A warm welcome to Charlotte Betts, winner of last year’s Joan Hessayon New Writer’s Award. Her debut novel, The Apothecary’s Daughter, is a historical set against the dramatic backdrop of the plague.
Tell us about your journey as a writer, how you started, and the excitement of getting that first call.
My first real break was having a story published in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Fiftieth Anniversary anthology, Loves Me, Loves Me Not in 2009. I’d been writing for writing eleven years when I uploaded the first chapters of my seventh novel, The Apothecary’s Daughter, onto the YouWriteOn website. I could hardly believe it when Annette Green emailed me to say she’d like to read the whole manuscript and subsequently agreed to be my agent. Then I won the YouWriteOn Book of the Year Award 2010 and shortly after that Piatkus offered me a two-book deal. Last May The Apothecary’s Daughter won the Joan Hessayon Award and went on to be shortlisted for the Choc Lit Best Historical Read award. It was, and still is, an incredibly exciting time for me.
Can you tell us something of your work in progress and how you got the idea for it?
The Apothecary’s Daughter was my first historical novel. I loved researching Restoration London and when I finished it I couldn’t bear to say goodbye to my characters. The Painter’s Apprentice continues the story with the next generation of the same family and is set partly in Richmond and partly in Fulham Palace. It will be published in August 2012.
It is1688. Beth Ambrose has lead a sheltered life within the walls of Merryfields, her family home on the outskirts of London; a place where her parents provide a sanctuary for melancholic souls. A passionate and gifted botanical artist, Beth shares a close bond with Johannes the painter, a troubled resident at Merryfields, who nurtures her talents and takes her on as his apprentice.
But as political and religious tensions begin to rise in the capital, Noah Leyton arrives at their door in the middle of the night with a proposition that turns Beth's world upside down. Meanwhile, Merryfields becomes refuge to a mysterious new guest, whose connections provide an opportunity for Beth to fulfil her artistic ambitions. But she soon realises it comes at a price.
As the Glorious Revolution begins to throw the whole country into turmoil, can Beth find the courage to follow her heart and defend all she holds dear? And change the course of history for good . . .
Can you share with us the craft tip thathas helped you the most?
Daydreaming is a vital part of the writing process for me. I need to see the story happening as if it’s a film before I can write it. I usually go to sleep thinking about what I’ve written and imagining what might happen next. In the morning I’m ready to continue the story.
Do you have a yearning to write some other type of novel, and if so, what genre would it be?
I’d love to write psychological thrillers. I enjoy reading books by Nicci French, Clare Francis and Sophie Hannah, all of which are all contemporary but I perhaps I’ll try writing an historical psychological thriller one day.
The most important aspect for me was that it gave me the confidence and reassurance that I could write and that other people, not only my mother, liked what I wrote. It was undoubtedly helpful to be able to call myself an ‘award-winning writer’ even before The Apothecary’s Daughter was published the following August. I’m not sure I fully appreciated the importance of winning the award at first but the surrounding publicity was fantastic for a debut author.
Does your dog or cat help with the writing?
My lovely border collie, Megan, died a while ago but she used to sleep under my desk and listen to all my plot problems in the most helpful way. Walking with Megan gave me time to think and was a wonderful way to find ideas for my novels.
Do you work with the door locked?
Sadly not, although sometimes I’d like to. Luckily, I’ve learned to keep the ‘writing’ part of my brain ticking over while I deal with interruptions. I’ve perfected the art of looking vague so that everyone learns there isn’t much point in talking to me when I’m writing.
If you could reincarnate yourself as some other author, who would it be?
Mary Stewart. I still love her books and although they are perhaps a little old fashioned now, she is the master of atmospheric writing.
What is most likely to stop you from writing?
Guilt. I’m obsessive about fitting in as much writing time as possible but it’s difficult because I work long hours at my day job. If I spent as much time writing as I wanted in my ‘spare’ time there wouldn’t be food on the table and my family would feel neglected.
What would represent a romantic gesture to you?
My husband offering to fetch something from the car for me so my hair doesn’t go funny in the rain.
Thank you for talking to us, Charlotte. We wish you every success with The Painter’s Apprentice.
To find out more about Charlotte’s work visit her website at www.charlottebetts.com
What an exciting journey to your current success, Charlotte. Both those books look fabulous - just my sort of fiction. I'm off to get my hands on your first one right now. Oh, and I agree. Aren't day jobs a real fly in the ointment!
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