As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.
Please welcome Northern Writer
Hi Sharon, welcome back to Jaffareadstoo.
Sharon : Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. I'm delighted to be back again.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author?
I’m a lady of a certain age – which could mean anything, really, and I’m saying nothing more, except I have grown-up children and several young grandchildren. I live with my very patient husband and our German Shepherd dog, and when I’m not writing I’m busy with my job in the NHS. I've always been an avid reader, and it was only a matter of time before I put pen to paper and started writing my own stories. However, after having five children, I stopped writing anything more interesting than shopping lists for a long time. It was only when I was in my late forties that I got the bug again. A trio of characters popped into my head and demanded that I tell their story, and so the Kearton Bay series was born. It took a few years of writing and re-writing before my first book, There Must Be an Angel was ready, but I've since published five full-length novels and a novella. I've also had two pocket novels published by The People's Friend. The first pocket novel has recently been published by Ulverscroft, as part of their large-print Linford Romance Library. I've had a short story in a charity anthology, Winter Tales, and another published in a People's Friend special.
Your books are written in Northern England, how have the people and the northern landscape shaped your stories?
A lot of the people I write about are loosely based on people I know. My characters' mannerisms, their thought processes, and their idiosyncrasies come from people I'm very familiar with – particularly the older generation. In my books, you'll often find an older man or – more likely – woman, who is blessed with a dry sense of humour, a no-nonsense way of looking at things, and a blunt way of expressing themselves. My maternal grandmother was one of eight children, and I grew up surrounded by various great-aunts and one great-uncle, who "said it like it is" and took great pride in doing so. They could be cutting, but they were also very funny. The people I see every day speak with broad accents, can cut you to the quick with one comment, yet will happily and unthinkingly call total strangers "love", and make cheerful conversation with anyone who catches their eye. They can crease you up with laughter with a single word, or even an expression. I love them, and I hope that's reflected in the characters I write. As for the landscape – I love that, too. Whether it's the flat plains of Holderness, the rolling hills of the Wolds, the wild untamed moors, the breathtaking Dales, or the various towns and cities in between, I have a passion for Yorkshire that means I can completely immerse myself in writing about the area and the people within it. There's such a variety of different landscapes in this region that it's never boring. Whether I want to set a story in a pretty village, on the coast, an isolated farm, or an elegant city, I can find just the location in Yorkshire.
As a writer based in the North, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?
I've not had any problems, really. In terms of marketing, the fact that the books are all Yorkshire-based seems to be a draw for many people. Yorkshire is well-loved. It's true that it's sometimes difficult to attend events, many of which are based in London, but I'm quite fortunate in many ways. Firstly, I belong to the blogging group, The Write Romantics, which is a group of ten writers. We have our own private Facebook group and we exchange ideas and information on there, plus two of the Write Romantics are fellow Yorkshire lasses, and we meet up regularly to chat and plan. Secondly, I belong to the Romantic Novelists' Association. The RNA has a fabulous online presence which really helps with promotion, and there are various events throughout the year, which members and non-members alike can attend. Although the parties tend to be in London, the conference is held in a different location each year, making it accessible to everyone. There is also a get-together in York this year, which I'll be attending, so that gives me a chance to meet fellow authors and hopefully get some insights and tips, and make new friends.
In your research for your books, did you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?
I've visited them all! It's a great excuse to go out for the day. The Kearton Bay books are based on Robin Hood's Bay and I've visited several times, absorbing the atmosphere and taking lots of photographs of the place, which helped in the writing. Kearton Hall, which features in Once Upon a Long Ago, was inspired by Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire, and I visited the house several times. I love that building so much! It was a pleasure to be there, and a pleasure to write about. Skimmerdale, the location for This Other Eden, is based on Swaledale, which is where my paternal ancestors, the Keartons, came from. I visited Thwaite (Beckthwaite) and Muker (Camacker) way before I ever dreamed of writing a book, and I've visited several times since. Research has taken me to Scarborough Castle, to Middleham Castle, to the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, to Whitby, to Goathland, to Richmond, to Bridlington…Which has made a lasting impression on me? All of them. I've loved each location, each building. The thing is, when I visit them, I picture my characters living and working there, and it makes me very emotional. The place that brought me to tears, in its own right, was the Bronte parsonage. I will admit that I welled up when I saw Charlotte's little shoes and glasses, and the quote from Jane Eyre on the wall: The marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an impediment.
If you were pitching the North as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?
We'd been on holiday – I won't say where – but the entire time we were away, people were reserved, unfriendly, didn't meet our eyes. We drove home feeling we'd never go to that area for a holiday again. As we reached Yorkshire, we felt ourselves start to relax. We stopped to buy a drink and were greeted with warm smiles and addressed as "love". We looked at each other and said, "We're home". That's Yorkshire, to me. I always feel as if I'm sounding like that character played by Jim Broadbent in the Victoria Wood sketch, who bangs on about "My north" then turns out to be living in Chiswick. I don't want to come across as a professional northerner! I'm well aware that there are magnificent landscapes all around Britain, and lovely people in all areas. We've holidayed in some fabulous British locations and met some smashing locals. I love Cornwall so much, I got married there! But there's something about the north which stirs a passion. If you want scenery, we have it – whether you want coast, lakes, moorland or mountains. We have beautiful, elegant cities like York and Harrogate, grand architecture, ruined abbeys and castles, museums and art galleries. We have a lower cost of living than many areas of Britain, and most of all, we have the people. Northern people, full of warmth and humour, and grit and determination, and courage and kindness. If you want to go home, go north.
What are the ups and downs to being an author?
Sometimes, it feels as if you're never off duty. Even when you make a decided effort not to write for a day or two, your mind never switches off. It's always plotting a scene, correcting stuff you've already written, dreaming up new characters, new storylines. It can be very annoying for those closest to us. I've been told many times that I seem to just glaze over mid-conversation, as something occurs to me and my mind goes to work. It's also quite a strain on your eyes! Hours spent at the computer has, I'll admit, led to a deterioration in my sight and frequent headaches, but then, I have a day job which also involves five straight hours at the computer, so it's not good. The nerves are terrible, too. When you're about to release a new book into the world, the fear that it will be universally loathed is horrendous. You convince yourself that everyone will hate it. You dread scathing reviews. Then there's the fear that you won't be able to write another book. What if you've done everything you can do? What if that's it? Not to mention the sheer effort involved in the actual writing. Sometimes it's difficult to chain yourself to the desk when it's the weekend and the sun's shining outside. But there are so many ups to this job, too. There's nothing better than hearing from total strangers who've read your book and loved it. It's so touching to get messages like that – to know that your writing has moved someone enough to make that effort. Seeing your book in print, reading good reviews, knowing that you did it – you actually told your story. And there's the absolute joy of being immersed in an imaginary world, mixing with people you've created, who come to mean so much to you they're practically family. When the real world gets you down, it's wonderful to think there's somewhere you can escape to, and you can make whatever you want to happen, happen.
Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?
As I said earlier, I'm a member of the Write Romantics and the RNA, so I have lots of online contact with members of those groups. I also speak to plenty of other authors and bloggers online. I meet up with two of the Write Romantics for lunch and a gossip quite regularly, and the Write Romantics are planning a group get-together later in the year. Hopefully, at least seven or eight of us will be there. I'm also going to my first RNA event in September where I'll finally get to meet some of the authors I've only ever seen on Facebook before. That will be interesting. Nerve-wracking, but interesting. Next year, I'm hoping to attend the conference, depending on where it's held, and I may then join the local chapter, which means attending monthly meetings with several authors in my area. My main problem is shyness and lack of self-confidence. I'm working on it!
How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?
To be truthful, I've never approached any of them, so I couldn't tell you. I suspect there are more opportunities than I imagine, but I'm still working on the confidence issues – see answer above!
If someone is new to your work, which book do you think they should start with?
Gosh, that's tricky to answer. I suppose you could decide where you want to read about – the coast, the moors or the Dales. If you fancy the coast, try There Must Be an Angel, which is the first in the Kearton Bay series. If it's the moors, my latest book, Resisting Mr Rochester, is the book to choose. If the Dales grab your interest, read This Other Eden. Described by one reviewer as "a huge jaunt of a novel", it's set on a sheep farm in Skimmerdale (Swaledale) and features a rather gorgeous farmer. I'm currently working on the sequel to that one. Whichever one you choose, you'll find heroines you can relate to, heroes you'll fall in love with, and glorious Yorkshire settings. Enjoy!
You can find out more about me at www.sharonboothwriter.com
Resisting Mr Rochester, my latest novel, is available to buy now. Amazon UK
Warmest thanks to Sharon for being our very welcome guest today and for talking about her writing and for sharing her love of the North with us.
I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home feature
Coming next week : Elizabeth Ashworth