Today in the Library we have Rowan Scot-Ryder, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.
You are very welcome, Rowan, please introduce yourself:
Hi and thanks for inviting me here. I’m a full-time writer now, but I swim and paint, and sometimes still teach creative writing. I’ve lived and worked all over Britain from the north of Scotland down to the South-East, just outside London, as a nurse, a freelance journalist, and a teacher. I also worked for some years as a guest lecturer on board cruise ships, teaching watercolour painting.
Which genre do you write in and why?
I write fantasy, with as solid a historical base as I can. For me, the world is endlessly fascinating, but its depth lies in being more than simply factual and material.
I was brought up to explore and question, and I’m sure that we are more than the sum of our parts. Perhaps the hidden and unexplained can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves in the world.
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 have always been an avid reader. I think reading is key in developing our own writing. If a book can take me somewhere else and make the characters live for me, I want to examine why, and explore the skill of good writing. But if something annoys me, it loses me as a reader – and I keep a mental list of ‘don’ts’ that will alienate others.
My own genre has so many pitfalls. I love good fantasy, but some books just rely on fanciful names and sword-wielding maidens. That doesn’t work for me. I prefer my fantasy to have believable, well-researched settings and characters that I can relate to.
Good crime, thrillers and science fiction are also on my weekly reading list.
Are you self-published or traditionally published?
I’m traditionally published. I’m sure I would have self-published if I had not been lucky enough to find my publisher, Rebecca, because we all need to find an outlet eventually. A good editor helps to weed out the mistakes that we make, refines our skills and improves our writing.
My early articles and short stories were published in various magazines and sometimes won small prizes. They were all part of a progression and the learning curve. One or two developed into much longer work.
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
That’s a difficult question! We are influenced by so many people, at different times. I don’t think that biggest influences are always other authors. I love Jodie Taylor, but don’t try to copy her. Orson Scott Card has never disappointed me, and yet many great writers have, at some time.
Certainly I had teachers at school who helped me to grow, and I loved to listen to older people’s stories when I was a nurse.
My grandparents were really my greatest influences, in different ways. My family and their personal history made me very curious about perceptions and motivations. My grandmother was very much a woman who understood and respected the earth. Like others in my family, she read the cards and saw spirits. My grandfather, a sailor, not only gave me a wealth of tales, but also explored them with me. We used to play a game of story-telling but the point was always to make sure that every single fact supported the others, wasn’t superfluous and didn’t contradict.
Has your country of origin/culture influenced your writing?
Very much so. I feel a deep affinity with my ancestry and the stories that formed my childhood. Place has its own spirit and character, which is more than just description. To know and love a place means that we do not need to list its features. To think of a place as a character allows it to speak and act upon the characters.
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
I always know what the story is about, and usually know the end. Because my original discipline is the short story – where we always work towards the end – the ending is vital.
But how does the story unfold, without tripping up or contradicting itself? I find that characters have their own strengths and determine what they want to say and do. They can’t be forced to act against their nature. So one challenge is to ensure character and plot validity.
Beginnings are just that – places to begin. The first beginning I write is rarely the one finally used. It’s a place to start, and better beginnings develop as the story unfolds.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
I would love to be a morning writer, but the trouble is that I want to do everything else in the morning too! Evenings, when I can sit back and relax, are my most productive time.
What is the best thing about being an author? And the flipside – what is the worst?
The best thing is living the way I’ve always wanted to. I can’ t think of a really bad side.
Feelings change. Before I had a full-length novel published, one book was all I wanted, although I had twenty years of successful short stories. After one book published, succeeding again was a worry. And so on. But worry is counter-productive and something to be ignored.
Is social media an essential chore or something you enjoy? Which forum do you prefer?
Facebook is a way of speaking to friends. Writing is solitary, and authors need other people. Sadly, the world has become ugly in so many ways, lately, and now Facebook reflects that. I don’t believe that authors should never post anything political or controversial. My own view of writing is that it allows us to see ourselves in relation to the world. Facebook has many faults, but it is part of our world.
If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?
I enjoyed all the jobs I’ve had. But I would probably paint!
It’s the last day and the earth is facing oblivion – what book would you read?
I might not read at all. A novel (however loved) might be something I could not finish in a limited time. The sky is always good to watch.
A big coffee table book of Van Gogh prints would meet my needs on the last day. Or an old book of Quaker anecdotes. Or my ancient copy of ‘the Water Babies’.
But equally, I could paint, and I might even write.
– After all, the story of the day doesn’t necessarily end as we expect!
Please tell us about your latest published work.
Known for centuries as the child of witches, Jennet Devize spoke against her whole family at the Lancaster Assizes in 1612, condemning them all to death. What was the truth behind her betrayal? What happened after the trials? Could she build a life and be loved, become a mother and a healer, or would the accusation of witchcraft follow her forever?
Jennet’s story is close to my heart. It is one I grew up with. But my own fascination with Jennet does not end in 1612. Twenty years later, she was again among those accused of witchcraft, and ‘Daughter of Pendle’ follows her there. I am now working hard on a sequel. Daughter of Pendle is available on Amazon.
If you would like to know more about Rowan and her work please check out the links below: