Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Writers Wednesday

As a writer and reader of historical fiction, I'm particularly pleased to introduce Welsh Author Tracy Rees and her debut novel, AMY SNOW, published by Simon & Schuster. This richly detailed adventure is set in Victorian England and follows the struggle of Amy Snow, abandoned at birth, as she unravels a trail of clues that will lead to a remarkable, life-changing discovery.

 Your biography mentions you are a Cambridge graduate with a degree in Modern and Medieval Languages. Has that background influenced your writing?

As a writer, I believe that everything we do and every experience we have, in some way feeds into our writing. It’s not necessarily a direct process. It’s not as simple as, for example, you fall in love so you write about love, or you travel, so you write about a journey. But our lives shape our subconscious and our subconscious shapes our writing. Certainly my time at Cambridge was a huge privilege and gave me a sense of possibilities and potential at a young age. I met some wonderful people and of course, had a marvellous opportunity to learn - both those things feed me and help me thrive. It’s also a very inspiring, beautiful setting, which is important to my artist’s soul! It was a long time between graduating from Cambridge and becoming a writer at last, but I think that seeds were definitely sewn during that time.

What did you learn about yourself in the process of creating Amy Snow?

I learned how determined I can be, and how driven. Because Amy Snow was shortlisted for a major competition in the UK on the basis of a 10,000 word entry, I had only five months to write the rest of the book. I knew I had a capacity for hard work but this took it to a new level! But I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime to do the one thing I’d always longed to do, so I went for it! I also learned a lot about the wonderful ways that the creative process works for me. I’m not a planner - I’m a “go with the flow” type writer. If I open up and accept the ideas that come, as they come, for example, I do better than if I try to use my brain to steer the process. 

What do you do when you are not writing?

When I’m not writing I have so many interests I wish we had a forty hour day! I love to spend time with friends and family. I am learning to play the piano and have my first piano exam coming up shortly. I love walking in the beautiful countryside near my home and also visiting new places. I do yoga and tai chi and zumba. I love drawing and reading (of course!) and going to the cinema and theatre. I also enjoy pottering around at home, cooking and growing plants in pots - that’s a new love of mine; I’m hugely impressed that my plants are still alive!

Briefly, what is Amy Snow about?

Amy Snow is about a young girl, Amy, who was found abandoned in the snow as a baby. She was discovered by Aurelia Vennaway, a young heiress, who insists on taking Amy in despite the disapproval of her parents. The two form a fast, if unusual, friendship, but Aurelia dies young when Amy is only seventeen. However she has left Amy a “treasure hunt” of letters, each containing a clue to discovering a secret Amy never imagined Aurelia had. Banished from home, Amy must go on a journey to follow Aurelia’s clues, not only to find out her friend’s secret but also as an important journey of self-discovery.

After a successful career in nonfiction publishing, what led you to the decision to write an historical fiction novel?

I had always wanted to write fiction. It was my first dream and it never really gave up on me! I went into publishing after university because I knew how hard it is to make it as an author and I thought it would be helpful to understand the publishing process from the inside. The first job I got happened to be in a non-fiction company and then I built on that. Over the years, I tried writing all sorts of fiction in all sorts of genres and Amy Snow just happened to be the first one to be published. I love historical fiction because it transports the reader to a totally different time with different values, manners and customs. Over the course of what I hope will be a long writing career, I would like to write more historical fiction and also other kinds of books too.

What would you like readers to take from it?

I think that whatever I write I am preoccupied with themes of personal development, the importance of believing in yourself and following your inner promptings. Amy starts out as an extremely shy character with little self-confidence but her unusual journey forces her to discover how resourceful and resilient she really is. I think we all tend to under-estimate ourselves sometimes and I’d love readers to be inspired by Amy’s story and think, “well if Amy can do it, I can do…” (whatever they dream of!).

What are your current/future projects?

My second novel, also set in the nineteenth century, comes out in the UK this month so I’m incredibly excited about that. I’m currently halfway through writing my third novel, set half in the present day and half in the 1950s and I’m loving writing it. I’m also working on some workshops that I’ll be giving in the UK in the Autumn; I love teaching and sharing ideas and experiences with others.

 What motivates you?

I love writing. I love language, story and imagination. I love transcending reality, escaping into other worlds, making the adventures of my imagination concrete on the page. So it’s not hard to keep motivated! Watching a really great film or reading an amazing book inspires me no end - a good story seems to send off sparks… And I love imagining readers reading and enjoying a finished book. I love hearing readers’ feedback and comments, their requests for sequels, these are all tremendously motivating. Also I love helping people overcome obstacles so that their dreams can come true so whenever I hear that my story has inspired someone that makes all the hard work (and back ache!) completely worthwhile.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?

My routine is not especially regular; one of the things I enjoy about my job is that every day is different. However since Amy was published I have learned a LOT about how to manage the workload. I used to write every day but now I make myself take weekends off so that I stay fresh and don’t exhaust myself! It’s also very important that I try to intersperse desk work (which is not only writing but also publicity, marketing, correspondence etc) with exercise and other activities because otherwise my back and shoulders really suffer. I’ve learned that my routine varies throughout the year, with different tasks prevalent at different times. For instance this year there has been a lot of solitary time writing book three for the first few months but now, with Amy published in the States and the second book, Florence Grace, coming out in the UK, there are more publicity enquiries, more author events and so on. Late summer will be revising book three and Autumn will be editing once my publishers have been through it, so it varies a lot month to month.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?

Oh so many! I’m sure all authors say this but it would be almost impossible to pick a favourite. Certainly the old classics - Dickens, the Brontes etc, are huge favourites of mine and have certainly fed into my love of this period and, I hope, given me a real feel for it, helping me to set a convincing mood. Then, because of my second career in psychology and therapy, I also love anything where human nature is finely drawn and radiantly real. American author Elizabeth Berg is one of my favourites in this regard. I love Natalie Goldberg’s books about the process of writing and I love David Mitchell for his big, bold, mind-blowing concepts. I also adore young adult and fantasy books. I’m a great believer in the power of fairytales!

What are the most important elements of good writing?

I think the most important thing is to write from the heart. Obviously, there is room in our world for all kinds of different stories, as the wonderful proliferation of genres on offer shows. So there is scope for people to write what they really believe in. Any type of writing will have its fans and those who aren’t so keen but I believe that heartfelt writing always finds its true audience. Obviously good language is important too and, further to that, language that suits the type of book it is. Language provides the framework for all the ideas contained in a book; it’s the access point for readers. And of course, good strong characters are important to bring a book to life and make readers care. There are many different reasons why we keep turning pages: it might be a breathless, clever plot, a character we’re rooting for, stunning language, escapism, humour… but I think a well written book, written from the heart, about a character readers can care about contains the magic three!

Talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers.

Revising is another reason I always say write what you love. Put simply, it can either be a delight or a nightmare. If you didn’t really love what you wrote in the first place, to go over it again and again is just punishing. If you do love it, it becomes an opportunity to polish and perfect, to spend yet more time in the company of characters that you love. Also, it’s really helpful if you take time out between drafts. On my current schedule I don’t have scope to do this much but I always make sure I have a gap even if it’s just a few days. It gives the mind a chance to relax and the subconscious to process everything I’ve just written. Then, it makes it easier to go back to the manuscript in a different frame of mind. Writing and revising are really two very different processes. Writing is entirely creative and can be very organic for many writers. Revising is where the thinking brain needs to kick in, so you can read what you’ve written and assess what works and what doesn’t, what the manuscript needs more of and less of etc.

What is one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you would like to pass on to readers and writers?

Again, it’s been said before but to writers I would say, never give up; persevere! We receive so many messages about how publishing is a difficult industry to crack. Well it is, that’s true, but difficult is not impossible. There are, as I said earlier, so many great books out there, in all sorts of different styles. And thank heaven for that! They make life so much richer and more magical than it would be without them. Someone’s got to write them! So why not you? And to readers, I would say, you (we!) are the other half of that magical process. Not much point writing something no-one’s going to read. So please know how much writers appreciate you choosing their book and absorbing their words and responding to them. That’s what it’s all for. Thank you!
Anything else you would like readers to know about you and/or your book?

I really appreciate you reading Amy Snow and taking a chance on a new author. I’ve wanted to write all my life, since I wrote my first poem at the age of three! For me it’s a joyous, wonderful process and I hope that somehow comes across on the pages and I hope you’ve enjoyed. Being a published author is my greatest dream come true so thank you for being part of that.

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