Wednesday, 5 August 2015

#Welcome Wednesday to author Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson
My Welcome Wednesday guest is author Jennifer Wilson. 

I recently met Jennifer at the Crooked Cat Author Seminar in York, England, at the beginning of July, 2015. We had a lovely conversation in the pub over a glass, or two, of a very nice Malbec but I'm delightedto get to know Jennifer a little more via the following fantastic interview. 

Jennifer's Crooked Cat novel isn't quite due yet for publication so there's no cover yet to display, but I'm delighted that Jennifer can give us advance publicity information about her debut novel...


Hello, Jennifer. Can you please tell us 3 things about yourself which wouldn’t be covered in your author bio?
Jennifer: 
1.      I’ve always been a bit of a jewellery addict (I must have been a magpie in a former life), and for the last two years, I’ve been feeding my own habit my making my own. Bead-fairs are like calorie-free sweetshops, and seeing all the beautiful gems on show is a brilliant way of finding inspiration.
2.      I’m a marine biologist by training, but that hardly ever seems to come out in my writing – I find it much easier to write about things several hundred years ago!
3.      I’ve got a soft-spot for nineties pop, and am ever-so-slightly keen on Boyzone.


I can completely understand the bead obsession, Jennifer. I love to look at the jewellery stalls of my fellow crafters when I sell my books at my FOCUS Craft Fairs. Their tables are groaning with lovely stuff - some of which I've just had to buy. 
Back to the interview...If you’re a reader, (and I can’t imagine any author who isn’t) what’s your favourite genre, or do you read anything that comes you way?
Jennifer: I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, but a bit fussy if I’m honest, generally sticking to the (still quite wide) time-range of the 1000s to late 1500s. I start to lose interest once we get past the Gunpowder Plot and into Civil War! From that period though, I’ll give most genres a go, including romance, mystery and crime, as I love to get a sense of a time through fictional representations. If I find a character / place / situation which sounds interesting, I’ll generally go and find a couple of non-fiction books to find out more about them, and see where any branches of reading end up taking me. 

Aha! I'll have to persuade you to have a go at reading my historical time period of late first century northern Roman Britain. *wink, wink* 
What genre/s do you prefer to write in?
 It’s always been historical fiction for me. My best friend and I came up with a novel outline when we were about twelve, and drafted the whole thing out while we were on holiday, rushing around castles with my parents. An amended version of that became the first full-length novel draft I wrote after getting back into writing, but it’s so awful, nobody is ever seeing it in its current state. One day, I hope to go back and rework it – it seems only fair, after all these years.
For a while, having read them for years, I thought I’d be good at writing short stories for the women’s fiction magazines, but after several attempts and rejections, I realised it just wasn’t my destiny. I love reading them, but it’s a skill that’s just beyond me.
I also write a lot of poetry, but it’s so good to have gone back to my first love, writing-wise, and found success with it after all these years. 

I also find short stories a whole different ball game, though I've never tried poetry- apart from what I needed to prepare for teaching purposes.
What made you want to write your first novel, Jennifer?

Courtesy of Jennifer Wilson
Kindred Spirits: The Tower of London is the first novel that I just couldn’t stop writing once I’d started, and the first one I’ve been prepared to try and share with anyone. Writing Magazine had run a poetry competition on the theme of ‘ghosts’, and I got thinking about how both Richard III and Anne Boleyn had been killed by Henry Tudor, just a generation apart, so I crafted this into a poem about their ghosts being friends at the Tower of London, with this Tudor link giving them something in common. The poem was truly awful, and I didn’t even enter it in the end, but I liked the idea, and decided to see if I could expand on it. I got stuck on a nightmare journey from Newcastle to London, the long way round, and used the time to sketch out a basic outline, characters I could bring in etc. After the course I was down there for, I visited the Tower, and that clinched it for me. I’d been once before, but not with any particular writing project in mind; now I had my idea.


Has your writing ‘voice’ been influenced by your choice of reading material, or by any particular author that you’ve read? 
 I’ve not consciously set out to emulate any particular writers, but I suppose, given the volume of their works that I’ve read, Elizabeth Chadwick and Philippa Gregory are the largest influences on me. I find the way they write about the past so well-detailed, really bringing the periods they focus on to life, and making you want to go and find out more about the characters they bring to life. Lately, I’ve been deliberately reading other authors, also writing in the same periods, to give myself a more ‘rounded’ view of the period, which I think is a good thing. I’ve recently been really enjoying the Shardlake novels by C J Sansom.

Can you tell us a bit about Kindred Spirits: The Tower of London?
The novel is a light-hearted ghost story, set in the Tower of London, following the ‘lives’ of the departed residents, including some of the Tower’s most famous (and infamous) characters. It’s contemporary in that it is set in the present, but there are only a handful of lines spoken by anybody currently living, so I’ve been classifying it as ‘semi-historical’. It’s just over 50,000 words, and I’m hoping that it will appeal to historical fiction readers, as I’ve tried to be faithful to the characters, so it shouldn’t be too much of a change!

Were there any triggers which led to the plotline for it? 
As I said above, the novel started as an incredibly bad poem, and the notion of a friendship between Richard III and Anne Boleyn, but then I had to start thinking about why Richard would be in the Tower anyway, given that we know his body was under a car-park in Leicester, and is now safely re-interred in that city’s cathedral. Then it hit me – one of the greatest historical mysteries our country has to offer: the Princes in the Tower. If Richard was innocent (which I believe he was), then surely he would want to go and find out the truth? That became the main thread of the story, and the other elements were built around it as I thought about other ghosts who might be part of the group, and their stories.
Nancy Jardine- Tower of London March 2015

Is the location of Kindred Spirits: The Tower of London only inside the Tower?
As the title suggests, the story is based in the Tower of London, and my characters don’t venture too far, really only to the riverside or Tower Bridge, so geographically, it’s quite small-scale. I’ve visited the Tower twice now, both in a February blizzard, and in the middle of August, so I’ve experienced it (meteorologically) at its best and worst! During my first visit, the book idea hadn’t struck me yet, but I knew that given the history of the place, and being in London for the week, it was somewhere I simply had to visit. So that time, I just soaked up the atmosphere. By the time of my second visit, I had a basic idea for the book, so I was actively researching, checking the distance between buildings, what could be seen from where, that sort of thing. I then backed this up by reading guidebooks, various articles, and studying maps of the buildings. As the story is set in the present, I didn’t need to worry too much about how the buildings and layout have changed over the years, but it was interesting seeing how the place evolved.
In general, I like to set my stories in either places I know, that I have a feel for, or make new places up, based on composites of places I know. That way, I have a sense of distances involved, a place’s atmosphere, and the practicalities of getting about etc., so I feel I have more confidence to write about it.


How much general research did you have to do?
Once I had decided on my central themes and characters, I went back to my biographies for my general research. Most of them I’d read before, but now focused more on trying to get an insight into my characters, the way they spoke, acted around others etc. There was lots of fact-checking as well, making sure I had people dying at the right age and buried in the right place – I woke up at 3am one morning, convinced I’d got my numbering of the Earls of Warwick wrong! Thankfully, with smart-phones, these things can be checked to at least some level of confidence pretty quickly (or enough to get back to sleep at any rate).
                
Who is your favorite character in Kindred Spirits: The Tower of London ?
Richard III - Wikimedia Commons
From my current novel, it has to be Richard III. I didn’t really know much about him until about five years ago, when I decided to go from the Tudors ‘backwards’ in history for a bit, and he instantly struck me as an interesting character. I’m not one to think he was entirely innocent of everything, but if we’re being honest, he’s no worse than a lot of medieval kings, or the nobility in general at that time, and thanks to Shakespeare’s interpretation, he’s been misunderstood for too long. Also, as daft as it sounds, it had never struck me that the Princes in the Tower were Henry VIII’s uncles. Everyone was related to everyone at court, and the family relationships are fascinating.
Richard became a bit of an obsession, and I decided to enter the ballot to get a place at his funeral events, basically just to be a part of the whole process – I was over the moon when I got a place at the service of Compline, to be there when his body was first taken to Leicester Cathedral. It was fantastic weekend to be a part of, with lectures, events and other services to attend, and gave me the final boost to get the last few edits on the draft of the novel finished in double-quick time.
What are you working on right now?
I really enjoyed the notion of following ghostly adventures, and I’ve been looking at other places to explore. I did think about Westminster Abbey initially, but was overwhelmed by the number of characters, and got lost even narrowing it down. So I’m currently thinking about Mary, Queen of Scots (another of my favourite historical characters), and am reading a couple of biographies to get some ideas as to where she might be found these days. I’ve invented a rule in my ghostly world that there is only one ghost per person, but they can travel, so I’ve got plenty of opportunities to explore!

Fun time short answer questions:

What is your favourite time of year?
 I love Christmas, but I’m not great with snow and ice, so I tend to prefer late autumn, when Christmassy things are starting to happen and appear in the shops, and it’s still just warm enough so I don’t fall over whilst walking to them! The colours of autumn are beautiful too, not to mention all the stationery sales for ‘back to school’ – always a good time to be a writer.

Favourite place to visit for a short weekend break?
It has to be Paris. Although I visit Edinburgh at least once a year for a weekend, I’ve been visiting Paris since I was little, and there are still so many new things to be found. There’s nothing quite like sitting in one of the parks or bars, sipping a nice cold drink, and doing a spot of people-watching.

Favourite colour?
Blue. All those aquatic connotations, and I love denim!

Favourite cuisine?
Italian. I just need to learn to be a better cook and make it myself…


Brilliant answers- thank you, Jennifer. Best of luck with 'Kindred Spirits: The Tower of London'. When you're ready for a cover reveal please get back in touch and it'll be featured here on this blog.

Slainthe!

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