I would like to welcome back Juith Arnopp back to Layered Pages today to talk about her writing. She is from Wales in the UK, is the author of seven historical fiction novels. Her early novels, Peaceweaver, The Forest Dwellers and The Song of Heledd, are set in the Anglo-Saxon/Medieval period but her later work, The Winchester Goose, The Kiss of the Concubine, Intractable Heart and A Song of Sixpence, concentrate on the Tudor period. She is currently researching for her eighth novel about Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. Judith is also a regular blogger and author of historical articles.
Judith, why do you write?
That isn’t as simple a question as it sounds. I have always written, since I was very little anyway and I really wouldn’t know how not to. It is such a huge part of my life, everything I do is structured around research, writing time, promotion – and that is before the business side of things begins. The biggest thrill for me is the creative process; the time I spend at my pc letting the ideas flow and the characters develop. I come away from the desk at the end of the day absolutely buzzing with creative joy.
How has writing impacted your life?
Becoming a professional author has allowed me to do the thing I love to do and get paid for it. It isn’t a chore. I used to feel a bit guilty when I wasn’t making money at it, I sometimes felt I should put my pen away and get a ‘proper’ job but now I don’t have to. Mind you, I never really stop working – even holidays and days out turn into research trips. Since readers began to notice me and my sales have risen life has become both harder and easier; there is more pressure now to keep the books coming but it has enabled my husband to take life easier. I am glad for that and very grateful. Also, probably the most surprising thing, is how many wonderful people I have met through writing. Most of these relationships are ‘virtual’ ones but I have found really good friends, strong supporters and fabulous readers. I spend the first half hour of every day reading emails and messages from readers, or bloggers inviting me to appear on their blogs. For someone who lives so rurally to have so much support from all over the world is an amazing thing!
What advice would you give to beginner writers?
I am often asked this and I think the best advice I could offer is ‘Only attempt to write professionally if it is a compulsion.’ I wouldn’t be able to keep it up if it were a chore. I think writing suffers if you’ve laboured too hard and long over it and the actual act of writing is the easy bit.
Often people have an image of writers enjoying a leisured lifestyle, peppered with literary lunches and book launches, but the reality is very different. Most days my lunch is snatched at the desk, there are crumbs on the keyboard and coffee stains on my paperwork. It is hard, totally absorbing work and, once the book is launched, the literary world can be cruel. Sometimes I think all writers must be crazy but, for me, the pleasure of crafting a new story outweighs the negatives.
Self-publishing is even harder. Many new writers make the mistake of thinking it is the easy option, which may be why there are so many sub-standard books out there. There are also some brilliant ones but those are the ones that have been a labour of love. It is not about just publishing the first draft, there are many, many stages to go through: rewriting, editing and honing it to perfection before you can even think of sending it to print. When you launch a writing career you are embarking on a small business. You will need a team of assistants, beta readers, editors, cover designers. I am not intending to put people off but they should be aware that writing for pleasure is easy, writing for profit is not.
When do your best ideas come to you for a story?
It varies enormously but inspiration usually strikes when I am nowhere near a notebook and pen! Sometimes an idea comes out of the blue, or is inspired by a visit to a historical site. Most often an idea for the next novel is born out something I am currently writing. For instance, when I was writing Peaceweaver I was struck by how hard it must have been for the Saxons to be so overwhelmed by Norman rule. Everything was suddenly different, the ruling class was foreign, the language was different, the laws were different; everything Saxon, all that they were accustomed to was suddenly altered. History, as we know, is written by the winners, that is why I wrote The Forest Dwellers from the point of view of the conquered.
My research often makes me aware of a fresh perspective of a historical figure. I have most recently published A Song of Sixpence, the story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck and during the process of writing it the characters became very human to me. I am now researching the life of Elizabeth’s mother in law, Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. I was aware of the events in her life but hadn’t previously considered how they might have affected her. I am having a great time finding out.
How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?
Positive reviews make me happy, of course, negative ones, not so much. I don’t read my reviews but my husband does and sometimes he passes them on to me. I think he gets more upset by a negative response than I do. I read them and consider what they’ve said. If it is a silly, badly spelled one liner, ‘nah, this is rubish, give it a miss,’ type of thing, then I ignore it. A review like that, won’t be taken seriously by prospective readers and there is nothing I can learn from it. If it is a well-written, deeply considered, informed review then I take on board the criticism and act on it if I see fit.
It isn’t possible to write a book that will please everyone. The reading public is diverse and, particularly when it comes to history, have strongly held beliefs. I often wish readers could remember that historical authors are writing ‘fiction’ and in no way suggesting that their version of the story is ‘fact.’ I do try to stick to recorded fact where I can but when I wrote A Song of Sixpence I had to go along with the idea that Perkin Warbeck was in fact, one of the Princes of the Tower. That is not to say I believe that to be so, it is simply the perspective I chose to take to make the fiction work.
Thank you, Judith!