prostitutes were shipped across the river to be smuggled into court but the lower class worked the bankside and the men came to them.

London and Southwark (foreground)
The risks of prostitution in the sixteenth century were the same as today and the pastime of ‘whore-bashing’ was, even then, a popular pastime among some sections of society. In March 1543 an incident is recorded when a party of youths were apprehended on a boat shooting with their stone bows (a kind of bow that shot small rocks) at the girls working on the south bank.

It can be surmised from this that, although their services were in demand, the prostitutes themselves were not highly regarded by all. This story becomes even more interesting when you realise that this wasn’t the work of drunken apprentices but that the ringleader was in fact a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the young Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey and cousin to two of Henry’s queens.

Throughout history Southwark has been renowned as an area of double dealing and vice. Outside the jurisdiction of London, the bearbaiting pits, theatres, inns and cockfighting attracted more and more unsavoury characters until the area became little more than a den of iniquity. Rubbing shoulders as they did with the criminal element from every walk of society, the prostitutes themselves were the least of the King’s problems. Thieves, vagabonds, dispossessed priests, spies, travellers and rent boys carried out nefarious dealings with the members of the king’s court who slipped across the river after dark.

It was not until late in Henry VIII’s reign in 1546 that he finally succeeded in closing the brothels down, outlawing bear baiting and seizing the church lands for himself. At the King’s command The Winchester Geese were hounded from their sanctuary at Southwark and the brothels prohibited from reopening and  Henry made a big show of doing so. Fabyan reports that,

‘This year at Easter the Stewes was put down by the King’s proclamation made there with a trumpet and an harolde-atte-armes.”

Unfortunately for Henry, he would not live long enough to ensure the continued success of his campaign and shortly after his death in 1547 the brothels were again flourishing but this time, they did not restrict themselves to the south bank.

In the early days of the following reign the young king, Edward VI addressed his court on the subject:
“My lords, you have put down the Stewes, but I pray you, how is the matter amended? What availeth that you have but changed the place and not taken the whoredom away? …There is nowe in London more than ever was on the Bancke.”

The Winchester Goose opens in 1540 just before Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. It follows the fortunes of four people, Joanie Toogood, a prostitute from Southwark, Francis Wareham, the runaway son of a country squire who becomes a spy for Thomas Cromwell, and Isabella and Evelyn Bourne, ladies in waiting in the households of the Queens, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.
From diverse backgrounds, these four people find themselves embroiled in a web of intrigue, treachery and violence.

The Winchester Goose is not an excuse to write about sex. It is not meant to titillate but is a frank account of the life of a prostitute, reflecting her own opinions (not mine) of the goings-on in high places. Southwark provides a dark and dangerous backdrop to the events that Joanie witnesses: the coronations, the intrigues and the executions.

Judith Arnopp's other books include:
The Beaufort Bride
The Beaufort Woman
A Song of Sixpence
Intractable Heart
The Kiss of the Concubine
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers

Illustrations from wikimedia-commons.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Interview with debut novelist, Jo Ann Butler, author of Rebel Puritan.

This weeks featured author is Jo Ann Butler who’s book Rebel Puritan follows the life of her own ancestor, Herodias Long, beginning in 17th century London, England and ending in New England.

Hi Jo Ann, Thank you for joining me on my blog today, it’s good of you to come.  I am really fascinated by the main protagonist in your novel Rebel Puritan.  She is an ancestor of yours, is that right?

Jo Ann:  My grandparents were surnamed Gardner, so when I started researching my genealogy in the late 1970s, I began with them.  The first line I found led back to my 8th-great grandmother Herodias Long, via her liaison with George Gardner. 

What made you decide to turn Herodias’ story into a novel?

Jo Ann:  Herodias led an amazingly modern life for a 17th-century woman, but with two separations from unsuitable husbands, she was considered quite scandalous in her day.  In 1658 she protested against the Puritans’ abuse of Quakers, and that led to her own whipping.  That bold act made Herodias’ story irresistible, so I wrote the novel about her that I wanted to read!
I suppose, as a genealogist, researching for Rebel Puritan came quite naturally but how difficult, as a first time author, did you find it to turn the bland facts of her life into a flesh and blood personality?

Jo Ann:   Herodias laid out her life in petitions for divorce, so research was easy.  However, I studied archaeology in college, not creative writing, and Rebel Puritan was the first project I undertook.  There’s nothing like starting big!  I’d write a chapter, let my friends and family comment on it, and then rewrite.  By the time I finished the mss, I had sold several magazine articles, so I learned as I went.

Fellow writers are immensely important. I know from experience just how very difficult it is as a self-published, unknown author to get noticed. What marketing strategies do you employ to promote Rebel Puritan?

Jo Ann:  After Rebel Puritan was published, I asked readers to post reviews on GoodReads, and it’s still thrilling to see reviews pop up there and on Amazon.  Word-of-mouth on Facebook has been invaluable, and so have reviewers and bloggers like you.  I’m still seeking reviews from historical fiction readers, historians, and genealogists.  If anyone would like a review copy, please contact me at joann(at)rebelpuritan(dot)com.

Writing a historical novel is like painting a country you have never visited and can never visit. Rebel Puritan spans a number of years and two different countries.  How did you go about researching 17th century London and New England?

Jo Ann and Richard at the LDS Genealogy library
where they met  tewnety-five years ago.
Jo Ann:  New England was easy, because I live in upstate New York.  My mother, uncle, and I must have spent several months in archives and genealogy libraries.  We also visited museums and ancestors’ homes, where I picked up that 17th-century flavour.  I got most of my English information at the Mormon Church’s genealogy library in Salt Lake City, which has a superb book collection and over two million rolls of microfilm.  As a bonus, I met my partner compiling his genealogy in the Mormon library, and after twenty-five years we are still together.

A love story! How wonderful! I’ve never met any likely partners in a library. I must have been doing something wrong.  And Rebel Puritan has won the IndieBRAG medallion? Can you tell us what that is and what it means for your book?

Jo Ann: IndieBRAG is a group of American, European, and Canadian readers promoting high-quality independently-published books – the sort you would recommend to your best friend.  Helen Hollick mentioned the group on her Facebook, so I asked them to review Rebel Puritan.  IndieBRAG promotes winners of their Medallion at book expositions and online, and I’m delighted to talk about the group and their Medallion award to Rebel Puritan.  We’ll scratch each other’s backs!

Have you caught the historical novel writing bug now? Will there be any more?

Jo Ann:   The writing bug caught me!  I’m preparing to publish The Reputed Wife this fall, the sequel to Rebel Puritan, and there’s at least one more book in the series.  Another of my ancestors was a doctor on the upstate New York frontier in 1803, and she is whispering in my ear.

Well, that is good to hear. Give me a shout when The Reputed Wife is released and I will share the word. Online presence is invaluable for an author these days. Do you have a blog or a webpage that readers can visit?

Jo Ann:  My Rebel Puritan website is at and I have a blog at , and I even have a public figure page for Herodias Long on Facebook!

That’s wonderful. Brace yourself for an onslaught of visitors. Thank you so much for giving us your time. Good luck with Rebel Puritan, I hope it does very well.

Thank you for hosting me, Judith.  It’s been my pleasure!

Rebel Puritan is available as a paperback and as a Kindle on Amazon and other leading bookstores.
US readers click here..
UK readers click here.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

An Interview with author Linda Gillard

 Linda Gillard
I cannot tell you how excited I am to have you as a guest author on my blog today, Linda, thank you so much for agreeing to come. 
The first book I read of yours was UNTYING THE KNOT and I was immediately impressed with your authorial voice, your multi-faceted characters and the competent manner in which you addressed the issue of post traumatic stress. I have since read everything available by you and I’m still not sure which is my favourite as each one is so different. I find you and your books so interesting it was dead easy for me to think up questions for you.

Scotland and the Scottish isles form a backdrop for many of your novels. Do you have connections with the area?
I’ve lived in Scotland since 2000 and for most of those years I’ve lived in the Highlands. I spent six years on the Isle of Skye, the setting for two of my novels, STAR GAZING and THE GLASS GUARDIAN.

Several of your books feature textile artists and the insightful way you describe the art suggests to me that you have some knowledge of this art form. Is that correct?
Yes, I love textiles of all kinds and I’ve made a lot of quilts and wall-hangings (most of which I’ve given away as I’m never satisfied with what I make.) Making two of my heroines textile artists (in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and UNTYING THE KNOT) is a sort of wish-fulfilment fantasy. Rose and Fay are both much more skilled with fabric & thread than I’ll ever be!

‘Sometimes we think we’re over the worst, we think we’ve finally put the past behind us, then – wham! – we run up against something, some memory, some feeling we thought we’d buried long ago and we’re back where we started. The wounds are open and bleeding again. It’s a cyclical process - a sort of spiral in fact - and it takes a long time to get to the end of it.’  This is from The House of Silence and the theme of healing shows up a lot in your work, a shattered soul pieced back together like a patchwork. Do you think that by illustrating the painful process of healing, whether physical or mental, you are in some small way, helping real sufferers to overcome similar problems?
I know I am, because readers get in touch with me to tell me. A troubled teenager contacted me after reading EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY to say that she’d managed to stop self-harming and had started writing poetry instead. (The narrative of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY includes poems written by me and the hero is a poet.) EG features a bipolar heroine and over the years people have contacted me to say they didn’t realise someone in their family was bipolar until they read the novel. At an author event a woman approached me with a copy of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and, with tears in her eyes said, “My husband was bipolar and took his life. Now when I want someone to know what it was like living with a manic depressive, I can show them your book.”
I’ve written about depression and post-traumatic stress disorder because I’ve had my fair share of mental health problems and they interest me, but I also think mental health is a very big issue about which most people are woefully ignorant. (I wrote EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY in response to a survey that indicated 26% of the people questioned thought mental illness wasn’t a genuine illness.) I’ve also tried to highlight the problems of carers and the strain that mental illness puts on marriage and families. UNTYING THE KNOT looks at what happens when the carer cracks.

In EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY the two main characters are drawn together through their art and they work together toward mutual healing. How important is your own creativity and how much of it is ‘therapy’ for you?

I think all writing is to some extent therapeutic. I put a lot of myself into my novels, but they aren’t autobiographical. They do express my personal concerns. Readers assume because I’ve lived on islands that I must have written EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY (set on a Hebridean island) while I was living on Skye, but I wrote it in a Norwich suburb while recovering from a mental breakdown. I was dreaming of living on a remote island, rebuilding a shattered life and I wrote about someone doing that. It was pure fantasy. But a couple of years later, I decided to live the dream and moved to Skye.
Creativity is very important to me and to my mental health. I get cranky when I’m not writing. I’ve had careers as an actress, journalist and teacher, so I’ve always worked with words and ideas.

The first Linda Gillard novel I read was UNTYING THE KNOT and I was immediately struck by the realistically drawn characters. Where do you find them, are they based on people you know or have known?
No, I make them up - even the congenitally blind heroine of STAR GAZING. I can’t think of any character I’ve created who’s based on a real person, though obviously as a writer you steal bits and pieces from people you know or have read about. Real people have inspired some of the characters I’ve created. (Flora in A LIFETIME BURNING arose from a radio interview in which John Peel talked to a female vagrant.)
I do base all my major characters physically on real people. I collect photos of people who look something like the character I’ve imagined. I used to make a scrapbook for a novel with photos of characters and settings, but now I use the internet and have desktop collages.
I prefer to work with photos of real people because I don’t think I’m very good at description. If I have a clear picture in my head of the character’s appearance, I’m less likely to be vague or fall in to descriptive clichés. Once I’ve nailed what a character looks like, in detail, I feel free to get on with creating his/her personality (which of course has no bearing on the person whose appearance I’ve “borrowed”.)
As to where my characters come from – I’ve no idea! My son once referred to my writing as playing with my imaginary friends, which is a pretty good description of what I do. I’m only interested in writing about people I like or find interesting, so I think I just make up people I want to spend time with. (And it’s a lot of time. I might spend two years working on a book, so my characters need to be complex to absorb me for that length of time.)

Your heroines are grown ups, not nubile twenty-somethings. What made you decide to feature the problems of older women?
It’s a lot to do with the age I was when I started writing fiction. I was 47 and couldn’t find the sort of thing I wanted to read. (Bookshops which were awash with chick-lit at the time.) I was fed up with middle-aged women being portrayed as somebody’s mother/somebody’s wife and only allowed to pull the hero if they were thin and attractive. So I decided I’d write a thinking-woman’s romance that dealt with real issues, had believable characters, a gorgeous hero, but no easy answers. That book was my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. I wanted to put an intelligent, creative woman in the spotlight and ignore her age, just look at her heart and mind. As a matter of principle, I made her the same age as me – 47.
But I’ve continued to feature women in their forties because I think it’s an interesting age, a watershed decade. Women have completed their families and many are starting a new career or a new relationship. By the time a woman reaches her 40s, she’s gained a lot of life experience - some of it painful - and she knows there’s rather more to life than finding Mr. Right.

I’ve been dying to ask you where your male characters come from. They are fabulous. Anyone you know or are they just wishful thinking?
Edward Watson
Just wishful thinking! But as I mentioned earlier, I do always have a physical prototype in mind – someone who exists but has nothing to do with my character. When I created a ghost hero for THE GLASS GUARDIAN it took a while to find my idea of an attractive ghost! But I came across Edward Watson, a flame-haired classical dancer whose pale, ethereal looks were perfect. There’s something quite unearthly about him and this helped me visualise my ghost.
I think it was novelist Kate Saunders who said, the secret of creating an appealing romantic hero is to put a woman’s mind inside a man’s body. I think that’s often what I do. My heroes and heroines become friends before they become lovers. There’s a lot of talk and sharing of experiences. There’s usually humour too and often that’s a front masking a horrific past or guilty secret.
If there’s a recipe for a Gillard hero, it’s a kind, complex, sensitive and vulnerable man, with a wacky sense of humour.

I consider you to be a brave writer, a bit of a risk taker – and I love that about you. But tackling a taboo subject like incest in A LIFETIME BURNING was a particularly bold move. Can you tell us how that came about?

The incest was just a by-product of what I wanted to write about, which was twins who were so close, they almost didn’t have separate identities. I’m not a twin but I’ve always been interested in twins and I did a lot of research which was fascinating
I considered writing about same-sex twins, so incest wasn’t on my agenda originally, but in the end I decided to write about boy/girl twins, so their sexual feelings for each other became a possible issue. But sex (when they’re 22) doesn’t bring the twins together, it drives them apart for ever because the union they crave isn’t sexual, it’s something they had as children and it’s gone for ever - that sense of being two halves of one person. Aristotle defined friendship as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies” and that’s what A LIFETIME BURNING is about - trying to be a complete human being.
The twins’ love is just one thread in a very complex story that covers sixty years and the book examines many different kinds of love, including forbidden love. I don’t think it was particularly brave to put incest centre stage. It was possibly brave to do that without any hint of judgement. ALB upset a few readers and I think they’d have found it an easier read if I’d condemned the twins for their unnatural love. But I don’t. Nor do I condone incest. I just present the story and leave readers to come to their own conclusions.

In this multi-genre world how would you categorize your own work?

I think it’s impossible to categorise my books. They’re very different from each other and each book blends different genres. When asked, I say I write contemporary fiction, aimed mostly (but not exclusively) at women. I think some of my books verge on literary fiction, but of an accessible kind. If my books belong to any category, I think it’s a non-existent genre called Rattling Good Yarns!

Well, they are certainly that! Can you tell us something about your experiences in changing from traditional to self-publishing? What pros and cons you have found?

Genre issues have always been a problem for me professionally. Publishers didn’t know how to market my books and tried to pigeonhole me as a writer of romance. Two out of three of my paperbacks were handicapped by unappealing covers and I’d had a title foisted on me which I hated. For years I’d been told my books would be hard to sell and I’d been asked to simplify storylines and make female characters more likeable. So I wasn’t happy.
When I was dropped by my publisher (“disappointing sales”), my agent tried to find me a new one, but after two years of rejections, I decided to indy-publish. I put HOUSE OF SILENCE on Kindle where it rapidly became a bestseller. I put four more novels on Kindle and they sold too.
E-publishing on Kindle has found me thousands of new readers. I now enjoy complete artistic freedom, I have covers I love and I earn a modest living from my writing. So I won’t be going back to traditional publishing. Why would I? It was just getting in the way of my books finding their readers.

Thank you, so much for spending time with us, Linda. I am very grateful. I’m sure my readers will join me in wishing you lots of luck with your future projects. I am not the only one waiting for your next release. You can find more information about Linda Gillard and her books on her website:

Friday, 15 June 2012

Interview with Helen Spring - historical fiction author

The simplest question often receives the most unexpected of answers. Usually, if I ask an author what inspired them, they reply, ‘Oh, a sentence in a novel,’ or ‘an unexplored subplot in a film I saw,’ or ‘a character I noticed at a train station.’  All of these things are drawn from the writer’s life experience, a small trigger giving birth to something more. So, when I asked Helen Spring what inspired her to write The Chainmakers, her answer was all the more unexpected.
‘My Grandad,’ she said, ‘I have always been a little in love with him, which is surprising because he died fifteen years before I was born.’
I put down my pen and leaned forward in my chair. ‘Tell me about him,’ I said. And so, she did.

 ‘Grandad was a blacksmith, and Mother recalled running from school to watch him working at the forge. She would stand there, a little afraid of the noisy clamour of hammer on red hot metal, as showers of fiery sparks surrounded him and fell onto his bare arms. She was sure he would be burned but he never was.
Mother described her father as tall, strong and sinewy, with very dark good looks, and curly black hair. His eyes too, she remembered, were  ‘Irish eyes, deep blue with long dark lashes.’
It is perhaps then not surprising I find myself a little in love, but I think it was the stories of his kindness that really sealed it for me. Mother was the youngest of seven children, she had three brothers and three sisters and so was doted on, not only by her parents but all her older siblings too.  Mother recalled vividly being with her father when he finished work, and they called at the local shop where he bought a punnet of strawberries . What a treat!  He hoisted her on to his shoulders and strode home, with his youngest astride his neck, stuffing herself with strawberries. 
This was the essence of the man, strawberries were a luxury they couldn’t afford but he had the kindest of impulses and would always make life fun, whereas of course his poor wife had the difficult job of bringing up all the children on very little. I can’t help feeling for her.
When the First World War began, Grandad was just too old to be called up, although the two eldest boys went right away. However, the skills of a blacksmith were in great demand, and very quickly grandad was directed by the War Office, to the Belfast shipyards to help build the ships which were suddenly so badly needed. There was no choice in the matter and he was away for four years, and his family missed him sorely. Money would arrive from him every week, but letters were few, and there was no leave during that whole time.
When he eventually came home he was not the same person. He was half his previous weight, having been overworked and underfed all the time he was away. He had lived in a hostel, where food was scarce and poor, and he slept in a kind of dormitory, where you dared not take off your boots to sleep or they would be taken in the night. When he came home he was as broken down as many who had been at the front, due to the heavy work and long hours, and lack of food and sleep, all of which was justified as being ‘for the War effort.’  In truth he was a casualty of war, and died shortly after he returned home.
Mother recalls that even in those last few weeks, he was full of fun and jokes, and would take great joy in hearing her recite the poems of Longfellow, which she was learning at school, his particular favourite being  ‘Hiawatha.’
He was a man of huge heart and loving kindness, who loved his family and always did what he considered to be his duty. I wish I had met him but even without the privilege of knowing him, I find him so easy to love. That was why it seemed so natural to draw upon him when I wrote my first novel The Chainmakers.

Each time I read The Chainmakers I find something different to say about it. You might expect a novel inspired by a grandfather to be rather staid, safe or domestic but this book encompasses a broad horizon and evokes a catalogue of emotions. In the days of Helen’s grandfather men had to be tough to survive and that is what The Chainmakers is all about; ordinary people in a harsh world. Just as Helen’s grandfather had to work hard to forge his chains of iron so do we all have to forge a path for ourselves. Whether we craft a flimsy, weak-linked chain or an iron strong one, is down to how well we learn to wield the hammer.

Set against the blistering heat and grinding poverty of the chainshops of the Black Country, this compelling love story charts the struggle of young Anna Gibson to forge a new life from the remnants of betrayal by her lover and a tragic marriage of convenience.
A simple offer of work as a model proves to be the catalyst for complete change, taking Anna from the sunny beaches and liberal attitudes of an artist's colony in Brittany to the struggle to survive and make good in the immigrant community of downtown New York.
Anna learns her lessons well, and she finds herself still making chains, but now chains of restaurants, leading to wealth if not happiness. Then comes Prohibition, and Anna's decisions involve her in a gangland feud which threatens her family and friends in a frightening web of intrigue and violence.
How do we recover from the agony of a lover's betrayal? What is true love anyway? Can we befriend lawbreakers without getting hurt?
These questions are at the core of this unusual and compelling book. Written with humour, colour and passion, Helen Spring weaves an absorbing tale of obsession and complex emotions, and their far-reaching consequences.

The Chainmakers is available at just 77 pence on Amazon Kindle.

Helen Spring’s other works include: Memories of the Curlew and Strands of Gold, both available on Amazon.