Last Word of the Week: Today I am very pleased to welcome Patricia M Osborne, an English author/poet whose novel House of Grace: A Family Saga does for the 1950s-1970s what Poldark does for the late 18th century: presents us an immersive historical world with great characters, love, trials, conflict, tragedy, romance, and the promise of more story to come. (You know, part of me flinches when describing this period as ‘historical’!)
Patricia: Thank you, Clare for inviting me over to chat.
LWOTW: When did you write your first story, Patricia?
I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember but I was around twenty when I sent my first story into a competition. I’d typed it up on my portable typewriter. To be honest, after studying Creative Writing since 2011, I can now see that it wasn’t very good. It had far too much telling and not enough showing.
LWOTW: I think we learn a lot about our craft as we go along, the ‘telling vs showing’ thing especially. What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
I’m all for dreams and see them as a gift: whether it’s a nice dream or a nightmare, it can be used for story purposes. I have a vivid imagination, which is a great tool for a writer. Re planning, I plan to a certain extent but also run with it so see where it takes me.
LWOTW: Interesting. I think I need to do more planning! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
The publication of my debut novel, House of Grace, A Family Saga, in March 2017 just before my birthday but also winning first place in a poetry competition, student category at Brighton and Hove Poetry Festival earlier this year. The icing on the cake was having my prize presented to me by Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. The presentation was worth more to me than the £100 prize.
LWOTW: How amazing! What are you most busy with at the moment?
I’m just finishing off my thesis and a poetry collection for my MA dissertation in creative writing. The research has been fabulous fun as I explore the myth, folklore and legend around trees and express these stories in poetry. I am also working on the sequel to House of Grace, called The Coal Miner’s Son, which can also be read as a stand-alone. I’m hoping to release it later this year in time for Christmas. So watch this space.
LWOTW: We certainly will! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Believe in yourself. Get involved with other writers and offer and receive critique/feedback. Critique helps to make a better writer. And never give up. Sorry, that’s three things.
Three very valuable tips! And the Last Word of The Week:What’s your favourite colour?
Purple is my favourite colour. As a child it was always blue. I love purple and plum and wear these colours a lot as I find they suit me. I had purple as my theme on my wedding day.
Thank you for having me, Clare. It’s been fun answering your questions.
It’s been an absolute pleasure! We must chat again 🙂
Last Word of the Week: Greetings, Elizabeth! Tell us, when did you write your first story?
Elizabeth: When I was young, I never imagined I would write stories. It seemed outside the realm of possibility. I remember writing poems as a child, but unfortunately have no record of them. Luckily, my aunt kept a story I wrote back in primary school, about a girl with magic spectacles. Since I now write fantasy, it is a sweet story I’m glad I still have.
LWOTW: As a fantasy author, what do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
I write best when I am in a rather dreamy head space, almost as if I am once-removed from the work itself, so I guess dreaming is an essential part of my writing life. As for planning, I refused to plan my first book, but have since been won over to the idea that my muse quite likes some sort of guidance. When it comes to imagination, if there was no opportunity for colouring outside the lines I think life would quickly become very dreary.
LWOTW: Good point! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
I love the fact that Esme’s Wish is published and people actually read it and enjoy it enough to want to read the sequel – I’m still pinching myself! Another highlight that comes to mind is receiving Wendy Orr’s commendation for my book cover. A writer friend encouraged me to ask her and to my absolute surprise, Wendy, a wonderful and generous veteran author who has written many award-winning books, agreed.
LWOTW: That’s wonderful! So, what are you most busy with at the moment?
I have finally got back into writing the second book in the Esme series. I’m also working on getting better at photography. Now that I live near the water I am newly inspired. I used to paint and I miss being visually creative, even though I do get to imagine scenes for my books.
LWOTW: I’m glad to hear that Esme #2 is on the way. Now, if you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
I always give the same advice. Write a lot, read widely, seek useful feedback and stay humble. Eventually you might find you have on your hands a publishable story or two!
And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
I’ve just been reading on of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City novels – the first I’ve read, and the last of the series. And there was a TV series too. I know, I’m well behind. But here a a couple of writerly things to note:
POINT ONE:The book I read was Book Eight (Mary Ann in Autumn). While I was aware – vaguely – of this series, I’d never read any of the novels. (I will now.) However, I had absolutely NO trouble following the story, keeping on top of the characters’ relationships with each other, or accepting their back stories, no matter how light the mention. This book stood alone. How did this happen?
I think it’s because the links are there. Maupin’s technique was to introduce a new (to me) character at the end of each chapter, and then pick up that character’s story in the next chapter. The continuity of scene and time/space (ie the realism of the San Francisco of the 2000s) connected every character’s story line to the others. As a writer of fantastical and historical stories, I appreciated Maupin’s mastery here. Complete consistency of time and space is necessary for the story to feel ‘true’. World building is essential, even when writing modern realist novels.
POINT TWO: Life wisdom can jump out of any story line. If a particular life truth happens to gel with the reader’s current or recent life experience, then that reader is hooked into the truth value of the story.
In my case, it was a line about dementia:
“Ray had Alzheimer’s these days … which rendered him foggy but jolly, a nicer person than his former ornery self.”
Now, I’ve read SO much about dementia since my mother was diagnosed with an invasive brain tumour, and nowhere else have I found an echo of the situation that now faces us. Our prickly, argumentative, one-up-woman-who-knows-everything has become sweet and gentle and positive and welcoming. Mum is a whole other story, but that sentence in Maupin’s book was the first time I had felt affirmed in my family experience of dementia.
Truth in fiction. It’s one of the reasons we read, one of the reasons we write.
Something to Say is pleased to welcome Pernille Hughes, whose debut novel has just been released. So exciting. Brand spanking new book!
Photo by I. Hughes
STS: Welcome, Pernille. This must be a thrilling time for you! Tell us something about your project.
My debut novel Sweatpants At Tiffanie’s was published on August 3rd. It’s a Romcom, a second-chance love story, a HEA story, and ‘getting up again when life punches you in the face’ story.
STS: That’s HEA as in Happily Ever After, yes?
It certainly is! Tiffanie Trent gets dumped by boyfriend Gavin on their 10th anniversary. Heartbroken and homeless, Tiff, a bookkeeper at an old-school boxing gym, figures that at least she has her job. But then the owner drops dead, leaving her floundering. When she then inherits the gym, Tiff, not sporty at all, needs to decide if she can take it on, defy the naysayers who say she can’t do it, and bring the club and her life into a better state of play.
STS: And Sweatpants At Tiffanie’s was just released last week on August 3rd. That’s awesome. Is there one aspect of the story that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
As well as sharing Tiff’s reluctance to take part in physical exercise, I relate to her coming to see that she needn’t let others tell her what she is capable of. A teacher once said I couldn’t be a writer and I believed her, abandoning writing for about ten years. When I had my kids I turned back to the words to keep my brain clocking over and saw that actually I get to decide whether I am a writer or not. Tiff gets to examine her life too and understand that she determines what she can do, not others.
Photo by C. Knappe
STS: I’d like to meet that teacher now! What is it that drives you to pursue your creativity, despite that lack of encouragement?
Without wanting to come across as scary, the voices just rattle around in my head and need to come out onto the page. I’ve been making up dialogue since I was little, verbally playing out scenes either in my room, or say, if we were walking on holiday. Additionally I’m conflict shy and so always end up coming away from issues and spending the rest of the day making up what I should have said and wished I’d said. Writing stories is great for getting it out, although it doesn’t make me better at wading into conflicts.
What pushes me to get my writing out there is partially a desire to make others laugh with my words and also to get validation for them (so, I’m ‘giving’ and ‘needy’ at the same time…). Also, as a stay-at-home mum, words and my stories are my marketable commodity.
STS: Many writers have described their processes using analogies – stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I visualise my process as sculpting. First I’ll write what I call a Vomit draft, just splurging words onto the page, only writing forwards and chronologically, not going back to correct anything, even if it means writing ‘something about XX, here’. That feels like choosing the material, like clay or stone.
The next draft will be looking at the ugly lump of words and deciding what the form of it is, what the essence of the piece will be and beginning to shape it. Each draft is then shaping the clay/stone until the sculpture is defined and the final draft will be the polishing. I like to have everything rounded off in my stories, ideally no loose ends, so when I’m asked to make edits, I find it really hard. In this analogy it’s like having to add an arm or something to a contained piece and then having firstly to make it look like it was always supposed to be there in the balanced piece and secondly smoothing the edges so no one can see the joins.
My stories start from an idea and then conversations around that idea come into my head. Until now my Vomit drafts have been extremely loosely plotted, after which I’ve found that when starting the first proper draft, I work best if I have a fully plotted plan and know the arcs of my key characters so that the choices they make from the start are true to their needs.
STS: That’s amazing. I love the name Vomit draft! Thank you for that – I’ll feel better throwing out great chunks of draft one now. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Contemporary, Funny (hopefully), Plotter, Un-ambiguous (I’m not a fan of an ambiguous ending), Distraction-prone (ach, Twitter, you are my downfall…)
STS: Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your news with us today, Pernille, and I look for to a HEA future for your writing!
Maybe that should be ‘dangerous reality’. I’ve just finished reading Holly Black’s excellent fantasy novel The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1). I’ve rated it 5 stars on Goodreads, because I couldn’t put it down. It’s like George RR Martin, Juliet Marillier, and Paula Hawkins got together to write a completely captivating dark thriller set in Faerie.
By the way, I LOVE the cover.
I became totally absorbed by this story, but also increasingly troubled. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m wondering if it’s the reflections of domestic violence that are worrying me? Let’s look at the story line:
Our protagonist Jude is kidnapped and taken to Faerie by a violent redcap general called Madoc. Madoc was married to Jude’s mother – she left him, taking their child. So Madoc murders both Jude’s mother and her new partner (Jude’s father), reclaims his own daughter, and takes Jude and her twin for good measure. The three girls are brought up in the dangerous, deceitful Faerie court.
So that’s problematic – being brought up by the man who killed your parents because your mother was once married to him, and failed to make a complete escape.
Then Jude, as a teenager, is bullied and despised by the Faerie court, in particular the friends of the beatutiful and very cruel Prince Cardan (who rips off a fairy’s wing the first time we meet him, for not a good enough reason). The bullying is vicious and relentless, and Jude is effectively isolated from any help – even her twin Taryn betrays her.
I was hoping against hope that this wouldn’t turn out to be a story where the girl falls for the violent, abusive love interest, who, you know, really loves her underneath it all. However as we discover that Cardan himself has been abused, I’m suspecting that he is being transformed from perpetrator to victim and that they may end up as a pair.