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.
Today please welcome Lancashire author
Hi Deborah. A warm welcome to Jaffareadstoo..
Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?
I've always loved reading and used to haunt my local library and always came away with the maximum number of allowed books. I guess I always wanted to write. I used to write a lot of poetry, and still pen the occasional poem. My first novel was not published until after my daughter left home for University - because then I had more time to devote to writing, and a novel is an enormous task.
I wanted to write historical fiction because I love history and have always enjoyed costume dramas since working as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. For a long time I was based in and around Manchester, and I used to enjoy choosing furnishing fabrics from Abakhan's to reproduce the heavy Elizabethan fabrics of the past for the stage, and the Asian shops of Manchester provided me with diaphonous sari fabrics which made for perfect Regency gowns. The North West is full of interesting history, and at one time, between theatre contracts, I had a part-time job in Oldham Museum. I enjoy looking at antiques, old houses and museums, and love doing archive work which is necessary if you write historical fiction.
Your novels are not always set in the North West but I wonder do the people and its landscape shape your stories in any way?
One of my novels; 'Past Encounters', written under pen name Davina Blake, is a novel set in Carnforth, Lancashire in 1945 and ten years later in 1955. This meant the period is on the border of slipping into memory and on the border of historical fiction as a genre. Because of this it meant I was able to interview people who had first hand memories of the times, although those people were often housebound or elderly.
My novel is set during the filming of Brief Encounter, the classic film, which features Carnforth railway station as one of its main locations. Quite a few people who worked in Carnforth in and around the station were drafted in as extras for the film, and it was these people I traced and interviewed in order to construct a fictional lead character who might have been an extra during the filming. I took some of my other research along, eg newspapers from 1945 and books about WWII with good photographs, and this gave a natural start to the conversation whilst we looked at the pictures together.
Sometimes it was a cue for their photo album to come out, and those were great insightful conversations. I drank vast quantities of tea and coffee and ate lots of biscuits and cake! The Heritage Centre at Carnforth Station was extremely helpful, and they still stock the finished book in their shop, and display a poster of it in the underpass between platforms. It was a pleasure to meet people who'd lived their wartime years close to my home.
My first novel, The Lady's Slipper, is set on the Cumbria/Lancashire borders and has scenes in Kendal Market, and a quite gruelling scene inside Lancaster Castle when it was the local hanging gaol. Lancaster has a great maritime history, so when I needed to know what a seventeenth century ship looked like, I was able to consult the Maritime Museum. I love setting my books locally, although not every book can be local. My most recent series is set in Hertfordshire, but I used my trusty northern readers to give it the once-over before it went for publication.
As a writer based in the North West, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?
So much marketing and promotion is now done online, that it really makes no difference where you live. Email means communication is quick and effective wherever you are. There are some excellent local magazines in which I've done features, such as Lancashire Life, who have always been very good to me in terms of getting an article out to highlight a new book of local interest.
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?
Local bookshops have been incredibly supportive, particularly with my locally-set books. Carnforth bookshop (which also has 10,000 second-hand books - heaven!) continues to stock Past Encounters, and the Cumbrian bookshops stock my other books. Also, the Cumbria and Lancashire Library Services have been fantastic at organising talks for me in libraries where I can discuss how I researched my books with readers. They also have many reading groups, and I've been to quite a few - from as far north as Workington, to as far south as Preston.
You have to have quite a thick skin, as inevitably, as well as the people who loved my book, there is always someone who hated it! Lancashire and Cumbria are huge areas, so my trusty red Fiat Panda has done a lot of miles over the last few years. But it is always a treat to talk to readers and hear their opinions face to face.
If you were pitching the North West as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?
The North West is a warm and friendly place to live and the backbone of the M6 means you can easily connect to other places. And it is beautiful - the lakes and mountains of the Lake District, and the coast around Morecambe Bay are all within a few miles drive.
Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?
I am part of two networks of North West writers who meet on Facebook, The Pendle Literary Salon (!) and the Westmorland Writers. I also meet familiar faces from the North West at conferences such as the Romantic Novelists Association and the Historical Novel Society conference. But lots more informal networking goes on with writers at Booth's coffee shop in Kendal, or the 1652 Chocolate Shop where you can indulge yourself in chocolate treats as well as look around their chocolate museum.
And finally, if someone is new to your work, which book do you think they should start with?
If you like WWII women's fiction, start with Past Encounters. For a more 'period' read, start with The Lady's Slipper.
Thank you so much to Jo for hosting me.
You can find me on Twitter @swiftstory
Or sign up for my newsletter and a free book at www.deborahswift.com
Huge thanks to Deborah for taking the time to share her thoughts about the North West and for answering my questions so thoughtfully
I hope that you have enjoyed reading today's Close to Home feature.
Coming next Saturday : Marie Laval