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Welcome, Phyllida Scrivens…

Can I offer you a drink? Tea? Wine?

Thanks Suzan.  I’ll take a Rooibos tea with a drop of milk please. However, by the end of this interview I wouldn’t be adverse to a small chilled pinot grigo!

*Hands Phyllida a Rooibos tea*

Can you tell me a little about yourself? (inc if you use a pen name and why)

Certainly.  I live with my husband Victor in Norwich, Norfolk.  I am not a native of Norfolk; in fact I was born in the North-East, but moving here from Surrey in 2005. Although I have always loved to write, including some newspaper columns, short stories and one act plays, it was not until I started working for the Head of Literature at the UEA, that I began to dream of taking the MA in Creative Non-Fiction. This dream became a reality in 2012, leading directly to my first book contract with Pen and Sword Books.

What is the title and genre of your latest book?

This will be my third book and is called The Great Thorpe Railway Disaster 1874: Heroes, Victims, Survivors. It will be published in September. All three books are biographical and based on local figures. The first is the full life story of Joe Stirling, a Kindertransport boy who made an amazing life for himself in Norwich (Escaping Hitler), and the second (The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich 1924-2017) is a group biography, exploring the lives of the seventeen women who have been the Lord Mayor of Norwich. I am proud that this book won the Best Biography prize at the East Anglian Book Awards 2018.  My latest title is a hybrid of historical fact and potted biographies of the 28 people who died in Thorpe St Andrew in a famous Victorian railway collision, individuals who have until now simply appeared in lists of names.

Do you write in first or third person?

Both.  I do enjoy writing fiction, albeit occasionally, latterly achieving some success in competitions organised by the Norwich Writers’ Circle, of which I am a long time member and former Chairman.  These short stories are invariably in the first person, as I love to immerse myself in the main character, really getting inside his or her head.  I also like to read fiction written in the first person. However, with researched non-fiction, and particularly biographies, I write in the third person and usually present the chapters chronologically.  I think it is much easier to follow a person’s life journey if you start at the beginning, although in recent years there seems to be more scope for experimentation in that genre. 

How did you come up with the story?

I firmly believe that factual stories are often more engaging and fascinating than anything that is made up! I am that person on the bus who will wheedle your entire life story from you by the time we reach the terminus!  I love to interview people about their life experiences, also seeking out others who have known the subject, family members, friends, colleagues and the like. And the number of times following a talk to W.I.s, history groups, Probus Clubs etc, that someone will approach me asking if I’ll produce their life story! I explain that a biography can take 3-5 years to research and write up, I would need to be Methuselah to fit them all in!  Stories are everywhere.  As for fiction, again I will start with something or someone I know and take it from there. Sometimes I think it’s my computer that writes the denouements as I rarely have an idea where a fictional story will end!

Are you a planner or pantser?

With non-fiction it really has to be about the planning. I love the research stage, normally falling into the trap of becoming obsessed by the smallest detail and using up far too time and energy on it. Then, much later, having gathered the enormous pile of typed notes, I then have to assemble the enormous jigsaw that is before me.  My well-honed structural plans often fall at the first hurdle though, as I go off in a direction that is only marginally associated with the topic!  

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Don’t stress about finding inspiration, it will find you.  Be observant. Talk to people.  Don’t be afraid to tell them that you are exploring creative writing. Give and you will receive. People love talking about themselves and often it is just one little detail that will spark your imagination. Write everything down in a notebook.  Some of my best paragraphs come to me at 3 am. Unfortunately, I am usually too tired to lift a pen, or too fearful of waking my husband, so invariably the ideas are not recorded immediately. About 50% of them live in my memory until the morning, but I do sometimes wonder how many gems I have lost inside my head over the years! Start with small paragraphs, add more, join them up, and presto, you have a story. Consider your proposed audience and make sure there is something for them to engage with. Above all enjoy the experience… you are creating something unique.

What is your writing routine?

There isn’t one. I am certainly not a morning person, working better after lunch once the chores are complete, often forgoing the evening TV to catch up. When working on a major project I try and complete a certain number of words in a session, but with non-fiction that is very difficult, as I am constantly referring to books, websites and other reference material as I go along. I try and save some time for ‘normal everyday life’, but sometimes my husband does feel somewhat neglected, especially as I approach the dreaded deadline.

Do you have an editing process?

There is a lot of cutting and pasting involved.  During the actual writing I work on a split screen, with the narrative on one side and my specific research notes on the other. Then comes the edits and they say you should ideally take more time over the edit than when writing. I hate losing precious paragraphs, or even chapters, but it has to be done to achieve clarity and fit in with word counts. My husband reads everything I write and has become quite a proficient editor! I have been lucky to have a publisher who assigns a professional editor to me once I have submitted the so called “final draft”. This has been a fascinating experience each of my three editors working differently. It took about 12 drafts and two months to finalise The Great Thorpe Railway Disaster, but there is no doubt it was a better book by the end of the process.  

What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?

As I said before, the research is always revelatory and absorbing. Writing early drafts can be painful, but when a paragraph reads well, I can experience a real buzz. I love it when my head is at its most creative and certainly for this new book, I took the opportunity to experiment with novel techniques to add dialogue and dramatise some of the real-life events. Ultimately it is always brilliant when readers tell me they have enjoyed one of my books or been fascinated by one of my illustrated talks. I will admit to being a bit of an egotist and having my name on the spine of a book has always pushed my buttons!

Where can people find you on the internet?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/phyllida.scrivens (where you will find links to Facebook pages for all 3 books)

Twitter: @escapinghitler

Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?

I have been fortunate to be offered two public events during September when I can share stories from The Great Thorpe Railway Disaster 1874. Firstly, I will speaking as part of the the Heritage Open Days in NorwichDetails and tickets can be found at https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/visiting/event/the-great-thorpe-railway-disaster-of-1874-heroes-victims-survivors

Secondly, the official launch will be at Jarrold, in Norwich, on the early evening of 30th September. Again, information and tickets from https://www.jarrold.co.uk/events-diary/events-list/the-great-thorpe-railway-disaster-1874

All three of my book launches have been at Jarrold, and I can honestly say they count amongst the best days of my life. After all the hard work, hours spent online, in Record Offices, in libraries, and at my desk, it is an amazing feeling to walk to the stage accompanied by warm applause from family, friends and fellow book lovers.  I am not sure if there will be another book (I am 66 now), but maybe the latest book launch experience will change my mind! 

Thanks so much Suzan for inviting me onto your blog.  It was a pleasure talking to you.

You’re welcome and thank you for taking time out to tell us about your fabulous new book.

Your pinot grigio is waiting for you.

If you would like to read about these books and/or purchase a copy …

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phyllida-Scrivens/e/B07BWN8VWF%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Welcome Ann Bowyer…

Ann Bowyer

Can you tell me a little about yourself? (including pen name if you have one)

At an early age, I was writing stories and drawing comics which I published weekly. Before I left school I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I already had the shorthand and typing skills but my parents were set against it. They considered it was an unsuitable occupation for a young lady – that was the 1960’s – oh, how things have changed! So I found myself becoming a secretary, then a Business Studies Teacher, then a freelance software trainer but, of course, motherhood came somewhere in-between all that.

What was the first story you wrote?

Probably something to do with horses – I was horse mad, as many girls are today, though riding them was not on the agenda until we moved further out of London and even then, I had to save up all my pennies as my parents couldn’t afford to pay for lessons.

However, my first novel was completed at 15 and the plot was around – you’ve guessed – horses!

Were you inspired by someone or something?

Very much so, I loved to read about show jumping and gymkhanas and was lucky enough to go to the Horse of Year Show for several years running with my best friend. I read every horsey book and magazine I could lay my hands on and my favourite author was Ruby Ferguson who wrote the Jill books. When I grew more mature I was inspired by Jane Austin, of course, and whenever I am ill, Pride and Prejudice is a comfort read and I’ve always been a Maeve Binchy fan.

What do you like about writing a story?

Plots and research are possibly the things I enjoy most. Creating an interesting plot and seeing characters react has always fascinated me because my characters always surprise me as they go off and do their own thing. But, since I set my novels in the past, research is my favourite occupation and sometimes I have to drag myself away from fascinating avenues of enquiry or the book would never get written.

Can you tell us about your newest book?

My latest book is ‘Lost in a Homeland’ and is a sequel to my first published book ‘A Token of Love – a family saga. Both are fiction but the first book is largely based on my grandparents lives.

Ann Bowyer~Lost in a Homeland

How did you come up with the story?

It was the book I never intended to write! There is a third book which is half written and I had every intention of moving to the next generation in this saga but, following numerous requests, I capitulated and wrote ‘Lost in a Homeland’ in order to fulfil my readers’ desires to know what happened when the family left Canada.

What genre best fits for the book?

Historical, women’s contemporary fiction, romance

Are you working on something new at the moment?

As already mentioned, there is a third book in this series and I have every intention of finishing this as well as, possibly a fourth but I also have several ideas for other books.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

It’s all been said before – read and write as much and as often as you can. Don’t let anyone put you off. You can do it!

Do you in a writing group?

Over the years, I have belonged to several writing groups and found them really, really helpful, supportive and encouraging. My regular writing group folded some time ago but I have been so busy with writing and travel, I haven’t yet joined another. But I will – no one else understands a writer like a writer.

Do you have people who will critique your work? (And if you do, do you acknowledge them in the front of the book?)

Yes to both, though I don’t name them specifically.

What is your writing routine?

That is a very difficult question to answer. I share my study with my husband and, unlike many authors, I do prefer peace and quiet with no interruptions. That can sometimes be difficult but if I have a deadline, after supper is best and I try to get a couple of hours in most evenings.

Do you have an editing process?

Editing does happen a little on the way because I try to write to a place where I know I will be able to pick up the next day – that overcomes what is often called writer’s block. When I begin the next day, I go back to the beginning of the previous scene and may edit it, though most of the editing is left until the end.

What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?

The satisfaction of reaching the end is possibly the most enjoyable part of writing but I love it all so maybe it’s the frustration of not having enough time to write.

How important is it for you to share your writing?

Very. My first novel (which I refer to as faction), as I mentioned, is based on my grandparents’ lives and I wanted to tell it because it seemed to me nobody knew of the horrendous drought conditions British people endured in the Prairies in the 1930’s. Everyone, but everyone has heard of the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ but this is a parallel story. Usually my stories are a comment on the times.

Where can people go to read your work?

My books are available through Amazon :

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ann+bowyer

http://www.amazon.com/Ann-Bowyer/e/B00JCP6H1U/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1435630339&sr=1-2-ent

They are Kindle published also.

Also available at Jarrolds, Norwich as well as Diss Book Publishing in Diss, Norfolk.

Where can people find you on the internet?

My website:  www.annbowyer.com

Facebook:  Ann Bowyer Author

Twitter:  AnnBowyer2

Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?

The research for my first book took ten years and involved travelling extensively across Canada as well as Europe. I now give talks/slides on this, which includes some of the unusual and original documents and photographs which turned up following a family tragedy. Anyone interested in a talk can contact me through my website.

My family history has always fascinated me and when I have completed my present saga, I might well turn my attention to my maternal side – my mother was born in India at the time of the Raj.

To finish, thank you, Suzan, for hosting me.

I have enjoyed it, thank you, Ann.

NB: Ann will be having a Book Release Party on Facebook tomorrow, why not hop over and join in?https://www.facebook.com/events/816556811726199/

Ann Bowyers book covers

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