Characters can never be purely fictitious. They must necessarily be based on the author’s internal experience of her own thoughts and emotions and on her observation of other people. However, none of my characters mirror a person I know. Nobody I know has been “put in my book”.
Rosemary Hayward – 20 June 2017
The Back Flap
The past is never past. A historian should know that.
Margaret walked out of Jenny North’s life on Friday, June 16th 1967. Margaret told nobody where she was going or why. At seventeen years old, Jenny expected to go to college to study history, not to have her life haunted by the mystery of her stepmother’s past. And she didn’t think she would spend fifteen years trying to find out who Margaret really was and why she left.
The search for Margaret takes Jenny from Oxford to Paris and from 1967 back to the Second World War. Along the way Jenny learns who her relatives are, and who her friends are. And she discovers why all is not as it seemed.
Rosemary Hayward leads you into the changing world of late twentieth England, as seen through the eyes of a serious minded and intelligent heroine who doesn’t always behave so very heroically.
About the book
What is the book about?
Margaret Leaving is about Jenny North’s search for answers about her stepmother, Margaret. Margaret leaves the family home when Jenny is seventeen years old. Jenny’s father claims he knows no more about where she has gone, or why than Jenny does. Jenny lives the next fifteen years of her life vacillating between desperately wanting Margaret and desperately wanting to get her out of her life forever. In the meantime, she has a life to lead: a father, friends, lovers and colleagues. The mystery of Margaret’s past that runs Jenny’s life affects all these other lives too. Why did Margaret go?
When did you start writing the book?
In 1995, when I was living in California for a year, without a work permit.
How long did it take you to write it?
After I returned to the UK, and my job as a lecturer in a further education college, the book, which was then called Present Imperfect, was put aside. I revived it after meeting Shelly King (the author of The Moment of Everything) upon my return to California in 2000. She suggested I attend a writing conference with her and I was overwhelmed by the sheer pleasure of having other writers taking my work seriously. From then on I worked on the novel, work-shopped it, and learned how to write.
Where did you get the idea from?
There are many ideas in Margaret Leaving. It is deliberately complex and multi-layered. So I am going to answer that question as “What was the thought that first got words onto the screen?” I had not written fiction since high school but I had half a lifetime of reading it under my belt. I wanted to see if I could create characters and a plot. Could I get from the beginning to the end and fill out the middle? I started with emotion. What emotion have I felt that I can easily give to a character? What do I know? This is harder than it sounds, because many emotions are too connected to harsh experiences for a beginning fiction writer to tackle. So, I started with a bookish 17 year-old who realizes she could possibly go to the best university in the world, because I was once that girl. And then I made something happen to her that threatened that possibility, because I once knew someone who gave up a place at Oxford because his parents died and he fought social services for custody of his younger brothers and sisters.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Ironically, I struggled most with the very thing I started with, showing the emotions and thoughts of my principal character. It is very important that the writer stays true to the character they have created and Jenny North is a person who was taught, by her parents and by the society she grew up in, to keep her feelings to herself: not to be expressive, not to be “lovey-dovey” and most definitely not to lose her temper. So, what are her internal thoughts and feelings? It took me many rewrites before I got there and I have a character a lot of readers find it hard to get to know and like, but I think I have the real Jenny North.
What came easily?
Inventing new characters. I love writing the first scenes with a new character, giving them faces, gestures and things to say.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
Yes and no. Characters can never be purely fictitious. They must necessarily be based on the author’s internal experience of her own thoughts and emotions and on her observation of other people. However, none of my characters mirror a person I know. Nobody I know has been “put in my book”. When it comes to the intersection with recorded history, I have based some characters on actual historical figures I found in my research, and portrayed real events in which they were involved.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
I have never consciously tried to write in the style of another author. However, influence is a more subtle thing than imitation. I read a lot of classical literature: Dickens is wonderful for social indignation and outrageous characters, Austen for irony, Elliot for soul searching, and Tolstoy knows how to conjure up a scene better than any other author I know. I also read a lot of modern female authors: Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Amy Tan, Donna Tartt, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, and Joan Didion are some of my American favorites, and Zadie Smith, Monica Ali, Hilary Mantel, A. S. Byatt and Kate Atkinson are some of the Brits. They all write about what matters, deep in the human heart. I’m sure there are others but you don’t really want my entire bookshelf.
It’s noticeable on thinking about this how few male authors I have included. If I think about male authors I come up with Neil Gaiman, Louis de Bernières, Terry Pratchett , Umberto Eco, Douglas Adams, John Fowles and Gabriel García Márquez. It’s magical realism, intense introspection and comedy. I don’t want to write that, but I love to read it. I think I take authorial voice from them. The concept of what authorial voice is, not the way they do it.
I’ve just checked my little bookshelf here in Seville and it includes Chris Cleave, Iain Pears and Sebastain Faulks. Books I bought to read on planes, all historical novels. So, I like the way these particular men write historical fiction, I guess: highly plotted, true to the period, with a message, and no indulgence in sex and violence even when writing about sex and violence. I try to write like that.
Margaret Leaving is a mystery plot. I like mysteries but rarely read them. I mostly watch them on television. A good mystery is one that keeps the reader, or watcher, thinking until the end. They also must have interesting characters and interesting interaction between the characters. Morse is a prime example of the sort of mystery writing that has influenced me directly when it comes to plotting.
Do you have a target reader?
No. Or only myself. I want to write the sort of books I want to read. It’s a matter of integrity, of being true to myself. That might sound pompous. Sorry.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I need to be inspired by a topic. For example, the women’s suffrage movement in Britain in the first decade of the twentieth century is the inspiration for my next book. Then I invent characters. Next I give them a plot. I think of the plot as a framework to hang everything else on, so to that extent there is an initial outline. Then I write. I dream up a scene in my head, write it down, dream up the next scene, and so on. I can’t start writing the scene until it is visually and audibly present in my head. After the first draft is written I write an outline, in order to keep things straight and coherent.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I think I answered this above.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
Both. I write and rewrite as I go along. Then I read and write and rewrite again. Over and over.
Did you hire a professional editor?
Yes, and I took her suggestions to heart, although I didn’t act on all of them. She was essential to getting the novel into the final “ready to greet the world” state and particularly helpful in the matter of getting the chapters organized in a way that grounds the reader in time and space.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
No. I need peace and quiet to write.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Yes, roughly 75, both American and British.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
Not getting any interest from the traditional market combined with the increased opportunities for self-publishing. I have worked on Margaret Leaving for many years. I wanted to get it into the hands of my friends, if nobody else. And I believe it is a good book, worthy of being read by a wider audience. It has something to say. It doesn’t fit easily into a genre and it doesn’t have a classical “grab you in the first chapter, root for her however unpleasant she is” heroine. And I don’t go easy on the language. I use British words even if my American readers won’t understand them, and I use long words and long sentences. Not that the book is erudite or difficult, but I think you need to read all of it, and be prepared work at it, before you can appreciate it. So, I wanted to give people the chance to do that work, to stretch themselves a bit, because I like books that make me do that.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
The cover design is by Peter O’Connor of Bespoke Book Covers of the UK. The photograph is by Cristina Expósito Escalona, my multi-talented daughter-in-law. I deliberately chose a British designer, since this is a British book, written in British English and set in England.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I have a plan and I think it is a realistic one considering there is only me to activate it. Publish online. Get the word out to my friends and acquaintances. Get the book into local bookstores. Have a website and a Facebook presence. Arrange some publicity events. Get some reviews. But there is not a lot of time and money behind me.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Write first. When you have written, make sure it is the best you can write. Have other people critique your work. You still have to write to the standards of the traditional published market, if not to its tastes. Use a literary editor and an independent proofreader, think very carefully about which self-publishing method suits you and your book and only do your own cover if you are also a cover designer. And remember you are doing it for the sake of art. You are unlikely to make your fortune.
Where did you grow up?
In the Hertfordshire countryside, about halfway between the English towns of Luton and St. Albans.
Where do you live now?
In Santa Cruz, California and Seville, Spain.
What would you like readers to know about you.
I am an accountant and tax preparer, and was once a teacher of accounting and taxation. So, please don’t underestimate your tax preparer. Who knows what they do in their other life.
What are you working on now?
A novel with the working title Crocus Fields that involves the interlocked stories of three women, one in the present day, one in the nineteen-seventies and one in the first decade of the twentieth century. I was inspired, initially, by wanting to get into the head of a militant suffragette. The militant branch of the British suffragette movement is lauded as heroic now but if those women did some of the things they did then now, and with the organization they created, we would call them domestic terrorists. That’s where I started. Now I have three women and a major women’s issue that faces each of them in their own day, an issue that can be looked at from more than one side.
End of Interview: