Another episode in the year of an author. Today I am pleased to introduce you to Carol McGrath. Carol’s year has been fantastic. The travel, the successes, and her trip to India. This is a ‘must read’. Please give Carol a vote on this page.
Carol’s passion has always been reading and writing historical fiction. She lives in Oxfordshire with her husband and family. She taught History in an Oxfordshire comprehensive until she took an MA in Creative Writing at The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast. This was quickly followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Her debut novel, The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAS, 2014 in the historical category. The Swan-Daughter is second in the trilogy. This novel was published exclusively for amazon kindle in July 2014 by Accent Press. It will be on general distribution in bookshops on 11th December 2014. It is a stand- alone novel as well as second in the Daughters of Hastings trilogy. She is writing the third and final novel of the Daughters of Hastings trilogy, The Betrothed Sister.
Here is the story of Carol’s year.
Writers are always busy. At least, this has been my discovery. Since The Handfasted Wife, the first book in a trilogy which tells the story of The Norman Conquest from the point of view of the royal women, was published by Accent Press in 2013, my life has not just been about writing historical novels. It has involved author social events and promotions, and, of course, I would not have it any other way.
I began writing The Swan-Daughter, the second book in the trilogy, Daughters of Hastings, in October 2012. By October 2013 I had completed the first draft. It takes me a year at least to write an historical novel. This is a conservative estimate because these books do require much research. The Swan-Daughter is about King Harold’s daughter Gunnhild. She eloped from Wilton Abbey with a Breton knight who fought at Hastings and was cousin to William the Conqueror. As these books are complex, much time has been spent in the Bodleian Library Oxford delving into what was written about events in Chronicle and the analysis of the period by latter-day Historians. Even after a first draft is completed I continue researching life during the eleventh century, looking for new snippets to integrate into the world created for the story. During October and November, I went through The Swan-Daughter, again and again, over and over, checking it for different things each time I revised the manuscript. This might be language or character or it might be information or something that is structurally not quite right. Moreover, I read everything aloud for flow and tone. I look at each word to decide if it is right. That was October and November of last year. At last, in December, I was ready and I sent the manuscript to my editor. I was in a queue as she is not only very good but very busy, and she is always worth the wait.
I took a few weeks off writing during Christmas and New Year when my husband and I spent three weeks in India. India is a great place to gather material for stories and for articles. I have many articles about India on my blog. This was my fourth trip there. We travelled to Hyderabad, Goa and Mumbai with my writer’s notebook tucked into my hand luggage. In it, I wrote snippets of descriptions and character impressions that some time will make their way into stories, not necessarily about India. The highlight was staying in the Mumbai Taj where there had been a terrorist attack in 2008. This hotel was recently featured on a television documentary. Did you see it? I find travelling inspirational and will return to why later in this article. Meantime, I discovered that The Handfasted Wife, my debut novel, was shortlisted for the RoNAS in the Historical Category. Now, that really is exciting.
Until last January, I only had a blog which I called http://www.scribbling-inthemargins.blogspot.com where for years I regularly posted short articles with an historical content. I still try to post at least one article a month. These, generally, are full of photographs and they take time to organise and write. I post travel articles here and very occasionally book reviews. However, now that a world of readers was discovering me, I discovered that I needed a web site. My son in law provided this for me during January and by February I was busy updating it. It is useful as I found out when I was shortlisted for this wonderful RNA competition. Readers can find out more about you. They can contact you. You can provide a short monthly events diary and information about your books. Simply, readers can discover the person behind the book. The web site really is useful.
My web site is really simple. As I write articles for Historical Fiction Writers as well as my own blog and also occasional reviews for a Review Blog found via Facebook, I can consolidate this and link them to a page that I have called My Blogs.
In February I began work on my third novel. I had been planning it since I completed work on The Swan-Daughter. In fact, I wrote the first sentence for The Betrothed-Sister in the middle of winter, and I am still working on a first draft ten months later. This work is a complex process of planning characters and narrative, though I have not stayed religiously to my outline. The story does take over. The characters possess me. It is painstaking work. Writing takes time. I cannot rush it. This group of novels have little paratexts, each one a nod to something literary from the eleventh century. I hunt them out. They occur to me as I write and often after I have finished the book’s first draft. For example, in The Swan-Daughter I paralleled Gunnhild’s love story with aspects of medieval romanz, particularly the medieval Tristram and Isolde. In The Handfasted Wife I used Anglo-Saxon poetry, riddles and little Chronicle extracts for many of the chapter headings. In The Betrothed Sister I am integrating Russian folk tales into the text. I have a delightful book of Russian proverbs and one or two may find their way into the story.
The Betrothed Sister is the story of King Harold’s elder daughter who married a prince of Kiev and who called their first child Harold-I wonder why. Princess Gytha, who in the novel is named Thea, is betrothed for much of the story, itching to meet her prince and anxious to escape four jealous Danish princesses. Thea remains an exile in the Danish king’s court until, at last, she is summoned to a very turbulent Russia. During February and March, I spent hours in The Department of Slavonic Studies, Oxford researching, reading The Russian Primary Chronicle and other sources.
At last in March, my edits came through from my editor. I stopped writing the new novel in order to address these. There are always three lots of edits that go to and fro until the novel is as good as we hope we can make it. They take time. We edited through April. The first lot are mostly structural edits whereas the second group of edits address characters, details and so on, narrative really. And, at last, that necessary copy edit. It is thorough.
The RoNAS in March were fabulous. The Handfasted Wife did not win but to be there and to be shortlisted was a thrilling experience. I think the publicity generated is fabulous and my interview on Radio Oxford was great fun. Most importantly, I felt my work was validated. I felt like one of the princesses whose stories I write. The crème de la crème was certainly the Awards Ceremony held in central London in the Overseas Club. It was a deliciously posh event. I got to wear that little black dress and my highest of heels! I walked on them as if on air. I felt I had arrived. I was an author.
I said that I would return to writing and travel. This deserves its own place as part of my writing year. We have a rented house in the Greek Peloponnese. It is in the area known as the Mani. This is a very old world, a little like Donegal in the west of Ireland, but with better weather. Everything is slower. It is a wonderful place to write. We set off in our old Volvo estate through Europe to Italy in late March stopping in Milan, en route, to this house. We have a solid surface company of which I am a director so we went to the Milan Design Fair on the way south. It is always a great event and we often stay in medieval Pavia. Out came the camera and the notebook. A writer never rests. There are too many new impressions to record in pictures and words.
We spent Easter in Greece. In fact I had many notebooks and texts with me so I was able to spend five months there this summer. This is a great chunk of my writing year. My husband was there some of the time and at other times various writing friends visited. In May, writers Jenny Barden and Charlotte Betts visited. In August, writers Liz Harris and Sarah Bower came out. Meantime, I set up a writers group in a mountain village called Neohori. There are artists and writers living there, escaping the world. It has been a great success. We are four core members and others who visit are invited to participate. The three writers living there permanently are very accomplished. One of them has taught in further education and has written plays for small theatres. And I should add that an inspiration is Patrick Leigh Fermor who lived close by since the nineteen fifties until his death a few years ago.
In July, I returned to England for a month. This was my ham and salmon month. I had been invited to two weddings and I gave a power point presentation on Medieval Women and Marriage at the RNA Conference at Telford. One of the best parts of this conference was the Blixt Hill Event. Historical writers organised and presented their period and their novels dressed in appropriate costume. I think Jenny Barden was a brilliant organiser. It was an inspiring and superb conference.
In August, I coordinated, from my Greek eyrie, the HNS Conference 14 short story competition. The fifty plus entries were of a high standard and the winning story called Salt which is about women who gutted herrings during the First World War in Grimsby, was fabulous. It was moving and beautifully written. I reviewed several novels for the Historical Novel’s Society glossy review magazine during my writing year!
One of the things I have enjoyed most since returning in October from Greece has been the theatre. Last week we went to the RCS productions of Love Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing. When you have been theatre deprived for months you doubly appreciate the RSC. It is also another aspect of my writing year because if you are ever looking for idea for plots and brilliant dialogue the theatre is a source of inspiration.
And now another October is indeed ending. And I should sign off before I ramble on and on. As I reflect on my writing year I think, yes, I did accomplish much. The Swan-Daughter was published on 24th July. It is an e publication until 11th December when it goes into general distribution and paperback. Last Friday, I received a lovely gift from Accent Press, a box of advance copies of The Swan-Daughter. What a perfect way to close this writing year. It looks fabulous. In fact, I think I must read it. No, best not, I say to myself. Carol, always remember, you are only ever as good as your last book. It is time to get back to The Betrothed Sister. Hopefully, readers are waiting for it and when the first draft is finished, this is when the hard work really does begin.
And may I say thank you to, Lin, for hosting me here. It is such a pleasure to visit.
Follow me on Twitter @carolmcgrath