You are very welcome, Annie, please introduce yourself.
I’m the mother of three grown-up children and I work part-time as a pre-school music teacher. I graduated in history, though, and history has remained my first love and my passion.
Did you read much as a child? Are you an avid reader now? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?
I actually didn’t read that much as a child, because I could rarely find anything that engaged my interest. When I was about 11 or 12, I discovered the world of historical fiction and then I found that I could happily disappear into another world for hours. I am a very slow reader though, so it takes me a while to get a book finished. These days I read a lot of non-fiction and novels of pretty much any genre apart from horror – I scare really easily!
Are you self-published or traditionally published?
Interesting question! When I finished my novel To Be a Queen it was accepted by a literary agent who immediately asked me to sign a contract and get working on a sequel. I was, as you can imagine, rather excited. Time went by, however, and I heard nothing more. This, as I’ve subsequently discovered, is not uncommon. So, since I had the completed Mss, I decided to self-publish. One really nice side-effect of that decision is that it has brought me into contact with so many other writers and I now feel like part of a wider writing community.
Which genre do you write in and why?
When I was a student, I sat and listened, particularly in my “Dark Ages” seminars, and thought about the interesting characters and how one day I would write their stories. Eventually, when my children were old enough and I had a bit of time, I sat down and wrote those stories which became my three historical novels. Two years ago I was a prize-winner in a novel writing competition and the judges, among them Fay Weldon, encouraged me to complete that particular book. I’m currently working on it as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge. It’s not historical fiction and I’m not sure whether I will self-publish or try to get it mainstream published, simply because I’m taking my writing in a different direction.
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
In terms of the historical aspect, it has to be my tutor from my college days, Professor Ann Williams, who was one of those teachers we all meet if we are lucky – she simply brought the subject alive for me, made it interesting and enjoyable, and we are still in touch 30 years later. In terms of writing, I think I was inspired by three great historical fiction writers: Sharon Penman, Helen Hollick and Elizabeth Chadwick. They all write about strong characters but always succeed in keeping those characters true to their historical setting, and their history is dependable – they do their research thoroughly!
Has your country of origin/culture influenced your writing?
One of the most awkward things for me to answer is always “Where are you from?” I am British, but I was born in Germany and travelled round the world when I was a child because my father was in the armed forces. Even when we returned to England I went to four different secondary schools. If this nomadic childhood influenced my writing at all, it is that I have a very keen sense of what it is like to yearn for ‘home’, be it a place or a concept, and it’s something that a lot of my characters hold very dearly, this notion of belonging, and, conversely, the pain of feeling like an outsider.
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
First drafts – I find it very difficult to ‘get going’. (Once I have some kind of rough outline down on paper, then I’m happy to play around with it, add new scenes, and even delete whole chunks.) The only way to overcome this is, I’ve found, to schedule it into my diary – “On Wednesday you WILL sit down and work out this plotline.” If it’s in the diary, it has to happen. That’s the theory, anyway …
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
Straight after breakfast. If I can settle down then, I won’t break again until lunchtime. It takes me a while to get back into things after lunch (mainly because I get distracted by certain social media sites). It also depends on the stage of writing – if I am in ‘final edit’ mode then I barely come up for air and have been known to sit at the computer for 14 hours straight. At these times, I am not nice to know – I have the focus of an Olympic athlete and the social charms of a gorilla with tooth-ache.
What is the best thing about being an author? And the flipside – what is the worst?
The best thing is when the words are falling out onto the page. It is so absorbing and so enjoyable that it is the best kind of ‘mindfulness’ and there are few ways I’d rather spend the day. The flipside is probably the isolation; it can be lonely, not just at the time of writing but at the moment when you decide to share what you’ve produced with the outside world. It’s daunting, because you have no idea whether anyone else will like it and, if you’re a shy person like I am, promoting yourself can feel a little uncomfortable. Typewriters or their equivalent are great places to hide behind!
Is social media an essential chore or something you enjoy? Which forum do you prefer?
It’s both. I feel obliged to plough through my entire newsfeed for fear of missing something and that can be a bind. But I really enjoy interacting with other people. My early nomadic life means that I have friends all over the world and I’ve been able to get back in touch with them through social media. It may be my nature, or simply my age, but I prefer Facebook to Twitter, and that’s all I do – I don’t have an Instagram account. I recently set up an author page on Facebook too, to separate the personal from the professional, although there is always a bit of crossover.
If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?
Once upon a time I’d have answered “A singer in a rock and roll band”. I have sung professionally, but developed awful stage fright. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’m fortunate to be able to say that I already do the only other thing I’d enjoy – teaching music and singing to little people. I love teaching and I love music so it’s the perfect combination; I’m freelance, which gives me quite a lot of freedom – I just go in, have a great time with the children, and go home again.
It’s the last day and the earth is facing oblivion – what book would you read?
I’d love to give a sophisticated answer to this one, but the truth is that my favourite book(s) of all time is the Flambards Trilogy by KM Peyton.
Please tell us what you are working on or your latest published work.
My novel, To Be a Queen, tells the true story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great. It’s been long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, which is very exciting. I’m hoping it will be available in e-book format in the New Year, and shortly after that my second book (title TBC) will be released in paperback. It’s also set in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and will be followed by my final ‘Mercian’ book later on next year.
To Be a Queen can be bought here:
and I can be found on Facebook
and on my blog Annie Whitehead