Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today I’m welcoming Marilyn to the tearoom. Welcome.
Thank you for your invite. The tearoom is rather grand.
Thank you, Marilyn we are pleased with it. Now we have our drinks let’s start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
I have always worked in computers (where facts invariably supersede fiction) and when I took my degrees (BA, MA and PhD) as a very mature student, all the essays obviously also had to be factual. Having achieved my PhD I wrote the biography of Mary De Morgan (1850 – 1907), a Victorian writer I had “discovered” during my research, which also had to be accurate and truthful. Despite having done a lot of research on De Morgan there were still gaps in my knowledge and by now, having learned to love the act of writing (beats housework), I decided to write a fictional account based on her life. That, by necessity was a historical novel (“The Jewel Garden”). After that, it has never occurred to me to write any other genre.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
My PhD was on the utopian and dystopian aspects of Victorian fairy tales and Mary De Morgan, whom I am quite obsessed with, was a writer of fairy tales, amongst many other things. De Morgan was fairly well-known in her day, but very few people have heard of her today. I find fairy tales and their retelling to suit the agenda of the period, fascinating. After “The Jewel Garden,” I wrote “Song of the Nightingale: a tale of two castrati” based on something I had heard on a radio programme: that young boys were bought from poor families in Italy, castrated and sent to a conservatoire to be taught to sing as castrati. But fairy tales and the difficulties of women writers to have their voices heard was always in the back of my mind so when I sat down to think what to write next, I knew I wanted to incorporate these two themes. I wanted one or more fairy tales to pass from female generation to female generation, but never published, due to the obstacles experienced by the women, until they are rediscovered and revealed during the second-wave of feminism in the 1970s. I originally thought it would be one book, but it is now going to be a trilogy. The first book (set in the 1820s) is with a literary agent and I am well on my way to finishing the second (set in 1880s), with the 3rd (set in 1910s) planned in my head. The best thing about the books, in my opinion, are the fairy tales I have made up, which pass from woman to woman – these have been great fun to write and I am rather proud of them.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
Although I am focussing on the second book of the trilogy, I do have an idea for what to write next, which I intend to research in parallel as it will be based on a real woman about whom I know very little, other than I think there is a wonderful story there! In addition, I always write something for each of my three young granddaughters for their birthdays in December and February, so I suppose you could say these are currently unfinished projects. They are simple stories which I have also started to illustrate myself, but they are in no way publishabled
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter, or let the characters lead you?
I am definitely a planner. I always know how I want it to start and how I want it to finish, with an idea of the main events. I will then write a character study of each main character, along with a detailed timeline, which I put on post-it notes to begin with, then onto a spreadsheet once I am happy with the sequence. Then I start writing! Once I do and the characters have their own personalities, then it all changes, of course, but it is useful as a rough guide of where I intended to go.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
For “The Jewel Garden” I had done an enormous amount of research already for my PhD and for the biography of Mary De Morgan, so I didn’t need to do much more other than find out about life in Egypt in the early 1900s and how to travel in England and to Egypt. For “Song of the Nightingale,” I bought about six books on the history and life in eighteenth-century Italy, and of the castrati, but the book is about relationships and emotions which needs my imagination rather than in-depth research. For the books in the trilogy, again I have purchased books and accessed websites on aspects I need to know about: mining in the early 1800s, particularly in Wednesbury; how to become a missionary; women up at Oxford University in the 1880s; the life of women in the Settlements of London in the 1880s; the fate of unmarried women and how to terminate a baby; Victorian etiquette and much more!
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
The ideal day is:
Up at 7 and walk the dog, then breakfast.
Do “stuff” until late morning (answer e-mails, do some painting, shop, basically faff around)
Walk dog, then lunch.
Write from about 2pm – 6pm.
Walk dog, then dinner.
Read or do the crossword (I don’t have a television) then bed.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
On a writing day I like to try and write over 1,000 words, which I usually manage, but if I don’t, I don’t beat myself up. I currently don’t have any deadlines, so I don’t feel pressurised.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I do now but feel it is too confusing to change at this stage. I wish I had written all my books under my maiden name of Hammond.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I try and find names that were appropriate for the period, I need to like the sound of it and there should not be two names that are similar, as this is confusing for the reader. In the book I am writing, I changed one of the main male names from Daniel to Nicholas to Edward, because I couldn’t engage with him until he had a name I was comfortable with. As I have said earlier, I do write character studies, with their physical attributes as well as their personality traits. I probably don’t know absolutely everything about them – they tend to reveal themselves as the book progresses, but at least I can remind myself of the colour of their hair and eyes!
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I haven’t written that many, but if there is not too much research, as in the trilogy I am currently writing, then I would hope to finish within 12 – 18 months.
Thank you for joining me today, Marilyn. If you would like to know more about Marilyn’s writing and books please click on the links below:
Marilyn Pemberton | Marilyn Pemberton AuthorBlog: writingtokeepsane.wordpress.com
It you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.