Friday, March 9, 2012

Interview with Juliet Greenwood

We welcome Juliet Greenwood to the RNA Blog today. Juliet lives in a traditional Welsh cottage halfway between the romantic Isle of Anglesey and the beautiful mountains and ruined castles of Snowdonia. After studying English at Lancaster University and King’s College, London, Juliet worked in a variety of jobs, from running a craft stall at Covent Garden Market to teaching English. She began writing seriously ten years ago. Juliet’s first novel, ELISSA’S CASTLE, was published by Transita. 

Under her pen name Heather Pardoe, she has had six pocket novels published to date, and numerous short stories. Together with Jean Fullerton she is chair for the RNA London and SE Chapter. What made you want to write, Juliet, and how did you get your first break?

I began writing seriously about ten years ago, after a severe viral illness in my mid-thirties had left me with debilitating ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for years. M.E was the worst, and the best thing that ever happened to me -although I could see nothing positive at the time. One the one hand, it sent me from being able to walk up mountains with ease to struggling to do the simplest of everyday tasks for more than a few minutes at a time. At my worst I could barely walk and my brain was a foggy haze. But on the other hand, this forced me to re-evaluate my life and my priorities. When you are only able to think clearly and do any physical activity for half an hour a day, it doesn’t half concentrate the mind!

I’d always been lost in a book, and the only thing I’d ever really wanted to do was write, but although I’d tried in my twenties – when I was far too young and self-absorbed to have anything to say – I’d allowed a sensible career to take over. So with nothing to lose, as soon as I began to recover I found a part-time job I could cope with, and slowly began to work on my writing.

As I worked, I found my brain starting to clear, so learning my craft also became part of the healing process. I started with competitions, and a few of my short stories were short-listed, which was a huge morale boost. But my real breakthrough came when a friend told me about the RNA and the New Writers’ Scheme. I only had the chance to have one novel go through the scheme, as my first pocket novel was accepted that same year, but I learnt an incredible amount from my reader. And it was through the RNA that I first heard about Transita.

What a heart-lifting story, Juliet. Some writers need silence, others prefer the bustle of a coffee shop, TV, or music playing. What is your favourite mode of working?

I find I need absolute silence. I live in a traditional Welsh cottage, so the only upstairs room is a tiny ‘crog loft’, which would once have been reached by a ladder. This is my writing room. It means I can return to my work exactly as I left it, which is great for getting yourself back into the scene. And I can shut the door and leave it behind at the end of the day.

From my desk I have views over the garden and some spectacular sunsets over Anglesey in the distance. I work on a Mac, which I love, and I mostly write straight onto the computer. When I’m working on a first draft I try not to look back or to edit, but concentrate on getting the bare bones of the book down. I prefer to edit when I can stand back a bit and see the story a bit more objectively. And see where it’s taking me.

You say you took a part time job. Do you still have to juggle writing with that? What is your work schedule? 

I work two days a week for a small community enterprise called ‘Tape Community Music and Film’ that creates films and music with people who’ve had problems with drugs and alcohol. The main part of my job is filling in funding applications. Although I do also get to do some oral history work, which is great for research. My employers are amazingly supportive and flexible. Most of the time it works really well, although there are occasions when deadlines clash, and then I just want to stick my head in a bucket of ice. I’d love to be a full-time writer – but then I wouldn’t be working on a history project within the romantic medieval castle and walled town of Conwy, with who knows what stories waiting to be uncovered as inspiration for my next book.

Describe how you begin when you start a new novel.

I usually find the idea for the next novel begins to appear when I’m about halfway through the current one. Writers are like magpies – we’re always collecting shiny possibilities wherever we might find them! Then it brews away quietly in the back of my mind for a while. I find it really hard to let go of the last book and begin to get to know my new characters. It always feels so demoralising to start at the beginning of the process once more, wondering if I can ever do it again. I tend to stomp around for a few weeks blitzing the house and the garden, while scribbling notes every now and again. Then I start with the first chapter and just write. I usually throw that chapter away, but I find it a really important process in getting to know my characters- and meet those unexpected ones who just pop up from nowhere and take the story in quite a different direction.

Tell us about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it.
My latest book, EDEN’S GARDEN, is a time slip, with the story weaving between the present day Cornwall and Snowdonia and late Victorian London. At the centre is Plas Eden, a dilapidated mansion with a collection of half-forgotten statues in its overgrown garden. The setting was inspired by Brondanw Gardens, in southern Snowdonia, home of Clough Williams Ellis who created the famous Italianate village of Portmeirion. This is a picture of Juliet enjoying some quiet reflection in the gardens.

The story was originally inspired by the Celtic myth of Blodeuwedd, a woman created out of flowers by a magician for a man cursed to never have a human wife. Blodeuwedd is beautiful. Perfect. Until she falls in love on her own account and is punished by being turned into an ugly owl to live her life hated and despised. It seemed to symbolise the way women are still only valued when we are young and eager to please, and disregarded as we grow older and begin to know our own minds. As a woman, I began to wonder if, for Blodeuwedd, being turned into the owl was the beginning rather than the end of the story. That maybe this was the moment she began to gain experience: to learn about loss and struggle and empathy with others, and all the things that make us truly human.

Now for some lighter questions: Does your dog or cat help with the writing? 
My dog is my essential sidekick for my writing. Because I’ve had ME, I need to keep fit – and being a cross between a collie and a spaniel, with a need for long walks come rain or shine, Phoebe certainly does that! There’s many a plot twist been found halfway up a muddy hillside. My cat sits on my lap and helps with the typing. She thinks she comes up with all the best ideas. I don’t argue as she’s very comforting to cuddle when I’ve been writing a really sad bit.

Are you into family history? Have you discovered any villains among your ancestors?
I love family history. My mother’s side of the family - the Pardoes who gave me my pen name - were nail makers from Lye Waste, at the heart of the industrial Black Country. No floating about in silks and fainting for my foremothers.

Who is your favourite hero?
Arthur Clennam, in Little Dorrit. I’ve always liked the way that he is older and more battered by life than many heroes, and is a true gentle soul without being prissy about it.

Finally, what is the mantra that helps you maintain faith in yourself?
That you create your own luck. I feel that the more you keep going and learning and getting your work out there, the more chances you give yourself to be in that right place with the right book.

Please share with us your favourite recipe. 
This is my mother’s chocolate cake recipe, which she taught me to make when I was a little girl. It’s the one I always make now, and it never fails.
I also make a vegan version by substituting vegan margarine for the butter, and two mashed bananas for the eggs. And using vegan chocolate, of course.

8oz/225g sugar
8 oz/225g butter
6oz/180g flour
2oz/55g cocoa powder
3 eggs

2oz/55g butter
2 Tablespoons Cocoa,
Icing sugar

One large bar dark chocolate (200gr)

Cream sugar and butter together until smooth. Slowly beat in eggs, one at a time. Add flour and cocoa powder. Spoon into a greased 7inch/ 18cm tin and bake in the middle of the oven at 180 degrees (160 for fan assisted)/ Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Allow to cool and slice in half. Cream together butter, cocoa and icing sugar to form the filling and spread on lower part of cake. Replace top half. Melt the bar of chocolate slowly in a bowl over a pan of water. Smooth over the cake and allow to set. For added luxury, 4 chopped pieces of preserved ginger, or the grated rind of an orange, can be added with the flour. Ginger is especially good for cold winter days!

Sounds delicious! I do hope it is calorie free. Thank you for talking with us today Juliet. I wish you every success and oodles of good health in the future.
To learn more about Juliet, you will find her here:

Eden’s Garden 
Honno Press 

Carys agrees, with mixed feelings, to look after her mother after a fall. Once home she is haunted by old memories of a childhood sweetheart. How will she feel when they meet again? 1895 - Ann , destitute, stands on London bridge. She remembers her last visit to London, a spoilt aristocratic bride, sure of the power of her youth and beauty. Now the river seems like her only option...A powerful tale of two women struggling with love, family duty, long-buried secrets and their own creative ambitions. Can Carys follow the clues left by Ann and find her true path?

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: 


Bluestocking Mum said...

How inspiring to read the interview with Juliet, Freda. Thank you.

It seems we have many things in common:-

- I LOVE family history.
- Also live with chronic pain and illness
- Need complete silence when writing
- My dog,(black Labrador pup) is vital to my writing process and general well-being. We go on massive walks while I mull over WIP/ideas and keep healthy. The rest of the time puppy will be found at my feet, keeping me company while I sit at the laptop and work.

In addition, we both live in very beautiful parts of the country - in fact, Juliet, you are just over the border from me here in South Shropshire!

Great interview.

J. Fishler said...

Lovely to be inspired by someone you think of as a friend.
Great interview - and isn't Eden's Garden cover gorgeous?!

Susan Bergen said...

It's lovely to hear some of the thoughts behind a novel (and of the author behind that). Juliet, your own story is a true life example of how every cloud has a silver lining. I wish you every success with 'Eden's Garden'.

juliet Greenwood said...

Hi Debbie,
Thank you for those lovely comments. I spent part of my childhood in Worcestershire, so I know Shropshire well - it's a beautiful county. I always associate it with apple blossom and flowering cherries - something to do with 'A Shropshire Lad', I think!

I'm glad you've got a puppy. I know it's devastating to lose a dog who has been with you for many years, and they are such wonderful company for writers - and for keeping chronic conditions at bay.

I'll think of you as we trudge off for the morning walk. I've got a dog snoring at my feet at this very moment. Very soothing!

Take care, and see you on Twitter.

Juliet x

Juliet Greenwood said...

Hi Jen,

Ah, that's great! And yes, I have to agree with you - that cover is gorgeous! I still can't quite believe how beautifully it turned out.



Juliet Greenwood said...

Thank you so much, Susan!

The silver lining is something I always try to hold on to when bad things happen. It can be strange the way things work out. And I always hope that my story is a really positive one.

It's great to share the conversation, too!

Jemi Fraser said...

yummy! Chocolate cake really is one of the universe's best inventions ever!

I'm glad you were able to find the joy of writing through suffering from such a painful condition. Focusing on and finding that joy isn't always easy! Thanks for your tale of inspiration!

Beth Elliott said...

That is a fascinating glimpse into your life and your motivation, Juliet, not to mention your determination. I hope your book does well.

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting interview with Juliet Greenwood and having read Elissa's Castle when it was published by Transita back in 2007 am looking forward to reading Eden's Garden.