Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Interview With Author, Mary Mills-Mclaren

Where are you from?   
Hampshire, United Kingdom

Why do you write?
  I was born with a vivid imagination, so I write to save myself from going crazy!
    As a child, I was well known for descriptions of my perpetual dreams and sometimes, nightmares. I was the Sarah Bernhardt of the family, loving to entertain with almost unbelievable stories, and dramatic renditions of my dreams.
 In that fuzzy period between sleep and waking, I can see colors, read text, go shopping, hear music and speech and participate in anything on land, sea, or water. I never learned to tap-dance, but in Dreamland, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers move over!  I can fly like a bird, sing like Maria Callas or Kylie Minogue, and drive any vehicle.  Why do I write? Certainly not for fame and riches, but to feed my passion.

 What inspired you to write your first book?  
            I'd had many stories and articles published  by 1985, and enthusiastically entered writing competitions.  Amongst prizes like cash, books, and publication, I also won two treasured medals in Australia, where I was living then. One was for a competition created in the name of famous Australian author, Rolph Boldrewood, who wrote prolifically about Australian bush-rangers, including Ned Kelly.
             One such competition was created during Australia's second centenary, in 1988. During research, I came across a report of a four-month old baby being torn from its convict mother's arms during preparations for transportation with the First Fleet in 1787.  I began thinking that surely so many people being huddled onto small sailing ships for eleven months, would sometimes smile, play tricks, get up to mischief in trying to outwit their jailers? Not that I intended to make light of those savage years when Australia was founded, but I looked for other humane stories.  What I gathered, became my first novel, The Four Elizabeths. Then I wrote the sequel, Elizabeth's New Life. 

What genre do you typically write?    
I have mainly written fiction.  The previous stories used a lot of facts, but "Laura's Gold" is pure fiction, apart from geographical scenarios.

Do you feel like you have a specific writing style?
‘0My work has been compared to that of my two favorite authors, Barbara Bradford Taylor and Catherine Cookson.  Not that I consider my writing to be in their league, but I do enjoy their styles and try to emulate them.

How long does it usually take you to write a book?  
About six to nine months to get the story 'down on paper', as every writer is advised to do.  But the subsequent revision(s) take much longer. I haven't been able to afford a professional editor, and it is amazing how many times you can gloss over an error. You are so closely wound up in the story you become blind to an upper case letter where a lower case one should be.  Or the misspelling of a name, like Lilian at the start and Lillian a few chapters later.  So to answer your question, I'd say approximately a year to write a book, but hopefully that time frame will shorten as my editing improves.

What do you do to conquer writer’s block?
 With such an imagination as I am blessed with, I'm happy to say I've never suffered with such an impediment. But I realize it becomes a real stumbling block for many authors.  One suggestion is to write two columns of ten words or names, then try matching them together.  E.g. What would Aunty Jane do with a rotten cabbage?   Answer: Probably toss it into the garbage can. Then I immediately remembered me putting out the garbage can, one day, not knowing my husband had filled it with putrid, dissolving chicken poo, which he'd learned was good for the garden. I was quite ready to report the garbage man for not emptying our can,  which really would have set feathers flying.
More than likely I wouldn't have received courteous service after that, and the garbage man wouldn't have received his Christmas can of beer.  Just writing or reading something like that, softens the block, and before long you have overcome it.

What can you tell us about your favorite character from your book?   
Bel Carter makes a brief appearance in "Laura's Gold" but I love her. She epitomizes the typical gold-miner's wife both in dress, style and language. The harshness of the new country has already impacted on the two timid and polite English ladies, Laura and Jemima, but they are not prepared for the brashness of Bel Carter since her gold-miner husband had received a poor report from the Assayer, so "went out back and shot himself.”

What actor or actress would you like to see play your character in the movie adaptation
I think Dame Judy Dench would bring Bel Carter to life.  She has that great attitude of standing no nonsense, but underneath has such a sensitive heart.  
            Sandra Bullock, would be my personal vision of Laura, and someone like Kylie Minogue could portray the fragility of Jemima.  To play the part of the boorish Joseph Martin, I would cast Russell Crowe.

Who is your favorite author and what is it about them that inspires you?
Catherine Cookson mostly writes about women struggling against their situation and I admire the way she portrays them.  She creates that 'page-turning' style that make it difficult to stop reading.  She uses plain, simple language and her scenic description brings the ‘place’ and time factor to life in the reader's mind.

What book are you reading now?   
  "The Tinker's Girl" - another Catherine Cookson novel.   A fifteen year old girl, who lives in a workhouse is offered a position as maid-of-all-work by the owners of an isolated farm, Before long, she discovers that she has exchanged one kind of drudgery for another. The evocation of the period when it was customary for servants to know and keep their place makes excellent reading, and of course, all ends happily.

 Tell us about your current projects? 
Right now, I am busy with research and planning the sequel to "Laura's Gold" It has a working title of "Lydia" and tells of Laura's daughter, who is now a doctor and covers nursing events during WWI and the immense role undertaken by women for the first time during the wartime. . ‘Work fast but accurately' will be the main goal, as I hope to have the book published and available for this year's 100th Anniversary of the outbreak of World War One.  My partner's only three uncles gave their lives during "the war to end all wars,” and the novel is to be written partly, in honor of their sacrifice.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?     
In afterthought. I think I would add a little more atmosphere, as few people realize how   basic Australia was in 1890. If you consider the mere 236 years since its colonization, to have achieved its status as a world power, both in sport and economics, is surely one of the greatest success stories of today.

Can you share a little of your work with us?

 Here is an extract from Laura's Gold, Chapter 2 about my Bel Carter.
“A tired looking woman with her hair drawn back and her long black skirt stirring more dust, walked towards them. She looked at Jemima, then Laura.
            "That's my place over there," She indicated a building across the way. "Shall I take her for a drink? She looks worn out, poor little thing."
Laura's relief showed. "Thank you so much, ma'am. I'll inform Mister Martin when he comes back. He shouldn't be long. Just one moment..." She took the horses a few paces to the trough and tethered them there as they drank noisily. Remounting the dray, she assisted Jemima to her feet, and the woman lifted her arms to steady the young mother as she got down. Jemima's legs almost gave way under her, but with support she managed to cross the street and enter the building. Although stuffy, it was a good deal cooler than outside, and the woman dragged forward two wooden chairs for them both, before dipping water from a barrel in the corner of the room. She poured it into enamel mugs and handed her visitors one each.
 "Me name's Bel Carter," she began. "Well Isabel really, but none of these ignorant

 sods can be bothered to say me full name. Where've you come from, then?"

Laura and Jemima drank gratefully. "This is Mrs Jemima Martin, and my name  is

Laura Marchant. We arrived from England this morning, on the SS Mariana."

"Well I'll be damned," said their new acquaintance, smoothing calloused hands over

 her wispy hair, as though Queen Victoria herself had graced her humble shack. “Well, what

 you doing in Ballarat, then?"

Jemima roused feebly. "Ballarat? This is Ballarat?"

"S'right," chuckled Beth. "The most God-forsaken part of the country you could have 

come to."

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?    
 Oh dear, yes.  Getting the story drafted, is usually easy.  But finding the time to develop the narrative, and the hours needed to revise, and revise, and revise, is the real challenge.  I can't afford a professional editor, so have to do it myself. After months of close living with the story and characters, it is very difficult to spot errors, like an upper case letter when it should be in lower case. Or spelling slips like Lillian, instead of Lilian.  But hopefully, my editing will gradually improve and use less of my time.

Do you have any advice for other writers?   

Yes, Patience, Perseverance, and Pride.   Be prepared to use Patience when things don't go well,  Persevere when you feel you can't go on, (Writer's Block, for instance), and Pride. Don't be shy to say you are a writer, or learning to be one.  Taking pride in your work helps enormously towards marketing books

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Firstly, I'd thank them for taking the time to read my work. Secondly, I'd be grateful if they would talk about my books to friends and relatives. Lastly, I'd appreciate them communicatig with me through my social pages on Facebook, Linked In. Twitter and my own web site, http://marym224.co.uk 

For More on Mary!

                              Gold Coast Writers Assn

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