Friday, 31 July 2009

Why Do I Write?

I write because I must I suppose. I was a voracious reader from a young child and my head was full of other people that filled the stories that I made up in my head and wrote down as soon as I could. But for many years life got in the way of my pursuing this. I had a full time and very demanding job teaching, four children to bring up and a home to run and I told myself, like many others, that would write when I had more time to myself. Then in 1990 an operation to my spine went wrong and suddenly my teaching life came to an end and I was in a wheelchair and set to remain there for life, according to the doctors. We moved from Sutton Coldfield to North Wales in 1993 where we could afford to buy a larger house that could be converted to accommodate not only my husband and myself in a wheelchair but also my two young daughters who moved with us. The conversion were completed by the following year. Now I had all the time in the world, more time really that I wanted and I began to write in earnest. I was still coming to an acceptance of my disability then and the restriction this would impose on me as a person, as a teacher and a mother and and writing I believed saved my sanity, or if that is a little too dramatic at the very least stopped me feeling sorry for myself. I tried writing books first for the poor inner city children I had taught before my accident, then short stories for adults. I heard about the Romantic Novelist's Society when I won a year's subscription as second prize in a writing competition for Valentine's Day in 1995. And I found that this organisation does a unique thing in that it runs The New Writer's Scheme where, for a small fee, unpublished writers can post off their manuscripts for critical analysis once a year. I duly wrote and send off my first manuscript, which they said was good, but not good enough but, most important of all, the reader said why it wasn't. So armed with that critque I wrote and submitted another. This one they said was too long and if I lost 40,000 words I should then send it to Headline. I did just as they said and Headline took the book in 1997 and offered me a two book contract and I found out that the books I was writing were called Sagas. I ended up writing four books with Headline before moving to Harper Collins in 2001 and my tenth book with them will be published in Jan 2010. The last four books, "A Sister's Promise", "A Daughter's Secret", "A Mother's Spirit", the latest book and was out in March of this year and the one yet to be published, "The Child Left Behind" are all part of a series. They all stand alone in that each one is a complete story but they tell the individual stories of members of a family called Sullivan who come from Donegal in Ireland and end up in Birmingham and of course because they are a family their lives do intermingle at times. This theme of linking Ireland and Birmingham is a common one in my books and it is because though I was born and reared in Birmingham ,my parents were both from the North of Ireland, Donegal and Fermanagh and I was brought up steeped in that rich, Irish, Roman Catholic, culture and consider myself an Irish Brummie. As I began to write these stories of The Sullivan's, a miracle occurred in my own life which I suppose could be construed as a story all on its own. In late July 2006 I regained feeling and moment in my legs totally confounding the doctors. I didn't leap out of my wheelchair with a cry of Eureka and dance a jig you understand. I had been 16 years in a wheelchair and my body complained that it had to hold me up at all, let alone that I was attempting to walk about. It took about nine hard and often painful months as I journeyed into world of the able bodied and even then I wasn't walking really well. But I kept at it, walking my dog every day and continuing to exercise in other ways and now I can honestly say that life really doesn't get any better than this.

Getting Started.

I already had two books, set in modern times, published before I wrote my first historical novel. I wanted a change and to see if I could do it But primarily because I loved reading them.

From the Victorian age through to post WW2 has always been of interest to me. It was just over a hundred years of such immense social changes which fascinate me. There was the increased mobility of the population – the exodus from the land to the cities during the industrial revolution. The speed with which their lives altered with new inventions had never been seen before. And then there is the transformation in women’s lives – nothing would ever be the same again.

The chasm between rich and poor, the social hypocrisy, the rigidness of the class system gives endless potential for a novelist.

I was living in Cornwall at the time, in a thatched cottage overlooking the sea on the cliffs at Lands End – so Cornwall was the logical setting and its generic title was Daughters of a Granite Land. I intended to write a single novel but it insisted on becoming a trilogy - a saga.

Fortunately for me, during the war, I lived at Lanhydrock House a Cornish stately home. My mother had been in service there and was invited to return to help with the evacuees billeted there from London.

The house is a complete time warp, frozen in Victorian times, as were the Viscount and his two spinster sisters. I lived in the servants’ quarters, where cook and butler held sway, but I was also allowed to wander the other side of the green baize door. I was privy to a lost time and small child that I was I soaked up the atmosphere and filed away the information. So when I wrote that first historical I simply remembered my life in that lovely house, how the inhabitants spoke, their manners, their attitudes. It was all there for me. In many of my books there is a large house and it is always Landhyrdock.

Subsequently I have written nine historical. Now I shuffle back and forth between them and modern novels. I would be hard pressed to say which I prefer doing – I suppose the honest answer is the one I’m working on when asked.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

isle of dogs

The Isle of Dogs is a horseshoe of land that curves into the River Thames. Water surrounds it on three sides and Millwall and Cubitt Town are to the east and west with Poplar to the north. Queen Elizabeth the first was said to exercise her dogs here hence the name, but in the 20's and 30's my father and grandfather raced greyhounds around the island too. Whether they were ever successful at White City depends on ones view. For one of them broke loose from the track and somehow landed on the doorstep before the family's return. Another, Billy Boy, liked buses. My dad, as a youngster, preferred a quick bus ride to a long walk before school. And Billy Boy was only too happy to oblige. All this and more in the Rivers books.

Readers letters

I doubt if any author would deny that writing is hard work. It drains the energy both physically and mentally. However, the pleasure of writing usually outstrips the pain of frozen shoulders, carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes and mental exhaustion that comes with life in front of a computer. The author creates a plot and the characters, and as they take their designated journey, a struggle takes place to bring them alive in a believable way. The characters themselves sometimes put up a fight. It’s as though - once you’ve given them life - they’ve decided that they’re going to live it their way, just like real people do. This independence of character is surprising when it happens, even though it’s not entirely unexpected. Sometimes, their meddling will take the plot in a different direction altogether, so everything has to be adjusted.

I didn’t know how much work went into a book until I actually started writing one. As a reader I had my favourite writers, of course, and usually, I either liked a book or I didn’t. Either way, I never thought to contact the author. Writing is subjective, but most published books will please some of the people some of the time. Rarely will they please all of the people though. If I didn’t like a book I wouldn’t write and tell the author. And having been singed by a rotten and totally unfair review, I would rather not review a book at all, than badly review one. But praise is always acceptable, and it surprises me now to realize that when I was a reader, I never wrote to an author with a word of praise, telling them how much I enjoyed their work. Rather, I took them for granted.

I do receive a steady amount of letters from readers of my books. I always write to the readers and thank them (it makes up for all the writers I didn’t thank in the past!) and when I can, I try and help them out with any queries they may have. A little while ago I exchanged a letter with Kath who lives in Rayburn, a farming community near Bendigo in Queensland. She borrows her books from the mobile library. Today, I received an unexpected gift of two coffee cups and a tea strainer dish in Bendigo pottery, to thank me for writing books that she enjoys reading.

I was very touched by this gesture, and it brought home to me how lovely it is to receive thank you letters and praise from readers. On the bad days when nothing I write seems to go to plan, it warms me to be able to look through the letter files and be able to find faith in my creative self again. So thank you Kath, I’ll think of your kindness every time I have a cup of coffee. And thank you to all the readers who buy and read my books.

Monday, 20 July 2009

When Did it Start?

I can never remember when I decided I would be a writer. I wrote stories at school, but back then I didn't dream of being an author. In high school I co-wrote a Mills & Boon story with my best friend, but even then, I didn't think being an author was my future. However, my head was, and still is, full of characters speaking to me. When I lived in England, high on a hill in a very old farm house, missing my old life in Australia, I would walk the countryside for miles listening to the characters in my head.

During a very difficult three years in England, reading saved my sanity. I lost myself in books. I was a savage reader and read continually. As soon as one book was finished I'd start another. The books I read where a mixture of Mills & Boon romances and thick historical saga novels. The romances gave me some lightness in my world which at times was frequently dark. The sagas, such rich stories of young women suffering from different circumstances, who then beat the odds, were the lifeline that made me feel I wasn't alone and if they could survive what happened to them, then so could I. The heroines in those sagas gave me hope, they shared my despair, they become my friends and I loved each and every book.

My favourite author at this time was the late Catherine Cookson. I devoured her books on a weekly basis, not going to bed until 2am, or until my dad knocked on my bedroom door and told me to go to sleep. Catherine Cookson had a style of story telling that drew me in from the first page. My favourite books of hers where The Whip, the Tilly Trotter trilogy, The Dwelling Place, but in truth, all her books touched me in some way. My mum would go to the markets and buy whatever CC books she could find for me. We were not only poor, but bankrupt from a farming failure, but she'd find a few pence to buy me my books, which (in my mind) saved my life. I suppose that sounds dramatic, but I'd been ripped from a very good life in Australia. I had the sunshine, friends, school, a nice house, family and money. We ended up in a 250 year old farmhouse with no running water in winter, our money gone, my parents relationship in ruins, and my mother having a nervous breakdown. I was 14 years old. Books became my life.

They still are to this day twenty four years later.
As I grew older and we moved back to Australia I started to read more widely of other genres, but my comfort reads would always be some form of saga type novel. I collected the entire Poldark series, and enjoying a series I found the Australians series, by William Stuart Long (Vivian Stuart) and realised there were some great saga type novels set in Australia, too.
It was only when I actually started to write my own novel that I slowed down on reading sagas. I was frightened I would use similar plot lines, etc. So I turned to reading medieval fiction and romantic comedies and historical fiction set in other eras away from Victorian and Edwardian because those are the two main periods I set my books.
Now I spend most of my reading time on researching, which is another great love of mine. However, I have relaxed my own rules and will now buy a saga again as a special treat.
I do buy Audrey Howard's books the day they are released. I have every book of hers and she is another author who has made me laugh and cry and who will always be listed as a favourite author of mine.
So, even though my time in England wasn't always ideal, it did give me some things I will always treasure, my best friend Samantha, the love of history and the joy of reading saga novels.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Freda Lightfoot's first post

Hello everyone, this is my first post on a blog too, and I’m delighted to join this talented group. I write multi-viewpoint sagas set either in the Lake District or Manchester. Regional differences seem to be fast disappearing in modern Britain, as are the old industries which created them, so I generally start the research for my novels by talking to the people who were a part of them. I feel privileged to listen to their memories: so real, so personal, so vividly recalled. Some of the subjects I’ve studied for my books have been the water industry, forestry, sheep farming, the Lakes steamers, travelling theatre, carpet and shoe manufacturing, and customs and traditions by the score. These stories of the social under-classes, the weavers and land girls, the ordinary farmers and folk of the hills and dales, the oral history of our past, is the life blood of my sagas.

My new one is House of Angels, coming in hardback in September, paperback Spring 2010. It’s set largely in Kentmere, a beautiful Lakeland Dale. It is 1908, and to all appearances, Livia, Ella and Maggie Angel lead a privileged life, with seemingly little to disturb their happiness. But since the death of their mother, their family home has been far from a quiet haven. Their bully of a father, Josiah Angel, who runs a high-class department store and has aspirations of becoming the town mayor, sees his daughters as mere bargaining tools in his property empire. Empty-headed, spoiled Ella is married off to a farmer in a remote part of the Lake District, but Livia, the eldest and most spirited of the three, refuses to be dictated to and suffers bitterly as a consequence. Having found true love with a man from the poorest district in town, she is not going to give in to her father’s wishes quietly. The youngest sister, Maggie, is not so lucky, and her young life is blighted by her father’s actions. When the sisters discover their father had an affair many years ago, which resulted in the birth of a baby girl, they determine to find their half-sister, and their search begins in the local workhouse. Mercy, however, is not so sure she wants to be found…

Best wishes,

Saturday, 18 July 2009

flu and Dr Tapper

Flu epidemics of all sorts come and go, but in London's pre-war East End, there was no vaccine to fight an outbreak of anything. There were countless diseases springing from poverty and all you had at your disposal were the coloured glass flasks of herbal remedies lining Dr Tapper's shelves. Each one held a cure or so you hoped and best of all, they were free. Blind faith in an old man riding a horsedrawn cab was your best defence against the grim reaper. From Dr Tapper's carpetbag came a brave philosophy on life; let nature be your cure. And my mum who is 91, still agile enough to shop on my arm each week and wink at the boys, is proof enough that faith can work miracles! Read the Rivers novels for more.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

15th July 2009 Gwen

Gwen Kirkwood 15th July 2009

This is my first attempt at a blog. You will see more about me and my books on my web site. Briefly I was born on a Yorkshire farm and went to school there but I have lived most of my life in Scotland and my novels usually have a rural Scottish setting. I often write a series of three or four novels following the same family. I enjoy weaving the stories through changing times and generations with subplots and minor characters which may become the main characters of a following novel. There may be sad or scary events but there is always an element of love and romance ending with optimism and hopefully encouraging the reader to await the sequel.

Dreams of Home is my latest novel about a young man who was forced to fight in the war but who dreams of returning to farm Willowburn, with his parents and half brother. In 1944 he is dismayed to find he is no longer welcome there. Megan Oliphant was a schoolgirl when he went away and she has written to him faithfully. He is surprised to finds she is now a lovely young woman with a bright future of her own and admirers who can offer her far more than he could. He begins the struggle to start farming on a government smallholding but the future seems bleak. He considers giving up his dream but a crisis almost tears their world apart.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Bastille Day

This should have been posted in advance as a sort of warning for those travelling to France who do not know that July 14th is sacrosanct, and don’t attempt it if you want to eat!

Last year we went to France on Bastille Day. As we bowled along we were thrilled at the lack of traffic and made quick time to our hotel near Rouen. We knew the hotel well but the welcome was not up to the usual standard, they were grumpy to say the least. When we asked for the dinner menu we were regarded as imbeciles. There was no dinner. A sandwich? No sandwiches. No problem, we’d get something at the supermarket. Everywhere shut!

The dinner we had dreamt about, talked about all the way from Calais was, eventually, one small Snickers bar divided in half and ditto with an apple I nicked from a bowl at reception.

The French are a constant mystery – they didn’t bat an eyelid at serving us a bottle of wine!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

FREEDOM’S LAND by Anna Jacobs

How it came to be written . . .

About three years ago, I saw a project advertised by a small town in the south-west of Western Australia. The people of Northcliffe (population about 1,500) were setting up a tourist attraction, an arts and sculpture walk, and wanted artists and writers to produce the material for it. I very much admire the way small country towns in Australia set to work if they need something, fund-raising and making things happen. I was tempted by a new and hopefully enriching experience.

I was fortunate enough to win a commission to research the local history and write a novella about a strong woman of the sort who’d been involved in creating the town.

This is a different type of Australian settlement story, because Northcliffe wasn’t founded till 1924, when the West Australian government decided it wanted dairy farms not forests in the south-west of the state. It offered land to ex-servicemen and others, paying them to clear the forest and giving them loans to establish dairy farms. The scheme was called group settlement because people were assigned to the land in groups of about 10-20 families, each with a foreman to help them settle in. Many were townies from England – and later from other countries – and knew nothing of farming.

People arrived before things were properly organised and the earliest settlers had a hard time of it. The ‘town’ itself at that stage was bare land with one building on it, the shop.

The more I learned about group settlement, the more interested I became in this fascinating episode of history. I visited Northcliffe to be briefed along with the other writers and artists. I walked through the remaining forest and spent time in the museum looking at household objects families had made from kerosene tins and crates. Nothing had been wasted. I talked to an elderly woman who’d been a child of one of the early settler families and I read every book of group settlement memoirs I could lay my hands on.

In the end my short story about a group settler’s wife came out as a booklet of 60 pages, and I was very pleased with it.

But it wasn’t enough. I had all the research and story ideas seething in my mind and I knew the group settlers deserved a much longer novel. New characters walked into my imagination, set up camp there and I was off running, the longer story pouring out of me as the shorter one had. I’m so proud of ‘Freedom’s Land’ and believe it’s made one of the best books I’ve ever written (46 novels published now). And I salute the group settlers, who faced hardship and built a town from nothing.

Janet Woods intro.

April 1st 2009
Severn House. UK
Cost £18.99
ISBN: 978-0727867612

1890 Western Australia. 14-year-old Sarette Maitland is orphaned when her father dies from a snake bite on the goldfields. Left to fend for herself by her father's villainous partner. she is rescued by wealthy adventurer, John Kern, and takes the place in his heart of his own dead daughter. Several years later he reluctantly send her back to England, to learn the manners that society expects of a beautiful young woman.
A short introduction. I was born and raised in Dorset in the UK. and now live near Perth, in Western Australia, a rather isolated part of the world. The above is my currently published novel, I have 23 others, historical romance, modern, but mostly romantic saga. I think (hope) that English styles sagas are here to stay, for writers like myself who love to work with sub-plots and several characters, as well as weave in a romance - and also for the readers who love to read them.

Welcome to our new blog!

Welcome to the Historical Saga Novels blog.
We hope to entertain, educate and encourage you to read not only
our books, but saga novels the world over!