My guest today is the lovely Tanya Crosse. We met earlier this year at Morwhellam Quay in Devon. With other romance writers I am compiling the experiences of my author colleagues whom I invited to take part in ‘The Writer’s Year.’ I hope their stories will inspire others to keep going. Here, Tanya provides an insight into life as an author. I am presently reading her first book Morwhellam’s Child which portrays life in a Devon mining town. I have to say after reading what Tanya describes as her tragic year, I can truly empathise with her about the ups and downs of being an author. I found this a fascinating story.
Tania told me she had always yearned passionately to be a writer of historical novels, particularly of the Victorian era. Having penned three novels in the 1990s, she was told by all the agents and publishers she approached that she had the talent but the era was wrong. Then she visited Morwellham Quay, the restored Victorian copper port and major tourist attraction in Devon, and was inspired to write a dramatic saga illustrating the port’s history. Knowing how incredibly difficult it is to get published, and having a direct sales outlet, she decided to have the book printed herself. It sold like hot cakes at the quay’s gift shop, but also sold in local bookshops and other tourist outlets such the National Trust. The first print-run sold out in weeks, and the following year, due to demand, she reprinted double the original amount.
In the meantime, Tania had fallen in love with nearby Dartmoor whose rich and fascinating history was going to provide an abundance of inspiration for further novels. She was half way through writing the first of these when her husband secretly sent a copy of Morwellham’s Child and her then work in progress to Pan Books, and consequently signed a contract with them for both stories in 2003, with publication following in 2004 and 2006 respectively. Since then she has completed a series of ten historical novels based on the history of the area. I wish her every success with her latest book Teardrops in the Moon. Read on now for Tanya’s story about her writing year.
MY WRITING YEAR OCT 2013 – OCT 2014
When Lin first asked me to write a blog based on my previous year’s writing, I wasn’t sure it was something I could do. The reason for this was that, due to unforeseen and tragic circumstances, this past year has been utterly untypical for me in writing terms. But after due consideration, I thought that my story might just inspire new writers to keep going. Just because I have ten traditionally published novels under my belt, doesn’t mean to say that my writing life is without its problems.
To begin at the beginning, I was unable to write for most of 2013 owing to problems with my elderly mother. I had struggled to complete Teardrops in the Moon by May, much later than I would have liked, but my publisher and my agent were very understanding. Teardrops was the tenth and final instalment of the Devonshire series I had planned back in 2003 when I had let my imagination loose on the amazing history of western Dartmoor and the surrounding area. Including Morwellham’s Child, there were originally to have been seven books – five set in the Victorian era and two during the Great War. One of the Victorian sagas was too long, though, and had to be split into two, so if you ever read Cherrybrook Rose, you must follow on with its sequel, A Bouquet of Thorns. Then, when I was part way through writing the Victorian stories, my agent, the lovely Dorothy Lumley, secured me a contract for two 1950s sagas set in the same area. As there is a thread that links all my earlier books, I decided to make Lily’s Journey and Hope at Holly Cottage part of the network by making some of the characters descendants of the Victorian families.
So, over the years, I have written about farming and mining on the moor in the Nineteenth Century, Dartmoor Prison in Victorian times which was just as barbaric as you might imagine, the isolated gunpowder factory at Cherrybrook, the building of the Princetown Railway and the second railway through Tavistock, life at the isolated quarries, the Great Flood of 1890 and the Blizzard of 1891 as they affected both Tavistock and the moor, and Tavistock’s workhouse. For the 1950s novels, I drew from the many changes on the moor at the time, when industries were long gone and workmen’s cottages were being condemned. The Princetown Railway met its demise, people’s lives had been altered irrevocably by the Second World War, and young men were doing their National Service. Yet Dartmoor still held its secrets, both ancient and more modern.
I think that gives an idea of how I find the inspiration for my books. I find an interesting subject, research it in depth, and then just allow my naturally vivid imagination to envisage exactly what it would have been like to live through that particular set of circumstances. Of course, you have to develop gripping personal stories, realistic characters your readers will become emotionally entangled with, and all the other trimmings expected of a modern novel. Characterisation, dialogue and structure all have to be spot on, and although you have to hold your reader spellbound, your story must be utterly believable.
So, getting back to the year in question, it began with a most devastating event. Although I knew Dorothy had been unwell, I wasn’t aware of how serious her ill-health had become, and it came as a huge shock to me when she passed away at the beginning of October last year. She was so kind and understanding, and helped so many aspiring writers to establish their careers, my own included. Although I had already achieved publication before I signed up with her, my career would never have flourished without her representation. You could sit down and discuss things with her; she always listened to your point of view and put forward suggestions with such tact; although she taught me so much, she never bullied and I always felt I was working with her rather than beneath her. She was one in a million and is missed by so many.
Her death also, of course, left me without an agent at a time when I really needed one. Having completed the Devonshire series, I was ready to move on to something different. I had various ideas which I had previously tossed about with Dot, all of which she liked and which we had planned on playing around with once I got back to writing, which I knew wasn’t going to be until the New Year. City based sagas, though, seemed to be the main way forward. I spent the first five years of my life in south west London and have strong memories of that time, and so it seemed the logical place to start. It was quite an industrial area, and so I am using the same method as I did with the Devon based books.
So it has been trips up to London to refresh my memories of my early childhood, hours spent in local studies libraries and researching online, and, of course, building up the first story in my head. Some authors, I know, plan out every scene before they start writing the actual book. I might do a half-page plan. I know my characters instantly. I suppose I must have a natural intuition for them, but also find I have it for time and place as well. Perhaps the key is that I carry out such detailed research first that my characters and their storylines just grow out of it. All I know is that I just sit down and write, and feel my way through the story with all its twists and turns and the subplots that wind themselves around the main plot.
Now, in October 2014, having completed most of the research for this new venture, I have penned almost half of it. This might not sound much, but I have also researched and written a substantial partial for another idea I had been discussing with Dot. And then earlier in the summer, Teardrops in the Moon was released. As I have built up a substantial readership in the South West, I concentrated my publicity campaign there with several exciting events which, if you are interested, you will find listed on my website. One of the things I was asked to do was to give a talk, dressed in my crinoline, at Morwellham Quay’s first ever literary festival, and to present the prizes for their short story competition, which I felt was a great honour. Now, all these events take an enormous amount of planning, but it is all part of being an author, to say nothing of standing up in front of an audience to talk about one’s latest release. And I don’t just like to talk. I like to give a performance that will keep the audience entertained, interested and inspired to buy a copy!
Because of the 1950s sagas, Teardrops in the Moon is not the final novel chronologically in my Devonshire series. But, as explained above, it was originally meant to be the final instalment, and I believe still feels like the last one emotionally. It brings together all the characters from the Victorian series so that fans can see what has happened to them in the intervening years. There are four main families involved, and relationships have developed between children and grandchildren. The outbreak of the First World War sees each one of them involved in the war effort or the war itself. Dartmoor might seem isolated from the rest of the world, but it in fact had a huge role to play, as well as giving up its sons to the fighting. The heroine of the story is Cherrybrook Rose’s younger daughter, Marianne. Just as spirited as her mother in her youth, Marianne eventually enlists as an ambulance driver with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in war-torn France. Her earlier secret vow is challenged beyond imagining, and it takes all her courage and strength to face the horrors of war. And who is the stranger from her mother’s past who seems hell-bent on destroying the family even when the war is over? I also had the brainwave of a poignant epilogue set in the summer of 1939, when war was on the horizon yet again. This also provides a link through to the 1950s sagas, bringing the series full circle.
As I write this, I am looking forward to taking part in the Tavistock Heritage Festival at the end of this month. There are all sorts of events taking place over the weekend, all based on the town’s fascinating history from medieval times onwards. My own event, though, is the only one representing the First World War. I am going to be chatting to people on a very informal basis about the role of the town and the surrounding area in the conflict, based on my two Great War novels.
Released in Spring 2013, Wheels of Grace was the fictional account of the Dartmoor village of Walkhampton during that terrible time, centred on the wheelwrights at the hub of this tiny, close-knit community. The war leaves no one untouched as its evil tentacles reach everyone in the village. Later on in the story, the heroine goes to work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at Tavistock’s Mount Tavy Hospital for injured soldiers, which specialised in shellshock. This is now an independent preparatory school, Mount House, where last November I gave a talk about the time it was a hospital. The school’s lectures are open to the public, and I was concerned about pitching to an audience with an age range of seven to eighty! I shouldn’t have worried. By keeping to the point, I kept everyone interested, and the children asked some most amazing questions – most of which I was fortunately able to answer!
Anyway, because of this connection, for my event, Tavistock’s amateur dramatic society is lending me a nurse’s uniform from their production some years ago of Oh, What a Lovely War! This will all be adding to the atmosphere as people drop in for a chat. I have a CD of original First World War music which will be playing in the background, and heaps of Union Jacks and Kitchener posters. So if you happen to be in Tavistock on 25th October, do call in to see me at the Subscription Library.
So, looking back over the past year, I suppose I have achieved a great deal, even though I haven’t been firing on all cylinders writing-wise. I do hope, though, that this has given an idea of what being a writer is really like. It isn’t just a case of meticulous research, writing the perfect novel and getting it published in one of the many ways that are open to us all nowadays. You must get out there to know your audience, whether it be through social media or in person – or preferably both. I don’t know what the future holds for my career, but what I can say is that I’ve had a ball along the way!
If you wish to know more about Tanya please visit her web page. http://www.tania-crosse.co.uk/
If you would like to take part in The Writer’s Year please send me an author photo, a cover picture of your book and no more than 2,500 words about your year between 2013-2014. I will also need a brief introduction about you.