The world of books today is very different from the glitz and glamour of the late 1980s, when publishers on both sides of the Atlantic were famed for throwing big bucks at big books. Sex, shopping and success were the prevailing themes, so it was a huge surprise – to me at least – when my first historical novel, Louisa Elliott, set in 1890s York, was taken up with such enthusiasm and became a bestseller around the world.
News headlines along the lines of, ‘Housewife Writes Bestseller’, were a little embarrassing at the time but certainly attracted attention. I was indeed a wife and mother – an independent one, since my Master Mariner husband spent most of his time at sea.
It’s worth saying that I had written a contemporary novel in my twenties which earned nothing but rejection slips, and it was several years before started again. Meanwhile, I was writing letters almost daily to my absent husband.
Then, home was in West Yorkshire, but my First Trip to Sea made a great impression. While our two children were young, Peter and I took every opportunity to be together, spending many school holidays aboard ship. Living as family with officers and crew, meeting people from foreign ports around the world, was not only enjoyable, it proved invaluable for me as a writer.
Nowadays, long sea voyages are a thing of the past but Peter and I still love to travel. Living close to the Channel ports, we’ve taken to exploring Western Europe by motorhome. Spain: El Rocio to Seville, gives a taste of recent trips and some out of the way places.
People have been kind enough to say that as a novelist I have the ability to move the reader into the past. But I’ve always had a passion for history – and early art training leads me to see historical facts as a skeleton on which to build the flesh of fiction. If the bones are strong enough, the figure – and the story – will stand.
Small details can radically change my perspective. From The Diary (dated 1916) and a set of 19thC census returns, grew two big novels: Louisa Elliott and Liam’s Story. In my blog, Moon Rising 1: Dracula, Bram Stoker and Whitby you’ll see how a newspaper report put me on the trail of the famous author. Another post, Captain Smith – The Dockmaster’s Log Book, describes how an old document dismissed forever the dramatized versions of Captain Smith aboard the Titanic.
My books are all different, but love in its many forms, and the effects of the past upon the present are connecting themes. Set mainly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the novels feature strong, passionate characters and vivid settings. Within their pages, you can experience the First World War and life at sea in both historic and modern times – while travelling to places as diverse as York, Dublin, Whitby, the Middle East and Australia.
I still find myself approaching a new novel as though it’s going to be my last. And after all the glitz and glamour of the early days, I’m now part of the multi-tasking, indie-publishing scene of today.
The beauty of my back-list is that the stories are timeless – hence my decision to reissue them. You may not have worked at sea, but you will identify with the pressures experienced by Captain Smith in The Master’s Tale and his modern-day equivalent in Liam’s Story. You may not have indulged in an illicit affair, but you will recognise the temptations facing Louisa Elliott and the Whitby fisherlass, Damaris Sterne, in Moon Rising.
At the moment I’m working on a new novel set in Yorkshire, a long way from the sea.