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Update #2 – Rebecca Bryn

Rebecca was the second Indie Author to feature in my “A Date With . . .” series during 2018 (the original interview is here). I recently asked her for an update on her career and her hobbies. This is what she said:

“Once again this year, royalties from sales and page reads of Touching the Wire for the whole of January, will be donated to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’d love some more sales, but this year, sales of it seem a bit slow although I am getting page reads via Kindle Unlimited, all of which count towards the donation.

My books are being read, and that is the important thing. I feel as if I’m making a little headway.

Last year, I published The Dandelion Clock, and it’s had some amazing reviews*. (The ending made me cry, by the way) Sales are steady , and I’m embarking on Amazon ads in the hope of spreading my words to a larger audience – I watched a webinar this afternoon about Google and Amazon keywords and categories – interesting stuff if I can put it into practice, but promotion is a tricky business and very time consuming when I’d rather be writing. I suppose it’s part of the price to pay for deciding to be an Independent author.

My WIP, Kindred and Affinity, is inspired by another branch of my errant forebears. This time, it’s my father’s side of the family that’s under scrutiny and comes up not so squeaky clean. My paternal grandfather was a Methodist and signed the pledge, mainly because his father was an alcoholic who beat his wife, got drunk, and fell off a roof. (He was a builder) My paternal grandmother’s father married sisters at a time when it was against the rules of kindred and affinity in the book of Common Prayer, hence the book title. He married his dead wife’s sister in 1891, and it wasn’t legal until 1907 so it must have been done in secret somehow. There had to be a story there, didn’t there? It’s taken me a while to tease it out, and I’ve discovered a lot about a woman I only knew as Auntie Annie, who died aged ninety when I was about seven. If I’d known I was going to write her story, I’d have asked her what it was… But you’ll have to read Kindred and Affinity to find out more. I’m 66,000 words into it and hope to publish it later this year.

This story is the first time that I’ve had no idea of the beginning or the end, but only a part of the middle – usually I have a beginning and an end and no idea what will happen in between. My books are somewhat seat of the pants writing style as dictated by the stupid decisions my characters make. I have various projects in mind to follow next year, but I’m not sure which one I’ll choose. They’re all contemporary fiction – mainly mystery, which will make a change from writing historical fiction. I have the titles and the covers for inspiration, but so far the stories are no more than a vague idea in the back of my mind.

Last year, I revisited all my published titles and edited them. You know the sort of thing – moved a few commas, cut out repetition, tightened the writing a bit. It took several months but was worth doing, and I enjoyed reconnecting with my characters. I had On Different Shores professionally edited and learnt a lot in the process – money well spent – hence my subsequent self-editing spree. I also brought out a box set of For Their Country’s Good trilogy which is selling steadily. Haven’t I been busy?

So busy, my painting has suffered a bit. I’m still painting and exhibiting in St Davids. We have two exhibitions a year at Easter and the beginning of August and sell a lot of work. I enjoy it, even though I don’t do as much as I’d like, and I’ve made good friends. It isn’t such a solitary occupation as writing, where my friends are mainly ‘virtual’ but good friends none-the-less.

Rebecca’s beautifull Pembrokeshire garden showing the new planting

In between painting and writing, I’ve replanted the new garden after spraying the whole area with weed killer to get rid of brambles – 24 one-ton bags went to the tip before we sprayed. I had to wait a year before I could re-plant, so I’m looking forward to some colour this summer. And we’ve put in a new fireplace and new curtains. And when I’m really bored, I mean desperately mind-numbingly bored, (edit out those adverbs) I do some housework!

Anything else? I’m hoping to look into the production of audio books this year. It is something I’d like to do as my mother and mother-in-law both lost their sight in later years and relied on talking books. Other than that, I’m a year older, a year stiffer, and hopefully, a year wiser and a better writer. Life is one huge learning curve, and I’m still climbing it.”

*You can read my review of The Dandelion Clock here, and find all Rebecca’s books on her website.

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A Date With . . . Cathy M Donnelly

My ‘date’ this time is with a Scottish writer who has lived for more than a quarter century in Australia. Cathy Donnelly lives in Frankston on the Mornington Peninsula in the State of Victoria. Here is her description:

“It is a coastal city about an hour from Melbourne and is a great place to live. I am fortunate to be able to walk on the beach almost every day. When I was in Scotland I bought all the waterproof gear so I can walk even when the waves are thrashing against the rocks and the sea wall. Everything I need is no more than 15 minutes’ drive away – the bay, the library, the shops, where I attend the local writing group and lovely botanical gardens.

I love working in my garden and feeding the many species of birds that come to visit. They used to come for dinner in the evening but now it is breakfast and a snack during the day as well. It always makes me smile to see them lined up on the decking rail, singing their hearts out, or just waiting patiently until I notice them. The kookaburras take the food from my hand and the magpies bring their babies and leave them while they go off and do what they do. They obviously trust us not to harm them as they are known to attack anyone who gets near their young.

We get the different seasons here, which I love. It can reach 40 degrees sometimes in the summer but not usually for weeks on end. You know relief from the humidity will eventually come. The area also has a reputation of having all four seasons on the same day.

Nevil Shute, the author of A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, used to live here. Some of the scenes in the movie version of On the Beach were filmed around here and there is an old photo of Gregory Peck standing on the same station I caught the train from every day for the 15 years I worked in Melbourne.”

Despite her long sojourn in Australia, it is Scotland and its history that inspires Cathy’s writing.

“I moved to Australia when I was forty and although I have lived here for 26 years now, Scotland is still home. I visit my family every two or three years and its beauty still takes my breath away. My sister, Linda, and her family live in the house I was brought up in.

It is so special to still be able to sleep in my parents’ old room and visit the village where I went to school and grew up in. I love the familiarity and the memories.

I was checking with my other sister, Wilma, on Skype the other night about the time it would take for one the characters in my new novel to travel by car from one of the tourist hotspots near her, to Edinburgh. The route is mostly two-way roads through villages. She said it depended on the ain’t thats. You could be driving along the road doing the speed limit when suddenly the car in front of you slows right down, causing all the cars behind it to put on their brakes. The locals call these drivers aint thats because they know at least one person in that car is pointing out of the window and saying “ain’t that beautiful”. It happens all the time. I am sure everyone knows that the Scots are well known for their calm demeanour.”

Like Kate Mosse, Cathy uses the idea of reincarnation and other time-shifting devices to take her protagonists to different historical periods.

580537_5fe0cf215a794d9ea9b6fc45fd4eb76c“I have always been fascinated by the concepts of past lives and time travel. They open up such possibilities from a personal point of view, and more so when it comes to telling a story. With my first novel Distant Whispers, I was able to combine quite a few of my interests – reincarnation, the Knights Templar, Alexander the Great, religions – using these concepts. I thoroughly enjoy the scope it gives me in my writing.”

I asked Cathy about the lessons that could be – and perhaps have not been – learned from the many conflicts that feature in Scottish history.

“History was one of my favourite subjects at school so I knew even as a child that the English and the Scots had always fought amongst themselves, and against each other, throughout their ancient history.

The kings and queens, nobles and gentry, could do what they wanted in those days. It could be that they were just bored with their daily lives or easily offended, but no matter what the reason, one side would do the wrong thing and it would be “round up the peasants” and off they went to pillage and destroy.

I used to think all this history was just that – something in the past, but for some reason the Scots, as with the Irish, do not forget easily. They can carry a grudge for a very long time. I listened to some of the debates and discussions about Scotland independence. I am a very patriotic Scot but I had to ask myself – why do we need it?

We may share the same island and have the same royal family, but the Scots, the English, and also the Irish, all have their separate identities.

I have never considered myself anything but Scottish.

I have noticed that Scots do not seem to mind if their accent is mistaken for Irish when they are overseas, but God forbid if someone asks if they are English. I do not think there would be many Scots who do not have English relatives.

In the lead up to the vote for independence, I asked a friend, who is a fierce, obsessive, Scottish Nationalist, how would it work regarding pensions, health care, borders etc. Her answer was “just let’s get independence and we can worry about all that later.’

On the English side, I do not think they care one way or the other. They recognise we are Scottish and they are English and we both have pride in our heritage.

So, the answer to your question. There are still many people who have repeatedly failed to learn any lessons from the past, but I do understand that it is an emotional issue and you cannot knock being proud of who you are and where you come from.”

Cathy has only recently begun using a computer for writing:

“I have an office area set up at home with my computer and files, but I find I get more inspiration from writing by hand. I wrote my first novel, the majority of my second one, and most of my short stories by hand on the train journey to work, or in bed at night. It was quite an adjustment for me to try to put it straight onto the computer, but when the house is quiet and all I can hear are the words going around in my head, I am getting used to it. I still look forward to taking my notebook to bed and just letting my thoughts wander.”

I usually ask my subjects to tell me which writers they most admire but I already know from a previous interview she did with Millie Slavidou that she is a fan of David Mitchell and his book Cloud Atlas. What was it about that book and its author that so affected her?

Cloud Atlas took the theme of reincarnation to a completely new level. It was a complex story in so many ways and I was blown away by the writing, the characters, the locations, the timelines. I read it a second time immediately after the first reading, and have watched the movie three times. I can say without hesitation that this will always be my favourite story. You ask what I would hope to learn from David Mitchell if I spent time with him? I am really not sure if it is possible to learn genius.”

To date Cathy has not used a professional editor:

“My background is proofreading of Cabinet and Ministerial briefings so I assumed I would be okay with the grammar and spelling components of writing. Obviously, that is not all that is needed in writing a novel. I was fortunate that a couple of people offered to read my first novel before publication and a friend who is a Scottish history expert read the second one. Thankfully they all picked up things I had missed and made very useful suggestions for which I was very grateful. It is all a learning curve and I hope to get some beta readers, and also a professional editor, for my new novel.

I think a first novel is very precious and there is always the fear that if you get someone else to read it they might come back and say it is awful. I am over that now and realise the benefit of having the opinion of others.”

Many independent authors find marketing the hardest part of the business of writing. Cathy has succeeded in getting her books stocked in the heritage sites that feature in them, something I’ve tried myself. I wondered what other marketing techniques she has found useful.

580537_4760a055a4b741a6a288c4e3cc78185cmv2_d_1832_2772_s_2“For me, marketing is definitely the hardest part of the business. I am learning as I go. I am fortunate that Wilma, pushes me along. She took my Scottish novel There is a Place to the VisitScotland tourist shop in Aberfoyle, which is near the main location in the book, and asked them if they would consider stocking it because of the local interest.

As a result, they invited me to do a book signing when I was there last year. It was not as scary as I thought it would be. I am going home again next year and they said to let them know and they would arrange a signing for the new one.

I would also say that being part of the Indie Author Support & Discussion Facebook group has given me more confidence to put myself out there. The members share what they think works and what does not, and their support has helped me move outside my comfort zone. When I release my new novel, I will make sure I have a clear plan on how to market it.”

Cathy is currently working on her third novel and she revealed a little about it.

580537_6be0f02323b74413a32fa8e53d9fe17emv2Memories of the Night Sky is the story of Catriona, an author who begins to dream stories she feels compelled to write. It is set in Scotland in the present day, the 9th century and in 1307 and involves Druids, Knights Templar and forbidden love. I enjoyed being able to incorporate my interest in different spiritual traditions and pagan rituals.

I am working on the first edit at the moment and hope to have it ready to publish by the end of the year.”

I like to conclude my ‘dates’ by asking my subject to reveal something about themselves that might surprise their readers. Here’s Cathy:

“For decades I thought of joining a coven and training to become a witch – a white witch, of course. I have lived and worked in various places around Australia so I kept putting it off until I settled. When I did settle in Frankston I thought the time was right, but do you know how hard it is to find a coven? I thought they would be everywhere but alas, no. I am now in my sixties. I wonder if it is too late? Perhaps not.”

So if there is anyone out there who knows of a coven not too far from Melbourne, please get in touch with Cathy. You can find her here and on Facebook and Goodreads.

Announcing The Poor Law Inspector

Reading about the famine that afflicted Ireland in the years 1845-52 is to discover story after story of the horrors that ensued. The families found naked and dead huddled together in some filthy hovel; the evictions that left other families to seek shelter in ditches and under hedges.

It is also to enter the strange world of statistics. Did a million die, or more? Did a similar number emigrate? We have census figures for 1841 and 1851 which show a fall in population of around two million. Some have tried to interpolate what was the likely increase in population over the 5 years from 1841 to 1846 when starvation really began to bite. It is then that the possibility of up to 3 million reduction in population begins to look possible. And no-one can be certain of the accuracy of the census figures to begin with.

Without in any way wishing to belittle the significance of such a monstrous figure, I want to know more about the 6 million or so who survived. How many of them went through 7 years of suffering, losing parents, siblings, off-spring? How many were sufficiently well endowed with material goods to continue to thrive? How did they respond to the appalling conditions they must have witnessed?

One of the biggest contributors to the number of deaths was not starvation but disease. And infectious diseases like Cholera, Dysentery and Typhus did not confine themselves to the hungry. There is a considerable number recorded deaths among doctors, priests and others tending the sick.

I think it fair to suppose that, faced with such a tragedy today, most ordinary citizens would react in two ways. First they would launch a fund raising effort to help and, second, they would institute a political movement with the aim of forcing the government to take appropriate action. Where, I wonder, was the 19th Century equivalent of the Occupy movement?

the-rising-of-1848-1

The signal fire on Slievenamon, County Tiperary – Thomas Francis Meagher and Michael Doheny of the Young Ireland movement are said to  have addressed 50,000 people there on 16 July 1848.(Currier and Ives from History Ireland website.

There was one such organisation – the Young Ireland movement. And it did attempt to mount an armed rebellion. This was quickly quashed by the British government. Why did that not galvanise a much larger section of the population, in the way that the internment and execution of the 1916 rebel leaders did 70 years later?

There were, too, many donations of money from many different quarters, including Queen Victoria.

 

Arthur Kennedy

I have concluded that the story that I want to tell is that of those who lived through the horror and survived. One such individual is Captain Arthur Kennedy. You can read a lot about him here on the County Clare Library Service website. In brief, he was appointed as Poor Law Inspector, responsible for ensuring that the Poor Law Union that covered a vast area of County Clare from its base in the Kilrush workhouse, was operating properly.

arthuredwardkennedy

This photograph of Sir Arthur Kennedy from Wikipedia is from his time as Governor of Hong Kong from 1872 to 1877. Thirty years earlier he was the Poor Law Inspector for Kilrush Poor Law Union.

He arrived there with a young family late in 1847 and remained for 2 1/2 years. His reports were published as a Parliamentary Blue Book, from which the Clare Library Service website has many quotations. He seems to have been at loggerheads with the Board of Guardians and its chairman, Colonel Crofton Vandeleur who owned most of the town.

What the published reports, and the material on the Library website, much of which is based on contemporary newspaper articles, does not say is anything about the family’s domestic situation. Where did they live? Assuming the children attended the local school, how did they relate to the other pupils, given their father’s job and the fact they were outsiders? Did the Kennedy’s socialise with Vandeleur and the other Guardians? What, in fact, was life really like for a middle class family thrust into the heart of an unfolding nightmare which they were duty bound to try to alleviate?

I have spent the past year gathering generalised background material to provide a context for what I believe could be an enlightening historical novel based on the life of The Poor Law Inspector. Now I need to start writing. I also need to visit Kilrush in order to glean what information I can about the lives of the 70% of those who resided there in 1845 and survived the next 7 years.

Salutary Lessons for a Would-be Historian

photoJanet Cameron has posted a thoughtful blog about the pitfalls of historical writing. In my reading about the Great Irish Famine I have yet to discover a full length book by an English historian, something I believe is necessary in order to gain a proper English perspective on the events. I have read several books by Irish historians and it is sometimes too easy to conclude that the writer’s view point – the unconditional condemnation of the British authorities and the British landlords – is distorted by excessive subjectivity.

That is not to say that I have not read accounts by English historians that form part of a work covering the period as a whole and including the famine as one of many episodes in the history of Victorian Britain.

Such accounts bring the, to me, essential ingredient of setting the tragedy within the context of the time. A time when there was endemic poverty and disease in English cities, when children were employed in factories, when slavery was still practiced in North America and the Caribbean. A time, moreover, when the great thinkers of the time were still grappling with the problem of how to respond to poverty, a problem that seems as intractable today as it ever was.

Janet refers to the “Two separate issues [that] need to be addressed. The first is the facts: what happened, where and when? The second is interpretation: why did it happen?” It is the second of these, the “why”, that has been of greatest concern to me in seeking to do justice to what is, without doubt, an event that did more than any other to shape the relationship between the Irish and their neighbour and still resonates today.

I shall bear Janet’s words very much in mind as I continue to search for the truth about the Great Irish Famine.

https://janetcameronwriting.blogspot.ie/2016/12/subjectivity-in-historical-writing.html