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INTERVIEW: Christine Wells, author of A Wife's Tale

Friday, May 27, 2016

Interview with CHRISTINE WELLS, author of "The Wife's Tale"



Are you a daydreamer too?
Oh, most definitely! I think you have to be as a fiction writer. Stories are always running through my mind. I must be difficult to live with when I’m working intensively on a first draft because I have the story in my head constantly and don’t hear people when they speak to me. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, I thought novelists were god-like creatures when I was a child. While I loved writing stories, I never thought having writing as a job was possible for someone as ordinary and uninteresting as I was. I wanted to be a brain surgeon until I worked out that I wasn’t great with blood. I loved the humanities and eventually gravitated toward the law. There’s a lot of reading and writing involved in a law degree and I enjoyed the commercial aspect of negotiating deals and all the excitement of settling a big transaction. It wasn’t until I had spent a few years as a lawyer that I wrote my first novel but very soon, writing fiction became an obsession. It was something I needed to do.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do? 
I was born, raised, and now live in Brisbane. I love traveling, mainly to England (for research, of course!) spending time with family and friends, baking and going to the beach. I love antiques, too, for the stories people tell about them as much as for their beauty. I’m a huge fan of The Antiques Roadshow. I’m also trying to get back into running because I love it, but it’s been a while. I’m working on it!

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for THE WIFE'S TALE?
I was having lunch with my editor, discussing a new direction, and the kernel of an idea for a story that dealt with a historical court case came to me. I’d always been interested in legal history, having done some very obscure research for one of my lecturers at university. I found the feminist legal theory I’d read when studying legal philosophy fascinating also. 



I decided to write about a woman caught up in a criminal conversation action, which is an old cause of action in which the husband sues his wife’s lover, basically for damage to his ‘chattel’, the wife. These cases became quite a spectator sport in the latter half of eighteenth century England and the equivalent of millions of dollars in today’s money was often awarded to the husband in damages. The wife’s character and sexual proclivities were openly debated in court and she was not allowed to testify or be represented because the action was between the husband and the lover. Both sides would present their stories and the wife never got to tell hers, even though she was the one who might well end up cast off and destitute when the trial was over. THE WIFE’S TALE is about giving the wife in one of these cases a voice of her own.


How extensively do you plan your novels? 
My process has evolved considerably over the years. I used to write with only a vague idea of how the story would go but now I use Scrivener to plot extensively. The plot is never set in stone and sometimes new threads emerge as the characters develop in unexpected ways, but usually I stay fairly true to my original plan.


Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration? 
No—sadly, the only dreams I remember these days are the ones where I am looking for something quite mundane that I need desperately and I can never find it—last time it was the coffee plunger! I certainly use daydreams, though, and I believe firmly in the subconscious working on the story while you sleep.


Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Oh, yes, there were several—perhaps not astonishing but serendipitous, at least! Because the Gothic novel grew up around the time I was writing and I wanted to give my heroine some believable means of supporting herself, I decided to make her a novelist. It then transpired that an early nineteenth century novelist, Caroline Norton, had actually been through a criminal conversation trial. Her struggles inspired me as I wrote Delany. 

The other incident was when I wrote a fictional tapas bar into the present-day town of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight and brought the chef from the tapas bar to cook paella at a garden festival on Seagrove, my fictional estate. I had based the Seagrove gardens on the Botanic Gardens at Ventnor, which have separate sections featuring plants from several subtropical regions. If you’ve ever been to Ventnor, you will know that it is a small, Victorian seaside town, where you would not expect to find something so exotic as a tapas bar, but I decided that I was Supreme Being in this story and I could make up a tapas bar if I wanted to. When I went to the Isle of Wight after writing the first draft, I found that in fact there is a tapas bar in Ventnor, called Il Toro Contento. Not only that, but on the restaurant wall is a newspaper clipping of the chef cooking paella at the Botanic Gardens. I wrote all of that before I ever set foot on the Isle of Wight, so it’s amazing how serendipitous writing can be!


Where do you write, and when?
When I’m on deadline, I write in two places—in my study at home from 4am to 6am each morning and then later at a cafe, after I’ve dropped the boys off at school. I find if I’m not home during the day, I am less often disturbed, either by thoughts of domestic chores that need to be done or by the phone or people coming to the door. 


What is your favourite part of writing?
When I’m in what I call ‘the zone’ and the words are flowing freely. I love that feeling when you don’t even notice the hours flying by. There’s nothing like it.


What do you do when you get blocked? 
I’ve never suffered from true writer’s block, thank goodness, but there are times when it’s very hard to make myself write. When this happens, I sit there at the same place at the same time, day after day, not letting myself do anything else, until I start writing again. After a few days of this, I find the words start flowing. Another trick is to try to analyse the story so far and see if there’s something in the structure that is not working, although that analysis often convinces me that I should throw it all out and start again! For me, the best way to avoid blockage in the first place is to get up from the computer before I've written to the end of a scene or chapter. It’s easier to begin again when you return and see that unfinished train of thought than it is to write into the unknown every day.


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I read a lot of research books before and while I’m writing a novel. I watch movies set in the same era or with the sort of feeling I’m trying to evoke. I watch The Antique Roads Show and read wonderful novels and listen to workshops on writing craft. I love going to art and museum exhibitions although I don’t go often enough. I also love to bake and I find that very relaxing, if not too kind to the waistline!

Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
My best practice is to have a clean desk and no mess in my line of sight. I get up, make a cup of coffee, go straight to the computer in my study and write with the curtains drawn and the door shut. 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
(I am deliberately choosing writers I don’t know personally here!) Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Liane Moriarty, Ian McEwan, Lisa Gardner, Katherine Webb, Kate Morton, Elizabeth Peters, John Le Carre, Jojo Moyes



What do you consider to be good writing?  
Good writing, to me, is first and foremost about creating characters with that spark that makes them come to life and go on to live in the reader's mind even when she's not reading. The most beautiful prose in the world does not make up for flat characters. However, I appreciate careful word choice, an author who can encapsulate an idea in an original, perfect simile or metaphor, as well as those authors who have a knack of putting into words the things we think but never say. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too? 
I am laughing at myself, giving writing advice but here is the best I have heard and am happy to pass on--Institute a writing practice so that it becomes a habit, like brushing your teeth and make it your job for those one or two hours, whatever you can spare, every day you can. This will stand you in good stead when you sell a book and have to write under pressure. And don’t worry about how good the first draft is. I once heard someone say, “You’re not a brain surgeon. You don’t have to get it right the first time." I think that is excellent advice.

What are you working on now? 
I’m working on a dual timeline novel set partly in the 1990s and partly in World War II in England. It’s about a young Australian woman whose long lost grandmother invites her to stay at her Elizabethan house in the Cotswolds, but when she gets there, the grandmother has vanished. It’s tentatively called THE SECRET HOUSE and is slated for release in May 2017.

Love interviews with authors - I have plenty more!

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BOOK REVIEW: The Wife's Tale by Christine Wells

Wednesday, May 25, 2016




The Wife’s Tale  - Christine Wells 


The Wife’s Tale is a dual timeline novel that alternates between the point-of-view of Liz Jones, a young Australian lawyer whose ambition and drive to succeed have put her marriage at risk, and Delany Nash, who was at the centre of an infamous scandal in the 1780s.  Most of the action is centred on Seagrove, a grand old house on the Isle of Wight, as Liz becomes fascinated with Delany’s story and begins to dig deeper. However, the secrets she uncovers puts at risk her newfound relationship with the owners of Seagrove, and indeed her own future.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love a dual timeline novel, yet they can be difficult to write. Often one storyline works and the other doesn’t, or there’s a slippage between the two distinct voices that jars. Christine Wells has pulled it off brilliantly. Both story lines are intriguing, and the suspense builds steadily. The two women are very different, yet both have hidden strengths that make them very appealing. And I loved the romance!

I was given an advance copy of The Wife’s Tale to read, in case I liked it enough to give it an endorsement. And I did! So the cover has my thoughts on it: ‘A captivating story of love, secrets and obsession – I enjoyed every word!’ 

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

I have lots of other reviews of parallel narratives, if you love them too - check them out here!




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