Twenty-Two Years –

 ...That’s a Lot of Scribbling!

 Yesterday (13thApril) was my 62nd birthday. In the years between 1963 and 1993 I had the dream of becoming a published author. For ten of those years ('83 onward) I’d worked on a novel about King Arthur. This was not the more familiar Knights in Armour, Holy Grail, Lancelot, Guinevere and Merlin type story though, I wanted to write something that was more historically based: the what might have really happened story of Arthur.

Book launch day The Kingmaking
I had a manuscript, laboriously typed out on A4 paper - twenty years ago there were no word processors and computers, or cut and paste, delete or save. I had submitted it, a great hefty wedge of paper, to a London Literary Agent, and was waiting for a response.
“I might have a publisher interested,” the agent said on the telephone, taking a deep drag from her cigarette. “I’ll let you know what happens.”

A few weeks went past. Not a word came. It was Easter, early April, and I went on holiday to the Lake District with her husband, Ron, daughter Kathy (who was then eleven years old), and another family, good friends who had shared the ups and downs of Life in General, and my frustrated attempts at becoming a writer.

While on holiday I celebrated my 40th birthday, and the telephone call that came a few days after returning home proved that the old saying “Life begins at forty” is perfectly true.
The agent telephoned: “I’m pleased to say, dahling, that Heinemann want to offer you a three book deal for your Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy.”

I was bit overwhelming, to be honest. Ever since my early teens I had wanted to be a writer, my friends were continuously assaulted with, “When I write my book” – they must have been so fed up with me! I was always scribbling, writing something; at home instead of watching TV, at work during my tea breaks and lunch hour. I worked as a library assistant then, and I confess, if I found myself alone in the office, out would come my notebook and I would write another few paragraphs instead of getting on with writing out new tickets, processing new books or sending overdue book reminders. It had taken ten years to write what eventually became The Kingmaking. I see Arthur as a warlord, living and ruling in the chaotic time between the going of the Romans and the coming of the English – the Anglo-Saxons. I thoroughly researched the era of post-Roman Britain, discovering how people lived then, how they fought, what they wore, what they ate. So when I heard that Heinemann, now a part of the Random House UK group, wanted my novel I was over the moon. It still feels a bit of a dream come true, even these years later. I can’t believe that I really have written a book – let alone here in 2015 several more novels!

I had never liked the traditional tales of Arthur – the knights in armour Medieval stories as they just didn’t seem real to me. I saw Arthur as a man who had to fight hard to gain his kingdom, and fight even harder to keep it.
I also became frustrated with the portrayals of Guinevere – from simpering maiden to blonde bimbo. As I had never liked the character Lancelot (who has no grounding in history at all, but was invented for the French versions of the older tales of Arthur) I couldn’t see why this silly woman would give up Arthur and her crown for this insipid man! One novel I read had me so frustrated with her that I threw the book across the room. That was it, I wanted to write my version – with Gwenhwyfar as a capable, tough woman who knew how to use a sword when she had to!

Then came the second and third book. I had already written half of what became Pendragon’s Banner when I was accepted for publication. When I submitted the original manuscript to the literary agency I did not realise that there was enough material there for one and a half novels!
So my second book was straightforward to write – but I hit problems with the third, Shadow of the King. This I had to write from scratch and I had a massive downturn of confidence. Who in their right mind would want to read my rubbish? Fortunately the confidence returned….

Then, eventually, came my beloved Sea Witch Voyages. I, along with several thousand ladies, fell for Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the first of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I wanted more of that sort of adventure – high sea escapades with a charming rogue of a handsome hero and touch of fantasy. As an avid reader I searched for something that would give me a “pirate fix”,  but apart from straight nautical novels, mostly set during the Napoleonic wars, or children’s pirate stories, there was nothing. So I wrote my own.

These, I Indie published. It was more necessity than choice. Heinemann dropped me because, as many mid-list authors find, if sales do not continuously do well the big houses lose interest. Add to that my (ex) agent let me down Big Time. I found myself dumped by publisher and agent all within the one phone call. I sobbed for two weeks, pulled myself together and decided to go Indie.

I found a small company and went to them with my Arthurian Trilogy, Harold the King (entitled I am the Chosen King in the US) and Sea Witch, which I had just finished writing. Unfortunately this company turned out to be not all it presented itself as, for it eventually went bankrupt. Looking back, although the staff were lovely and did all they could, the Managing Director was not far short of a crook (few of his authors received their royalties, some never even saw their books.) Plus when I compare the quality of the books that are now produced for me by Assisted Company, SilverWood Books Ltd, I realise just how shabby this previous publisher was. Going indie / self-publishing creates an enormous and very sharp learning curve!

So what’s next?

One day I will do a follow-on for my Saxon Series (Harold/1066) possibly either Duchess Matilda’s story (wife to Duke William) or Hereward (the Wake). Or maybe Alditha, Harold II’s Queen whom he married early in 1066….  I am still involved with the prospective 1066 Movie, I’d like to write a spin-off adventure series connected to my Arthurian Trilogy (the Madoc the Horseman Series) and of course, more Sea Witch Voyages.
Too many ideas, not enough hours to write them!

If I was asked “what would you like now?” there’s two things, one not probable, one possible (with a bit of help)

1.    I would so love to see Sea Witch and my Jesamiah on the TV screen. The Voyages would be SO good as a TV drama/adventure series! (Think Hornblower mixed with Sharpe and Indiana Jones, with a blend of Pirates of the Caribbean and a touch of Poldark!)

2.     To have over 50 genuine, good comments on Amazon for Sea Witch (and all the Voyages!) I’m told that to get noticed (by Amazon or anyone) this magic figure is a “note this book” one. But asking people to leave a comment is not easy = it borders on being pushy, so out of the two I’ll leave you to decide which one is the unlikely and which the possible! LOL (Sea Witch is only about £3 on Kindle…. Big hint…)

Husband Ron, Me, Producer Robin Jacob
So what have I learnt in the (now 22) years since my 40th birthday? That dreams do come true, but you have to go after them with a pretty solid club or a broadsword.  The regrets are that I was too naive and too trusting to not see what was happening around me. I should have realised my ex-agent was not backing me to the hilt as she should have been. I should also have not left the marketing to the publisher. I had none at all for my novel A Hollow Crown – which when published in the USA by Sourcebooks under the title The Forever Queen became an almost instant USA Today bestseller!

But seeing a book for the first time in its printed format (be it the first or tenth or more) is still a thrill,  and the many, many friends and acquaintances I have met because of being an author is fantastic.

Most of them are Internet Friends, the majority I will never meet – but I very, very much value these friendships – even if they are just “virtual”.

Bless you all, and thank you for your on-going support!

If you have read a book and enjoyed it please leave a comment on Amazon (UK, US & Canada) Four or five star comments can help an author by boosting the Amazon Ranking List 
Thank you

Twitter: @HelenHollick

Bless you all, and thank you for your on-going support!

Writing it Down Big

my Tuesday Talk guest, Jane Davis talks about her latest novel 
and the Big Issues of Life - sex and religion

“I don't think that just because one is an inexperienced novelist, one should shy away from the big questions,” Francesca Kay replied, when interviewed. Like my novel, These Fragile Things, her second novel The Translation of the Bones tackles the subjects of miracles and religious fervour. For me, core to these two issues is the human need to have something to believe in. I love Karen Armstrong’s take: “In the beginning, man invented God.” In These Fragile Things, I added sex into the mix. To me, sex and religion are the two big subjects and they have been central to my writing since I first began to explore my voice.
The following excerpt is taken from my unpublished novel, After Hilary. Lucy is discussing conversations with her murdered friend with a Catholic priest. When someone has been brought up to pray, talking to the dead is second nature.

The Stuff of Life

“You need to share your memories, Lucy, to let them out, give them a bit of an airing. And make some room for the living in there.” He pointed to his head. “So what did you talk about, Lucy?”
“Nothing important.”
“Who’s to say what’s not important? Everything has some value. Hhmm?” He left long, uncomfortable silences between sentences. “Will you share your memories with me Lucy?” he coaxed.
“Magazines, fashion…stuff,” I said, risking a glance up. He nodded and smiled and I continued “Boys, sex, religion, footballers’ legs.”
“Well that’s not nothing!” he proclaimed. “I can’t claim to know a lot about fashion, but sex and religion are the two great subjects of life. In fact, they’re the very stuff of life! That’s marvellous! And what do you talk about now, Lucy? What do you tell her about now?”
 “The same stuff, really. How I’m feeling. What annoys me on the news. If I’ve seen a jumper she’d like. It doesn’t stop, you know? There are always loads of things I want to tell her.”

During my lifetime, I have witnessed a seismic shift in subjects that are considered ‘taboo’. Sex has slipped way down the bottom of the list. Though I doubt I understood all of its subtleties, I was disappointed by how tame Lady Chatterley’s Lover seemed when I first read it. In the 50 Shades era we are almost impossible to shock. The F-word, that proved such an inconvenience to the publishers of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, became the title for a primetime television programme. Over the past year or so, we have learned the dangers of tip-toeing around certain subjects. Once they are opened up for discussion, there seems to be no end to what comes out of the woodwork. We have lost whatever remained of our innocence.

Religion - “the preserve of oddities, minorities and foreigners” (Rowan Williams) - remains, and money - having it, hiding it, not voluntarily paying the highest rate of tax possible on it - has made a surprise entry.

To be universal, you must make it personal

The reason why the novel is such an ideal medium for ‘big subjects’ is that it is the only narrative form that transports the reader directly inside characters’ heads, describing their conflicts, emotions and thoughts from the inside. By exploring an issue from the standpoint of one or two individuals, giving it context, providing motive, showing cause and effect, we humanise it.

“You must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this.” Anne Lammott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

I took a big theme for my novel An Unchoreographed Life, which tells the story of how a ballerina turns to prostitution when she becomes a single mother. It was a year in which the number of sex workers increased to a level not seen in London since the eighteenth century, and a year in which we learned how much they were contributing to the economy. Of course, the real issue is how the mother’s job impacts on her daughter, who we get to know at the age of six just as her curiosity is growing.

With An Unknown Woman, I didn’t deliberately choose a ‘big subject’. I began to write what I thought was a simple story about a family placed under the microscope when crisis brings them together. I wanted to tackle the subjects that are relevant to the life I am living now, which has very little bearing on how I imagined it would be when I was a child, or when my father told me, “When you are an adult, you can do exactly as you like.” How material possessions inform our sense of self. The extension of youth into what was previously thought of as middle age. What it’s like to be childless when the majority of friends have children, even when childlessness was a positive choice.

Based very loosely on my elderly neighbour’s personal experience, I also explored the issue of what happens when the bond between mother and daughter is absent. In my neighbour’s case, the women in his wife’s family only had daughters and appeared to be unable to form any sort of bond with them, and so he spent his married life guarding his wife’s secret by being both mother and father. It was only when I sent my manuscript to beta readers that I realised, far from being a ‘small story’, this issue is more common than I could have possibly imagined. But while the subjects of post-natal depression and delayed bonding are discussed, the sense of shame that a mother experiences when she cannot love a child – sometimes a child who was very much wanted – precludes that same openness. Of the subjects that remain unspeakable, Bjork said, “There are certain emotions in your body that not even your best friend can sympathise with, but you will find the right film or the right book, and it will understand you.”

“Write it down big,” Anna used to demand of Fynn in Mister God This is Anna whenever an idea grabbed her. 

That’s certainly what I intend to keep doing.

Author Biography

Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. She spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when Jane achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she had wanted after all. In search of a creative outlet, she turned to writing fiction, but cites the disciplines learnt in the business world as what helps her finish her first 120,000-word novel.
Her first, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’

She was hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch.’

Five self-published novels have followed: 

I Stopped Time
These Fragile Things
A Funeral for an Owl, 
An Unchoreographed Life 
and now her latest release, An Unknown Woman

Jane’s favourite description of fiction is that it is ‘made-up truth.’

Twitter @janedavisauthor

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