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Sunday, 5 May 2013
Author interview no.667 with June Gadsby (revisited)
Back in March 2013, I interviewed author June Gadsby for my mixed WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and sixty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author June Gadsby. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, June. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
June: I'm originally from the north-east of England – a small mining town called Felling in Gateshead. In 1990 my husband and I took early retirement and moved to south-west France where we've lived ever since. From the age of eight I have had one great passion and that was to be a published writer. I don't know exactly how this idea was planted in my head, but there it was and there it has stayed firmly fixed, despite all the rejection slips and people who told me to give up because I would never make it as a writer. Stick to your painting, they would say. Well, here I am over half a century later and I'm happy to say that I am both a writer and an artist.
Morgen: I remember when writing got to me; 2005 at a writing evening workshop and like you, it’s not let go (and I hope it never does). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
June: I suppose, my writing could be described as "cross-genre". There's always a mix of suspense, humour and romance in my stories, not to mention a touch of "warts and all". I don't go in for glitzy glamour and life in the fast lane. My dream has always been to write thrillers and psychological suspense, along with more saga-like stories.
Morgen: Now we can self-publish, there’s nothing stopping you. :) What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
June: I've been extremely lucky to have a number of books published – novels and novellas – about 23 titles in all since 2000. Because it took so long to get recognised as a writer I made the decision to write under my real name – that is, my married name. I was born June Lapsley. I think Gadsby is a better name for a writer – though I have thought of spelling it differently as people do tend to call me June Gatsby with a T as in "the magnificent" – but maybe that's going too far.
Morgen: Probably even more now the film ‘The Great Gatsby’ is coming out. Have you self-published?
June: I have always frowned on self-publishing, but I do recognise the fact that some self-published writers get taken up by professional publishing houses and do very well. I think they are in a tiny minority however.
Morgen: They do, and yes, so far a tiny minority but that could change. I saw one of Amanda Hocking’s books in a shop the other day and she’s one of the indie success stories. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
June: I am now starting to put some of my already published work onto Kindle and my publisher has also put one of my novels out as an eBook – The Glory Girls, which my then agent described as a wartime thriller.
I stubbornly dug my heels in when eBooks came out. Spending many hours in front of the computer screen I didn't fancy reading for pleasure that way. However, I succumbed and bought a Kindle – mainly because of the volume of books you can hold in such a tiny space. Reading it is okay, but I still prefer a real book with paper pages. Having said that I've just treated myself to a Kindle Fire HD because of all the extras like colour and videos etc.
Morgen: They do look great. If I didn’t have my iPad, I’d probably go for one of those. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
June: Two tough questions. Quite often my favourite characters are secondary characters rather than the hero or heroine. My favourite "leading lady" has to be Hildie in When Tomorrow Comes. Another favourite character comes in the shape of an elderly Welsh pioneer in Patagonia called Blodwen Evans who appears in To the Ends of the Earth. I had a lot of fun creating both these characters. And then there is Effie in The Glory Girls, inspired by my dear old great-aunt Elsie – as tough as old boots, but with a heart of gold. It would be amazing to have any of these books made into films, but I'm not up to date with actors these days so it would be best to leave the casting to the experts.
Morgen: I love tough but loveable characters. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
June: Oh goodness, that's a difficult one. I devoured Enid Blyton books as a child, from Noddy and Big Ears to the Famous Five. By the time I was fifteen I was reading Barbara Cartland and any writer who mixed romance with suspense. Then came Charles Dickens. My two favourite books of all time are John Galsworthy's "The Forsyte Saga" and Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind", both of which inspired me to write sagas, as did Catherine Cookson whom I met when she was seventy-nine and still spry. What a lady! And she was gracious enough to give me advice and encouragement.
Morgen: Wow. An inspiration certainly. When I first started writing (in my late 30s) I said that I was in no hurry because if Barbara Cartland was still writing in her 90s then so could I. Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
June: All of the above. Actually, I've never tried to imitate anyone. I'd like to think that my writing is truly my own individual style. Because I was born in the north-east and lived and worked there until I came to France my sagas are set in and around Durham and Newcastle. I have a good memory of what life was like from the forties on and, as they say, it's easier to write about things you know.
Morgen: They do. Using your knowledge is certainly more likely to gel with the readers because it will feel more authentic. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
June: I certainly chose the titles. My agent, the late Bob Tanner, once said that he loved my titles, so I think I must be okay on that score. However, I have had very little say in the choice of book covers, which is a pity, because some of them are quite disappointing and have little to do with the content of the book. So many readers can be put off by the cover even before they read the blurb,
Morgen: What a shame. These days it’s mostly up to the author to promote their books and really they should be happy with the whole caboodle. What are you working on at the moment / next?
June: The book I'm working on at the moment is perhaps my biggest challenge yet, which is why it's taking me so long to get it going. It's a saga and covers one hundred years of a woman's life moving from Ceylon [now Sri Lanka, of course] to England. There's love, hate, prejudice, mystery and murder. My title is "The Last Monsoon" and if I get it right it should pull some heartstrings. The storyline was inspired by a real event, but I've fictionalised it, filling in the blanks with my own imagined facts.
Morgen: It sounds great. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
June: I used to write ten hours and more every day, but I've slowed down now and do it mostly in short bursts in between painting and teaching art. I'm very happy to say that I have never suffered from writer's block and new ideas keep pouring in. I have a collection of storylines so big that I shall never live long enough to write them up as novels.
Morgen: I’m the same; I have more ideas than I can cope with. Fortunately I write a short story every day (for http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/5pm-fiction) so I get to use plenty. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
June: A bit of both really. Quite often I get a title in my head which suggests the idea of a story and I usually know immediately how it will end. I can't write a word until I have a good title and my main characters worked out. I then plan out the major events and run with the whole thing, though it doesn't always turn out the way I planned. As many writers will tell you, the characters often take over and suggest alternative ways to go.
Morgen: It’s interesting you say that you need the title first. I often write something then a phrase leaps out at me, although mostly in my short stories. I’ve written six novels. I can’t remember whether I had the titles beforehand. I think with some of them but definitely not all, but then I’m not a planner. We’ve touched on characters, do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
June: I usually visualise the characters first, then find names for them. Names are not only important, but I find them difficult to choose. I don't go in for fanciful names and like to stick to the plain and ordinary, but when you've written as many books as I have it becomes almost impossible to find something new. And the name has to fit the character. For instance, I would never choose Dorothy for a really nice person because I once knew a Dorothy who was positively horrid – do you understand what I mean [apologies to all the lovely Dorothys out there].
Morgen: :) I have an A-Z strip on the foot of monitor so I don’t pick the same beginning letters, although for The Serial Dater’s Shopping List she had to meet 31 men in 31 days so inevitably there had to be similarities. In fact, to reflect real life, I had two pairs of men with the same name. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
June: I do an enormous amount of editing – sometimes as many as eight revisions – until I'm happy with what I've written. My husband is a great proof-reader and has a knack of pointing out where I've gone wrong on name-changes, timelines and historical details.
Morgen: Every writer needs a second opinion. I know of some who have just written, self-edited then self-published and then wondered why they get back reviews. We’re always too close to our writing, and the ideas behind it. It’s why I set up http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/feedback and http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/online-writing-groups. Do you have to do much research?
June: Oh yes. I used to hate this side of writing, but now I love it and the amount of research I do for each book very often comes to more pages than the book itself. I know all the information can be recorded on the computer, but I prefer to have the information on paper to refer to.
Morgen: I’m still at the disliking stage but then the joy of the internet is that we have so much to hand and so easily. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
June: I normally write in the third person, but enjoy first person too. Also first person present. However I've never tried second person, which I think might work for short stories, but not for novels.
Morgen: I love second person but I agree. I’ve never done over a couple of thousand words in it. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
June: I have had travel and nostalgia articles published and in the distant past had some short stories broadcast on local radio. As for poetry, I do sometimes wax lyrical, but not very often. Recently I've been enjoying doing Haiku [Japanese poetry in three lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables]. It's challenging but fun and I'm a member of a very friendly International Haiku group.
Morgen: One of my online writing groups is for poetry (http://poetrywritinggroup.wordpress.com) and I’ve not had any haikus submitted yet. Although it’s a critique site, some authors just love sharing their work… hint, hint. :) Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
June: Dozens of them sitting on the 'one-day-maybe' shelf, as well as one or two novels that I just couldn't get right, but am determined to revise and get published someday.
Morgen: You’ve written so much that you know what needs doing, if anything, to get them to a ‘finished’ state. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
June: Since being published I think I've had maybe a couple of rejections. I can tell you that it's a lot harder being rejected once you are published. Before being published I had so many rejections that I almost became blaze about it, but I kept on going anyway.
Morgen: Exactly the right thing to do. In most cases it’s just not the right person for what you have. Do you enter competitions?
June: Er...no. I've never been one for entering competitions. Maybe I should, but it's just not my thing.
Morgen: A lot of writers don’t. I used to but I prefer submitting for publication (she says, not having submitted anything for months!). You mentioned your ‘then agent’. Do you still have one? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
June: I had an agent once. Unfortunately, he died and his company closed. I certainly worked better while I had an agent, but fortunately my publishers don't insist on agented submissions. Having said that, it would be nice to have one who might just get me some better deals.
Morgen: I’ve had mixed reports via these interviews but overall I do think it’s an advantage to have one – I’d never say never. :) Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
June: I do my best on Facebook, Google, website and blog, but my business head isn't the greatest in the world, which is why I'd like another agent. However they're thin on the ground these days and oversubscribed by applications from just about everyone who owns a computer and thinks they are the next world best-selling writer.
Morgen: <laughs> You’re not wrong but you have such a catalogue of publications behind you that it must count in your favour. What’s your favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
June: My favourite aspect of my writing life? I really don't know, but the most exciting is to complete one novel and start immediately on a new one. What has surprised me is that for someone who always hated history at school, I now love it thanks to writing sagas.
Morgen: How funny. History was one of my worst subjects at school and I write very little of it – maybe I’ll change, like my love of research. :) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
June: Never give up. If you are really passionate and inspired, even though nobody seems to want you as a writer, keep on doing it – but, take notice of any advice you are given, read a lot and research the market. What you are aiming for may be beyond your reach – now. Do your research well and don't try to be something you're not. Write from the heart first of all, then employ the head. Once you're established you can start aiming for that precious goal.
Morgen: Great advice. Thank you. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
June: Only three? Phew, that's pretty nigh impossible. Okay, go on then. I'll dip into my imaginary guest list and see what comes out. Leonardo Da Vinci is the first name that springs to mind – I don't know if he ever wrote anything, but he did everything else, so why not. Charles Dickens because he wrote about life as it really was and still managed to fit in some humour. My third guest would have to be William Shakespeare, though I'm ashamed to say I've never read any of his work, but what an interesting character. I would probably cook them a gourmet French feast of foie gras, preserved duck with plum sauce, potato and cream cheese gratin and a blackcurrant gateau Basque and cream for dessert, all served with the finest French wines. [Yes, I love entertaining too and if I say so myself I'm a pretty good cook.]
Morgen: France is famous for wonderful food. If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
June: The day I got my first novel accepted should have been ideal, but I also received a bombshell that took out all the excitement of the event. I think that special day may still be to come.
Morgen: Oh dear. Let’s hope so. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
June: Serendipity would be the word. As for the phrase, I've been known to say to people: As long as you try you can never be called a loser.
Morgen: I like that… and the film Serendipity. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
June: I used to run a small writing group, but it lacked members and when we got down to two we decided to call it a day.
Morgen: What a shame. Come and join my online ones. :) What do you do when you’re not writing?
June: I'm a passionate artist and I run an art group in the village where I live. Fourteen members and growing, half French, half English. I like cooking, pottering about in my half-acre garden, listening to music and dancing [mainly on a Sunday morning when I do my ironing]. And I've recently taken up knitting and tapestry. I do both badly, but it stops me falling asleep in front of the TV.
Morgen: It’s a shame none of your artists are writers too. You’re at a few places online. Are you on any forums or other networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
June: I was a member of the Romantic Novelists Association for a number of years and gained a lot of knowledge and support from them. It did mean that I had to tailor my writing to become a member inasmuch as there was a need to produce romantic stories, which I found difficult, not being what I consider a romantic novelist. But the inside knowledge about writing was invaluable to me and it was through them that I started writing novellas and getting them published. I'm also a founder member of Newriter – a group of established and wannabe writers on Yahoo.
Morgen: Ah. I’m on Yahoo but have done nothing except have these posts go there when they go live. I should explore it more. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
June: That depends very much on the individual writer. In today's economic climate agents are pickier, most of them looking for 'best-sellers". Publishers are vastly reducing their fees. If I relied solely on my writing income to pay the bills I'd never make it. I write because I was born to write. Published or not, I can't see me ever giving up this all-consuming passion.
Morgen: Me neither. I get to do what I do (blogging mostly) full-time because I rent out two rooms in my house. I do some paid work for other writers online but without the lodgers I’d definitely have to get a proper job! Where can we find out about you and your writing?
June: You can Google me – June Gadsby, novelist. My website is http://www.gadsbyjune.fr and all my books can be obtained from Amazon or my publisher, Robert Hale.
Morgen: Thank you very much, June, or should I say merci beaucoup!
I then invited June to include an excerpt of her writing and this is from To The Ends Of The Earth [Ch. 1]…
First there was the dust cloud. It appeared small on the Patagonion horizon like tumbleweek; a rolling ball of pampas grasses chased before El Pampero. This constant summer wind blew relentlessly across the Andes from the west, until it arrived at the small coastal rowns around the Valdes Peninsular.
But this particular cloud of sun-dried, wind-blown dust that day in 1900 was not caused by tumbleweed. As it grew in size, drawing ever nearer to the scattering of log cabins belonging to the tiny Welsh settlement town of Puerto Daffyd, the cloud took form and shape. The hollow thud of hoofs could be heard long before watching eyes made out the shimmering shape of a young woman on the back of a sleek black stallion,
She rode astride, gaucho style, long legs clad in guanaco hide trews. Her white shirt in fine cotton clinging to her breasts left no doubt that she was female - and shocked the group of Chapel ladies watchin g her arrival from behind prim lace curtains.
'Here she comes,' announced the Widow Evans, whose house it was, as if she was the only one to see.
'Gwyneth Johnns, is it?' One of the other women struggled to see past the heads of the women assembled at the window. 'I never expected to see her again, look you; but she still comes, brasen hussy that she is.'
'Aye. How does she have the face to show herself where all is known of her?'
Cups rattled indignantly on saucers, tea was spilled and no attention paid to it.'
The Widow Evans, well used to these scathing tongues, ignored them. Her old eyes squinted short-sightedly across the street where Gwyneth Johnns was tying her horse to the hitching rail, and brushing herself down. There were men outside McGinty's Tavern looking for mischief, for wasn't it alcohol they were supping from china cups to fool the Temperance Elders. So transparent were men. All made of glass they were so you could see right through them.
Blodwen Evans smiled and nodded. Any funny business and Gwyneth would send them off with a flea in the ear. She could handle herself as efficiently as any man, and with less fuss. A flash of those blue-green eyes of hers was usually all it took to make them back off. That and one hand tightening around the rifle she always carried, cocked and ready. They knew she would not hesitate to use it. She had proved that twelve years ago when she killed the man who had raped her.
And a synopsis of The Last Monsoon…
Anna is a mixed-blood Ceylonese girl, born into a rich tea-plantation family, but employed as a servant rather than be recognised as the daughter of the woman who bore her. When Englishman Michael Roberts takes over as plantation manager he finds himself at the centre of a family feud between the plantation owner and his two sons. He is requested by the owner's elderly father to take care of Anna. What he doesn't expect is that he will fall in love with the girl who is some years younger than himself. Anna will one day become his wife and he proudly brings her back to his home in England, together with their two young sons. Taking work where he can get it Michael is away from home weeks at a time and Anna has to face alone the prejudice thrown at her by Michael's family and the local inhabitants of the small northern town. Then one day, Michael is contacted by the police. Anna has been arrested for murder...
June Gadsby was born in her grandparents' tiny miner's cottage on the hills overlooking the River Tyne. She worked as a secretary for the NHS and Newcastle University, where she rose to the heights of Executive Secretary in charge of administration for the Northern Region's Department of Psychiatry and Psychology. She also worked as medical secretary for Professor Sir John Burn in the Department of Human Genetics where she played mother-hen to nineteen year old Jonathan Edwards, the famous triple jump star. Previous to her career in the NHS she was personal secretary to T. Dan Smith, the notorious but charming Mister North-East who was jailed for bribery and corruption. Her private life has been as 'interesting' as her working life - full of the stuff writers are made of. She now lives in south-west France with her second husband Brian, naturalist and photographer, and her two adorable miniature Yorkies, Candy and Toby. One of the regrets of her life has been that she never had children of her own, but she has step-children with whom she gets on very well with.
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