Today I’m delighted to welcome author Ann Victoria Roberts, author of Louisa Elliott, Liam's Story and more recently The Master's Tale.
About her writing
In pursuit of a happiness just out of reach, Louisa struggles to overcome the stigmas of the past: a past shared by her cousin, Edward Elliott. Loving her, Edward must stand by while she falls passionately in love with another man.
Duncannon, an Irish officer with the Royal Dragoons, is everything that loyal, steadfast Edward can never be. But Robert has secrets of his own…
Loving them both, Louisa must choose between the respectability she craves, and the uncertainty
of life with a man she may never marry.
A great, rich novel, peopled with characters you come to know intimately and care about deeply, LOUISA ELLIOTT will linger with you long after the final page has been turned.
From a peaceful summer gathering one hot afternoon in the summer of 1913 comes a startling revelation, and a rift that may never heal. Louisa Elliott’s secrets are unwittingly exposed, damaging her daughter and driving
her sons away…
On leave from his ship seventy years later, sea-captain Stephen Elliott meets his distant cousin Zoe for the first time. Drawn into her search for the Elliotts’ past, he finds their subsequent affair stirring
echoes of an untold family history, revealing truths and conflicts previously unsuspected.
At the heart of this story is Liam Elliott. Leaving York for Australia, he later enlists with the ANZAC forces in a war which brings him back to
Europe, his family – and Georgina Duncannon.
In faded letters, photos and a wartime diary, are concealed the fragments of a haunting relationship between Liam and Georgina, conducted against the tragedy of Gallipoli and the
Joining a ship bound for the war-torn Middle East, Stephen is faced with some disturbing parallels between past and present, just as Zoe, alone at home in London, is discovering the seductive power of that piercing, impossible affair.
Set in the old city of York and in Australia, against all the bitterness of the First World War, LIAM’S STORY is a passionate and triumphant exploration of the many dimensions of love.
Welcome to the hot seat, Ann. I’m sure our readers would love to know what prompted you to first start writing?
What was the first thing you wrote?
I was an only
child and an avid reader. While staying at my Gran’s in York for a few days, I was looking for my favourite Victorian journals. Instead, I found a book of photographs of the WW1 battlefields – shocking stuff to a fifteen-year old who didn’t
do modern history at school. With it was a large envelope containing a portrait photograph of a young soldier wearing Australian uniform – together with his diary, written in 1916. I started reading, and that led to a lot of questions. Gran let me borrow
the diary, and at home I started looking for anything I could find about WW1. A few weeks later, I started writing his story in a series of exercise books – I used to entertain my friends with each episode while going home on the school bus! It was never
finished, but the story refused to go away…
Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?
In my most recent novel, THE MASTER’S TALE (pub. 2011) Capt Edward Smith of the
‘Titanic’ tells his story from beyond the grave. Life, loves, and what led up to the tragedy.
What was the inspiration for this book?
My husband is a Master Mariner and marine
pilot. In 2008, after a routine visit to the Pilots’ Office in Southampton, he came home to say he’d just been shown the Dockmaster’s Log Book for 1912. The entries for March and April, showing RMS ‘Titanic’s arrival and departure
were rather disturbing. Invited to view the Log Book for myself, I found myself equally appalled by what this record suggested. Our joint conclusions were quite different from the commonly-held belief that Capt Smith was incompetent. Clearly, he was a man
under phenomenal pressure. I went home to do some research. Tracking things back, it didn’t take long for me to see where and when this tragedy was set in motion – some six months before ‘Titanic’ left Belfast.
Did you do any research for the book?
Masses! From Captain Smith’s background and career to the passengers’ stories. From White Star’s history to the history of Hong Kong
and the ports of Liverpool, Southampton and New York. From the world financial crisis of 1907 to the maritime rivalry between Germany and Great Britain in the years leading up to WW1. Only a fraction of it entered the novel, of course, but It was a fascinating
journey – I could see so many parallels between the world as it was then, and world we live in today. Nothing much changes.
What does a typical writing day involve for you?
changed over the years. As a single mother while my husband was at sea, it used to be a question of fitting in the writing between family demands. Once I became a published author, my routine involved writing solidly, 6 days a week, for two or three weeks
– often 10 or 12 hours a day – before taking a few days off to attend to real life. Post 2000, after my 4th novel, MOON RISING, was published, my career languished for a few years. My husband had become more shore-based, so I found
I was doing more living in the present than writing about the past. But then Capt Smith tapped me on the shoulder, and since then I haven’t stopped.
How do you decide on names for your characters?
Historical novels demand fairly classic Christian names, and I tend to choose them by sound. To use biblical names as an example, Luke and Mark are short and hard, whereas Paul and Matthew are soft. So in choosing names for men, I try to find
one that suggests character. Women are easier. I choose something typical of the era in which I’m writing, and then look it up to find the meaning – or the origin, when it comes to surnames. In my first novel, we have the dashing Anglo-Irish cavalry
officer, Robert Duncannon (his surname comes from a little place in southern Ireland) and the choleric Yorkshireman, Albert Tempest. (Name taken from that of a local hardware shop – ‘Tempest’ suited this character exactly!)
Which writers have influenced your own writing?
Growing up, I was fond of classic 19th century novels. The authors wrote about life as they saw it – genre was not an issue at the time.
Thomas Hardy certainly influenced my first novel – in fact LOUISA ELLIOTT emerged very much as a homage to Hardy. Since then, it’s hard to say – probably Daphne du Maurier has been the greatest influence – and again, she wasn’t
concerned by the need to stick to a specific genre. All her novels were different. Mine too – I like a challenge.
What are you working on next? Do you have a WIP?
For the last eighteen months I’ve been re-editing
and re-publishing my first two novels, LOUISA ELLIOTT and LIAM’S STORY, bestsellers in 1989/1991. They are both available now as ebooks, and will be in print again in spring and autumn 2014. Currently, I’m editing a memoir covering the decade in
which they were written. The books were inspired by family history, and driven by what I can only describe as the ‘spirit’ of the young Australian soldier who wrote that 1916 diary. It was a period marked by some extraordinary events – and
a string of coincidences that stopped only when the second novel, LIAM’S STORY, was published. I’m planning to publish the memoir, LIFE & LUCK, in 2014.
What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?
The best part has been re-visiting that period of time – it’s been an emotional journey. Especially while reading the letters I wrote to my husband, and re-living events as they unfolded. He was away on six-month trips for the five years it
took to complete LOUISA ELLIOTT, so the letters are quite detailed, covering family life as well as the progress of research and writing. Trying to decide what is or is not important to the memoir – or indeed relevant – has been extremely
challenging. Novels are far easier.
Tell us about your travels
Being married to a seafarer has meant a very different kind of life. When our daughter was three years old we went away to sea for eight months on a
voyage that took us to the States, Canada, Australia and Japan – and eventually back to Europe. After our son came along, of necessity we had to restrict our travels to school holidays. On one occasion, having crossed the Pacific from Canada to Korea,
a change of orders meant that we were shanghaied – forced to stay for the duration of the voyage. Instead of returning to the US west coast to fly home, we sailed on from Korea to Australia, and then around Cape Horn and back to Europe. I wasn’t
popular with head teachers after that – the children were two months late for school!
Do you plot your novels or allow them to develop as you write?
I’ve always needed to know the ending – it’s
something to work towards. With my first novel, I allowed the plot to be led by ongoing research. Since the main characters were based on past family members, I already had an impression of who they were and what they were like – they developed from
there. The second novel presented problems because of its ending. Eventually, the whole thing came to me in a flash of inspiration – so writing a synopsis was easy. Subsequently, I have written outlines and found that useful. I ‘see’ the
main points of any novel rather like a child’s ‘dot-to-dot’ picture – after that it’s just a question of joining up the dots.
What books are you reading at the moment?
– by Samatha Tonge. It’s not my usual fare, but I read about it on Facebook, and decided to take a chance. I’m enjoying it immensely – it’s light, amusing, and I’m longing to find out what happens! My previous good read
was WITCH LIGHT by Susan Fletcher, set in 1692 about the Massacre of Glencoe – also a female narrator, but a very different book. Stunningly beautiful prose that sweeps the reader along – another tale that kept me reading late.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take three books with you, what would they be and why?
One would certainly be MR AMERICAN by George Macdonald Fraser. I read it first in 1992, and have read it three times since
then. The American gent arrives in Edwardian England with two guns in his luggage and a fortune in silver in the bank – who he is, and where he comes from is the mystery that keeps the pages turning. Even when you know the answer, the book draws you
back because it is so beautifully written and plotted, with an amusing surprise round every corner. It would make a great film. Another big book to while away the time would be GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell – beautifully researched
and (of course) unforgettable characters. And to complete this chunky trio, Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA – that book taught me a lot, and I’m sure it could teach me far more.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
No one sensible would lock themselves away for months on end just to write a story. But some stories won’t leave you alone. So, having decided to take a chance on this huge commitment, almost immediately you will be attacked by gremlins. Family
demands, boring jobs and even tragedies will knock you off course. But when you feel life is spiralling out of control, just remember – you are in control of something, even if it’s only the writing. So shut the door and get on with it!
Thank you so much Ann for a fascinating interview.