Friday, August 26, 2011

Author Interview with Sheila Newberry

A warm welcome to Sheila Newberry who has been a story teller from an early age. Her books, published by Robert Hale, are heart warming stories set in the past, some of which were inspired by real events in her own or her families lives.

Sheila, please tell us how you got started?

I have been writing since I was three years old, but I told myself stories when I was even younger. My parents listened to these outside the bedroom door, after they tucked me up in my cot. I was always a day-dreamer. I wrote my first book at ten years old, well, all of sixty pages, in purple ink. I continued to tell stories, too, especially as a small girl during the war when we lived at various times in a Suffolk village with my mother's family. On Friday afternoons I entertained the whole school with a long-running saga about black-eyed Bill, a pirate. These years were the basis of my first memoir Come You On Inside. Later, at Lady Edridge School for Girls, I was encouraged by two wonderful teachers in my love of writing and history. When a careers adviser asked the girls what career they had in mind, the majority answered, nurses or teachers. I said shyly, "I want to be a writer." "But Sheila, don't you know there is a shortage of paper?" I have been conscious of that fact ever since!

How did I get published?

I could only manage to write short pieces in our Knee Deep in Plums days
(Magna/dales p. back and audio) John and I have nine children whom we brought up on a smallholding in Kent, with a fruitful orchard and many pets. When the children were young, I blew the dust off the mantelpiece and joined in the fun - and I wrote every single day: stories for the American bible classes; hopefully humorous articles on family life for My Weekly. There are always children in my books, and often, one of my favourite Jack Russell terriers. My stories and songs were taped for play groups, there were bedtime stories for the Hull telephone service, and local radio. I wrote pantomimes for W.I and the school. Later, I was a runner up in a Woman's Own writing competition. I wrote regularly for the now sadly defunct Woman's Realm, and had much lovely feedback. Plums was serialised in People's Friend, and I was touched by the response from readers. Sally Bowdem of WR urged me to write full-length books. Tilly's Family was published by Piatkus in 1996. I haven't stopped since and have now written eighteen books and memoirs.

To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?

No, I don't plot, but I do research thoroughly. The name of my heroine comes first, and before I know it, the story is unfolding. To me it is a magical process. I do enjoy description, but remind myself to involve my main characters in any action - "show not tell".

What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?

I think editors are looking for believable characters, good narrative pace, emotions the reader can identify with, and a happy ending. Not perhaps the one the author initially envisaged, because I often surprise myself...

Where is your favourite place to work?

In a quiet place, but now the kitchen table has been replaced by a desk and computer. My first typewriter was a long-carriaged machine which John lugged home from work and told me "now you can get into print!" So I did...I'd just given birth to my eighth baby at the time!

Do you write every day? What is your work schedule?

Yes, I do write every day, although as we have just moved home, it has sometimes been only a few sentences. I often lay awake at night, with the story "moving on" in my mind, which is my my problem solving period. Early mornings are my most productive time. I write on until lunch time, although when I am reading proofs I will stay at my desk all day. John, being retired, is a great support, he enjoys cooking and I relish the results. He is also involved with my research, and so we jog along together very comfortably after fifty-plus years together.

Which authors have most influenced your work?

HE Bates - I read the Jacaranda Tree when I was eleven. Betty MacDonald - I love the humour and her take on family life, Nina Bawden, Nevil Shute, L.M. Montgomery, Rumer Godden, Mary Stuart, and Norah Lofts. Of the classics, Jane Eyre is my favourite. Dickens translates so well to T.V and film.

How do you develop your characters?

I can only say they seem to do this independently of me! I "hear" their voices, and I even become fond of the less attractive ones - hence Granny Garter in my latest novel for Hale, The Poplar Penny Whistlers.

Do you find time to have interests other than writing?

I am an avid reader. I like amateur dramatics, art. Family are of course a great pleasure.

What advice would you give a new writer?

Go with the flow! Believe in yourself! Inspiration, imagination and faith, you need these to succeed.

Are you a specialist of one genre or do you have another identity?

I am drawn to writing about late Victorian times, the Twenties, thirties and war time sagas. (Mostly WW2, but Tilly's Family covered the Great War.) My father was much older than my mother, so I was privileged to learn about life in the 1890's. My mother's father was Irish, but my grandmother was a Newberry (hence my writing name.) On Dad's side there was a Spanish connection - lots of dark eyes in the family.

How do you promote your books?

I promote my books in the media, including Romance Matters, give interviews on local radio as well as talking to various organisations.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

No. I find it difficult to stop, once I start a new chapter.

In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?

I am very fond of the RNA. Di Pearson encouraged me to join and I have made good friends. I wish I could attend the big events, especially the conferences - however, I enjoy all the accounts of these that others write and I learn a lot too. I have had the same agent, Judith Murdoch since my first book was published - I have never forgotten something she said then, "You will be the English Maeve Binchy!" Well, it hasn't happened yet, but I am still hopeful, Judith - thank you for all the years of encouragement.

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?

I am writing at present a novel entitled Young May Moon. I would rather surprise you with the content than reveal too much at this point...

Tell us about your latest book.

My first ebook is due in August, The Watercress Girls - Hale published the original, too. (Also coming out shortly in large print, Magna, and already in audio version, read by Tara Ward.)

Thank you for talking to us, Sheila. We wish you every success with The Watercress girls.

To contact Sheila or find out more about her books go to the Robert Hale website


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thanks for the interesting interview.

I can't imagine how you managed to write as well as having eight children. So impressed.

Sheila Newberry said...

Thanks Debs! I began to think nobody cared! But told myself that it is Bank Holiday after all!

We had a lovely family reunion on Saturday and the sun actually shone. 45 of us! For we not only have 9 children, but also 23 grandchildren and one great grandson! They are creative, one and all - why not read Knee Deep in Plums, my story of bringing the family up in an orchard paradise - you'll see that my family were - still are - my inspiration...
Thank you for your message, which is warmly received.
Love Sheila

Anonymous said...

Nick found me your interview ... I wonder whether todays youngsters will have the same dedication to writing as you had as a child ... I love my iPad and can you imagine the distraction of the Internet to our grandchildren! You were always such a busy bee and it would be lovely if one or some of them followed in your footsteps Lots of love Margaret.