Today I am delighted to have Juliet Greenwood in the library for a chat. Juliet’s beautiful cover for The White Camellia was my very first monthly historical fiction cover winner. (See: Historical Fiction Cover Competition January 2017)
After living in London and near Birmingham, I now live in a small traditional cottage halfway up a mountain in Snowdonia, in North Wales. I write stories and serials for magazines as ‘Heather Pardoe’, as well as novels under my own name. My books have reached #4 and #5 in the UK Amazon Kindle store, while ‘Eden’s Garden’ was a finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’ and ‘We That are Left’ was completed with a Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary. I have a passion for gardening and walking, as well as for history – and my camera goes with me everywhere!
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?
Books were my life as a child. We didn’t have a TV, and my parents loved going on camping holidays in an old VW van, so I used to lose myself in books. I loved the Brontes and Dickens, the kind of books that you could absorb yourself in for hours on end. I still love reading, and the one thing I regret at the moment is not having time to read more fiction – even though I’m loving my research books as well. There’s nothing better than curling up in my garden on a sunny day and disappearing into another world. I like to try books in all different genres (apart from horror). It’s anything that grabs me and makes me identify with the characters. I once spent weeks lost in the pre-history of ‘Land of the Cave Bear’ series, and the brilliant ‘Reindeer Moon’. It made me really appreciate having hot water and food, and not being a hunter-gatherer always on the edge of hunger and freezing cold.
Are you self-published or traditionally published?
I’m traditionally published by Honno Press, a small press celebrating its thirtieth birthday this year. Honno focusses on developing and publishing women writers from Wales, and I’ve learnt an incredible amount from the editing process and the experiences of my fellow Honno writers. I also write stories and serials for magazines as ‘Heather Pardoe’, which I enjoy, although I have less time for that now I’m concentrating on writing and promoting my novels.
Which genre do you write in and why?
I write historical fiction, primarily set in Victorian and Edwardian times, although I’ve also written a time-shift, ‘Eden’s Garden’, and would love to write another at some point. I enjoy writing about an era that is both very different from our own, but has many of the similarities and dilemmas. I’m most interested in the lives and experiences of women, and the struggle of the women in these periods to gain the freedoms we tend to take for granted today – including the right to earn money and for it not to go directly to a husband, even after a divorce! So much of women’s lives remains invisible, and I’ve found while researching that women did so much more, even when they had no legal existence of their own.
Until I began researching for ‘We That are Left’, I had no idea that women were working right on the front line in the First World War, nursing under fire and bringing food to the men in the trenches, as well as working as spies, not to mention setting up and running their own field hospitals. When I began researching for ‘The White Camellia’ I discovered years of campaigning from the suffrage movement, who gained women legal rights – including a legal existence – and battled for the right to vote through badgering and outwitting the political elite for years before the suffragettes. I also hadn’t realised that so many men couldn’t vote either, which was why so many men supported their wives in fighting the cause, and that it was both men and women who finally gained the vote in 1928. Writing about such women is not only putting the record straight, but I feel passionately that it’s important in how we see ourselves as women – not as passive victims straitjacketed in the home while the men went off and did the interesting things, but as passionate and incredibly clever and courageous determiners of our own lives.
It also wasn’t just the middle class women; with some of the early suffrage campaigners being women in factories who risked all to improve conditions and gain a living wage, and the equal pay for equal work that we are still fighting for today. And don’t get me onto the shenanigans women had to put up with to be accepted as doctors and other professionals …
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
I find the first draft the most difficult, because it’s working everything out in a terrifying void. I enjoy the freedom of knowing no one will ever see this, and anything can change, but getting everything down takes so much time and I never know if I’ve got enough story to fill 100,000 words. At that point, I’m also aware of just how long the process is to get to the finished book, and it can feel overwhelming.
I overcome it by just hammering on the keys and getting those words down. For days it can be rubbish, or at least feel like rubbish, but that always leads to a breakthrough. I also don’t stop and go back. Even if a character changes from heroine to wicked step-mother halfway through (or, indeed, changes sex) I just carry on. Once I’ve got a rough draft, then I can really get to work. What I’ve learnt is that until that book goes to the printers it keeps on changing and improving, being refined again and again, with the help of editors, and just reading through again, until it reaches its final form. Writing a book is definitely not for wimps.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
I have a day job as an academic proofreader, which often has strict deadlines. The great thing is I can work from home, so I like to get up at six, and get that out of the way. I then take my dog for a walk, which is both social, but also when I work out any plotting knots and the next chapter I’m working on and get my head into writing. When I come back, I settle down with a large cup of coffee and get stuck in. I try to work until late afternoon, and do research and reading in the evening.
What is the best thing about being an author? And the flipside – what is the worst?
The best bit for me is the final stage, the final edit, when – at the very point you loath this creature that has taken over your life for months, and your friends are checking you are still breathing – the book finally falls into place, and you have a book. That’s still for me the biggest buzz ever. I’m always amazed when it happens, and the feeling is the best. Even better than chocolate. The flipside is there never being enough hours in the day to get everything done. I seriously need to get out more …
Is social media an essential chore or something you enjoy? Which forum do you prefer?
I enjoy social media, so I have to be very disciplined about it, or I’d be on there all the time! I love meeting people from all over the world and chatting to them. I like the quick-fire conversations of Twitter, but I think Facebook is my favourite, it feels more like having a proper conversation. I live in a beautiful area in Snowdonia and I love sharing photos, and seeing other people’s photos from where they live too, and having on-going conversations. There’s nothing quite like a face to face chat with friends, but it’s great to be able to meet my readers and people I wouldn’t normally meet – especially since moving from London to live in a cottage halfway up a mountain in Snowdonia!
If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?
I used to run story-telling and puppet workshops for adults and children – so I have a feeling that’s what I’d be doing. I used to love it. We would make the puppets and create plays, which we performed in all sorts of places, from giant puppets in theatres to hand puppets in castle grounds. It was definitely what got me back into my love of writing! It was fascinating seeing how children, in particular, would work out their own dilemmas, quite unconsciously, through the stories they created. Naturally, a great deal of glitter was involved.
It’s the last day and the earth is facing oblivion – what book would you read?
It would have to be ‘The Shield Ring’ by Rosemary Sutcliff. It was the first ‘proper’ book I read, and then read over and over again. It was the book I loved so much it made me want to make up stories of my own. I think, if it was the end of time, I’d like to go back to a book that was the beginning of firing up my imagination – and hopefully be able to lose myself again so deeply in another world I wouldn’t notice the finally big bang!
Please tell us about your latest published work.
My latest book is ‘The White Camellia’, set in Edwardian London and Cornwall. It’s about two very different women, caught up in a family feud, and their different struggles for freedom and to find love. It’s partly set against the struggles of the suffrage movement, with the younger heroine, Bea, becoming an early photojournalist, photographing women’s protest marches through London. There’s also a crumbling old house on the Cornish cliffs, and a family mystery to be resolved …
Buy Link for The White Camellia Amazon
If you would like to know more about Juliet and her work, please click on the links below: