Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Whitby Connection: Author Interview with Theresa Tomlinson.

I recently wrote a post about Whitby and how, historically, it has inspired and attracted literary greats. I explained why I chose Whitby as the setting for my forthcoming novel, Black Eyed Boy. Now, I bring you authors who have felt the same need to set their stories in this wonderful Yorkshire seaside town. Below is an interview with the brilliant, talented writer Theresa Tomlinson.

What is it about Whitby that made you want to write about it?

Theresa: As a child I lived in Carlin How, just up the coast from Whitby. One of my earliest memories is of walking down Flowergate and suddenly looking up to see the abbey in the distance. It seemed to float magically in a sea of green, high on the other side of the harbour. I thought it was a castle from a fairytale. Stories of St Hilda and Caedmon were part of my childhood, then later as an adult I became fascinated by the Victorian/Edwardian photographs of the famous photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. They gave a wonderfully detailed picture of the harsh way of life for the fishing families, so that I felt that I could almost step into the photographs and experience life at that time.

What is your favourite spot in Whitby?

Theresa: This is a tricky one, because there are so many fabulous hidden away corners in the town. However, I think I have to settle for our allotment, which is situated at the back of the Abbey Visitor Centre and I believe it to be within the ancient monastic boundary. We have a fantastic view over the town and up the river, and in my imagination it has become the model for Fridgyth’s herb garden, from A SWARMING OF BEES. We try to grow herbs, marigolds and vegetables there, but the soil is very fertile and we also grow far too many weeds.

How did you get into writing?

Theresa: As a child, ‘Art’ was my favourite subject. I worked for a few years as a primary school teacher and then, when I stopped for a while to look after my children, I began to make them picture books. At first I just enjoyed drawing and painting, but as the children grew, the simple stories that I wrote grew longer and I eventually became completely hooked on putting a story together. I was spending so much time writing that I decided to try to get something published. We lived in Sheffield at that time and going to a weekly Writers Workshop helped enormously in terms of support and criticism.

Can you tell us a bit about your books?

Theresa: My first publications were for children 10/11 years and the ones that seemed to work best had historical themes. FLITHER PICKERS and THE HERRING GIRLS were both inspired by the Sutcliffe photographs. BENEATH BURNING MOUNTAIN was also set on the North Yorkshire Coast, though at an earlier date – it focused on the harsh lives of alum workers and their struggles with the press gang.
MEET ME BY THE STEELMEN and THE CELLAR LAD both had Sheffield settings and related to the early days of steel making. Other interests developed and THE FORESTWIFE TRILOGY- was aimed at Young Adults - 3 linked novels that give a more feminist version of the Robin Hood legends. THE MOONRIDERS and THE VOYAGE OF THE SNAKE LADY – also for Young Adults, took me to Turkey to research the links between the Amazon Women and the Trojan War. When my children left home, we moved to live permanently in Whitby and this enabled me to focus on the Anglo-Saxon history of the town.
The first novel set in this period was WOLF GIRL, a Young Adult mystery adventure. I had hoped to continue the theme, but found that publishers were wary of Anglo-Saxon settings. They seemed to consider the time period too difficult for modern readers to relate to. However, I’d become obsessively interested in the 7th century and couldn’t let it go. I also began to feel that as I got older, I wanted my main characters to grow older too. This need led me to self-publish two adult novels - A SWARMING OF BEES and THE TRIBUTE BRIDE using Acorn Independent Press.
I now have hopes that publishers are becoming more receptive to stories set in this exciting period of history. A&C Black have recently published my Primary age historical story BETTER THAN GOLD – and I’m delighted to hear that it will be sold in the Birmingham Museum shop, where the Staffordshire Hoard Exhibition is now on display.

What are you currently working on?

Theresa: I have three books on the go and I’m jumping from one to another. One is another children’s Anglo-Saxon story, there is also a sequel to A SWARMING OF BEES – and a fairly strong idea developing for another Victorian Whitby setting about jet workers. I think the children’s story is almost finished – then I must get back to my Anglo-Saxon herb-wife, Fridgyth.

What are you most proud of?

Theresa: This is almost impossible to answer. I’m proud of THE FLITHER PICKERS, because it was the first book that I ever had published. I’m proud of my two self-published books because it was a risky thing to do, though I’m glad to say that they have been a financial success. I’m proud that BETTER THAN GOLD has been judged to be good enough to be sold in Birmingham Museum Shop.

How much research do you need to do for your writing?

Theresa: I used to do years of research before I started writing - and then try to put everything I’d learned into the story - sometimes I got bogged down with facts. Now I research as I write and that way I discover what I need to know as the story develops. This seems to work much better.

Where can we buy your books?

Theresa: My most recent paperbacks are available at THE WHITBY BOOKSHOP – HOLMANS, THE GUISBOROUGH BOOKSHOP, SALTBURN BOOK CORNER and various other venues in Whitby and the surrounding area. Ebooks and paperbacks are available through Amazon and KOBO and many other internet outlets. Sadly many of my earlier books are now ‘out of print’ – but second hand copies are often available on the internet from second hand book dealers.

Can you describe Whitby in five words?

Theresa: Historic, mystical, exciting, rugged, eccentric!

Do you have a message for your readers?

Theresa: I’m glad to have the opportunity to say this. I seemed to come unstuck a few years ago when publishers told me that the Anglo-Saxon period was unpopular with readers. I now feel thoroughly vindicated in sticking with it and choosing to self-publish. My books continue to sell well. I am so very grateful for the loyalty of readers - both young and old - who have supported me and showed their enthusiasm for this fascinating period by buying my books and writing so many positive reviews.

Theresa's Links:




Thank you very much, Theresa, I wish you every success with your future writing projects.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Whitby Connection: Author Interview with Robin Jarvis.

I recently wrote a post about Whitby and how, historically, it has inspired and attracted literary greats. I explained why I chose Whitby as the setting for my forthcoming novel, Black Eyed Boy. Now, I bring you authors who have felt the same need to set their stories in this wonderful Yorkshire seaside town. Below is an interview with the brilliant, talented writer and illustrator, Robin Jarvis.

What is about Whitby that made you want to write about it?

Robin: I first went there on my 21st birthday when I was at college at Newcastle. I stepped off the train with Carmina Burana playing on my walkman, and there was the ruined abbey high on the cliff. What a perfect soundtrack to see it for the first time. Winding my way through the town to reach the abbey, I just fell in love with the place. It has so much character that it's pretty impossible NOT to have stories
popping up inside your head. The more I learned about it, the more fascinated I became. This was long before I ever thought about becoming a writer. It has the kind of atmosphere that just impels you to create stories and characters.

Where is your favourite spot in Whitby?

Robin: Favourite spot ...umm, so many to choose from, whether in the abbey ruins, leaning into the wind whilst walking through the churchyard, standing at the end of either pier, going through that spooky little tunnel in the Khyber Pass at night, in the Pannett Park Museum staring at Mr Merryweather's glorious Tempest Prognosticator...but no, my favourite place is kind of half way up the 199 steps, when you're level with the red pantiles and chimneys on one side, can see across the harbour, and the rich scent of Fortune's kipper house is tantalising your senses as gulls wheel and cry overhead - that's Whitby.

How did you get into writing?

Robin: I got into writing through my drawing. For some reason I spent an entire weekend coming up with mouse characters in my sketchpad and creating a world for them to inhabit and be terrified in. A friend of mine saw them and said I should write a story about them - and that was it. I never had any ambitions to be a writer before that, or even thought I could do it. But I wanted my mice to have their story.

Can you tell us a bit about your books?

Robin: My books are described as dark fantasy and sometimes as horror. I don't really think of them that way. I try to write exciting, supernatural thrillers. I just don't pull any punches and make the threats as dangerous as possible, so the heroes really have to struggle and are put through the the mangler. It's always good vs evil but for good to win they have to sacrifice a lot and not every favourite character makes it to the end. Just because some books are about mice, doesn't mean those stories are twee, the torments inflicted in them are some of my all time worst. I want to keep the reader of the edge of their seat and constantly surprise them.

What are you currently working on?

Robin: At the moment I'm working on something a little bit younger and a lot shorter than my last trilogy but nothing is signed yet so I can't elaborate unfortunately. I've also got an idea for something else which I'm looking forward to and excited about.

What are you the most proud of?

Robin: I think most authors will say their books are like their children and you don't really have favourites, but I'm very pleased with the way the Dancing Jax trilogy turned out. It was something a little bit different and set very much right now which is always unnerving when the world you know falls apart. It had some juicy grotesques and monsters in it too, which I always love coming up with, and the characters faced harrowing decisions in their struggle to win through. Yes, I'm really pleased with Dancing Jax. The world was very intoxicating and I don't think I'll ever stop thinking about it and the things I could have added to it. But they were already very long books.

How much research do you need to do for your writing?

Robin: I spend a lot of time doing the research, even a fantasy novel needs more research than you'd probably expect. I love that stage, you learn so much and you'll never ever use most of it.

Where can we buy your books?

Robin: You should be able to buy the most recent titles, the Dancing Jax trilogy in a bookshop, or online. Some of the older titles, including the Whitby series, are currently out of print, but the Deptford Mice are available as ebooks, so hopefully the Whitby stories will follow.

Can you describe Whitby in five words?

Robin: I can do it in one word – Mirificus

Do you have a message for your readers?

Robin: I'd say thank you for continuing to read my work, it means the world to me to hear how much people enjoy my books. For long term fans, I'd say there's a possibility of revisiting a familiar but forgotten race so watch this space and keep your fingers crossed for me.

Robin's links:

Twitter: @RobinJarvis1963

Thank you, Robin, it was a pleasure to interview you. Good luck with all of your future writing projects.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why Whitby?

Why Whitby?

Every book needs a setting, whether it’s a fantastical, invented planet deep in space or an ancient world we can only imagine. I chose to set my novel in Whitby, a small seaside town in North Yorkshire, England. Or did I? Did, indeed, Whitby choose me? I truly believe that if you have a creative spark within you, then this idyllic, magical little place draws it out of you and, somehow, you can’t quite help yourself.

Whitby, historically, is a location that authors feel the need to write about. So many great literary figures have been inspired by this quaint, northern coastal town, including Charles Dickens, George Du Maurier, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Linskill, Walter Scott, Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker; some weaving the place into their writing, capturing it forever. It is said that Lewis Carroll created part of the remarkable Alice in Wonderland whilst on holiday there and that he wrote The Walrus and the Carpenter verse whilst sunning himself on Whitby beach.

Dracula is celebrated in Whitby, due to its intimate connection with the Count himself, as key, integral parts of this classic and legendary horror take place there. The author, Bram Stoker, visited Whitby in the summer of 1890, to investigate if it was a suitable place for a family seaside holiday. He resided at 6 Royal Crescent, that elegant arc of tall, distinguished houses which face the sea on Whitby’s West Cliff.

He noted, in August: The setting sun, low down in the sky, was just dropping behind Kettleness; the red light was thrown over on to the East Cliff and the old Abbey and seemed to bathe everything in a beautiful rosy glow.

In my mind, no other setting would be quite right for those scenes in Dracula, where the Count stalks Lucy up those eerie 199 steps, deep into the night.

Few towns of its size, in Britain, can match the diversity of Whitby’s historical connections, aside from the list of impressive writers I have previously mentioned. Whitby boasts The Captain Cook Museum, situated in the very house in which he lodged in, as an apprentice, in 1746-1749.

There are several jewellery boutiques dotted about the town, dedicated to the crafting of intricate items, all made using the black stone of Whitby Jet, the fossilised driftwood of the Monkey Puzzle tree from the Jurassic period, 160 million years ago. It was popularised by Queen Victoria, when she introduced the wearing of Jet into court circles, as she had searched for appropriate black mourning jewellery after the death of her husband, Albert, in 1861. Thanks to the photographer, Frank Sutcliffe, so many amazing photographs of Victorian Whitby endure, as he dutifully recorded life in Whitby during this time, he captured the very essence of the place and there is a gallery, showcasing his work, in the town.

One of the aspects I most cherish about Whitby is that it is quite separated into two parts. There is the West Side and (my personal favourite) the East Side. Stepping off that swing bridge and into the old cobbled streets is much like going back in time with the long-standing cottages, the thin ghauts to the riverside and the yards which appear the same as they did hundreds of years ago.

Bram Stoker wrote this about the East Side: The houses of the old town – the side away from us – are all red roofed and seem piled up, one over the other anyhow.

This side of Whitby houses the jewel itself, the magnificent Abbey, or what is now left of it. It dominates the skyline for miles away, sitting proudly and overlooking the rest of the town.

Bram Stoker: It is a most noble ruin, of immense size and full of beautiful and romantic bits.

Just down the path, situated at the top of the calf-firming 199 steps (you have to count them) is The Church of Saint Mary.

Bram Stoker: a big graveyard, all full of tombstones. This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby.

Again, I find that I can’t help but agree with Mr Stoker, the view from this spot is captivating and perfect, you soon forget about anything else.

All of this magic and wonderment and I find that I still haven’t mentioned the Whale Bones, the piers, the bustling harbour, The Dracula Experience, Pannett Park, The Whitby Museum, the ghost walks, the award-winning fish and chips, the clean beaches, the Goth Festivals, Whitby Regatta, the steam engine, the quirky shops, the boat trips, the sunsets or the friendly people; so many of these locations, buildings and attractions appear within the pages of my first novel, Black Eyed Boy, which is set to be released in 2015 by Crooked Cat Publishing. It is a Young Adult novel, an urban fantasy romance and a celebration of my most favourite holiday destination, the small but vastly important coastal town, a seaside gem, to be found just over the tops of those gorgeous, heather-topped rolling Yorkshire moors. And that, folks, is why. Why it’s Whitby.