Saturday, 19 November 2016

I look for something from history that no one has dealt with before...

Interview with Steve Berry 
by Agnes A. Rose

Steve Berry is an American author and former attorney. He is a graduate of Mercer University's Walter F. George School of Law. His passion is history so it lies at the heart of every one of his thrillers. A practicing attorney at the time, Steve Berry had been writing fiction since 1990, and it took him 12 years and 85 rejections before selling a manuscript to Ballantine Books. His first novel was The Amber Room, which was published in 2003. His next book, The Romanov Prophecy, was released a year later. He now has more than twenty million books in print, which have been translated into many languages and sold in more than fifty countries. Steve Berry is also the author of the Cotton Malone Series, which is very popular and loved by readers. In Poland we can read a lot of his books published by SONIA DRAGA. So far he has won many awards for his work. He is a founding member of International Thriller Writers. This is a group of more than 3,800 thriller writers from around the world. For two years he was its co-president. Steve Berry and his wife travel the world both researching and promoting his books. One comment they hear repeatedly concerns the dwindling supply of funds available to preserve our heritage. So Steve and Elizabeth launched History Matters to assist communities around the world with restoration and preservation.

Agnes A. Rose: A very warm welcome to you, Steve, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me today. When a few years ago I read your first book “The Amber Room”, I thought: “What a fantastic historical thriller!” Could you tell us what motivated you to create this kind of story? I want to add that I have been your huge fan since then.

photo by Kelly Campbell
Steve Berry: In 1995, I was listening to a program on the Discovery channel, not watching, only listening from another room. The narrator was talking about the Amber Room. I caught only the last few minutes of the show, but the idea fascinated me. Unfortunately, not enough information came from the television show for me to even know what the Amber Room was. I actually, at first, thought it was a painting. All I learned from the little I heard was that it was stolen from the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo and had not been seen since 1945. So I went to the bookstore and thumbed through Russian travel guides until I found a reference. It took several more months of research to formulate the novel’s plot.

AAR: As I mentioned above you had been writing since 1990 and it took you 12 years and 85 rejections before selling a manuscript to your publisher. Why did it take you so long to publish your first book? What was wrong with your fiction that publishers rejected it as many as 85 times? It is unbelievable!

SB: Nothing was really wrong. It was all about timing. I was writing what was then called a spy thriller. But that genre died in 1991 when the Cold War ended.  Consequently, editors in the 1990s weren’t buying those kind of books then. Then, in 2003, the genre was reborn with The DaVinci Code. It came back not as a spy thriller, but as action, history, secrets, and conspiracies. Exactly what I was writing, so I was able to make it to publication. Timing is everything.

AAR: Your second book was “The Romanov Prophecy”. It was released in 2004, so shortly after your debut novel. Did you know then that you would be a professional writer and each your next book would be released?

SB: I knew I wanted to be a commercial fiction writer and sell a book-a-year to a New York publishing house. But I had no idea if I would be able to actually accomplish that. It all depended on readers liking the books. Thankfully, they did.

AAR: How do you usually choose a theme of your next novel and select characters?

SB: I look for something from history that no one has dealt with before, something lost and forgotten, but true. It has to be true. I keep my novels about 90% accurate to history, with only 10% speculation.  No writer wants to write what someone else has already done. So I search hard for those unknown bits of history that I hope readers will find interesting. The characters select themselves, depending on the story. Sometimes Cassiopeia is there, sometimes not. Luke Daniels has become a series regular now, appearing in many of the books. The hardest part is fashioning the bad guy since each one has to be different than the one before.

AAR: What made you become interested in history? Why is it so important to you? Do you have your favourite historical era?

SB: The past is our roadmap to the future. Studying it is important. Forgetting or ignoring it can be disastrous. And I really have no particular favorite era. My novels have been across a wide spectrum from ancient times to the Cold War, but always with a modern twist. 

AAR: In your books you sometimes write about the mysteries of the Catholic Church what may seem controversial. Let me mention for example “The Third Secret”. Aren’t you afraid of Catholics’ reactions? Why do you choose such themes?

SB: The reaction to the The Third Secret by some Catholics was hostile. I received a few thousand e-mails damning me to hell. The book was an idea I had way back in parochial school. What would happen if God was a liberal? Not a flame-throwing ultra-conservative. Instead, he’s progressive and we have it all wrong. It’s a good story – and readers have to keep that in mind. It’s a story, made-up, not real.

AAR: Your “Cotton Malone Series” is very popular around the world. In my opinion the main character called Cotton Malone – a former U.S. Justice Department agent – is very interesting. Could you tell us what inspired you to create him?

SB: He was born in Copenhagen while I was sitting at a café in Højbro Plads, a popular Danish square. That’s why Cotton owns a bookshop there. I wanted a character with government ties and a background that would make him, if threatened, formidable. But I also wanted him to be human, with flaws. Since I also love rare books, it was natural that Cotton would too, so he became a Justice Department operative, turned bookseller, who manages, from time to time, to find trouble. I also gave him an eidetic memory, since who wouldn’t like one of those? At the same time, Cotton is clearly a man in conflict. His marriage has failed, he maintains a difficult relationship with his teenage son,  and he’s lousy with women.

photo by Rana Faure
AAR: Which part of Cotton Malone is closest to you?

SB: His personality is pretty much mine.

AAR: While writing books which part of researching is the most personally interesting to you? Are there any facts, symbols, or themes that you would like to include, but they just don't make into the story?

SB: The research for each novel takes about 18 months and involves 300 to 4000 sources. So there’s a lot. Of that research, only about 20% makes it into the novel.  The vast majority is never used. There’s a reason for that.  I’m writing a novel, not a textbook. Its primary purpose is to entertain. If along the way the reader can also learn some things, that’s just an added bonus.

AAR: How would you describe your books to someone who has not read any of them?

SB:  “Action, history, secrets, and conspiracies.”

AAR: Most authors say that it is important to write you love because then you can succeed as a bestselling writer. Do you agree with this statement? Have you always written historical thrillers?

SB: Absolutely. It’s the best writing advice to can take. Always write what you love.  When I began writing I gravitated straight to action, history, secrets, and conspiracies. The seed for that was probably sown when I read my first adult novel at the age of 15. Hawaii by James Michener. He remains my favorite writer of all time.

AAR: What about books you like reading? What kind of literature do you prefer?

SB: I’m a thriller junkie. I read a lot of them. But my main reading is non-fiction, the research materials for the book I’m working on.

AAR: You have helped restore a lot of ailing historical artifacts and buildings through your History Matters foundation. Could you tell us something more about your work in the foundation?

SB: Money for historic preservation and conservation is one of the first things to be cut from any budget. My wife, Elizabeth, and I thought it was time to come up with an innovative way to raise money, and that’s what History Matters is all about. The most popular method we use is a 4 hour seminar we teach where writers, aspiring writers, and readers buy their way in with a contribution to the cause. All of the money raised from the workshop goes to the particular historical project that we are there to support. No expenses or appearance fees are charged. In fact, I pay all those myself. So far we’ve taught over 3000 students. Other ways History Matters raises money is through meet and greets, speaking engagements, gala events, receptions, luncheons, dinners, club meetings, or a cocktail party. All total we’ve raised nearly a $1,000,000 for historical preservation. You can find out more at

AAR: I am also very interested in International Thriller Writers. Could you tell us how this group of writers works?

SB: It’s an organization of 3800 thriller writers from around the world, the guild for thriller writers. I was fortunate to be one of the founding members and I served as co-president for two years. I still serve on the board of directors today as vice-president of Publications. Membership is free to any working thriller writer. You can find out more at 

AAR: What is your writing project you are currently working on? Could you tell us something more about it?

SB: I’m finishing up the novel that will be published in April 2018. It will be Cotton Malone’s 13th adventure. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it’s about yet, but I can say that involves a subject-matter that will be quite topical then. The next Cotton Malone story releases in the United States on April 4, 2017. It’s called The Lost Order.

AAR: Steve, I have been absolutely delighted and very honored that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary and historical site. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers? I know that you are going to visit Poland next year.

SB: Only that I appreciate them, one and all. All of my books have been published in Poland by Sonia Draga. I’ve had a great relationship with them. I will be visiting Poland in late November 2017 as part of a publicity tour for Sonia Draga. Hopefully, I’ll get to say hello to some of my readers. 

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

Thursday, 28 July 2016

I always loved creating the big family saga...

Interview with Barbara Taylor Bradford 
by Agnes A. Rose

Barbara Taylor Bradford comes from England but now she lives in New York with her husband Robert Bradford, who is a television producer. She started writing fiction when she was only seven years old and sold her first short story to a magazine for seven shillings and sixpence when she was ten years old. Her first novel was “A Woman Of Substance” which was published in 1979. The book went from bestseller to super seller within its first year and stayed on the New York Times’ list for fifty-five weeks. Barbara Taylor Bradford has had about thirty books published and many of them have been produced as TV films or drama series. All her novels are worldwide bestsellers. The author holds five Honorary Doctorate of Letters such as the University of Leeds (Yorkshire); the University of Bradford (Yorkshire); Teikyo Post University (Connecticut); Siena College, Loudonville (New York) and Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh (New York). Barbara Taylor Bradford is also the recipient of twenty five other awards for her writing achievements and philanthropy. Her original manuscripts are housed in The Brotherton Library of Leeds University and are displayed next to those of Yorkshire’s other legendary writers, including the Brontë sisters. The latest stand-alone Barbara’s book is entitled “Secret From The Past”.  

Agnes A. Rose: Mrs. Barbara, thank you so much that you accepted my invitation to take part in this interview. I am very honored that I can host you on my blog and talk to you. At the beginning I would like to ask you at what point did you decide that you’d like to be a writer full time? And why did you decide to create books for women?

Barbara Taylor Bradford: Before I was a novelist, I was a reporter, a newspaper editor and a columnist. Much of what I was writing about was geared toward women’s interests. I wrote about style, fashion and decorating. I even had a nationally syndicated column across America in the 1970s about interior design. I also had a handful of decorating books published. It was during the mid 1970s that I thought about writing novels. I started and stopped four different times, before the character of Emma Harte came to my imagination. After that, everything fell into place.

AAR: Now I would like to ask you about your first novel which was a worldwide bestseller in a very short time. Of course I mean “A Woman Of Substance”. In my opinion the whole series is the best family saga I have ever read. Thank you for these books very much. What motivated you to write the first part of these novels? 

BTB: Before I’d written “A Woman Of Substance”, I was trying too hard to fit characters into a larger story. Then I read a quote from the famous author, Graham Greene about how “character is plot.” I immediately understood what he meant by this and that is when Emma Harte was born in my imagination. I wanted to tell the story of her life in one long novel, showing her struggles, her loves and her ultimate success. I thought I had pretty much covered everything in “A Woman Of Substance”. But because of its popularity, my publishers asked for me to continue the story of Emma’s family in a variety of sequels. That is why I wrote “Hold The Dream”, “To Be The Best” and so forth. 

AAR: Do you remember what you felt when you found out that “A Woman Of Substance” had just become a worldwide bestseller? Did you expect such success while writing the book? 

BTB: I remember that it was 1979 and the book had just been published in the US. I was with my husband, Bob, in a large bookstore on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. There was this huge pile of my book stacked up in a display at the front window. I was really nervous about this. I said to Bob, “Who is going to buy all these copies of my novel? There are just too many of them.” He reassured me that the book was a winner and that it would be a bestseller. Thankfully, he was right.

AAR: What made you decide to write more books about the Harte and O'Neil families? 

BTB: My second and third novels were not about Emma Harte and her clan. “Voice Of The Heart” and “Act Of Will” were both successful, featuring new characters and storylines. But “A Woman Of Substance” continued to be a big bestseller. The publishers kept on asking for a sequel. I finally said yes and wrote “Hold The Dream”. I shifted much of the focus to Emma’s granddaughter, Paula O’Neil. I followed this with “To Be The Best”. Then I took a break from the Hartes until the early 2000s. That’s when I was asked to write about the next generation of the family. I wrote another 4 books which began with “Emma’s Secret” (2002).

AAR: How much important is Emma Harte for you? Is she your favourite female character? 

BTB: Emma Harte plays such an integral part of my writing history because she started it all. So yes, I would say that she is perhaps my favorite character that I’ve created. I even gave her a cameo in a handful of books that I wrote through the years which take place during the era of World War II. One of them is my latest novel, “The Cavendon Luck”. I have many female characters that I have created through the years who I feel proud of. But Emma is the one that seems to resonate the most with my readers.

AAR: I must say that each of your novels that I read made a really big impression on me and very often I try to return to them. Let me mention “Voice Of The Heart” which I have read twice. Could you tell us what inspired you to write this emotional story about two beautiful, rich and so different women? 

BTB: I had it in my mind to write about a pair of complicated, successful women: One an actress. And the other a writer. Both of them fiercely determined like me. They both have secrets that will greatly impact their lives and loves. I remember how much fun it was to come up with these characters. I didn’t base either woman on any real-life figure. They both came out of my imagination, perhaps inspired by authors and actresses who I admired.

AAR: The main characters of your books are primarily strong, beautiful and rich women. But in “The Women Of His Life” you created Maximilian West who decided to organize his life again after he had been wounded by a burglar and taken to hospital. Despite the fact that women are still important in this novel, the leading character is Maximilian. Why? 

BTB: I wanted to go in a very different direction. That book is actually quite personal to me. I based it loosely on the story of my husband’s childhood escape from Nazi Germany. Maximilian West shares quite a few things in common with Bob – at least in the early part of the story when he takes a train out of Germany to Paris where he would be raised by another family for many years. The later portions of his life differ. Bob became a movie producer. Maximilian West becomes a business mogul who endures a number of marriages and personal struggles. 

AAR: You very often write about people who come from aristocratic families. Let me mention for example the Ravenscar Trilogy or the Cavendon series. What is interesting about writing about characters coming from the upper class? Do they have richer personalities? Or maybe do they have more life experiences than other people? 

BTB: I grew up in Yorkshire where my mother used to take me to visit many stately homes. I often thought about what it was like to live inside them. Also, what it was like for the families who served the aristocracy. Emma Harte was a character who went from being a maid servant to a successful business woman with a staff of people who worked for her. I covered both sides of the story. The Ravenscar series was based upon the Wars Of The Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty. It was a modern trilogy, retelling the lives of these kings and queens, only now running a business instead of a country. Because of the castle-like homes that they lived in, naturally there would be large staff of people working for them. In the Cavendon series, we have the Ingham family who lives in “Cavendon Hall” and the Swann family who loyally serves them for generations. Eventually, these lines get blurred as an unlikely romance and marriage brings them together.

AAR: Some of your novels are related to the pre-war history. Sometimes the stories of your books include tens of years and the lives of several generations of the same family. Is it easy for you to create such a complex family dynamics associated with history? What type of research do you conduct to write this kind of stories? 

BTB: I always loved creating the big family saga. I grew up reading the works of the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens and other classic writers who wrote novels featuring numerous characters. I often create a family tree, or a scorecard of sorts at the front of my books to give readers a sense as to who is connected to whom. I know that my readers have always loved the idea of these multi-generational stories from me. So I continue to write them. My name is synonymous with this genre. It’s not easy to do. I too need to make a list of characters ahead of writing the novel so that I don’t lose track of an important family connection. As for research, I read a lot about the era of World War I and World War II. I’m constantly looking up things like which hospital existed in London in 1939, or what was the closest air force base to Yorkshire during the Great War. That sort of thing. I actually quite enjoy conducting research on historic time periods.

AAR: I noticed that in your books you focus on details. I very like it because then I can imagine a character very well and I feel as if he or she were next to me in my room. While reading I can see them in my mind’s eye as they are doing their daily activities, such as having breakfast; taking a shower; do the shopping and many others. Why do you pay your attention to details so much? 

BTB: I think this goes back to my days as a journalist. Getting the details right is critical. If I was sent to cover a story for the Yorkshire Post, I always needed to come back with the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY. No news story is complete without it. Later on, when I wrote decorating features, the details were all crucial is describing a room, or a home. This descriptive way of writing has stuck with me into setting the scene, or describing a new character in one of my stories.

AAR: Many of your books have been produced as TV films or drama series. What do you feel when you can see your characters animated by actors? 

This is one of the Polish editions of
"A Woman Of Substance"
Published by KSIĄŻNICA
Katowice 2007
Translated by Katarzyna & Piotr Malitowie
BTB: My husband, Robert Bradford, has produced ten of my books into TV movies and miniseries. I’ve always put my trust into his judgment for casting. And he has never disappointed me. For example, Jenny Seagrove was as good as I could ever have imagined in playing the young Emma Harte. Liam Neeson was incredible as Blackie O’Neil. The only casting choice that I look back on now with skeptical eyes is having Lindsay Wagner play Paula O’Neil in “To Be The Best”. She is a fine actress and she was great in “Voice Of The Heart”. But for “To Be The Best”, she was entirely different from Jenny Seagrove in the role of Paula. Not ineffective, but just so far removed from how Jenny played her in the first two movies. CBS wanted a big American star in the role. Lindsay was TV’s Bionic Woman. Jenny Seagrove was only known for British Television. So I completely understand why they did it.

AAR: Do you have your favourite book among your novels apart from “A Woman Of Substance”? If so, which one is it? Why? 

BTB: “Letter From A Stranger” is one of my favorites. I loved that I was able to take my readers to a place like Istanbul for a story that is both a family mystery and a love story. Like many of my novels, I got to pack a lot of history into it as well.

AAR: I guess that one of your favourite classical writers is Emily Brontë because sometimes in your books you write about her. I remember that Emily is mentioned on the pages of “Voice Of The Heart” and “The Triumph Of Katie Byrne”. In “Voice Of The Heart” Victor Mason works on a film adaptation of “Wuthering Heights” and in “The Triumph Of Katie Byrne” Katie plays the role of Emily Brontë on the stage of the Broadway theatre. Why is Emily Brontë so important for you? 

BTB: My mother often took me to Haworth as a child. This is the home where the Bronte sisters grew up and wrote all their timeless novels. Today, the house is a museum which looks very much like the way it did when the sisters were living there. This was one of the factors that inspired me to become a novelist. Another connection that I have with the Brontes is that my original manuscripts are displayed side-by-side with manuscripts of the Bronte sisters at the library in Leeds University. What a great honor this is for me.

AAR: Your latest novel is entitled “Secret From The Past”. Could you tell us something more about this book? 

BTB: “Secrets from the Past” came out in 2013. It is not my latest novel that I’ve written, but it was the most recent stand-alone novel before I began writing the Cavendon series. I was inspired to create a gritty female character who happens to be a war photographer. She is following in the footsteps of her famous father, who made his name as a war photographer a generation earlier. This is a novel that deals with issues like PTSD, a hotel hostage situation, and also a star-crossed love story between two war correspondents and their complicated work situation. It’s wrapped around a family mystery involving a photograph from decades earlier.

AAR: I read online that you don’t use a computer, but you still type. Why? Don’t you like computers? 

BTB: I use computers for research almost every day. But for writing books, I’ve always used a typewriter. I got into a comfort zone when I was first starting out and this was the technology available to me. I’ve used the same IBM Selectric typewriter for at least the last 25 books. Of course, I do have a couple of backup units just in case… Ultimately, my typed pages do get scanned into a computer and formatted into a manuscript once the novel is completed. So they still end up in digital form, no matter how I create them.

AAR: What is your next project? Could you tell us about it? 

BTB: I’ve just completed an outline for a 4th book in my popular Cavendon series. I’m still working on a title and the details. But I can tell you that it will be set in the 1950s, the era in which Britain will be rebuilding after the war. It will feature many new, younger characters from the Ingham and Swann families.

AAR: Thank you very much for this interview and taking the time to speak to us today. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers? Or maybe you want to add something I have not asked you about?

BTB: Thank you for such a thoughtful interview. I am thrilled to have such a nice following of readers in Poland. And I hope that my novels will continue to be translated there for as long as I keep writing them.

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

I’m the sort of writer who prefers to work alone...

Interview with Judith Lennox
by Agnes A. Rose

Judith Lennox is a British author of many best-selling historical romances, which have always enjoyed both critical acclaim and readers around the world. She was born in Salisbury and grew up in Hampshire. She made her debut in the mid-eighties of the last century, and her novels have also gained a faithful fan base in Poland, where we can read many of her books, such as: “Catching The Tide”, “A Step In The Dark”, “One Last Dance”, “The Turning Point”, “The Heart Of The Night”, and many others. Judith Lennox loves gardening, going for long walks, visiting old houses and historical monuments.

Agnes A. Rose: A very warm welcome to you Judith, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me today. You write mainly multigenerational family sagas. Could you tell us why you chose this kind of literature? What inspires you to write?

Judith Lennox: Thank you for inviting me to your blog. It’s great to have the opportunity to communicate with my Polish readers. I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamics within the family, and how the passing of time can affect those dynamics. I’m interested in relationships between siblings, between parents and children, young and old. The experiences of childhood, when we are embedded most deeply in the family, leaves its mark on us for the rest of our lives. I like a big canvas because I enjoy weaving a complex web; my characters must respond to events in the wider world as well as those within the family. I started writing with the objective of entertaining the reader, of course, but also to explore questions of motivation and character. Why do people do what they do? Why will the same situation or problem inspire people to react in different ways? Our experiences, and the way we have been treated in the past, inform our choices.

Judith Lennox
Agnes A. Rose: You have a number of sagas among your booklist. What methods do you use to research your novels?

Judith Lennox: Of course I read history books, and I very much enjoy reading diaries, biographies and autobiographies of people who lived in the era in which the novel is set – politicians, artists, writers, all sorts. I have in my library old maps, old cookery books, information about motor vehicles, fashion and music etc. The internet is brilliant for finding out all sorts of things – where train lines ran in the early twentieth century, routes that my characters might take on a journey, comparative money values etcetera – all things I need to know. I visit the places in which I set my novels, to get the feel of them, and though I often write about parts of the country I know well – Cambridge, for instance, where I live now, or the Hampshire countryside where I grew up – researching new settings will often suggest ideas that I can use in my work.

Agnes A. Rose: Your books present some interesting and complex family dynamics.  What did you draw on to create them so believably on paper? Are there people you know that will recognise themselves in these characters?

Judith Lennox: For me, much of the pleasure of writing is in inventing new characters. Though I take strands from people I know – every writer will draw in some way on her own experience – I don’t think anyone would recognize themselves in one of my books. I come from quite a large family – I have two brothers and a sister and three sons, all of whom are married and have children of their own – so I have lot of experience of the affection and rivalry that families foster. My upbringing was slightly unusual in that I spent much my childhood in quite an isolated place in the countryside. We lived on the edge of a large stretch of woodland and had a lot of freedom. Our cottage was a short distance from an old country house that was no longer inhabited; we children used to play in its overgrown garden. I often draw on these memories in my novels. Many of my characters are pulled between the isolation and beauty of the countryside and the busyness and stimulation of the city.

Agnes A. Rose: Your characters very often hide a secret associated with their past, for example Isabel Zeale, who is the main character of “Before The Storm”. Could you tell us how you create such complicated fate for your characters? How do you go about imagining, developing and give real lives and personalities to the characters that we will read about within in your books?

This is the Polish cover of 'Before The Storm'
Published by Prószyński i S-ka
Warsaw 2008
Translated by Anna Nowosielska
Judith Lennox: Very early on in the process of putting together ideas for a new book, I’m thinking what sort of character I’d like to write about, and then I map out the life events that would have shaped her. I wanted Isabel at the opening of the book to be a wounded, inward-looking character. Though she is attracted to Richard Finborough, she initially resists him. But he is persistent, and in the end she marries him. My intention at the outset of ‘Before The Storm’ was to write about a difficult marriage, one that survives in spite of the odds. My parents’ marriage was difficult, yet it survived, so I suppose I drew on that. People take their traumas to a relationship and can’t always bring themselves to speak of them. So I needed to create a secret for Isabel, one that she can’t bear to own up to. Secrets can grow bigger as time passes and harder and harder to reveal. Her past shames her and becomes increasingly impossible to bring into the open.

Agnes A. Rose: If you had to pick just one of your characters to hang out with for a day, who would you choose?

Judith Lennox: That’s a tricky question! I think Bess, in “A Step In The Dark”, would be enormous fun to hang out with if you were in the mood for a party… The four Maclise girls from “All my Sisters” would be good company too. As for my heroes… Theo Finborough in “Before The Storm” is very likeable, as is Ben Thackeray in “One Last Dance”. Martin Jago in “A Step In The Dark” is gentle, cultured and intelligent, and I would be attracted to that.

Agnes A. Rose: In your books you very often write about the tragic time of the Second World War or sometimes even before the war. I am sure that you are interested in war history. How much does it help you to create your beautiful stories? 

Judith Lennox: If a novel is set in the first half of the twentieth century, as most of mine are, it’s inevitable that the two wars will have a huge effect on the lives of the characters. The wars dominate those years – for many they were a catastrophe, but for some – especially women – they offered new opportunities. Very few people’s lives must have been left unchanged by the war, so I have to take that into account when plotting my novels. War provides a hugely dramatic background to a story, bringing characters together or casting them apart, plunging them into grief or fear, or giving them the chance to love. The Depression years of the 1930s were also a time of great change, bringing into being all sorts of new political and artistic movements; that decade has always fascinated me and it provides much interesting background material. I think that many readers like to learn something new when writing a novel, so I try to research my historical background thoroughly and bring it to life on the page.

Agnes A. Rose: Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child? Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?

Judith Lennox: I enjoyed family stories and school stories. I would say that I’ve always been primarily interested in character, rather than plot, though a fast-driving plot is essential, of course, to make the reader turn the page. In my teens, I read a great many historical novels – Georgette Heyer, Anya Seton, as well as the classics – Jane Austen, the Brontes, George Orwell, Daphne du Maurier. I tend to prefer stories where the central character is female – though not always; I adored Dorothy Dunnett’s “Lymond” series. Yes, I’m sure the books I read in childhood have shaped my writing. You never forget them; they remain a part of you for the rest of your life.

This is the Polish cover of
'A Step In The Dark'
Published by Prószyński i S-ka
Warsaw 2008
Translated by Barbara Szyszko
Agnes A. Rose: As a huge fan of your books one of my favourites is “A Step in the Dark”, which was published in Poland in 2008. Could you tell us what motivated you to write this beautiful and very moving story?

Judith Lennox: I wanted to write a story set in the Scottish Highlands. My husband Iain is Scottish so we’ve often stayed with relatives or holidayed there. The scenery is very dramatic, and very different from the southern woodland and chalk hills where I grew up. I felt it would provide a wonderful background for a novel and I had the opportunity of staying in a house in Perthshire that I later used as a model for Ravenheart House. Bess Ravenheart, the central character, is one of my favourite heroines. She is an adventuress. She is beautiful, spirited and a survivor and lives by her wits, but she can also be rash and manipulative. She is driven by her longing to recover the child who was taken away from her. I wanted to show how an instance of ruthless cruelty – Bess’s mother-in-law Cora’s appropriation of her grandson Frazer – can set off a chain of events that affects future generations.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you have your own daily routine and writing schedule? Do you have an office where you hideaway to write, or can you write anywhere?

Judith Lennox: When I started to write, thirty years ago, we lived in a small house and had three young children so I worked wherever I could – on a table in the bedroom or in a corner of the dining room, fitting into the hours my sons were at school or nursery. Now I have a wonderful workroom to myself at the top of our house. I write for four hours in the morning, from about nine to one. Then I’ll do something else for a few hours – read, garden, go for a walk – and then in the late afternoon I often go back to my desk for another hour. That hour is usually productive, things fall into place and the work makes progress. I need to shut myself away to write, and I dislike interruptions. If I’m interrupted three or four times, I find it hard to focus my concentration again. I only work at the weekends if the deadline is very tight. Having a couple of days’ break often gives me new ideas, as if my unconscious is working away at the problems in the novel while I’m having time off.

Agnes A. Rose: From your experience, what conventions have the most potential career impact for writers – conferences, workshops, writing groups, critique partners and so on? Have any of these affected or helped you?

Judith Lennox: I’m the sort of writer who prefers to work alone and hates the idea of someone looking at a half-finished piece of work, so have never used workshops or writing groups, though I’m sure they work well for many. I tend to show an unfinished text only to husband, or to my editor and agent, who often make invaluable suggestions at that stage. I’ve suffered from a spinal disorder all my adult life, so conferences, with all the sitting still and standing around, are not for me. I organize a lunch with fellow writers in a pub in Cambridge each month, for friendship and to share tips and information, and I find this both enjoyable and valuable.

Agnes A. Rose: As I mentioned above apart from writing you are also interested in gardening and going for long walks. You also love visiting and watching old houses and historical monuments. Could you tell us something more about this way to rest? What is the most interesting place you have visited so far?

Judith Lennox: Getting out into the countryside, seeing new places, recharges my batteries. I prefer seeing a beautiful garden to going to an art gallery. I visited the Chelsea Flower Show this year and some of the gardens took my breath away. Coleton Fishacre, a National Trust property by the Devon coast, was the inspiration for Rosindell in “One Last Dance”; Cold Christmas, the house in which Tom works in “The Heart Of The Night”, was inspired by a visit to a medieval house in Lavenham. Places I have particularly loved include the Orkney islands to the north of the Scottish mainland, that are wonderfully beautiful and serene and steeped in history, and the lush, opulent hills in the interior of Sri Lanka, where I stayed when researching “All My Sisters”.

This is the Polish cover of 'All My Sisters'
Published by Prószyński i S-ka
Warsaw 2007
Translated by Anna Bańkowska
Agnes A. Rose: Have you ever been to Poland? If so, what did you like most in my country?

Judith Lennox: I visited Poland when I was researching “The Heart Of The Night”. We explored Warsaw, where we saw the remains of the ghetto and visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum. We then drove north, to the Masurian Lakes, where we stayed in Wegorzewo. We visited the ruins of Hitler’s wartime HQ, the Wolf’s Lair, and then headed on to the Baltic Sea, and to Gdansk. History seems very close to the surface in Poland. I found it both extraordinarily moving and amazing to see places I’d only read about in history books. Because of its geographical situation, Poland’s history is so different to Britain’s. I loved the Polish countryside, the lakes and the great dark forests that felt so much wilder and deeper than English woodland. I hope some day to have the opportunity to explore more of eastern Europe.

Agnes A. Rose: What is your writing project you are currently working on? What can you tell us about this project?

Judith Lennox: I’m right in the middle of a new book at present. It’s set partly in the south-east of England, but also in Spain, on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, and I’m very much looking forward to travelling there for research later in the year. The book has two different time periods, the 1930s and the 1970s, and two heroines. It’s the first time I’ve tackled that sort of structure since “Some Old Lover’s Ghost”.

Agnes A. Rose: Judith, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary and historical site. I would also like to thank you again for taking the time to speak to us today. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers? Or maybe you want to add something I have not asked you about?

Judith Lennox: Thank you so much for inviting me! It’s been a pleasure responding to your thought-provoking questions. It’s a great honour to be published in Poland and I’d like to thank all my Polish readers for their great support over the years – I appreciate it enormously.

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

Monday, 11 July 2016

“The Undertaker” & “The Last Hurrah” by Carmel McMurdo Audsley

Carmel McMurdo Audsley
Carmel McMurdo Audsley is an Australian author who lives in Brisbane. She worked as a Journalist and Editor. She wrote thousands of news stories and feature articles. Now she spends her time researching and writing her novels. She is not only a Journalist and Editor, but also she holds a Bachelor's degree majoring in Literature and Philosophy. 

A few years ago she published a trilogy of novels which is set in Scotland. The books are based on the true history of her own family and they are entitled: Ours, Yours and Mines (2012), Far Across The Sea (2013) and Faeries, Farms and Folk (2013). In Faeries, Farms and Folk she brings to life the stories of people living in the 1600s and 1700s in farming communities in lowland Scotland. In Ours, Yours and Mines she follows the family and their transition to coal miners living in the miners' rows of Ayrshire in Scotland in the mid-1800s and early 1900s. The final instalment in the trilogy, Far Across The Sea, follows the main character as he sets out after the second world war to find a new life in Australia. All three novels have received good reviews on the Internet. 

Carmel and her husband Iain both had Scottish fathers, share a mutual love of Scotland and have walked in the footsteps of their ancestors to get a feel for how life must have been for them. Recently Carmel McMurdo Audsley has written and published two more novels.

The Undertaker

The novel was published in 2015. The Undertaker is set in Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1858. The main character is Kate Grainger who is a young, ambitious and very intelligent woman. She works as a female gravedigger. This specific work helps her to solve some mysteries associated with dead people. So, in 1858 Kate Grainger, who is twenty-three years old and lives in Edinburgh, inherits her father's undertaking business, where she has helped him until the day of his death. You must know that life for an ambitious and intelligent woman in Edinburgh in Scotland in 1858 could be frustrating. According to the common belief the only job, which every woman should do, was to be exemplary wives and mothers. However, Kate wants something more. She wants to become a doctor, but unfortunately women are not allowed to study at the prestigious Edinburgh School of Medicine – although one young woman was able to do it in 1809. Then that brave woman disgusted herself as a man in order that she could study to become a doctor.

Published by CreateSpace Independent
Publishing Platform
United States (2015)
Kate, however, has a close male friend called James, who is a doctor. He is smitten with her and wants to marry her, but she has made it clear that she has no such intentions. She spends a lot of time with him looking through his medical books to learn all that she can. She has drive and ambition – and a special gift. Kate can communicate with people who have passed over. She had, what her father thought, an imaginary friend when she was a child. Kate also has a visit from a little girl from her childhood. The child is a spirit of the little girl who died in the Great Fire of Edinburgh in 1824. 

When Kate discovers that her first client at Grainger Undertakers has been murdered, she sets out on a journey that takes her deep into Edinburgh’s underground and into the spirit world to catch a serial killer. Her quest takes her to London and Dundee and into the underground vaults of Edinburgh with its brothels and opium dens and she follows the trail of a serial killer. Will she find a killer? Maybe she will also become his another victim? Will Kate be able to stop the murderer before he kills his next victim?

The Undertaker is the novel about not only an original character, but also a very interesting idea of the story. Kate Grainger is the character that you can really like. In addition – as a woman – she follows an incredibly unusual profession. The author presents her as a very strong young woman who does not want to marry in order to have financial support and be safety. She is not also afraid of risking her neck to find the truth. There are not too many imitable role models around her. We must remember that almost none of young women living in the mid-nineteen century had female people to follow them. However, Kate is determined in her action. On the pages of this novel you can witness some really beautiful scenes. An example of this fact is the meeting a small dog which became famous in Edinburgh for sitting by the grave of his dead owner for fourteen years. Because of Kate’s extraordinary gift, she is able to see the spirit of this man who now is walking down the street.

This is a photo of Kate Grainger as she is about to enter The Vaults which
were underground chambers.

The plot of the novel is not just about a female gravedigger, who can communicate with dead people, what could be far depressing for a reader. This is primarily a moving story about death which should be treated with great respect. In addition, the idea associated with creating the character that is able to communicate with dead people, is commendable. Moreover, this story can help to find the answers to three fundamental questions which are usually posed during the discussion about crime fiction: Who did it?, Why did he do it? and How did he do it?

As we know historical fiction is a genre of literature that has many enthusiasts among readers. Every author who creates historical fiction must do research work very reliable so that both the reality and the characters come to life in the reader’s imagination in a really powerful way. Many people say that it is possible only by using “Voice” which the author can hear in her/his head to communicate with her/his characters. Carmel McMurdo Audsley uses her “Voice” so skillfully that we can actually hear how the individual characters speak to us. This is the kind of going back in time, so that we are able to meet the social realities of nineteenth-century Scotland and get to know the mentally of people living then. In addition, the historical background is so authentic that we can accurately hear even a Scottish accent and see the place where the story is set. The plot of the novel is also connected to some extent with the occult, but in spite of that the author does not go into this problem too much detail. So, the story of Kate Grainger is designed primarily for readers who like historical fiction, but do not avoid the story in which there is no lack of mystery, suspense and situations that may be true in the spiritual world. It all makes the story incredibly addictive from the first page.  

The Last Hurrah

The novel was published in 2016 and it is associated with an extremely serious and controversial problem of death on your own terms. This time this is not historical fiction, but a contemporary novel of manners. A severe fatal disease, that affects ourselves or people who are our close relatives, is never easy to be accepted by us. Although you try to believe and hope that everything will be fine, in your head there is a thought which tells you that this time the doctors will be helpless, your body will just give up and soon you will have to say goodbye to your loved ones who spent with you many years of their lives. So, when Bob and Anna McAllister are both diagnosed with terminal illnesses within weeks of each other, they try to reach out to their adult children but everyone is too busy to hear the devastating news.

Published by Theatricks Publishing
Australia (2016) 
Bob, who now is 78, moved from Glasgow to Brisbane in 1960 and worked as an accountant.  He met Brisbane born and bred Anna, a school teacher, a few years later they married and raised three children. They had been retired for eighteen years and enjoyed being together and taking cruises. 

In 2016, after a year in remission from breast cancer, Anna, who is 75, discovers that her cancer has returned and has spread to other parts of her body. She must decide whether to endure more gruelling bouts of surgery and therapy or enjoy the short time she has left to live. In a sad twist of fate, Bob suffers another major heart attack and his congestive heart failure has progressed to a stage where he also has only a short time to live. Rather than spend their remaining days in care, they decide to take one last cruise to the South Pacific – have one last hurrah – and not return from their holiday.

The story is a work of fiction but covers a topical subject – the right to die on your own terms. The storyline in no way reflects the author’s views and she does not have a barrow to push. She is simple the teller of a story that may make you think about your life and the people in it. It is a sad love story, about two elderly people who are devoted to each other, and the disconnect to notice they are needed.

The Last Hurrah is primarily a very moving story about the elderly people who has just realised that their time has come and they must prepare for the way forward into the unknown world. The last cruise on the Pacific is a kind of their farewell to the living world. They do not also want to burden their family with their own problems. It seems that the only solution can be death which is getting closer. The novel is a very well-written story that compels readers to stop and reflect on their own lives and their behaviour associated with their family’s members. So, we can ask ourselves if now the young people are not too busy to notice that an elderly parent really needs their support. Besides, for readers who have ever participated in taking a cruise to the South Pacific, the book can also become a kind of their cruise memory, because it contains a lot of very interesting descriptions of the places that they could see during the cruise. In this novel Bob and Anna can see them. For someone else these descriptions can also be an encouragement to take a cruise to the South Pacific.

As you can read above both Carmel McMurdo Audsley’s books relate to death – although each of them does it in a completely different way. Dying is a common denominator here, and only a reader is able to discover the real message hidden between the lines. Apart from that both books teach us how to respect death.

If you want to read an interview with Carmel McMurdo Audsley, please click here
If you want to read this review in Polish, please click here