Friday, July 31, 2009
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, July 29, 2009
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, July 20, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
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…
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
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
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, July 14, 2009
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, July 8, 2009
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.
HEARTS OF GOLD
April 1st 2009
Severn House. UK
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.