Friday, May 13, 2011

Interview with Anne Bennett

Today we have the inspiring story of how Anne Bennett got into writing. Anne, you seem to have suffered more than most with a period of bad luck in your life. Do tell us all about it.

I always adored books as a child and my father would read to me often before I went to bed. However, apart from my birthday and Christmas, when I might have the odd book bought, there were few in the house, and without the public libraries my life would have been much the poorer. These books fired my imagination and I began telling stories to myself in my head and later on to write them down. This used to often get me into trouble with my mother as I would forget things I was told to do, or the articles I was sent to the shops to collect. Everyone said I was a dreamer, had my head in the clouds, and never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine I would earn my living as a writer.

So I turned to the other dream I had in my life and trained for teaching as a mature student when I was married and had two children and then writing was done in fits and starts in the very little free time I had, especially when I went on to have another two children. Writing took very much a back seat. However, I happily taught for many years until I damaged my back in the spring of 1990. First the initial diagnosis was wrong and then an operation to try and correct things went pear shaped and I was left in a wheelchair with limited feeling and no movement from the waist down. This was a devastating blow and so was the fact that I had to be retired from teaching on health grounds. As two of the children were small, my husband, Denis, became my carer and in the summer of 1993 we moved to North Wales.

I was quite ill for some time after we moved but, once I got over feeling sorry for myself, I realized that I had more time than I knew what to do with and that I could use this to write all the things festering in my brain. So I began to write and write and write some more. I began to take “Writer’s News” and “The Writer, reading them from cover to cover. And so I learned about the RNA and sent off a novel to the NWS in 1996. They returned it saying it was good but not good enough, but more importantly said why it wasn’t. So, armed with that crit, and determined not to make the same mistake again, I wrote another one the following year. This time it was returned with the advice to lose 50,000 words and send it to Headline. I did and they accepted it, lifting it from the slush pile and it became A Little Learning.

Four years and four books later in 2001 Headline said they didn’t want to renew my contract and we parted company. Fortunately, Harper Collins were looking for more saga writers, and as they had none for the Midland’s area they offered me a contract and in January 2011 my fifteenth book hit the shelves. The rest is history except to say that in early August 2006, I inexplicably regained feeling and then movement in my legs and began to walk again. I had been 16 years in a wheelchair and believe me life does not get any better than this.

To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
When an idea comes into my head for a book, and I may get more than one, I let them fester for a while and then begin making notes. When I decide on which book to concentrate on, I write a family tree for my heroine and possible hero and details what they looked like and all other family members and comprehensive notes about anyone else involved. I look at the history of the time and what was happening in the world. I write my own timeline for this and relevant pages go into the file. I also feel that if at all possible I visit the areas where the book is set. So as part of The Child Left Behind  is set in France I stayed in the town where my heroine lived and spent a week visiting museums and places that would feature in the book. I copied maps in the library and talked to local people and I feel the book was much better for this. As many of my books are partly set in Ireland, I have visited there many times to research more thoroughly.

What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?
I think editors are looking for a good story, a page turner in any genre. And maybe more specifically in Romance and Sagas genres characters need to be drawn so realistically that readers care what happens to them and are drawn into their lives. When I read a good book, though I long to know what happens in the end, when it is finished I often feel I have lost a good friend. I strive for my readers to feel that way about my books.

Where is your favourite place to work?
Without doubt I prefer to work in my lovely, untidy, very cozy study. It is my private place and that is very important to me. Good job I like it so much as I spend one hell of a lot of time in there.

Do you write every day? What is your work schedule?
I do write every day and as I am a natural early riser I work from when I wake until daylight, writing or editing and correcting what I have done the previous day and then I take my dog for long walk on the hills, beaches and sand dunes around my home and this takes a minimum of an hour. Back home after breakfast I go to my study and work until lunchtime. After lunch I edit what I have done so far and work until dinner. This might be half five or six or maybe as late as eight or eight thirty if things are going well, or I am behind hand for some reason. I seldom continue in the evenings, but may do if Denis is out, or if I have a looming deadline.

Which authors have most influenced your work?
The first Maeve Binchy book I read I found in a library. It was The Lilac Bus and from then on I was hooked. I also read Catherine Cookson books as I used to buy them for my Geordie mother in law and got interested myself so I suppose they may have influenced my style, though I have read many “saga type” books since. I also love thrillers and “Who done it” books and anything by Agatha Christie, but I couldn’t say these type of books have influenced me in any way. I just enjoy reading them.

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
The hardest part of writing for me is actually sitting down in front of the computer. Once I begin I love it and I love everything about it even the editing and corrections. I always feel very privileged that I can earn my living thus way.

Do you find time to have interests other than writing?
I haven’t time for many interests though I love walking my dog and going to the toning class once a week, and I love reading. Apart from this, writing, the demands of a husband, family and meeting socially with friends keep my days pretty full and my life very happy.

What advice would you give a new writer?
A writer needs a burning desire to write and the self discipline to do it. I would recommend writing something every day even if you don’t feel like it and even when you know much of what you are writing might be edited out the next day. It is good discipline to get something down. It is a good idea to meet with other writers for the writing process itself is a very solitary one, so it might be a good idea to join a writing circle or form one if there isn’t one in your area.

How do you promote your books?
On internet sites like Face book, and I update my web site. My fans are lovely and often write to me and I appreciate every one of them. I email to tell them when a new book is out and the publishers sometimes organize talks in libraries or similar venues. Other times I am approached directly, like the lady who has asked me to give a talk in a library in South Wales and the other who contacted me to ask if I would be part of their Big Book Fortnight giving talks in Black Country Libraries and the Birmingham City Librarian who wants me to be part of Saga Day of Midlands saga writers and these are all happening in May. The local press are sometimes interested in reviewing my book as they have been with “Keep The Home Fires Burning”. I have also been interviewed online, on the telephone and radio. These are usually arranged by the publishers.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so what do you do about it?
I have never suffered from writer’s block, but I have sometimes got my heroine in a fix and am not sure how to get her out of it, or now and again unsure where the book is going. I find it best not to worry about it. Walking the dog is brilliant for solving problems or getting me started again, or even doing something mundane and mind numbing like ironing does it for me

In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?
I believe the RNA through the NWS has been invaluable and was crucial in helping me become published in the first place as I mentioned in Question 1. Without it I might still be unpublished today.

Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.
The idea for my latest book Keep The Home Fires Burning didn’t come as a sort of Damascus blinding flash, just a realization that it would be interesting to write about a family living through the war years and the changes that was wrought in their lives and the fear and tragedy they had to live with. My fictional family live in Birmingham, but they could have lived in any city because most of them were pounded and the other wartime restrictions, the blackout, rationing and the general shortages were the same everywhere. After writing day after day, you really get to know the characters you have brought to life and they become very important to you. Sometimes they take up a life of their own and take the book in an entirely different direction to the one I had thought of. Many non writers do not understand this.

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
The latest book is the story of Kate Munroe, an Irish girl who travels to England in the autumn of 1935 and discovers she has a double. When she finds out the reason Kate knows that if the truth is made public it would hurt a great many people. Has she the right to do that? Decisions have to be made before Kate can find happiness, contentment and true love.

Thank you for sharing that with us, Anne, and all the best for your future health.
For more information please visit Anne´s website:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are conducted by Freda Lightfoot and Kate Jackson. If you would like an interview, please contact me at:


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

What an incredible life you've had.

I love that the NWS tells you not only that a novel isn't good enough, but also why it isn't.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

What an incredible story, Anne - I can't imagine how you must feel after all those years in a wheelchair before your little miracle. It will certainly allow you to know what a character might go through in similar circumstances. You deserve all your success for the way you kept writing!