Hi, folks! It’s time for another author interview. Today, we take a few minutes to chat to Carol McGrath, the author of The Betrothed Sister. Be sure to check out Carol’s books on Amazon or to read on to find out what we talked about.
Hi, Carol! Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work.
Hi! First of all Dane, thank you for the interview. Authors love to talk about their work. I am no exception. I live in Oxfordshire, in a leafy and very active village, and where once upon a life I taught history in high school. I came out of teaching to take an MA in Creative Writing at The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University, Belfast. I took a PhD programme at Royal Holloway but entered at MPhil. My thesis was a 36k tome on ‘Tempering Realism with Romance in Historical Fiction’ (it was a fabulous investigative experience which tightened my writing) and I also wrote my first published novel, The Handfasted Wife. Both novel and thesis were well received by my viva examiners, Fay Weldon and Francis Spufford.
The novel was accepted for publication before I took the viva and then, after that, I was too busy writing the sequels to revisit the PhD. I enjoy reading and reviewing for The Historical Novel Society. I organised their Oxford Conference last year. We had over 400 delegates including authors and industry speakers. I also speak at conferences, especially HNS and at The Romantic Novelists’ Conferences. I have spoken on Medieval women, writing in general and my published novels, at museum events and literary festivals. It takes me a year and often longer to write a novel. Much of my writing happens in the Greek Mani where we permanently rent a second home. I research in The Bodleian Library Oxford, which must be the best library ever in which to work. It is not only comprehensive but inspiring and atmospheric, a superb place to become steeped in the past. At last I am doing what I love to do – writing historical novels – and I’m busier than ever. I’ve just finished working on a Tudor novel called The Woman in the Shadows, to be published on 4th August, and have begun writing a new book.
Which gives you more satisfaction – to write a first draft, or to finish the last round of editing?
Both. I love writing the first draft but I think the satisfaction that comes with the final editing is best of all. The Woman in the Shadows has had a fabulous editor. There are about three edits before I work with my editor and then we work on a further three edits so you can see why I love the first draft and the final one. In between is more demanding as that generally involves structure additions or subtractions, but it’s satisfying, too, as the book gets better and better. I really value redrafting with an editor.
What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
Ideas come from varying sources. I like writing about women in history, especially those that are concealed within the shadows of the past. The Daughters of Hastings trilogy was inspired by looking at The Waltham Chronicle in the Bodleian for a radio play about the death of King Harold. I had taken the Oxford Diploma in Creative Writing part time a decade ago and this was part of my final submission on that excellent two year course. I found snippets about Edith Swan-Neck in that Chronicle and her story cried out to me. Chronicles can be beautifully written and poetic. I love seeing the Latin as well as the translation.
I got the idea for The Woman in the Shadows from my fascination for Thomas Cromwell and I wondered what it would have been like to be his wife. Someone in the industry suggested I write the novel. I loved writing this book. It began a huge research quest and the more I delved the more I was interested in writing about the London merchant class, the city and a Tudor woman married to an aspiring man who became one of the most famous Tudors. I think writers should follow their interests but importantly write a protagonist whose journey the reader hopes to follow with enthusiasm. I hope I succeed in this mission. I think there are fabulous inspiration sources for the writer available from art, objects in museums and living history as well as TV documentaries. Another unusual inspiration can be gravestones. I wrote a short story after visiting the graveyard on Cemetery Island in the Venetian Lagoon. It was called The Stones of Venice. I found a character’s name there and invented her story.
Pick a random piece of writing that you worked on ages ago and that never saw the light of day. Now tell us about it!
I have two bottom drawer novels so I shall pick the second. It is called ‘Looking for Mr Karpass’ and this novel was inspired by my mother’s wartime romance with an American surgeon who was billeted in Ireland at her uncle’s huge house. This house was taken over for the Americans in the autumn of 1942. I have pictures of Victor Karpass but, sadly, he went down with his ship when it was torpedoed off the coast of North Africa. His parents visited my mother after the war ended. Then she met my father and they sent her a telegram on her wedding day. I based the story on a daughter’s quest to find Mr Karpass as I allowed him to live and simply vanish leaving a few clues. Lizzy, who is a journalist, investigates what happened to Mr Karpass when she gets posted to San Francisco. I want to rework the story one day as it is almost right but not quite there.
Do you have a writing routine? If so, can you tell us about it?
My best writing time is in the morning and I do try to write most days. However, I also travel a lot in the Far East too. All the time, I keep notes because there may be new ideas for stories and articles. Of late, I have been too busy editing and researching to update my blog but all that needs serious attention. I try not to write too much at a time, maybe 800 words or so, and I always review the previous day’s writing before I begin the next day. Some days are planning days. I often write long hand and transfer this into Word later. I find it works better for me this way. I enjoy honing a sentence.
What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?
I have just read Sharon Penman’s wonderful novel Falls the Shadow, which was filled with enticing characterisation and narrative. I am now writing the first book in a new trilogy, The Rose Trilogy, titled The Silken Rose. It’s mostly about Eleanor of Provence who was married to Henry III and who was England’s most hated consort, a ‘she-wolf’ – or was she? Penman’s novel has inspired me to give serious attention to the King’s sister Eleanor (Ella in my story) as well as the Queen. Ella is a wonderful historical personage and was married to Simon de Montfort. Sharon Penman is seriously worth reading if you like well-researched historical fiction. Whilst reading Falls the Shadow, I was absolutely living in her thirteenth century world with all its colour, pageantry, personalities and conflict.
Who are some of your favourite unsigned and indie authors?
Oh dear. I have read a number of indie authors and I often don’t know that those I read are indie. I have enjoyed Anna Belfrage’s novels very much. I liked her series set in the seventeenth century, in colonial America. I think Fair Weather by Barbara Gaskill Denville, set in medieval England, is very good, dark and thrilling, but it could have been tighter perhaps. I really liked the story in Fair Weather. I included indie as well as traditionally published writers in The Historical Novel Society Conference last year. We had Andrea Zuvich, Deborah Swift who does both and is a superb writer, Alison Morton, and Helen Hollick.
What’s the best bit of writing advice that you’ve ever received?
I was told by Joe O’Connor of Star of the Sea fame once: “Know the ending or have an ending before beginning a new story even if you change it.” He often works eleven drafts, so his advice on redrafting is also important. “It is only the beginning when you finish writing a first draft.” But that first draft is important. Keep at it and finish it. Another piece of writing advice I like is that if you want to be agented do not give up. Ignore rejection. Send out in lots of a half dozen but get the manuscript as good as you can make it. Do not send out before you think the book is ready and have beta readers read it before you do. If advice is given, do consider it. Attend one-to-ones with agents at conferences. Do not expect representation but value the contact and advice.
What’s it like working with Accent Press? Tell us a little bit about your journey together.
It has been a positive experience to date. Accent has had many staff changes. This said, the staff are committed and go on to bigger things after their time at Accent. I like their friendly accessibility. Problems get sorted as a rule. My last editor, Greg Rees, was fabulous. I have seen changes since 2012 but I have to say that the current staff is very diligent. The books they publish are beautifully presented and the marketing is enthusiastic. The current publicist will go the extra mile for us. I never actually submitted to Accent for publication but one of their editors was associated with the RNA and knew my writing when I was on the RNA new writer’s scheme. She recruited me after reading a blog article I wrote about King Harold’s Daughter and decided to write two sequels for The Handfasted Wife.
How do you get the word out about your work?
Twitter, a Facebook author page and my own website all help to publicise my novels. I also generally engage as a person on social media. I attend and speak at literary festivals and remember to support other authors. I am very involved with the Historical Novel Society and the RNA. Both publicise new novels. The RNA is very supportive of new writers as well. Get the book listed in The Bookseller too. That listing is invaluable. Radio interviews are gold dust. Writing articles and interviews help maintain a profile. I don’t always throw a book launch party but there will be a launch on 4th August at Oxford’s Waterstones for The Woman in the Shadows. I also believe writing factual historical pieces for my blog www.scribbling-inthemargins.blogspot to support the books is really a positive way to draw attention to the novels. After all, that was how Accent Press and I came together.
Thanks again to Carol McGrath for stopping by. Be sure to check out some of her books on Amazon and feel free to follow her on Facebook and Twitter for more. You can also follow SocialBookshelves.com on Facebook and Twitter for more book stuff. I’ll see you soon!