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INTERVIEW: Felicity Pulman author of A Ring Through Time

Friday, May 09, 2014

I've read and enjoyed Felicity Pulman's books for years, and was thrilled to hear she had a new book out. A Ring Through Time is a timeslip novel, one of my favourite genres of  fiction. It moves from the POV of Ally, a contemporary teenager living on Norfolk Island, and Alice, whose diary of her life in the early days of the settlement is found by Ally.

Please welcome Felicity to the blog: 

Are you a daydreamer too?
A:  Always - and always getting into trouble for it!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A:  Not as such. Writing stories was always something I did, something I took for granted. Only in my 40s did I start to consider it as a serious career - something I now deeply regret.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do? 
A:  I was born in Fort Victoria in Rhodesia, now called Masvingo in Zimbabwe (and perhaps that's why so many of my novels are about displacement, with the characters having to find out where they belong!)  I now live in Sydney with my husband, and have two (grown up) children and five grandchildren who keep me busy and also techno-savvy.  I love to read, write and listen to music, but I also enjoy bush-walking, surfing, snorkeling and holidays!  And did I mention chocolate??

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
A:  I heard a voice!  We were on holiday at Norfolk Island, and went snorkeling at beautiful  Emily Beach.  I put on my mask and, as I put my face into the water I heard a voice say: 'if only I could see my own life as clearly as I can see now.'  Who was this girl, and what was so wrong with her life that she wanted to see it more clearly?  That was about 10 years before I wrote A Ring Through Time - but I eventually found out the answers to those questions!

How extensively do you plan your novels? 
A:  I've been caught out in the past not knowing the real ending of my story when I wrote it and being led astray because of it. Now, I start when I know who the characters are and (sort of) what's going to happen to them and I also have a good idea how I want the book to end. Mostly  I don't really know how the characters are going to get there and for me, that's the fun of writing - to see what's going to happen next.  I don't plan in too much detail, because that would kill the spontaneity of the story for me.   And of course things change along the way, including the ending sometimes.  But I'm okay with that because the new ideas are usually an improvement. 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
A: In one of my first novels, Ghost Boy, Froggy has nightmares about drowning (and for a good reason.)  I used to dream about drowning as a child, and still remember the heart-thumping fear of those nightmares.  Dreams have often offered encouragement (when I feel I've lost my way.) And I've found mind-mapping an image from a dream a very useful exercise to kickstart the imagination when I'm feeling stuck. 

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
A:  I was lucky enough to be awarded a May Gibbs Fellowship residency in Adelaide to write A Ring Through Time (although this title only came later.)  I'd put in a story idea but was really not sure that the story had 'legs' as I'd envisioned it.  My husband and I went to Adelaide a week early, to go on the Murray River princess - a little holiday before I started work.  It was a wonderful cruise, made memorable by a visit to the museum at Swan Hill, one of our stops.  I found a case of mourning jewellery, brooches etc. woven out of human hair.  To this day  I don't know if there were any hair rings there, but that's what I 'saw' - and that's when the whole story clicked into place along with its title. A serendipitous find indeed!

Where do you write, and when?
A:  I have a very messy study cum library where I do most of my writing.  But I also write anywhere and everywhere - even when stopped at the traffic lights if I have a brilliant idea!  I also have a pen with a light in it beside my bed to scribble down ideas without having to get up to do it. But if the ideas keep rolling, I'll work by night as well as by day.

What is your favourite part of writing?
A:  Finding out what's going to happen next!

What do you do when you get blocked?
A:  Going for a walk is always helpful.  Or doing the housework - any physical activity that keeps your body busy while leaving your mind free to roam is good.  Or I might try writing something in a different genre: an article or short story perhaps. Sometimes I compose haiku while I'm walking.  Or I do some mind-mapping, or some other writing exercise.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
A: I read a lot (novels, newspapers, journals, research material) and talk to friends, particularly other writers who are always very generous with their time and with their ideas.  I have a range of different interests, and I try to keep a balance between work and pleasure.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
A: I have an 'altar' with charms and amulets and artefacts that, for one reason or another, have significance for me. Sometimes I burn essential oils, but mostly I just get on with it. Starting a new novel is always my greatest challenge: I have to trick myself into it.  Once I have an idea, I open a folder and then chuck notes into it - news items of interest, research material, scribbled ideas - anything that might have some relevance to the new story.  Sometimes voices and visions come into it too, or perhaps a conversation between two characters.  I write it all down and file it until I am clear about where the story actually starts - and that's usually because I've already written the beginning without knowing it.  Once I've made a start, I can keep going - but facing a blank screen is terrifying!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
A:  Only 10??  

Enid Blyton was my favourite as a child (I think I'm still writing versions of The Magic Faraway Tree!) Ayn Rand was a huge influence in my teens. Connie Willis, Phillip Pullman and Guy Gavriel Kay are current favourite fantasy writers. I like C.P. Snow and Maeve Binchy for their memorable characters; Sharon Penman, Geraldine Brooks and Ellis Peters for historical fiction; Helen Garner and Jodi Picoult for difficult and interesting topics; Jane Austen for all sorts of reasons, plus Elizabeth George and other crime authors too numerous to mention.

What do you consider to be good writing? 
A: I'm less concerned about posh literary writing, being more interested in reading a story with a heart, and that takes readers on a journey with characters they care about. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
A: Read a lot and write a lot.  Be professional in your approach: near enough isn't good enough when you send off a mss to a publisher. Getting published has never been so tough, so be prepared to think outside the square, try different genres - keep learning, keep writing,  and don't give up.

What are you working on now?
A:  My new novel for adults titled I, Morgana has just been accepted by Momentum, the e-publishing arm of Pan Macmillan. (Very exciting!)  I'm now thinking about the sequel. 


BOOK LIST: Books I Read in February

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

I read 10 and a half books in February, bringing my yearly quota to 24.5 books. There's a lot of romance in the list - my favourite was 'The Autumn Bride' by Anne Gracie - plus one of my all-time favourite children's classic, 'The Stone Cage' by Nicholas Stuart Gray, which I have read at least a dozen times (but it never wearies me). 

The two stand-out titles for me were 'Scarlet in the Snow' by Sophie Masson and 'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' by Kim Wilkins (both due to be released in May 2013 - lucky me got advance copies!) I also really enjoyed the medieval murder mystery, 'The Queen's Man'by Sharon Penham. 

1. The Lost Duke of Wyndham – Julia Quinn

A frothy Regency romance that was marred for me by being a companion book to an earlier title which I had not read, and so it contained lots of references to things I was obviously meant to know. A lesson in how NOT to write a sequel (or perhaps a lesson in making sure you read books in a series in the order in which they are published.)

2. Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed – Anna Campbell
A very sexy Regency romance with appealing characters and a dash of adventure. I enjoyed it hugely, and have ordered another by this author (who is Australian and so bolsters my reading of Australian Women Writers in the AWW2013 challenge - yay!)

3.  The Stone Cage - Nicholas Stuart Gray

A wonderful classic children's fantasy which retells the Rapunzel fairy tale from the point of view of the witch's cat. The book which first made me think about writing my own Rapunzel retelling, when I was only 12. 

4. The Autumn Bride - Anne Gracie

My favourite living romance writer, Anne Gracie never disappoints. This is beautiful, old-fashioned romance, driven by character and situation and dialogue, and, as always, is filled with wit and charm and pathos. Love Anne Gracie romances!

5. Scarlet in the Snow – Sophie Masson 

I just loved this retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, told with flair, dash, and panache, by one of my favourite Australian women writers (yay! Another AWW2013!) Sophie Masson has really found her niche with these books ('Scarlet in the Snow' is set in the same alternative-world Prague as Sophie's previous novel, 'Moonlight & Ashes', which was one of my BEST BOOKS READ IN 2012.) This is YA fantasy at its best - filled with magic, adventure and just a touch of romance. Loved it!

6. All That I Am – Anna Funder

I am very ashamed to admit that I could not finish this book, the most awarded and lauded Australian book of 2012. And another AWW! Was I too tired? Am I too frivolous? Or was the book just too slow and self-aware for my tastes? It should have ticked all my boxes. Historical fiction - yay! Set in Nazi Germany - yay! About a brilliant, independent woman mostly forgotten by history - yay! I really, really wanted to love this book, but it just put me to sleep every night. I've left it on my bedside table and will hopefully return to it once I'm not so tired. Maybe in my next life. 

7. To Wed A Rake – Eloisa James

A delightful Regency romance novella, razor-sharp and not a word wasted. Bought it on my Kindle as I was waiting for my ferry and had read it by the time my ferry had come. Not a yawn in sight. 

8. The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr Wright – Tessa Dare

Another Regency romance novella, not quite as light on its feet as the one by Eloisa James, but still light, amusing and a wonderful way to pass by ferry ride home. I enjoyed it so much I tried another by the same author:

9. A Night to Surrender – Tessa Dare

I really enjoyed this deliciously frothy and amusing Regency romance, with likeable characters and a great premise. A lovely way to while away and hour or two. 

10.  The Year of Ancient Ghosts – Kim Wilkins

I LOVED this book! Kim Wilkins is one of my all-time favourite writers, spinning together suspense, romance, history and mythology into books that are utterly unputdownable (is that a word?) However, she's been busy the last few years writing parallel historical/contemporary books under the name Kimberley Freeman (still uputdownable but with a greater emphasis on family drama than mythology and fairy tale -  read all about Kimberley Freeman's books HERE). 

So I was very excited to be sent an advance copy of her first Kim Willkins' title in a few years.  'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' is a collection of novellas and short stories - brave, surprising, beautiful, frightening and tragic all at once. I WANT MORE! 

11. The Queen’s Man – Sharon Penham

Sharon Penham is best known for her magisterial novels set during the Middle Ages - I haven't read any yet, though I hear they are utterly brilliant - I do plan to get to them eventually. In the meantime, I've started with Sharon Penham-lite. 'The Queen's Man' is the first in a series of mystery novels set during the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a figure who has always fascinated me. I enjoyed this a lot, and plan to read more - the world is vividly and accurately portrayed, the characters and the relationships ring true, and the mystery was satisfyingly mysterious. Lovely to find a new medieval mystery series to devour!   
(See my Spotlight on Ellis Peters, author of the Cadfaely medieval mysteries, and my interview with Karen Maitland, who writes brilliant medieval supernatural thrillers).


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