I know that you began your love of writing in childhood – how difficult was it to find the time and space to pursue this love coming as you did from a very large family, and did any of your siblings share your creative talent?
I think it was more a question of a love of reading as a child, and any writing was confined to school work. When asked to write compositions and given a title I wrote reams. One teacher used to become annoyed at this and always gave me an instruction that he required one page and one page only, not a novel! However, his successor encouraged me to write as much as I liked, saying he enjoyed my stories and thought one day I would become an author. It took a long time, but when I did achieve it, I contacted him and he was delighted.
Finding space for yourself amongst all the comings and goings of a large family is not as difficult as it would seem. I am the thirteenth child of fifteen. Sadly three had died before I was born, so our family numbered twelve at that time. And the age-gap factor, meant some older siblings had left home by the time I needed my own space. My earliest memory is of living with nine of them. And, although we were extremely poor, I was rich in love as my elder brothers and sisters spoilt me.
My mother came from an upper middle-class family, her father was a bank manager and part-time musician with his own orchestra. When she fell in love with my father, an East-End barrow boy, and wouldn’t give him up, she was thrown out of her family and went from living in a big Victorian house where her mother had maids, to my father’s home – a very poor dwelling in London.
A remarkable woman, she coped with all that was thrown at her. A legacy from her earlier days was her love of reading, and her books – shelves of all the classics – my dream shelves. Encouraged by my mother, I read everyone and loved them.
My proudest memory is that mother often said I took after her grandmother, my great-grandmother, Dora Langlois. Dora was a published author in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Recently I had a eureka moment, when researching her I found that her book is still listed on Amazon – and I have obtained a copy! I am so proud and happy.
I have two sisters who are writing novels at the moment and give them all the encouragement I can. Also, another sister who writes poetry. And I am very proud of two of my nephews who have written and published their own life-stories. Both have been through adversity and come through the other side stronger and with a will to help others. Their books are inspirational works.
As a child, were you encouraged to read, either through visiting your local library or being given books as Christmas or birthday presents? If so, did any book have a special impact on you and encourage your dream of becoming a writer?
As above, yes, I was encouraged to read, and though I have mentioned the classics, my mother’s hunger for books meant she belonged to a book club and every month new ones would arrive. These were a variety of genres, from Agatha Christie to Georgette Heyer. Of these, I had a time when I craved Agatha’s books, but Georgette set me on the path to my love of historical novels. But none of these were the ones who really inspired me. I was married before I had the urge to write a novel of my own and that was triggered by my sister-in-law lending me a book like no other I had ever read – The Dwelling Place by Catherine Cookson. For the first time, I wasn’t just lost in, and enthralled by, the story of others’ lives, I was dragged into them. I was the young girl trying to bring up her siblings in a cave. I experienced every emotion she had. Suddenly, I wanted to do that. I wanted to write. And, I wanted my readers to get into the skin of my characters. I wanted to be Catherine Cookson.
Was there a long spell when, due to work, marriage and children, your love of writing had to take a back seat, or did you keep a journal, write short stories, enter competitions etc, whenever you could snatch a spare moment?
After the initial awakening of my desire to write, it was a long time until I did. I dreamed of doing so rather than getting down to do it. Whether that was due to bringing up my own family of four and fitting in jobs around that, I cannot say. I did enter a phase whereby nothing but Catherine’s books satisfied my reading habit. Luckily she turned out so many I was never left wanting, but I look on this period as a learning curve of what was to come, as unconsciously I stored her techniques – or thought I had. I believe they are in play now, but in the beginning, I could not master them when it came to writing my first novel.
The writing of this happened in 1989. I was nursing my mother in her last months. I needed a distraction from such a traumatic task. By now only my son lived at home as he is our youngest. So, when Mum slept in the afternoon, I began to put pen to paper – literally as I did not have a typewriter. My story flowed from me as if I had known the characters when they were alive. I thought I had written the next best-seller and block-buster film and was going to be rich beyond my dreams. That manuscript still languishes in a drawer after many knocks to my ego and dreams, as rejection after rejection piled up. But I had tapped into the real me. I had found the writer in me and she was never going to give up.
Now you have fulfilled your dream of becoming a full-time writer, can you give the readers a glimpse of your writing day? Do you have a ‘writer’s room’ and if so does it contain any objects of personal significance – for example, photographs, mementoes of family holidays etc? Do you write directly onto a PC or laptop, or do you begin with handwritten notes? And how much time do you spend researching the periods in which your books are set?
I live partly in Spain and partly in Blackpool and do not have a room in either home that I have claimed as mine. I would love one, and do have one that is suitable in my Blackpool home, I just need time to set it up. My ideal would be a room with the old cliché of walls lined with books. It would have rich old furniture and many windows. One set would be French windows that opened onto a private terrace overlooking wonderful views. In reality, I use my bedroom in Blackpool as it is never warm enough outside at the time of year I am there. I lay on the bed with mounds of pillows to support me and my laptop on a tray and off I go. In Spain, I do have the terrace and the view. There, I sit on the balcony in a relaxing chair, with a backdrop of mountains, and laptop on a tray on my knee. This is my favourite writing spot.
Research is something I do on the run. I write from my heart, until I come to a situation where I need ‘real’ information. Then I look it up. I have gone further than this in the past. I visited a working mine and went into the bowels of the earth in a quest to know what it felt like. And I went to a ‘living’ war museum in Leeds to try to get the feel of war. I really want to visit Beamish Village. I managed to get to the gates once on the only day they were closed!
At present I am fascinated by women’s roles during the wars. This was triggered by a holiday in Normandy. Though it wasn’t for research, we did visit all the war memorials and places of interest linked to the war. This seemed to clothe me in many stories I wanted to write. I now want to follow a route from France to Belgium and take in all I can of battlefields, memorials and concentration camps. I want to feel I was there at the time.
My writing day varies. I mostly begin work as soon as I wake, still in bed with a cup of tea supplied by my darling, and very supportive husband. When it gets to breakfast time I am also served that. Then I do my socialising online – a time I love – more about this later. After that, I answer emails and tend to anything else I have to do – accounts, promoting, etc… Everything is based at home at the moment, though promoting will take to the road soon. Then after lunch, it is back to my writing. I cannot live a day without writing and aim for a minimum of 2000 words a day. If I achieve this, I can have a rough draft of a full novel ready in 50 days! That is when the hard part of editing begins.
The gritty realism of your novels, such as The Breckton Trilogy, often make disturbing reading. Although your books are set in the past, did your career as a probation officer have any influence on the way you write?
I was a Probation Service Officer, which meant I held cases that were not classed as high risk. The Probation Officers held these. However, when on office duty I became involved in many cases of murderers and rapists and paedophiles. Also, in my early career with the service when I was an admin officer, I had to type up pre-sentence reports, so was seeped in the background of these heinous crimes. Always it struck me how easy it is to read of a rape, or child abduction for the purpose of sex, or a murder etc… in the paper and then turn the page to the footie or celeb page and forget all about it. The real impact of these crimes isn’t in the papers. I wanted to show how it really is. I have a desire to shake up the world and say, ‘hey, this is happening in a street near you!’ That does come through in my writing.
I know, through reviews, that for some I go too far. I accept this, there are always those who bury their head, or, maybe my writing is too near the mark for them or they are sensitive souls, we are all different and I respect this. But, there are a lot of people out there living these issues every day of their lives and they deserve a voice. That doesn’t mean I am on a mission, either to shock or to make people sit up and take notice. It just means that something in me needs to treat an issue as it is in reality, in all its raw state. I cannot pussy-foot around it. I would let too many victims down if I did.
You have acknowledged that you have a team around you, including your son James, who assist with editing, proofing, cover design, etc. but I’m particularly interestedin what lay behind your great success as a self-publisher. Had you first tried the traditional route of finding an agent and a publisher or did you decide to ‘go it alone’ from the beginning? For the benefit of those many thousands of self-published authors who are now putting out their work as e-books, perhaps you can sum-up in a few sentences what it takes to actually become a success!
Yes, I did go down, and want very much, the traditional publishing route. At the time there was nothing else anyway. But I was always writing the wrong thing. By the time I had finished An Unbreakable Bond, which is now a bestseller on Kindle, no one wanted historical sagas. There was of course this genre on offer, but publishers were not looking for any more authors of them. Martina Cole and Fantasy were happening. Then we entered, an ‘only celeb’ phase, then Harry Potter etc…
When Kindle arrived, I shied away for a long time, though other authors kept encouraging me to have a go. When I eventually did, in 2011, nothing happened for the first five months, except I felt freed from the book that had been my focus for such a long time and could begin to write another. Freed except for the promoting side of things, that is.
I did like others, I tweeted, I Facebooked, and joined this site and that one in order to get myself out there. Then at Christmastime of that year, after only selling around 20 copies a month, I suddenly sold 80! I thought I had arrived!
It grew from there, so mostly was word-of-mouth, and the sales increased and increased until I was selling over 2000 a month and readers were asking for more. I was in author heaven and held the number one spot in sagas.
How it happened is not something I did differently on the promotion side as I did nothing different from anyone else. I wish there was a magic formula that I could spell out to other authors. It is as much luck as anything else, and writing what the readers want – Downton Abbey made them crave Historical Sagas – I was writing that genre.
But, I would say the most important tool for success is writing the very best book you can. ‘Learn your craft’.
One of my brothers-in-law read a draft of An Unbreakable Bond and said to me, “You tell a good story, but you need to learn the craft of writing.” I was most put out and argued with him asking, ‘what did he know?’ He gave a very wise reply: “Think of it like this: A DIY man can make a good table fit for purpose, but would probably need a cloth on it all the time to cover the imperfections. A time-served carpenter can make a better table, with good, neat joints and able to stand in a dining-room and be admired. But, a craftsman can make a table that is a thing of beauty with carved legs and bevelled edges. Its polish will be so deep it will reflect your image and it will be sought after and he will be commissioned to make many more – you should aim to be that craftsman in your own field.”
I argued no more. I went away and read every how-to there was. I know I haven’t achieved that ‘craftsman’ status and still strive for it – you should see my editor’s work on my books!!! But, I know I have grasped a great deal of it and feel this has helped in my writing books with the potential of being well received. It works – don’t skip this stage of your writing career.
My success led to reviews, and me wanting a page on Facebook where I could interact with readers.
It is more than a page, it is where my readers, who are all very dear to me, hang out.
Now I have a following it is a big responsibility and keeps me on my toes so as not to let them down. This means I strive even harder to write each book better than the last.
And now I’d like to ask you about the recent exciting development in your writing career. You are in the enviable position of having been taken on by Pan Macmillan and a date has been set for the release of the first of a seven-book deal! This recognition of your success as a writer must be a source of tremendous pride and pleasure to you; are you able to tell the readers how it came about?
In a word, Kindle. My success on there led to my editor at Pan Macmillan seeing my book whenever she went on to check those books she was responsible for. She began to wonder who I was and why a self-publisher had this success. She decided to start by downloading my book and reading it. That particular book was Time Passes Time. The editor loved it and contacted me. (I have been told that Kindle is the new slush pile.)
Time Passes Time was written about one of the characters from the last book in the Breckton Trilogy. I wanted to take her forward and explore her story more. Up until now she had been one of the baddies that readers love to hate and yet, have a sneaky admiration for.
At the end of the book she has her comeuppence in a very sad way. I knew that could be a changing point for her and as the timeline had reached the war, I knew she had the kind of character that could do good or evil – whichever she chose she would do well. I wanted her to do good – become a war hero, and so make amends for all the evil she had spread. But there were many threads she had woven and these would come home to roost. It is a powerful story of love, heroism, hate and revenge.
It was the war aspect that really interested the editor, and she asked me if I intended to write more like it, or to continue with the northern sagas. I nearly blew my chance, as I had plans to start another trilogy and had already put up the first of the series on Kindle. The editor told me she had a writer in this genre and with the same setting and wasn’t taking another on, but if ever I did write more along the lines of Time Passes Time, to get in touch with her. I replied by return.
Not only did I say I did have plans, but I sat and wrote an outline of a book there and then to include it in the email. She loved it and asked for a 100 pages in novel form so she could judge how it would work. So, a book I had no intention of writing five minutes earlier was to be my testing ground for getting a publishing deal.
In the meantime a manager of a large print publishers had also spotted my books and approached me. I told her about Pan MacMillan’s interest and sent her my books. After a week she rang me and said she would be doing me an injustice if she bought the large print rights as I should be published, and she would spoil my chances if I did not own all the rights when approached. But, being an author herself – she is the wonderful Diane Allen, whose first two novels are soaring high in the charts – she told me she had an agent and she would introduce me to her. The agent loved my work and a sort of auction followed. To my delight Pan MacMillan came up with the best deal.
The last few months have been a journey I never expected, but am very grateful for. Now I cannot wait, though the process has been a learning curve, to see my book on the shelves.
Pan MacMillan are publishing Time Passes Time on May 22nd, and my next book, Proud of You, in the autumn. And now, I am working on a new book which I have to deliver by December. A new world of deadlines and directions I never had before, but I am loving it and feel very privileged. What has happened for me, I hope happens for all self-publishing authors out there, only long before they reach the grand old-age of 68!
Thank you so much, Mary, for taking time out from a hectic schedule to be my guest today. Your many thousands of readers will be delighted to know that there are more of Mary Wood’s novels to look forward to; I wish you every success with your forthcoming release and far into the future.
I have really enjoyed it and would like to thank you in return for giving me this opportunity. I am honoured to be part of your blog which features great writers like Freda Lightfoot and Pam Weaver. And very grateful to you for inviting me. Much love to all.
Mary writes historical fiction books. NEW BOOK DUE ON 22/5/2014! CHECK OUT YOUR KINDLE AND ALL BOOKSHOPS FOR, TIME PASSES TIME - A MOVING STORY OF LOVE AND COURAGE DURING WORLD WAR TWO. Published by PAN MACMILLAN.
MARY'S best selling trilogy 'The Breckton Saga' - Book One: AN UNBREAKABLE BOND Book Two: TO CATCH A DREAM, and Book Three: TOMORROW BRINGS SORROW & her fourth book. 'JUDGE ME NOT' - A Cotton Mill Saga, are Available From:
UK Link http://amzn.to/marywoodbooks
Time Passes Time by Mary Wood published from May 22nd 2014