Published by Pan Macmillan
ebook and paperback : 30 November 2017
It’s a pleasure to be taking part in the launch celebrations for Brighter Days Ahead by Mary Wood and my thanks to Kate Green at Pan for including me on the tour. For my turn today, Mary has kindly answered a few questions.
It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the blog Mary, would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
I’m excited to be here as part of my first book tour, thank you for having me.
I’m a grandmother and great grandmother, who realised my dream at the age of 68. A dream, that started when I was in my childhood – I always wanted to do what others had done before me. I had aunts who were nuns, and so for a short time, I had a desire to do the same and became very holier than thou!
But then, I latched on to the stories of my great grandmother, who had been a published author, and that become my burning passion to achieve.
When I read a book, I wanted to have written it.
Back then opportunities for someone of a poor background were limited, and for a girl, well, your chances halved, not only of achieving your dream, but of even being taken seriously.
I was born into a family of fifteen, and to a mother who came from an upper-middle class background, and had been highly educated.
A bit of a rebel as a young girl, she’d gone against her father’s orders and attended the local cinema. Back in the twenties, this was something of a rarity. And not the usual activity that a young lady was encouraged to do.
She waited until the film had begun before slipping inside. There she found total darkness. She stumbled to a seat and promptly sat on the knee of a man who was to become her husband.
From a large family of East End market gardeners, Dad was from a much different background than Mum. But love is a strong pull, and against her father’s wishes and at the cost of being banished from her family home, they married.
Mum instilled in us children, all that she had been taught, that we could become whatever we wanted to, and that there was no such word as ‘can’t’. It was this that kept the flame alive in me, and kept me putting pen to paper. Very much helped by the reading list available to me.
Mum had brought with her, many of her books from her past life, and used the library and postal book clubs to feed her need to always have a book on the go. I didn’t know another child amongst the families around, who were all in the same boat as us as regards lack of material wealth, who had recourse to so much varied reading material, from the classics to Agatha Christie. I devoured every book as soon as my mum finished reading it. And so, the seed was set.
Without giving away too much information, can you please tell us a little about your latest novel, Brighter Days Ahead? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Inspiration came from the sudden emergence into the public eye of Bletchley Park and the activities that had gone on there during the war. It seemed the perfect setting for a gritty, emotional novel. That is until I spoke to a lady who worked there during the war and works there still, but now in the role of voluntary helper.
She told me that their work was mundane, tiring and the hours were long, leaving little time to have fun. The fun they had was when they had days off and went up to London.
With this information I began to imagine what visiting London was like with the Blitz in progress, and my story took shape. For now, there was to be two main settings, Bletchley and The Blitz
Based on friendship, Brighter Days Ahead, is a powerful story of courage. It brings together young people from different backgrounds and entwines their stories.
And so, we have a mix of characters playing out an emotional, and thrilling drama – Molly, forced into prostitution. Flo a girl from a poor background, but with a brilliant mind, who finds herself working in Bletchley with girls far above her station. Two gay men, who live in fear of discovery, and the consequence when that happens, and a young woman who has fallen for a fellow student, whom war turns into the enemy and brings about a tragedy that is hard for them all to rise from.
During it all, London is being bombed, lives are torn apart and devastated.
Flo rises to this challenge, and becomes the rock that all depend upon, especially Molly as she fights against forces that would see her murdered if she crosses them.
But, as the title suggests, there are Brighter Days Ahead, and for those who survive, happiness awaits.
You have also written a gangland thriller under the name of Molly Kent. Do you find it easy to switch between genres?
Yes, as for me, it doesn’t feel like a switch as there is an element of the thriller genre to all of my books. My sagas are often described as ‘thrilling dramas’.
The main difference is that in a Gangland Thriller, I can push the boundaries and be even more grittier than I usually am.
Writing, The Sweet Taste of Revenge, was something that I needed to do. I wanted to venture further into the underworld. The book has been a self-publishing success, but I’m not sure that I will ever write another, as I have found that my heart is in sagas.
In sagas, you have a world of different lives and situations to call upon. You can take your readers into the past to see life as their grandparents lived it, but gangland is just that – sleaze, violence, drugs and murder. I feel as though I have done that,been there and got the T. Shirt. A writer’s whim.
How did you plan/research your books? Do you plot in detail or just see where the story takes you?
Both. I plot in detail, and then the story takes me. That’s the excitement of it all – you never know what is going to happen, like reading a book, rather than writing one, or watching a film. Though often, and I am going to sound weird now, I feel as though what I write really happened, and that the characters are telling me their story.
But having a plan, an outline of the story, is very important, as it keeps you knowing where you are going, and what is your basic premise. And, if you find you have written yourself into a corner, then referring to your original synopsis helps you to get back on track.
At best, it is a security blanket, as you know, by writing it, that you do have a full story. A beginning, middle and end, and that gives you confidence to write those first, all important words, and to carry through with your novel.
What is the best writing advice that you have received?
Again, this will sound odd, but it was something my brother-in-law said to me after I had received, yet another rejection and was stamping my feet. He said:
‘Look, Mary, you are a writer, nothing can put doubt on that. You’re a born story-teller, but, you need to learn your craft. Look on it like this: A DIY man can make a table that is fit for purpose. But a time-served carpenter, could make a much better table, that isn’t only fit for purpose, but is finished well, is built to last and is good to look upon. But, then again, a Craftsman, can make a table that is a thing of beauty, and will be admired for its bevelled edges and carved legs and deep polish. Everyone will want to own one of his tables and he will receive many commissions. You should aim to be that Craftsman.’
And, so I did. From a practical point of view, I couldn’t to go to college, so I bought, ‘How To’ books and studied them. I read books with a different eye, not for enjoyment, but to learn how it was done. I studied creative writing on line, until I felt ready. Then I returned to my work and knew why I was always being rejected. An exciting time, as I now could bring my stories to life. So, my message is simple. Don’t think that you can do it. Learn how to.
You started by self-publishing your novels before going on to be published by Pan Macmillan. What advice would you give to anyone trying to get their novel published? Is there anything that you wished you had done differently?
I wished that I had learned my craft many years before I did.
And to others, I would say, that if you have. If you are the best writer that you can be, then decide which route you want to take.
Writers are lucky today, they can showcase their work, build a readership and earn money from their writing without even crossing a publisher’s path. But that isn’t what all writers want to do, or where they want to be.
I had a burning desire to see my work on the shelves. I couldn’t achieve that. And so, I took a friend’s advice and self-published on kindle. This led to an amazing success as all my books reached number one in genre. And this in turn led me to being spotted by Pan Macmillan and I have never looked back.
This is a good route to take, as I have heard it said that kindle is the new slush pile. When looking for new talent, scouts will often trawl the charts and the performance of books in the genre they are interested in. Me and many of my friends have been spotted this way.
However, the tried and tested method still exists. So, if you want to be traditionally published, don’t be afraid to go the traditional way. Research agents, find one that handles your kind of material, then research what submission those agents require, and give it your very best shot. I also have many author friends that were discovered this way, so it does happen.
In the end, it is down to knowing your craft so that your work shines out. If it does, it will succeed in the home you want for it. But be prepared to fight for your work, and give it the best chance that you can. Polish, and present it in its perfection.
Is there any part of the writing process which you enjoy (or find the most difficult) – i.e. researching, writing, editing?
I think all authors will say that writing is the best part, with research coming second, and editing a very poor last.
Though I do enjoy editing the first draft. That is a time when many aspects of the story come to shine, others are dead in the water and have to be cut, and you can breathe life into what are good scenes, and make them great.
It is when your work comes back from the edits given it by your editors that the murder rises in your heart. Your wonderful work has been almost trashed, and nearly all of the black letters have turned red! A daunting task lies ahead of you. However, one well worth doing, as the end result, is that a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis.
An author is nothing without her editor. And we have to accept that the two disciplines are very different crafts. A good novel needs both.
Do you have any favourite books or authors which may have inspired you? What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now?
I am a very poor reader… a terrible admission for an author, when all the advice is that we should read widely, but I don’t have the time. I write three books a year. And, I find that I don’t get the enjoyment from reading that I used to do.
I find myself critiquing the work instead of losing myself in it. I do have to address this as I know that I am missing out on so much. There are so many wonderful authors out there, whose work I know I would enjoy, if only I could get past this, looking for different ways that I would have written the story!!
I may start to give audio a go as I used to love to listen to a drama on Radio four, or a book being read.
I was an avid reader, pre-writing days and was inspired by the wonderful Catherine Cookson. And I have taken inspiration, in my learning days, from Penny Vincenzi. I love how she constructs a novel, giving each character a chapter and often follow that style myself.
I yearn to read the classics again, and these influence my choice in your last question. Maybe doing so, will help me to get back to what was once my main leisure activity in life – reading.
When you’re not writing, what do you do to relax?
I love to be with my family. Sundays, when it is possible to get together, we do. This isn’t too often, so it is a joy when it happens, or we travel to the Midlands to be with our family who live there and have a get together at one of their houses. These are the times that little ones play happily together, and grown-ups sit in the garden, or in the house and chat, reminisce, and laugh with each other.
And, I love social media, in particular, my book page on Facebook – Books by Mary Wood. As it is such a lovely place to be, and my followers are so nice to relax with. They are also my friends, and provide a lovely community of the old style, when everyone looked out for each other. They encourage me along too.
I enjoy word games – scrabble and word find, and card games – all on computer these days, which is a shame as when young, these were our main activity in our leisure time with family and friends.
I love my time in Spain, where I spend six months every winter. I immerse myself in the way of life, become laid-back and my writing flows. I eat my meals in the sunshine at pavement café’s or on my sun terrace. And my sun terrace becomes my office as I sit of a lounger and type away, warmed by the gentle winter-sun rays.
If you could take 3 books to a desert island, which ones would it be and why?
A dessert island would be amazing for a short time as I could revisit the love I had for reading. But, I would forget to look after myself, and cannot see me being able to hunt for food, so would need to take a Man/Woman Friday with me.
Now, which books? I would take three classics that I particularly loved in my younger days. as it is sixty years since I read them, and cannot find the time to read them again.
Louise May Alcott’s, Little Women, Little Men and Jo’s Boys. I would so love to read them all again.
Oh, but what about Charles Dickens, and the Bronte’s . . . Oh dear, I’m in a quandary now!
I have enjoyed my time with you, and have loved answering your questions. Thank you again for having me. Much love to you and to your followers, Mary Wood.
Many thanks Mary for taking the time to answer my questions. Brighter Days Ahead is now available to buy from all good bookshops.
| About the Book |
War pulled them apart, but can it bring them back together?
Molly lives with her repugnant father, who has betrayed her many times. From a young age, living on the
streets of London’s East End, she has seen the harsh realities of life . . . When she’s kidnapped by a gang and forced into their underworld, her future seems bleak.
Flo spent her early years in an orphanage, and is about to turn her hand to teacher training. When a kindly teacher at her school approaches her about a job at Bletchley Park, it could be everything she never knew she wanted.
Will the girls’ friendship be enough to weather the hard times ahead?
| About the author |
Born in Maidstone, Kent, in 1945, the thirteenth child of fifteen children, Mary’s family settled in Leicestershire after the war ended.
Mary married young and now, after 54 years of happy marriage, four children, 12 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, Mary and her husband live in Blackpool during the summer and Spain during the winter – a place that Mary calls, ‘her writing retreat’.
After many jobs from cleaning to catering, all chosen to fit in with bringing up her family, and boost the family money-pot, Mary ended her 9 – 5 working days as a Probation Service Officer, a job that showed her another side to life, and which influences her writing, bringing a realism and grittiness to her novels
Mary first put pen to paper, in 1989, but it wasn’t until 2010 that she finally found some success by self-publishing on kindle.
Being spotted by an editor at Pan Macmillan in 2013, finally saw Mary reach her publishing dream.
When not writing, Mary enjoys family time, reading, eating out, and gardening. One of her favourite pastimes is interacting with her readers on her Facebook page. www.facebook.com/HistoricalNovels. Mary welcomes all contact with her readers and feedback on her work.