I’m a little bit excited, because this week on the blog I’m interviewing a fellow historical author – Barbara Gaskell Denvil! Barbara’s latest book ‘Fair Weather’ has just been released and she’s come over to have a chat about the book and her writing process.
- To begin with, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Thanks so much, Heather. I’ve been an author of sorts for most of my life, starting in
my teens publishing articles and short stories while working for publishers and television companies as a tutor, script writer and editor. However, I took a large break for domesticity and bringing up three daughters, two of whom are identical twins. Once my children were grown with lives of their own, I spent some years sailing the Mediterranean and living in several European countries while indulging my sense of adventure and learning, first hand, what romance is all about. Now I live in Australia, and write of medieval England while gazing out of my window at kangaroos, parrots and kookaburras. A considerable contrast – but my imagination soars from one to the other with no problems. It all adds to the joys of inspiration.
- Briefly, can you tell us what Fair Weather is about?
Mystery – history – dark magic – romance – and adventure! Fair Weather is set a little earlier than many of my other novels, going back to the reign of King John. It is a time-slip story with a large dose of the paranormal so the heroine, at first against her wishes but increasingly eager, is pulled from her modern comforts into the dangers of the past. The storyline delves deeper and deeper into the threats and the mysteries, but as the plot develops the mysteries begin to unfold, and the principal male character shows himself as multi-faceted and far from average hero. This very unusual hero is one of my favourites but neither of my two heroines find him an easy companion. This book and its plot are multi-layered, and carries many twists…
- What inspired you to write Fair Weather?
Vespasian Fairweather came marching into my head one dark and chilly evening, and introduced himself without permission. I found him immediately intriguing, challenging and compelling. This is actually a novel I first wrote back in 2004 when time-slip plots were rare! But I have polished since then – and I believe the book has grown a little. But for all that time, Vespasian has been with me. He’s not always the easiest companion, but I love having him around. He is charismatic and never predictable. So he has been my inspiration right from the start. Where he came from – well – I’m not sure!
- I see you’ve written quite a bit of historical fiction. What drew you to this genre?
I suppose originally because it’s a genre I love to read, and I grew up with an adoration for Dorothy Dunnett, Shakespeare and Mary Renault. I became interested in researching the dark cramped and brutal life of the ordinary people during those long-past years. I also love fantasy – and I think both fantasy and historical fiction draw the reader into new worlds. Escapism of the deepest and most compelling kind. I adore wandering other dark roads in my mind and exploring what made people think and believe as they did. I am greatly interested in many important figures from the past (Richard III, Shakespeare, Rochester, Wellington and many more) but it is the huge heaving population of the poor that absorbs me, and how they coped with such difficulties. We are now what the past has made us, and I find that an absorbing puzzle to study.
- Fair Weather is not strictly historical. Is this your first time-slip novel?
Yes, it is, and I have loved writing it. I believe the time-slip plot draws the reader into the past along with the characters, and that is always my aim in all my books, even when time-travel is not at all included. When I actually wrote Fair Weather back in 2004, time-slip was quite a rarity in books and I cannot remember a single book I had then read based on time travel, although now it is quite fashionable. My mother had recently died, and I think my mood was generally dark – and from there I slipped into the past myself.
- I’ve had a peek at your website, and I’m intrigued by your story line. You mentioned that one of your main characters ‘Vespasian’ arrived fully formed and proceeded to dictate the story (I’ve experienced this myself!). Was there much research involved?
Yes, isn’t it a wonderful experience when a compelling character seems to come alive!
I have always loved researching the past and started with massive academic research on the Viking era when I was just 12 years old. So yes indeed, I researched the time period for Fair Weather with much passion, even though the plot of my novel is not based on historical events. Certainly the presentation of old London and the way of life at that time are all very accurate. Vespasian certainly strode through my head and wrote my book for me, but I still had to check that the facts were right. Now I have trouble with fading sight, and research is a problem. However, I will never write a historical fact without ensuring its accuracy.
- I’ve found research can be a bit of a black-hole – there is so much information out there. How did you know when you’d done enough?
Yes, it can be hard, but that black hole has never swallowed me up. I enjoy research and never stop, and it is endlessly valuable. You need a feel for the period, and an understanding of what life was like then. I have researched many periods of history without the slightest intention of setting a book in that time. The past has fascinated me most of my life and I am passionate about understanding the way we have grown from previous mistakes. I have a passionate sympathy for the terrible experiences the ordinary people suffered before we learned tolerance, before medical science understood disease and hygiene, and before a regard for equality was accepted. Battle was the most brutal business and yet people accepted the inevitability. Many fought willingly, but the suffering continued unabated through every reign. I will not turn away from the misery those poor souls faced in bygone eras, and I write of their lives with the utmost care. Now humanity is maturing beyond those past horrors, but we still have a lot to learn. That is what research means to me. I have never entered into any research purely as a short term exercise for one book alone. I dream of these times, and feel as though I live there as I write my books.
- What inspires you to write?
The whole world and everyone in it becomes my inspiration. The sunset over the hills, the dawn rising in soft pastels over the ocean, forests in the spring and open moors bleak in the barren winter. Every person I meet and every word they say inspires me. I get sudden ideas from dreams too. My dreams are vivid and compelling, and they remain with me long after I have woken. Some films have inspired me too, and books of course, for reading the work of others is perhaps the biggest inspiration of all. I also have my own memories, and after leading a very varied and interesting life, there is plenty to remember and plenty to inspire within those memories.
- What is your next book about?
I am now writing a Tudor adventure. As usual it contains romance, adventure, crime and mystery, as well as a good deal of historical context. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are important characters within the book, but I follow my normal practice by bringing my own fictional characters into the foreground as the principal protagonists. But the book is only about half way finished, and it will be some time before I choose to publish it. I insist on rewriting and polishing my work several times, and therefore finally publish my very best attempt at perfection. Well – nothing is ever perfect of course – but I can try.
- What is your writing process? Do you have a daily routine? Do you plot your stories – or do you let them come to you as you write?
More or less a routine, and I try to write for many hours each day, depending on other duties such as marketing and keeping up with articles, and fascinating interviews such as this one. I love writing. I have no problem with writing for hours. I always start off with my basic plot and characters very firmly in my mind, but then as the book begins to develop, it takes on a life of its own and runs away with me. In the end I always feel as though it has written itself. Sometimes it feels so real that I think it has written me!
My leading characters leap into my head fully formed and demand that I give them the freedom to do whatever they wish. And that’s exactly what I do. I have written a crime mystery before, where I have changed the culprit half way through simply because the original character I had chosen as the guilty one, turned around and told me in no uncertain manner that he was innocent. Who can argue with a character stamping his feet inside your head?
- Why did you decide to self-publish?
My traditional publishers (Simon & Schuster) treated me very well. My books sold well and I intended continuing in the traditional manner. But then I began to dream of taking back some of the control I had inevitably had to surrender to my publisher. I had no complaints, but most matters were no longer my choice and even the basic direction of my books was sometimes altered by them. Only one book a year is published traditionally of course, they chose covers, and with a small budget allotted (large budgets are kept strictly for the famous names and huge best-sellers) there was very little possibility for publicity or marketing. Eventually I decided that self-publishing would bring me vastly more pleasure, and renew all my freedoms., So that is what I chose.
Sadly there is still some stigma hanging over those who self-publish, as though they have all initially failed. This is most unjust. It may sometimes be true, of course, but usually it is not. I was offered the traditional path – accepted with pleasure – and then backed out. Self-publishing has become a great joy, although challenging – but it is the way I now wish to travel.
- What advice would you give to people just starting to write, or considering self-publishing?
I don’t think I am in a position to advise anyone really, as I am still learning what I want to do myself. I suppose I would advise any prospective author to take the idea seriously – never to give up – and to re-write, re-write, and re-write again. Many new authors finish a book quickly and assume that is good enough. In the following years they inevitably regret having rushed the process. I think a measure of perfection should be attempted through endless polishing before going out to face the public. Beta readers can be extremely helpful in this.
- Do you have any website/social media links you’d like to share?
My Amazon author’s page,
My website – and please do subscribe –
and my F/B author’s Page –
I should dearly like to meet you all on any or all of these sites.
– Fairweather is available now from Amazon
and Amazon UK
– Thank you so much for having a chat with me today Barbara – I’m really looking forward to reading Fair Weather, and learning a bit more about Vespasian Fairweather and the heroines who accompany him in this story.
Born in England, I grew up amongst artists and authors and started writing at a young age. I published numerous short stories and articles, and worked as an editor, book critic and reader for publishers and television companies. I broke off my literary career to spend many hot and colourful years sailing the Mediterranean and living in various different countries throughout the region.
When my partner died I needed a place of solace and came to live in rural Australia where I still live amongst the parrots and wallabies, writing constantly, for my solace has now become my passion.
With a delight in medieval history dating back to my youth, I now principally set my fiction in 15th century England. I also write fantasy, tending towards the dark and adult. Within these two genres, I now write full time.