As promised, Rambles of a Writer presents an exclusive interview with the author of Time’s Echo. It’s published by Pan MacMillan and has 4.5 stars out of 5 from over a hundred reviewers! It’s a timeslip story about a contemporary woman who finds herself being strangely drawn into the troubled life of a young girl called Hawise in sixteenth century York.
The interview was conducted by our roving reporter Muswell Glibbery:
“He asks the questions others fear to think”
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of being able to go back in time and see what it was “really like”. When I was researching my PhD, I spent a lot of time working on local court records for York in the late 16th century, and I’d wonder about the individuals I came across: What were the like? How did they live? What were the stories being little incidents reported in the records?
At the same time, a friend happened to explain about post traumatic stress disorder and the way a sound or smell or something similar can trigger a memory so vivid that sufferers actually re-experiences the trauma. So I started to think: if we can re-experience something that’s happened relatively recently, what if we could go further back in time?
Of course, as a historian I know that it will never be possible to know what life was ‘really like’ in the past. Even if we were somehow able to go back, we wouldn’t experience life in the same way. But as a writer, I’m not restricted by what is and isn’t possible, so I could let my imagination run free …
You are an experienced author, but in a different genre. How hard or easy was it to get your agent or publisher to take an interest in Time’s Echo? Did you write it ‘on spec’ or did you seek your agent’s opinion first?
I was lucky enough to be approached by an agent after I’d won what is now the RoNA Rose award. At the time, I was happy writing romance, but a few years later I felt as if I’d reached a turning point and I was ready to try something different. I had various ideas but I wanted to know which would be the most marketable, so I got back in touch with her and went to London for a very helpful chat. She liked the idea of using my research as background for a time slip, so I went away and played around with a few ideas … and then wrote a partial which she sold eventually to Pan Macmillan.
I’m sure some fellow writers will be interested to know how you write – do you do a lot of work on characterisation, plotting etc, or are you one of those who just jumps into it and irons everything out later?
I’m always fascinated by how other writers write too! I like to think of myself as an organized person, but my writing process is a bit haphazard. Normally I write an outline (2-3 pages), divide that roughly into chapters and start writing a shitty first draft without more ado. That’s just about filling the pages and I usually run out of steam after about 40-50 pages, at which point I go back to the beginning and start all over again. I never look at the SFD again, and really I’d like to be able to skip that part of the process, but it seems to be important for getting a feel for the characters and the story, so by the time the next draft (sometimes known as the shitty second draft) is underway, I know more or less where I’m going with it. I do like the idea of plotting everything out in detail, though, and for my latest book I spent ages between the SFD and the SSD writing detailed notes for every scene: what time of day it was, what the characters were wearing, what the point of the scene was and so on. I can highly recommend this as a displacement activity, but the truth is that once I started writing properly, I forgot to look at it and kept wandering off course. Every now and then I’d remember and realise I’d got the season completely wrong, or scenes out of order, but I think it was useful for working things out in my head, and for keeping track of the parallel narratives, which can get very convoluted at times!
Do you plan to follow Time’s Echo with a book in the same vein – and if so can you give us a sneak preview of what it might be about?!
I do indeed: The Memory of Midnight is out in October, and I’m contracted to write another two ‘time slips’ after that. The Memory of Midnight is also set in York. It’s the story of Tess, who moves back with her small son to try and start a new life away from her controlling husband. But the flat in Stonegate that seems so cosy at first holds a desperate secret, and as Tess is drawn back into Nell’s life in Elizabethan York, she finds herself in danger from the past and the present …
What brief advice would you give to unpublished trying to make their way in the business?
Be prepared for the long haul. The difficult bit is not writing that first book and getting it published. It’s writing another one and another and another … There’s masses of advice out there, but nothing beats what you learn from the process of writing itself, because that’s where you’ll discover your voice, and voice is what makes a story stand out from the crowd.
The obvious question – if you could ‘slip’ or travel back in time, what period would you choose?
I’d love to get a sense of that murky period between the Romans leaving and the Normans arriving, which is one I know absolutely nothing about. Or the prehistoric period: how fascinating would it be to see how people lived in the landscape? Of course, my time travel would be on condition that I was a fly on the wall only, and that I could nip back to my 21st century comforts whenever I wanted!
You can find Pamela on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pamela-Hartshorne-Author/220530941392774?ref=hl
And her own website: www.pamelahartshorne.com
So many thanks to Pam for taking the time to answer our questions, and I for one will be looking out for Memory of Midnight.
Some of us writers may be thinking that the SFD method is no great revelation – we’ve all been churning those in large quantities and can do so at the drop of a hat.
Now we know it’s what you do with them next that counts!