Carol McGrath – Guest Author

I’m delighted to welcome Carol McGrath as guest author to my website today. Carol and I both write historical fiction and are members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Carol’s debut novel, The Handfasted Wife and am delighted that Carol joins me on the shortlist for the RoNAs in the Historical category.

Welcome, Carol! Tell me, what made you choose to write historical novels?

I loved History as a child and was determined to study it at University and did. As a teenager I was an avid reader of historical novels especially Anya Seton. Katherine was my favourite. I think the historical novel is more exciting than biographical work because there is the opportunity to fill in spaces, join up dots, bring a period to life and animate its inhabitants. Moreover it allows me to indulge a passion, historical research.

Your novels are clearly very well researched. How do you go about this?

I keep notebooks and label them clearly. The Bodleian Library is my favourite library and generally I can find primary sources such as Chronicles there. The primary sources are my first port of call. The past I write about is nearly a thousand years ago but some of the contemporary writing about this past which was then a present is an absolute joy to read. I think it important to get a glimpse of the way people thought then, their mind-set, their beliefs and the things that mattered to them, noble women’s day to day existence, and so I investigate this in primary and in secondary source material, in work for instance by academics concerned about the era. For example Henrietta Leyser has written an excellent book about Medieval Women but there are many, many others such as Sally Crawford who wrote a book called Anglo-Saxon Daily Life. Art and craft work and archaeology allows us a glimpse into this medieval world. Then there is The Bayeux Tapestry about which much has been written. That is an important visual source for my period and is like a portal into that world. I like to look at locations, too, if I can although I know they have changed since the events I fictionalise.  The landscape has changed over time. A very relevant question.

Do you have a special place or time of day for writing?

I am at my best in the morning. I usually get up at 6 am to write but sometimes life intrudes or inspiration descends and it can be afternoon as well. I rarely write in the evening. I love my kitchen table though I have a study looking out on trees which right now are cold and bare.

Do you have any rituals before you begin?

I do read through and edit the previous day’s work. Generally I am a slow writer. 1k new words is a good day for me!

Are you ever afraid your creativity and ideas will dry up?

I cannot write to any kind of formula. I think keeping fluid and interested in discovering new things does help. I think if I did not feel enthusiastic or inspired I would write something completely different such as a non-fiction work until the muse returned. I might write one anyway!

Are you a disciplined writer? What kind of goals do you set yourself?

My only goal is to be the best I can. I hope the rest follows but I do write most days though at the moment I am editing but all the time the new story is in the back of my mind. I travel a lot and even then I am reading and observing and I hope that feeds into my work.

Do you have time for other hobbies or interests?

I love reading everything from Tolstoy to current woman’s fiction. I visit museums and foreign places and art galleries. I also have an allotment which when it is not flooded is the perfect retreat. I like watching seasons change and I love birds too.

Do you have time for social networking? How important do you feel it is for today’s writers?

I do Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest. All of those are great ways to connect with an audience. Set up a Pinterest board for your book. A picture can speak volumes. I love collecting them and sometimes do all this part of the evening and maybe at lunchtime too. I think it is easier to connect this way than any other but I still feel there is room to meet readers face to face and hope to do more talks and conferences in the future than I have been doing.

Are you ever tempted to write in another genre?

Yes, Young Adult has an appeal. I also would love to write a Time-Slip. I have a feeling I might write something contemporary one day too. I have, on my MA in Creative Writing, worked on contemporary short stories to which I may return, though by the time I do they may not be so contemporary! At the moment I am happy with what I am writing.

What would your three choices for your desert island books be?

I love Katherine by Anya Seton, Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak and I think the third must be The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Finally, what do you think is the greatest myth about being a published author?

I guess that has to be that it just flows from the pen, that you go to your ‘garret’ and write. I think it is hard work and not for the feint hearted. It involved crafting and honing over and over. Yet, I love it and am glad to be doing this. It is none the less time consuming and requires passion, stamina and even greater determination to succeed with credibility.

Carol, thank you for the insight into your writing and I look forward to seeing you at the RoNAs awards party on the 17th March!

I’ll look forward to that too and thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your website.

The Handfasted Wife is the story of the Norman Conquest from the perspective of Edith (Elditha) Swanneck, Harold’s common-law wife. She is set aside for a political marriage when Harold becomes king in 1066. Determined to protect her children’s destinies and control her economic future, she is taken to William’s camp when her estate is sacked on the eve of the Battle of Hastings. She later identifies Harold’s body on the battlefield and her youngest son becomes a Norman hostage. Based on the historical story of Edith Swan-Neck, The Handfasted Wife tells the story of 1066 from the perspective of the royal women and is an adventure story of love, loss, survival and reconciliation.


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