I’d like to welcome Barbara Lamplugh today to talk with me about her life as a writer. She was born and grew up in London, studied in York and then moved to Shropshire. Her writing career started in the 1970s, inspired by a life-changing overland journey to Kathmandu in a converted fire-engine. This trip was followed by a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway and several months backpacking around Japan and SE Asia. Her two travel books, Kathmandu by Truck (1976) and Trans-Siberia by Rail (1979) were the result. Another new experience – motherhood – came next. With two children to bring up, her extensive wanderings came to an end but she continued to write, turning instead to fiction. She has written several novels, though Secrets of the Pomegranate is the first to be published.
Her day jobs have included working as a librarian (her first career), as a project officer for Age Concern (inspiration for one of her earlier novels), running a Volunteer Bureau and, briefly, recording milk yields on Shropshire farms. She trained as a counsellor and worked in a voluntary capacity for two local organisations. At the same time she was writing articles for various magazines and newspapers, including The Guardian and Times Educational Supplement.
In 1999, she fulfilled a long-held ambition and moved to Granada in Spain. Having trained to teach English as a Foreign Language, she soon found work, a place to live and new friends. A job as English Editor followed, along with some freelance editing and translation. After a few years, she found her dream job as a regular Features Writer for Living Spain magazine, to which she contributed around a hundred articles over several years on topics as diverse as garlic, machismo, the life of a lighthouse keeper and the nightmarish experience of being trapped at an all-night drumming festival.
Her novels have always focused on ordinary people rather than the privileged or exotic. Working in the community and meeting people from all walks of life proved to her that everyone has stories to tell and that the most fascinating and unexpected are sometimes hidden behind a seemingly conventional exterior. Almost everyone has secrets – some that may never be revealed, others that are only revealed to a select few, but by their nature, secrets are always subject to discovery and, as in Secrets of the Pomegranate, may be catapulted into the open by a dramatic event.
She is currently working on her next novel, set during and after the Spanish Civil War.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
Like many other writers, I write because I have to; because it’s something I feel compelled to do. But it’s not a burden. I want to write. I feel more alive when I’m writing. It opens something up in me and gives me a high that’s like no other. Yet at the same time, I feel more grounded.
I first discovered this joy of creativity at primary school. I remember, at the age of about ten, writing an essay imagining I was a sailor on Captain Cook’s ship, describing the rats and the scurvy and the long days at sea. And around the same time with the same teacher, writing with passion about William Wilberforce and his attempts to end slavery.
I love using my imagination to create characters and stories, but I love equally the very different process of playing around with words, choosing the precise right one, finding the best structure for a sentence or paragraph.
I wrote my first novel when I was pregnant. I gave birth to the novel and my baby son around the same time. The novel left a lot to be desired but I learnt from my mistakes and discovered the joy of writing fiction, having previously written only travel. My son was perfect from the start!
HOW HAS WRITING IMPACTED YOUR LIFE?
It has had a huge impact on my life because it takes up so much of my mental and emotional energy and so much of my time, preventing me doing other things I might also enjoy. I try to keep a balance, ensuring for example, that I get enough physical exercise and time outdoors. This isn’t always easy – there never seems enough time in the day to fit everything in and I’ve realised this is because writing expands to fit whatever time is available, there is no end to it! I live alone and I’m happy writing so there’s a real danger of becoming isolated. However, I do manage to see friends and family and have a social life. What tends to get neglected is housework.
Publishing my novel, Secrets of the Pomegranate, has been a life-changing experience. Having appreciative audiences at my various launches and presentations, receiving positive feedback from readers and being awarded the BRAG medallion have boosted my confidence enormously and made me feel more justified in calling myself a writer. Previously, despite two published travel books and many years of journalism, I didn’t always feel I was being taken seriously as a writer.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO BEGINNER WRITERS?
I would say persistence is one of the most important qualities necessary to be a writer. Writing is hard work and getting published is even harder. It’s no good giving up at the first or even the hundredth setback. Good writing doesn’t come magically at first draft. Be prepared to rewrite and rewrite, to go on courses, learn from reading critically and by asking for feedback from those who will be honest and constructive and who read similar books. You have to be thick-skinned and not let criticism and rejection put you off. At the same time you have to be hyper-critical of yourself – or rather of your writing – to make sure it’s the best it can be.
WHEN DO YOUR BEST IDEAS COME TO YOU FOR A STORY?
Ideas can be sparked by something I read. But my best ideas usually come when I’m completely relaxed and my mind is open. This happens when I’m walking alone in the countryside. It happens when I’m near water – lying on the beach, swimming in the sea, walking by a river, or even in the bath or shower. It doesn’t tend to happen sitting at my desk in front of the computer.
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Passionate, free-spirited Deborah has finally found peace and a fulfilling relationship in her adopted city of Granada – but when she is seriously injured in the Madrid train bombings of 2004, it is her sister Alice who is forced to face the consequences of a deception they have maintained for ten years. At Deborah’s home in Granada, Alice waits, ever more fearful. Will her sister live or die? And how long should she stay when each day brings the risk of what she most dreads, a confrontation with Deborah’s Moroccan ex-lover, Hassan? At stake is all she holds dear…
Secrets of the Pomegranate explores, with compassion, sensitivity and – despite the tragic events – humour, the complicated ties between sisters, between mothers and sons and between lovers, set against a background of cultural difference and prejudices rooted in Granada’s long history of Muslim-Christian struggles for power.