Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was a child of the 50´s; born and bred in Leeds in England´s industrial West Yorkshire. Years later, I realised I lived in a slum for the first 16 years of my life; traditional "back to back, 2 up 2 down" terraces (don´t know what one of those is? If you´re aged under 60, I don´t imagine you will. A "back to back" was, literally, 2 terraces of houses built together, so the back wall of one was also the back wall of another. And 2 up 2 down? Literally 1 room downstairs, that doubled as living room and dining room, together with a kitchen, and 2 bedrooms upstairs.). No bathroom. No indoor toilet (that was down the street away, and take your own toilet paper). No hot water. A Saturday bath was in a portable tin bath on the kitchen floor, filled from the copper. A real treat was a visit to the local swimming baths, which also had private cubicles with a real bath in them. With hot water!
Why didn´t I know I lived in a slum? Because we all did, of course, We were all poor, so it didn´t matter. When I was 16, we moved to a council house. With a bathroom. Hot water! And indoor toilet! Paradise! And how did all this influence how I write? Simple. My father died when I was 8. My mother got a widow´s pension of 10 shillings (fifty new pence) a week, to support both of us. She also had 3 jobs; literally, day, evening and week-ends. So I spent much of my time out of school in the safety of our local library, and I learned to love books. The sight of them. The smell of them. And - of course - the words they contained. They were my first love, and will be my last. I read and read and read. Anything. And the determination grew that one day I would also be a demi-god who would put words on the page, and give enjoyment to somebody else who, like me, had nothing else in their lives but words. And now I have. Am I not lucky?
What's the story behind your latest book?
"Romancing the Rose" is a bio-fiction of the life of Berengaria of Navarre, Queen of England. Never heard of her? You’re not alone – nobody has. And yet she is one of the most superlative queens ever to reign over England. Her life reads like an extraordinary Hollywood tour-de-force; amazing, adventurous, tragic, courageous and – above all – the true story of one extraordinary woman’s triumph over all the adversities life could throw at her. Add to that the fact that she is the only English Queen never to have set foot on English soil and you have what I hope is an irresistible read.
I first became intrigued by Berengaria on a holiday to Cyprus. The awe inspiring Venetian fort in Paphos harbour has a small, simple brass plaque which says that this was the place where Berengaria of Navarre married King Richard 1st of England in 1191. I was fascinated – of course, I had heard of Richard the Lionheart, but who on earth was this Berengaria? And why would an English king marry a Spanish princess in Cyprus? The more I dug for information, the more I began to feel that here was a story that should be told, that Berengaria had been neglected for far too long – 800 years to be precise! Strangely, I soon found out that even my initial scrap of information was wrong – Richard and Berengaria were actually married in Limassol, but who could blame Paphos for trying to snatch a little glory! And I am grateful to Paphos – without that plaque, I would never have heard of Berengaria.
Berengaria of Navarre. Princess of Spain. Queen of England. Wife of Richard the Lionheart, the greatest king in the whole of Christendom. The only English queen never to set foot on English soil.
Snatched from a certain future in a convent, when a grotesque twist of fate deprived Richard of the woman he should have married.
Married to the man she had worshipped for years. The King that everyone knew was the most respected warrior in Christendom; the greatest scholar; the courtliest lover. Berengaria´s future happiness should have been certain. And yet ... shipwrecked and taken prisoner on her way to her own wedding; escaped the Holy Land only hours before it fell to Saladin the Magnificent. Saw her beloved sister-in-law die in her arms. Betrayed by her own husband, her lover, her friend. Overshadowed by her mother-in-law, the great matriarch Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Married to the perfect gentle knight; the legend that turned out to be a monster; a monster who broke her heart, but never her spirit.
Doomed to a life of obscurity and poverty by her own brother-in-law King John after Richard´s dishonorable death.
And in spite of everything that fate could throw at her, Berengaria was an icon of her age. The bravest, most tragic queen that England has never known.
Her story is magnificent, tragic, moving. It is a story that echoes down the 800 years since her death, and is as heart-breaking now as it was then. It is a story of a remarkable woman, who lived in remarkable times. A story that deserves to be told.
Remember Queen Berengaria, for she deserves to be remembered.
The Costa Blanca News has described “Romancing the Rose” as "The English Royal Family´s best kept secret ... gripping".
I hope (assuming I have tackled the formatting correctly! I´ve used Word for years, for multi-million pound contracts that were expected to stand the test of time, and only now do I find that I have never got to grips with formatting properly. Doh!) that "Romancing the Rose" will be available on Smashwords in early October.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
This must be the easiest question to ask any author! The words build up in your mind, and nag, nag, nag. Eventually, you give up and sit at your keyboard and start typing, and those words are so, so grateful to make it into the light and on to the page! And when you have written your thousand or two thousand or however many words your target is, it is such a satisfaction to sit back and think.... "That´s mine. Nobody else has ever combined those words like that, ever." I have created that!
What do your fans mean to you?
Everything. Dr. Johnson gave it as his opinion that only a fool ever wrote for anything but money, but he was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Why write at all if nobody is going to read it? And the thought that your words may give pleasure, even joy, to somebody else is what makes it all worthwhile.
What are you working on next?
Ah. Something very personal. Something that is part of me, part of my memories.
My mother died some 10 years ago. She was born in 1910, and lived through 2 World Wars. She was abused as a child, and wandered through a life as varied and challenging as anything any novelist could invent. I want to take the frame of her memories, the context she lived her life, and use it to hang a novel upon. It will not be a biography, but it will be in honour of her life and times.
Who are your favorite authors?
Silly question. Depends on the time of day, how I feel, what the weather´s like ...
OK. To list a few! Terry Pratchett. Peter Lovesey. MC Beaton. John Connolly. Bill Bryson. PD James. James Lee Burke. Graham Masterton. Rebecca Tope. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I am the luckiest of women! I took early retirement from the wonderful British Library 9 years ago (Yes! I know, it was difficult to drag myself away, but look what I exchanged it for!) and we moved shortly afterwards to Spain´s glorious Costa Blanca. Our climate means I can spend most of my life outdoor, walking our dog, pottering in the garden, and - when it gets really too hot to stir far - alternating between swimming in the pool and sitting under a parasol - naturally, with a good book!
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I already have an overflowing book shelf of print authors, so the obvious route is to check out if they have written anything new. But I am one of those sad people who can - literally - sit and read a dictionary for pleasure, so I check out one author, and then read the recommendations on their page. And then the next author´s page .... pure pleasure!
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I suppose the answer is that it must have been something I wrote for English lessons, as school. The teacher gave us all a photograph, a different one each, and asked us to write a story around it. I can remember being deeply, deeply embarrased when Mrs. Hugo was so impressed with my effort that she read it out to the rest of the class.
What is your writing process?
I sit in front of a keyboard and type. Simple as that. I don´t review anything until it´s completely finished, and then I am often surprised by what I am reading. Did I write that? I don´t remember writing that! Makes for a mammoth reviewing session, but that´s the way I work and I enjoy it.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
No, not a specificstory. I can´t remember a time when I couldn´t read, nor when reading gave me one of the greatest pleasures in my life. And don´t ask what my favourite book or story is; I haven´t got one. As long as it´s well written and keeps my interest, then I will read it no matter what the genre.
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