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.
Hi and welcome back to the blog, Carys. Please tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?
I grew up in a very religious family and married young, as was expected. I had five children in the first seven years of my marriage. When I was thirty and my youngest child started nursery, I knew that I wanted to go to university (I had previously dropped out in order to get married) and I started doing a BA in Literature with the Open University. It was wonderful, like waking up after a long sleep. I went on to do an MA at Edge Hill University, during which I wrote my short story collection Sweet Home. Then I did a PhD while writing my first novel A Song for Issy Bradley. Those years of studying and writing were some of the happiest of my life.
Your books are written in North West England - how have the people and its landscape shaped your stories?
When I first started writing I had this strange idea that I couldn’t and/or perhaps shouldn’t write about a small, northern town. I’m not sure why I felt that way – it was pretty silly, but it was something that bothered me: was it okay to set my novels in Southport? Once I’d decided that yes, of course it was okay, I started to look at the town differently. I noticed the eeriness of the beach and the marshes, the lovely Victorian houses, the profusion of trees and so on. I started to think about how the landscape might feature in my stories. In my first novel, the beach is a really important place. Much of my second novel takes place in an allotment plot at the edge of Churchtown. I’m just working on a third novel that takes place on the moss, an area of farmland that used to be a lake and was drained over a period of three hundred years. It’s quite a strange, liminal landscape and I hope it will contribute to the uncanny atmosphere of book three (fingers crossed!).
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?
People are very friendly here, they chat on the bus and in the shops, neighbours talk to each other and my son’s friends pop in and out of our house whenever they feel like it – I like that, I like feeling part of a community. Houses are (relatively) cheap and there are museums, art galleries and theatres etc. not very far away in Liverpool and Manchester (I love Liverpool – the waterfront is beautiful and it’s a great place to go shopping). Plus, you’re only a 2 hour train ride from London if you need to pop to the capital for any reason.
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?
I don’t think so. I certainly haven’t been aware of any problems. There have been a few funny moments: for example, I had to explain myself after mentioning one of the Liverpool underground stations in The Museum of You as the person who was reading my manuscript didn’t know that there were any underground stations up here and thought that I had made a mistake, but that’s a pretty tiny thing.
Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?
Mostly online in Facebook groups and via messenger and email, but I have a few friends who I try to see at least a couple of times a year. Some of them are local writers (the lovely Rachael Lucas and I discovered that we live in the same town and our sons are in the same class at school!) and others live in various parts of the country meaning that we occasionally arrange to meet at places like Gladstones Library to catch up and discuss our latest projects.
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?
We have an amazing independent bookshop in Southport called Broadhursts and we also have a Waterstones. I’ve launched each of my books in Broadhursts and Waterstones has been supportive by putting my books on a table beside a ‘local author’ sign. Sadly, my nearest library (Churchtown) closed – I still feel angry and impotent whenever I think about the way that Sefton Council behaved. But I have spoken at the main Southport Library and at several local writers’ groups, something I really enjoy doing. It’s great to meet new people and to chat about books (plus there’s usually cake, so what’s not to love?!).
You can find out more about Carys and her writing by visiting her website
Follow on Twitter @CarysBray #MuseumofYou
My thanks to Carys for spending time with us today and for telling us about her love for the North West and for sharing her writing with us.
I hope that you have enjoyed this Close to Home Feature
Coming next week : Sue Featherstone