This week’s guest is another friend, Gwen Kirkwood. Whenever I come across a list of her novels, I immediately get a feeling of inadequacy. Gwen is possibly the most prolific writer I know and her vivid imaginings of lives and circumstances in various historical periods are so insistent that she stays with her characters through several books to follow their lives, loves and adventures. And yet, despite these achievements, she’s modest, unassuming and always more ready to praise the efforts of others.
Her latest novel, Darkest Before the Dawn, is published today and the blurb describes it thus:
Joe Lennox becomes bitter and deranged and blames Billy Caraford when his son is killed in a car accident, but Billy has lost his best friend and is badly injured himself. Despite the misgivings of his parents he is still determined to be a farmer. He summons his courage to go to university but he knows he can never be the active and admired young sportsman he was. He is convinced no woman could love him or want to be his wife.
Kimberley Wilshaw is orphaned when her father dies. She moves to Scotland with her aunt but she is nervous about changing schools until Billy helps her find new friends. Both Kim and her aunt become involved in the affairs of the Caraford family and as Kim grows into a lovely young woman she finds the strength of character to confront problems and fight for the life and the love she craves.
So Gwen, tell us a bit more about the novel and what’s behind the writing of it?
It’s the last in a series of 5 beginning with Dreams of Home when a young soldier returns from the war and struggles to get a start in farming. Each book follows the progress of the Caraford family. Darkest Before the Dawn brings the series up to the present day with the third generation of Carafords. Two of the characters are preparing for university with problems belonging to their generation so it could almost be a young adult novel, although I didn’t set out to make it that way. But it also brings farming up to date with robots for milking cows, arguments between the generations about changes, as well as an unexpected, and rather satisfying love affair for two of the mature characters.
I think I’m right in saying that most, or maybe even all your family sagas are based in rural Scotland. When and where did your love affair with the country and its history begin?
I have three Scottish grandparents so I had a yearning to see Scotland for myself. I came to Dumfriesshire to work as a milk officer, inspecting dairy farms. The work wasn’t as I’d expected but the people were very friendly and I loved the warmth of the red sandstone buildings and the beautiful landscapes with fresh green hills and glens and lots of trees. I’ve never had any regrets about settling here, especially after I met and married my husband, a Scottish dairy farmer.
Ah, so in Darkest Before the Dawn, you’re on familiar territory. Does that mean that some of the characters are based on real people or are they all imagined?
They’re all fictional but I believe writers must be influenced by people they’ve met, even if it’s only subconsciously. I had a wonderful mother-in-law so a few of my older characters may have some of her kindness and wisdom. I do have some nasty characters too to add tension or excitement, but we can read about such people every day in the newspapers.
I have three adult children who keep me up to date with the opinions of their generation. My grandchildren are of varying ages and my novels often include different generations. Writers keep on learning and developing and so do the characters but I’ve never written about a real person.
With your long experience in the business, you must have plenty of advice to offer new writers trying to get published in today’s market place. What would be your top tips?
Persevere. Try to write a little every day, even if it’s only a couple of sentences. Keep a notepad handy. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your characters or improve your plot while you’re travelling, ironing, peeling the vegetables, whatever. Thinking time is important too. Listen to the advice of agents and editors, not friends. If you do self-publish, pay a reputable copy editor to check your work first.
That’s a pretty comprehensive list for a top tip. Thank you, Gwen. And while you’re being expansive, let me ask you about the industry itself. You’ve seen plenty of changes over the years, what d’you think of the new emphasis on social networking and maintaining an Internet presence?
Honestly? I hate it – well some of the time! I want to be left in peace to write, BUT writing used to be an isolated occupation so I’m pleased we now have opportunities for keeping in touch with other writers, getting and giving help, as well as marketing. Networking has become essential so I do my best, but it can take up a lot of time.
Just as I’m doing with these questions. OK then, the last one: now that you’ve finished with the Carafords, what’s next?
Well, I thought Darkest Before the Dawn would be my last book because it’s the first time I’ve brought a series right up to the present day. But I do enjoy writing – in fact, I suspect I’m addicted to it because I’ve just finished a new novel. I haven’t yet decided on a title but I’ve gone back to the 1800’s. It’s still set in Scotland but this time there’s not much farming detail. Eventually I’ll write a blog about the research I did on early banking, poverty, communication difficulties and transport – but as ever with me the heart of the story depends on the characters rather than plot.
I know that your readers will be very glad to hear you’re still an addict, Gwen. Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat with me.
Thank you, Bill. It’s been a pleasure.