To picture my activities this month, you must imagine a woman hunched over a laptop, fingers tapping away, never looking up except for an occasional vague stare while a hand gropes for a few more yoghurt-covered raisins.
Gradually research books and sheaves of notes pile up around her, enclosing her in an impenetrable hedge, like some weird prisoner in a fairy story. Will she ever break out? Is she doomed for ever to stare at the dull glow of a computer screen?
With one bound she is free! Well, almost. Within the next two days she will have completed the novel (still untitled) which runs to over 100,000 words. And this is the second novel of this length written during the last four months.
The next picture will be of the author laid out flat with a cold compress on her forehead.
Why all this frenetic activity? All will be explained at a later date. At the moment, my August can have little interest, because once our lovely family visit was over at the beginning of the month, I have truly been immobilised over my computer.
Therefore it seemed like an ideal opportunity to introduce a writer friend. Prue Battenand I met over the internet in 2013. One of the wonders of the internet, as we could never have met any other way, since I live in Scotland and she lives in Tasmania. If you were to draw a line through the centre of the globe, we would just about be at opposite ends – different hemispheres both vertically and horizontally. While she is busy now with spring lambing, I am about to start autumn preserving. When she is going to bed, I am getting up, and vice versa.
Prue started by writing historical fantasy, but has now moved into straight historical fiction, where she has found her true home. You can read all about her books on her website and blog http://pruebatten.wordpress.com She frequently interviews other writers in her Big Red Chair, so this month I asked if I could borrow it and invite her to sit in it herself, so here she is:
PRUE BATTEN SITS IN THE BIG RED CHAIR
Question 1: What do you do?
The easy answer is to say I’m a writer. Or perhaps that I’m an entertainer.
The more detailed answer is that I try to convey the thoughts and actions of people that I would like to know, set in a credible timeframe that is of interest to me.
Simply? I’m a storyteller – that’s my mission!
Question 2: Who do you do it for?
I do it for people who love the medieval era. Who want to read about ordinary people within a world dominated by kings, factions and the church. Who want to read about love.
I don’t care if my readers are 18 or 80, I want them to feel entertained, educated and safe as they read my novels.
Question 3: Why are you different?
Tough, tough question.
I might be different to the mainstream hist.fict/hist.romance writer because I write cinemagraphically. I want my readers to use every one of their senses as they read. If I achieve that, I’m happy. What I don’t want is to overload them with fact that they can read in any non-fiction title on the Middle Ages. If they experience what my characters experience through their senses, then they will appreciate the medieval lifestyle far more than if just dumped upon with fact from a great height.
One of my delights as an individual, is living in the moment when I experience something. I ask myself what sense is being appealed to – is it touch, smell, sight, sound – and I note the feeling. I also draw on as many emotive experiences of my own as I can and relay those to the reader through the characters. THAT is what will make them believe in the story and to believe in my characters.
Question 4: Where are you going?
Another tough question. Does it seem patronizing to say I am happy with where I am?
I have readers. How could I not be happy? And the books review well, another great thing in my life as a writer.
But looking at the question more deeply, I would have to say that I’m leaving the fantasy worlds I’ve written about in the past behind me, despite that I’ve won awards with them. I’m only interested in writing historical fiction/historical romance within the 1100’s-1500’s. It chimes repeatedly – calling me like a medieval church bell. I’ve almost finished a three book saga based in the twelfth century and have ideas for two more books – one in the twelfth century, one in the fifteenth century. The inimitable Juliet Marillier talked once about writing novel spin-offs using a minor character that one likes and spinning a tale about that (now major) character. I ADORE that idea because I love my minor characters – what incredible lives they lead! I want them to spring from the page…
But my main interest above and beyond, is to write quality stories that my readers feel is time and money well-invested. That then makes me feel I’m achieving my goal of wanting to be a storyteller.
Question 5: Why independent?
My books are niche. So prior to 2008 when I ventured into independent publishing, they were shopped from agent to publisher with obvious and if I may say incomprehensible fear that they may be too niche. So I thought laterally and took them to the market myself. Since then I haven’t looked back, having built a comfortable readership and having earned awards for my work. I see favourite independents earning kudos, money, foreign rights and selling books for TV shows, all under their own steam. We all must be doing the tiniest little bit right, no?
Question 6: Do you have another life?
Most assuredly. I farm sheep with my husband. A demanding job as the seasons call the shots. I garden with over an acre of joy around me.
I have two Jack Russell terriers who govern me and we have a tiny cottage by the sea which is my soul home and where I am happiest. I spend a lot of time on and in the water and at some point in a long past series of lives I figure I may have been a mermaid…
I also embroider and as Ann frequently has pics of her work, I offer a small sample.
Question 7: Reading?
I’ve just finished a favourite author’s work for the umpteenth time – a woman who was a friend of Ann’s and who despite her passing, continues to inspire me daily with her work. I speak of the late Dorothy Dunnett and the book is Niccolo Rising, Book One in the House of Niccolo series. I love the density, the colour and the atmosphere of her books. Her characters are as real as anyone who might sit next to me and above all, I love her lack of fear in writing. The incomparable twists and turns she takes, the way she literally flays her characters to take the narrative further – it is the stuff of magic.
I have also just begun SJA Turney’s The Priest’s Tale, Book Two of The Ottoman Cycle. Book One, The Thief’s Tale, was so fresh, so exhilarating and such a journey through Ottoman Istanbul, that I have been impatiently waiting for this next. I am not disappointed.
I have also just finished reading Kay Staniland’s Embroiderers from The Medieval Craftsman series as I try and piece together the background of a female embroiderer from the end of the twelfth century. An extremely difficult task.
That’s me in a nutshell, Ann. This month anyway. Life is ever-changing…
Thank you so much for inviting me to your beautiful newsletter and best of luck with your writing. I am, as you know, a great fan.
As you can see, Prue is a woman of many talents. The Kindle links for the first two books of her current trilogy are:
Gisborne: Book of Pawns in the UK http://amzn.to/LrzO8l
Gisborne: Book of Pawns in the US http://amzn.to/JFLNh8
Gisborne: Book of Knights in the UK http://amzn.to/13F2im9
Gisborne: Book of Knights in the US http://amzn.to/1awRZ9Z
Both are also available in other ebook formats: Kobo, Nook and i-Book.
For those who prefer a physical book, Book of Pawns is also available as a very attractively produced paperback.
Thank you, Prue, for a fascinating insight into how and why you write. One of the things which drew us together is a wide range of shared interests. However, I don’t think I could deliver a lamb!
By next month, I hope I’ll have emerged from writing purdah and be able to share further details with everyone, so
Until next time,