Today in the Library I am delighted to host author Dianne Ascroft, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.
You are very welcome, Dianne, please introduce yourself:
Hi everyone. I’m an urban Canadian writer. I moved to Britain more than a quarter of a century ago and gradually downsized until I’m now settled on a farm in rural Northern Ireland with my husband and an assortment of strong willed animals.
I write historical and contemporary fiction, often with an Irish connection. My current series The Yankee Years is a collection of Short Reads and novels set in World War II Northern Ireland. After the Allied troops arrived in this outlying part of Great Britain, life there would never be the same again. The series weaves tales of the people and the era. My previous writing includes a short story collection, Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves and an historical novel, Hitler and Mars Bars. Online I lurk at www.dianneascroft.com.
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’m an only child and my mother and grandfather were voracious readers so I learned to love reading early. I have happy memories of reading, sprawled in a Muskoka chair (a big wooden lounge chair) in our back garden during the summer holidays. I never lost my love of reading and still squeeze in a few minutes with a book every chance I get. There is rarely a day that I don’t spend some time reading for pleasure.
I read a wide variety of fiction. I especially enjoy historical fiction set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and contemporary women’s fiction. I sometimes review books for blog tours and, as a result, read books outside my usual genre preferences. This has broadened my reading tastes and I’ve discovered that I really enjoy cosy mysteries, as well as crime novels and thrillers, if they aren’t too gory.
Are you self-published or traditionally published?
The Short Reads in my series, The Yankee Years, as well as my first historical novel and my collection of short stories, were all self-published. I’m currently working on a novel in The Yankee Years series. When it’s ready I intend to submit it to a traditional publisher for consideration. A traditional publisher has the contacts to introduce the book to a wider audience than I can reach so I would like to try this publishing method. But if I don’t find a publisher that thinks the book fits their market, I will be happy to self-publish this one too. I really enjoy being involved in the whole process and watching the project come together.
Which genre do you write in and why?
I write historical fiction and contemporary women’s fiction, and my work includes short stories and novels. Recently I’ve been concentrating on The Yankee Years, my historical fiction series set in Second World War Northern Ireland.
I like to tell stories sparked by interesting items that catch my attention and I’ve found inspiration in a many different places, hence my wanderings between historical and contemporary writing. My current series was inspired by the area where I live in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The county has a rich and varied wartime history and, after I moved to the area more than a decade ago and learned about this history, I became fascinated by it. During the Second World War army camps and flying boat bases sprung up throughout the county, and approximately a quarter of the population were military personnel. It must have been so different from the quiet rural area that I know. I started rooting in books, original newspapers and personal accounts to learn about the era, and many of the ideas for my stories were sparked by snippets of information I stumbled across during my research.
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
I’m not really sure who has been the biggest influence on my writing but Irish author Jennifer Johnston’s Shadows On My Skin made a huge impact on me when it was first released in the late 1970s. Her ability to breathe life into characters and unveil a story in an understated way, as well as her skilful use of language, are wonderful skills that I aspire to emulate. I also admire Diana Gabaldon’s storytelling skill and her ability to interweave stories that unfold over several books. Both authors have taught me valuable lessons.
Has your country of origin/culture influenced your writing?
Although my stories are set in Northern Ireland, the country where I’ve lived for more than a quarter of a century, I’m sure Canada, my country of origin, influences the way I view my adopted home. On one hand, I hesitate to tackle writing about a society very different from the one I grew up in. It is difficult to capture the nuances of life in this complex society where the tensions between the communities stretch back well before the Second World War and influence many aspects of life. On the other hand, viewing the society as an outsider gives me unique insights that I can use to convey the place and the people to my readers.
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
Probably the most difficult aspect of the process for me is deciding what the theme of the story is and how the plot has to develop to reflect this. I spend time thinking about a new story and jot down my ideas before I begin to construct the plot. Once I have a list of ideas and information about the characters and the events in the story, I try to pull them together into a coherent plot. I then check to be sure the story flows in a believable way and each character’s actions and the reasons behind them make sense. When I begin writing the story I frequently refer back to my plot outline to be sure it is still on course.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
I like to write early in the morning. I’m always the first one up each morning so the house is quiet and I can write without any distractions, other than the cats clamouring for their breakfast. In this atmosphere it’s easy to gather my thoughts and put them on paper before my mind gets filled with the other tasks that I have to tackle that day.
What is the best thing about being an author? And the flipside – what is the worst?
I love conjuring up ideas and scribbling down the stories that flow from them. When a story is finally completed, it’s exciting to see the finished work. The hardest or worst part is the slog in the middle when you must revise your original draft, more than once, so that it conforms to the wonderful idea you started with and turns into the book you imagined when you started writing.
Is social media an essential chore or something you enjoy? Which forum do you prefer?
I enjoy meeting readers and other writers on social media. Socially and professionally, it’s a great place to be. Facebook is where you will find me most often. Finding enough free time to spend on social media is often a problem for me so, although I have a Twitter account, I don’t pop in there as often as I do to Facebook. I’m not on Pinterest or Instagram either for the same reason. A writer friend and I founded a Facebook group called The Second World War Club to bring readers and writers of wartime fiction together (we have expanded it to include World War I fiction too). In the group I enjoy working with other writers to help each other with our writing projects and chatting with readers about wartime novels. It’s lively and fun and I learn so much from my fellow members. There are several other Facebook groups I’m also active in. I just need more hours in the day to spend all the time I’d like to online.
If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?
Since writing isn’t my fulltime job it isn’t really an either/or choice. Throughout my writing life I’ve worked in administration jobs so I haven’t given up another career to write. I have to fit the writing in around everything else.
History has always fascinated me and I love to research so, if I weren’t writing, I might have put more time into delving deeper into my family tree. I did quite a bit of work on it about twenty years ago but have never had the time to go back to it after I started writing.
We live on a farm and I enjoy the outdoors so when I’m not writing, I go for long walks and also spend time with our animals. If I weren’t writing, I would spend more of my free time outdoors. Maybe I should get something like Dragon software and dictate my stories while I’m walking.
It’s the last day and the earth is facing oblivion – what book would you read?
I don’t think I could pin it down to one book, but if I knew that it was the end and there was nothing I could do about it, I might want to find something I could lose myself in for those last few hours. Two authors who would do that for me immediately spring to mind. Although their writing styles are very different, both create vivid, memorable characters and settings that nearly jump off the page. They also have the ability to tell gripping stories. So my choices would be Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series) or M C Scott (Boudica or Rome series).
Please tell us what you are working on at the moment.
My current series, The Yankee Years, is a collection of novels and Short Reads set in World War II Northern Ireland. After the Allied troops arrived in this outlying part of Great Britain, life there would never be the same again. The series weaves tales of the people and the era. I have released Books 1, The Shadow Ally, and 3, Keeping Her Pledge, in the series, and will release Book 2, Acts of Sabotage, in late July. All three of these stories are Short Reads or Book Blasts as James Patterson describes short stories. I’m also working on a novel, An Elusive Enemy, and other Short Reads for the series. One of the new Short Reads in the series will be included in Pearl Harbor and More, a collection of short stories set in December 1941 by ten authors who write wartime fiction. Pearl Harbor and More is a limited edition ebook which will be released at the beginning of November 2016 and available on Amazon until January 2017.
If you would like to know more about Dianne and her work, check out the links below:
Bringing history alive. I like it.
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Nice to find out more about you. Interesting interview.
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I love the ‘strong-willed animals’!
Good luck with your new book.