Today I am delighted to welcome to the spotlight fellow author from North Wales, the talented Juliet Greenwood … big round of applause please …
Introduce yourself: Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.I’ve always had my nose in a book, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
In my twenties I was in London aiming to live in a garret while writing the most stunning literary tome ever published. I got as far as the garret. I loved living in London and had a wonderful and inspiring time, and somewhere along the line I realised that I needed to live a bit before I could actually write anything that wasn’t pretentious drivel. So I moved to a little village in North Wales, and had a ragtag of different jobs, never quite settling to anything as a proper career. It was when I developed ME after having glandular fever that I realised that there was still only one job I wanted to do, and if I didn’t give it a serious go now I never would. That was about fifteen years ago, which was when my long and rocky road to ditching the pretentions and becoming a real published author began.
Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?
That’s a tricky one. My approach has been to gradually build up my writing CV and experience, so I began with short stories and pocket novels, which don’t need an agent. I was then very lucky to be taken up by Honno Press, who support and develop the writing of women in Wales. Again I didn’t need an agent. This was the right way for me. I think the main thing is to get yourself into the position where you can go through the editorial process. An agent can do that, but it can also be an editor. Being given the chance to work with the brilliant Janet Thomas at Honno was life changing. I’d say that’s were I really learnt to be a writer – but I’d worked for years to get to that point, and all the rejections and criticisms along the way had toughened me up and taught me to be professional towards my writing. I’m not sure I’d have been able to take the process – which for all writers can be eye watering – when I was just starting out.
Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?
My first bit step to becoming a published writer was joining the Romantic Novelists Association’s New Writers’ Scheme. The RNA are a wonderfully supportive group of professional authors and the New Writers’ Scheme gives unpublished writers a chance to have a proper critique by working professional authors. It’s what you don’t get in all those rejections from publishers and agents, and it’s invaluable. The best piece of advice I had was to try and see the story from the reader’s point of view. So simple and obvious – but still so hard to do when you are living the story! I’m still a member of the RNA – only now I do the critiquing to help unpublished writers in my turn. I don’t give my work to anyone to read until it goes to my editor, but I know many people find that process really helpful.
Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?
I was in London, with terrible mobile reception, so it was a fellow writer – and who was the best person to understand just how much this meant and how much work and picking yourself up off the floor this had taken!
What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?
I love working with an editor. Up until then the book is all in my head. It gets thrown out onto the page and I’m living it with my characters. In my experience, it is working with an editor that makes a book come alive. I feel it’s like having a personal trainer who has more belief in you than you do yourself, and pushes you, firmly but with incredible support, to be the very best you can. It’s being stretched, questioned, pummelled, and at times driven to distraction. The book goes back and forth, twiddling and tweaking and perfecting until you hate the very sight of the dratted thing. But that is part of any creative process, and at the same time there is the ultimate buzz when it finally falls into place, and you have a book. Everyone is different, but I know that on my own I would never have been so ambitious or dug so deep emotionally. I wouldn’t have dared. It’s not being able to get away with anything. It’s a huge learning curve that I then take on to my next book. A book is a collaboration with many people to turn your story into a book.
Tell us something about your writing day, routine.
I have a part-time day job, so I need to be very disciplined on my writing days to make the most of them. First I take my dog for a walk. This clears my mind, and is also my thinking time when I work out knotty problems. Then I settle down in front of the computer with a real coffee and work for 4 – 5 hours on my book. It doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like it, or the story won’t come, I just keep on going. After that, I catch up with publicity and social media, and finally get down to some research, or catching up with reading. When I’m finishing a book or when the edits come in, this all goes out of the window and I work all hours, with just breaks to walk the dog and clear my head, and then collapse into a heap afterwards.
What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?
I love the twists and turns of the plots and the rage against injustice in Dickens, the passion and honesty of Charlotte Bronte and the intelligence of George Elliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. Much of the inspiration for my own stories comes from my family history, and also the often-ignored stories of women. We have always worked, been explorers, scientists, artists, rulers, businesswomen and inventors. Yes there were very few. But in reality there were also very few men who had the opportunity or the leisure to pursue a passion.
Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?
I think it’s an addiction. The slightest thing sets me off on an idea for a story, and I get twitchy if I don’t have my ‘fix’ for a day or two. I hope my books are the kinds of books I’ve always loved to read, with a rollercoaster ride of tension and emotion and a touch of the unexpected. And with any woman who faints or does what a man tells her to do, or who doesn’t learn from her mistakes banished to the outer edges of the universe. Real women are human, too.
How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?
I’m just starting the promotion for We That are Left. Because I’m with a small publisher I do as much as I can, but online and in local libraries and bookshops. I enjoy promotion and I love meeting my readers online or face-to-face. Although it is difficult to balance with other commitments – not to mention getting on with the next book! But I enjoyed the thrill of seeing my first book for Honno Eden’s Garden becoming a Kindle bestseller in 2013, and it now being in the running for The People’s Book Prize. We That are Left is the Welsh Books Council’s Book of the Month for March – so I can see I’m going to be very busy for the next few weeks.
Tell us about the latest published book …
My latest book has just been published by Honno Press. We That are Left is set in the First World War, and is the story of Elin, who in 1914 is a conventional middle class wife, living a life of ease in a large Cornish estate. When war breaks out, Elin finds herself taking responsibility for the estate and the people who depend on it. She discovers a new side to herself, including a passion for cooking and creating tasty recipes out of the most unpromising of ingredients. And when a friend is in danger, Elin finds herself on a desperate mission, racing through enemy lines in a beaten-up ambulance to rescue her. After the end of the war, Elin finds herself expected to return to the role of a self-effacing wife – and her own battles for happiness and self-fulfilment have only just begun.
Find out more on Juliet’s website: LINK
Follow her Blog
Buy Eden’s Garden
Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?
Keep on reading, keep on writing. Write what you love, not what you think will sell. Don’t be afraid of emotion and write from the heart. Be prepared for the long haul. One of the best comments I’ve read is that if you started to learn to play the ‘cello you wouldn’t expect to play at the Albert Hall on the Last Night of the Proms the following week. Writing is the same. It takes endless practice and determination and sheer bloody mindedness – and it can take years before you get anywhere. But it’s worth it!
Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it
I created my kitchen myself from vintage (okay, secondhand) furniture, so one of my units is an old washstand with Arts and Crafts style tiles and a marble work surface. Brilliant for rolling pastry!
Extract from We That are Left
August 1st, 1914
It was the day of raspberries and champagne, the day the world changed.
We had another long, hot summer that year and the fruit in the kitchen garden had ripened early. By the first of August, Cook had already made jams and preserves for the winter and delicious ice cream with the last of the ice. So that day, Hugo’s birthday, the only fresh raspberries were the small wild ones along the edges of the flat meadow above the house. When Cook muttered she had no girl spare to collect them, I jumped at the chance to leave supervising the flowers and the meticulous laying of the table in the capable hands of Mrs Pelham, the Housekeeper, and escape with my cousin Alice out onto the cliffs.
It was Alice who first heard the staccato of an engine high above. ‘Look!’ She pointed to a bi-plane coming over the sea. ‘Lucky pilot.’ She sighed. ‘Can you imagine the freedom? He must be able to see to France from there.’
I paused, hands filled with raspberries. ‘How does it stay up?’
‘I couldn’t even begin to guess. But they say people are already attempting to fly around the world. Can you imagine? The whole world.’
The hum of the engine grew louder every minute.
‘I wonder where it’s going.’
‘London, maybe. The aristocracy are said to see them as toys to show off to each other. Even more than automobiles. It must be so thrilling.’
‘And terrifying.’ I shuddered. Hugo had acquired first a stately Rover, then a large and gleaming Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, both of which he drove often. Despite my husband’s frequent assurances that he would never go near the Silver Ghost’s potential top speed of twenty-four miles an hour while I was with him, I still found it unnerving being hurtled through the countryside in such a cumbersome machine.
The bi-plane was now almost directly above our heads, soaring against the clear blue sky. It was a miracle. A new world, about which I knew nothing.
And then, as we watched, the engine stuttered. It coughed and spluttered, then started up again. I began to breathe.
Too soon. This time the engine cut out completely. The wings angled, this way and that, as if attempting to find a level, as it drifted crazily out of the sky towards us.
Alice grasped my shoulders, pulling me beneath the nearest tree. ‘It’s going to crash!’
It was coming down fast. All we could do was watch. The engine coughed, again and again, like a creature gasping for air. At the last minute it came back to life. The bi-plane rose, soaring above the house and gardens and back out over the sea.
‘That was terrifying!’ My cousin’s cheeks were flushed. She sounded more exhilarated than alarmed. ‘Look, he’s coming round again.’
The bi-plane had banked and was making a more controlled descent to the meadow. ‘There must be some fault. He’s going to land.’
We watched as the craft came in low, bouncing over the rough grass before swerving around and staggering to a stop.
‘Oh my goodness!’ Alice grabbed my hand, pulling me hurtling down the bank. ‘Come on, Elin. He might be injured. We might have to pull him free before flames engulf everything.’
By the time we reached the crash, half a dozen servants were rushing from the Hall. Despite Alice’s fears, the pilot swung down from the cockpit and jumped to the floor. He seemed unconcerned about any danger, too busy inspecting the undercarriage for damage.
‘Are you hurt?’ demanded Alice, breathlessly.
‘Not in the least.’
Alice and I stared at each other.
The pilot pulled off goggles and a fur cap, revealing curling fair hair and a deeply tanned face. ‘Although I’m not sure this thing is going to get any further without help. I might have to impose on you and beg a bed for the night,’ she added with a grin.
‘Of course,’ I said. A woman who flew over the sea, all on her own. The wild child in me – the one that had once regularly escaped my governess’ lessons on decorum for the rows of beans and the tangle of grape vines, drunk on the vivid scent of blackberries and the green sweetness of peapods, the one I tried so hard to put behind me now – was bewitched. ‘You must be our guest. I’ll ask Cook to add an extra place for dinner.’
My husband, who hated any change to his plans, would be cross. I took another glance at the pilot. She was young, only a few years older than me, twenty-five at the most, and possessed a self-assurance and a striking beauty I could only dream of. Perhaps Hugo would not be so cross.
‘Thank you. I’m afraid the best I can offer you in return is good French brandy. If the bottle is still intact.’ She climbed up and half disappeared into the cockpit, emerging with a brandy bottle and a wicker basket. ‘Here,’ she said, dropping the basket at my feet. ‘French cheese and a loaf. All the way from Paris this morning.’
‘Paris?’ She must be joking.
She handed down the brandy and reached back inside. ‘Aha. I knew I had some wine left somewhere.’ She brought out a bottle and dusted it down on her flying jacket. ‘No point in leaving it in here. It was a dreadful nuisance rolling around at my feet. Nowhere to put bottles, you see. That’s something I must work out for next time.’
She jumped down once more. ‘Margaret Northholme,’ she announced, holding out her hand.
I shook it a little tentatively. ‘Elin Helstone. And this is my cousin, Alice Griffiths.’
‘Lady Margaret Northholme?’ I’d never heard such hero worship in my cousin’s voice.
Lady Margaret grinned, slightly mischievous, slightly peeved. ‘You read the papers, then.’
‘Oh yes.’ Alice turned to me. ‘Lady Margaret is famed for her exploits. She bet recently that she could fly the channel.’
Lady Margaret laughed. ‘I not only flew the channel, but on to Paris and back again.’ She looked a little rueful. ‘I was intending to make it to London tonight, but my navigation must be a little out. There is supposed to be a reception party waiting for me somewhere, so I could refuel. I must have mistaken the coastline. Plan was to follow the cliffs and glide my way. I should have had enough fuel with the help of the updrafts to get to Portsmouth. I don’t suppose you have a telephone?’
‘There’s one in the house,’ I said. ‘And you’ll be more than welcome to stay the night, if your machine can’t be fixed before morning. We always have a guest room made up.’
‘Thank you. I’ll telephone my cousin Owen, and he can tell the others there’s been a change of plan.’ She strung a small canvas knapsack over her back and picked up the wicker basket. ‘I won’t suggest they all come haring down here this evening. Besides, I’m tired. I could hardly keep my eyes open with nothing but sea beneath me. And that engine needs a good checking over. Sounded a bit more than just a lack of fuel.’ She smiled. ‘I’ve no real desire to spend a night in a field between here and Richmond Hill, surrounded by cows. So thank you, Mrs Helstone, I shall impose on you. I’ve won my bet: tomorrow will be soon enough to return home.’ She came to a halt, biting her lip. ‘I mean, you don’t mind, do you? Owen is right, I’m terribly rude and I only ever think of my own convenience.’
‘Not at all,’ I replied, smiling at this childlike openness beneath her veneer of sophistication.
Lady Margaret beamed. ‘Oh, I’m so glad.’ She eyed me with a slightly unnerving frankness. ‘Most people are terribly shocked when they first meet me, but you weren’t. I’m glad I landed here. I can see we are going to be the most tremendous friends.’ Her eyes were twinkling once more. ‘And I expect I shall drag you into all sorts of trouble. I can’t help myself.’
I found myself smiling.
© Juliet Greenwood, Honno, 2014. Reproduced with kind persmission of the author. Can not be reproduced without permission.
Thanks so much Juliet for being a guest today, your novel is sitting on my kindle to be read next! Iwish you all the best with this and thanks for sharing — I hope some of my followers will hop over and order this book!
Tomorrow I have the talented Jane Isaac in my Spotlight on Crime Series!