My first book was written for a competition for a war novel. Though it did not win, the organisers took it for publication in 1959 in paperback. I enjoyed the longer format as opposed to articles so followed it with 36 Westerns for Hale. At the same time I wrote two more war novels and studied the history of whaling. This resulted in a highly illustrated book of the same topic published in 1980 titled HARPOONED.
I then used this knowledge as the background to my first historical saga THE RED SHAWL published by Piatkus in 1993. I have remained with Piatkus, now an imprint of Little Brown Book Group, ever since and am currently completing my 22nd historical saga for them.
Has your childhood influenced what you write in any way?
My parents encouraged me to read and to love books. Unknowingly this probably stimulated a desire to emulate the writers of these books. I loved fact and loved stories – these have come together in my writing life
Is a sense of place important to you in your writing? How do you set about the research?
How long, on average, does it take you to write a book, and how much editing do you do?
My novels are 100,000 words. From putting down the first word on the computer I reckon on having it ready for the publisher in nine months. Of course much has been going on in my mind before the first word goes down. I do as little editing to the actual happenings in the story as possible - they must be right first time or the story won’t flow properly, but I do keep an eye out for grammatical mistakes, good expressions, creating the right atmosphere and so on as I go along, then I will do a final editing and tidying up when the novel is finished.
How do you start a new novel? Do you do much advance planning?
I get a subject that will form the setting and background for the new novel. I place my two main characters within that and ask myself ‘What if?’ The answers coming from that question will bring the story to life and as it does other characters will make their mark, all developing together. I do not do advanced planning in detail, only sufficient to present the idea in broad outline on which my publisher will make a decision.
Have you ever written for other media, or a different type of novel?
I have not written for other media, though I have contributed a book review column in the Gazette and Herald, published out of York, a weekly newspaper of the Newsquest Group, for fifty years . I ‘cut my teeth’ on Westerns after my first novel based on RAF Second World War. I learned story-telling from them which stood me in good stead when I turned to historical sagas written as Jessica Blair.
What do you think is the most essential element of a good novel?
Plausible characters in plausible action against a plausible background.
This is a difficult question. I love books, non fiction and fiction. I was brought up on John Buchan – great story-teller. Of present day authors I like Susan Hill, especially her ghost stories. With my interest in whaling, I must say Moby Dick – a great story of a man’s passion in pursuit of fulfilment that puts him in contest with life and the natural world.
So what next? Can you tell us a little about your work in progress?
By the time you read this my latest novel A TAPESTRY OF DREAMS will be in the hands of my publisher looking to publish in 2014. This is set in the West Riding of Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire during the middle of the 19th century concerning the woollen industry and sheep. My previous novel IN THE SILENCE OF THE SNOW will have appeared on February 7, 2013 in hardback, along with the paperback of the previous hardback THE ROAD BENEATH ME. At present I am toying with various ideas for the next Jessica Blair novel. Blurb for IN THE SILENCE OF THE SNOW
A panoramic novel covering the momentous years of two world wars when lives were torn apart.
French-born Marie Gabin forms a friendship with Veronica Attwood in their final two years at school, but this is tested when Marie is forced to disclose a secret to her friend. In the shadow of this revelation, the girls grow up on a country estate in North Yorkshire. The First World War takes its toll when Marie loses the man she loves and Veronica's husband suffers injuries which eventually leave her a widow, but she finds consolation in her love for the land. Returning to France, Marie marries her childhood sweetheart, but once again life brings involvement in war for the two friends.
Loving their Yorkshire land, Veronica and her daughters enlist in the Land Army. When a bomber squadron arrives on a newly constructed airfield on part of the estate, relationships are formed. Elise joins the RAF and is recruited into the SOE. But secrets will out. On a mission to France, Elise faces dangers she did not expect as she searches for Marie and the truth - a truth that will have an outcome she never envisaged.
Thank you, Bill, for sparing time to talk to us today. We wish you continuing success with your books.
Best wishes, Freda
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