Name – Ann Victoria Roberts
Age – ancient!
Where are you from
I was born in York, UK, and lived in Yorkshire until 2000, now in Southampton.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
Grammar School, then Art School – married my seafarer husband aged 21, and had two children. Now a grandmother.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
From being traditionally published, I’m now an indie author, re-publishing my out-of-print titles. My most recent novel, The Master’s Tale – a novel of the Titanic, is based on the life of Captain Smith, and is now available as an ebook.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Always an avid reader, I started writing my first ‘novel’ aged 16, while still at school. (Why? See below) That first attempt was never finished but the idea never went away. Then, in my 20s, I completed an autobiographical novel – only to have it rejected by agents and publishers alike.
Downhearted, I returned to painting – but even so, I was still writing: letters to my husband, describing daily life at home. (It was a good apprenticeship.) Our children were established at school when my husband’s work pattern changed. From being away for 4 months, the voyages became 6 months, with less opportunity for us to travel with him. It was the perfect opportunity to start writing creatively. And I had a story to tell – one that had been bugging me for almost 20 years.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It was something I’d always done – but I didn’t consider myself a professional until my first novel was published, in 1989.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Chicken and egg situation here. The story that refused to go away began with a WW1 diary, written by an Australian soldier. I found this diary amongst the books in my grandmother’s attic, when I was just 16.
‘Who was this man? How did his diary end up in York?’ My questions were endless – the answers extraordinary. It was such a powerful story it fired my imagination – and inspired me to start writing. But as I say, that early attempt was never finished. So, in my 30s, I tackled it more professionally. I did research into the family history and found the facts were stranger than even Grandma had suspected. This was a family with secrets!
Clearly, before I tried to write the soldier’s story, I had to write about his parents’ generation. That’s how Louisa Elliott came into being. Set in the historic city of York during the 1890s, it’s a big book. A triangular love-story, family saga, and a vibrant picture of the period.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
My style, which is naturally quite formal, lends itself to historical fiction. Louisa Elliott reads like a Victorian novel of the times – although with considerably more passion on the page.
The follow-up novel, Liam’s Story, has a different format and is designed to be read on its own. It begins in modern York, and takes the reader to Australia, the war-torn Middle East, and (briefly) the trenches of WW1. It tells the continuing story of Louisa and her family in two time-frames – modern-day and 1913-20. As the modern Elliotts uncover old secrets, their lives seem to be following similar paths… Will it end in tragedy for them too, or will love succeed in overcoming the past?
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Initially, Louisa Elliott’s title was a problem. In the end it was a joint effort between me and my UK publishers, Chatto & Windus – and the other publishers adopted it. Liam’s Story – at first just a working title – was adopted at once by Chatto, but Wm Morrow and Avon didn’t care for it. So in the US it was changed to Morning’s Gate. In fact I preferred it – but it was too late to change the UK editions.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, I think so. I’m interested in real life, specifically, why people do the things they do. We are all products of our pasts, and that affects the major decisions we make.
My novels are all character-driven, so the plot hangs on who they are, and how the past – both personal and historic – has brought them to the opening point of the story. How they deal with what life subsequently throws at them dictates how they – and the plot – move forward.
In essence, my books are about life and the different forms of love – who and what we love, and what we are prepared to do for the sake of it.
Not always hearts-and-flowers – some of my writing concerns the darker side of love, which some readers may find shocking. For instance, cousins marrying? I understand this is illegal in certain sparsely-populated US states – I checked up after seeing a few ‘disgusted’ comments on Goodreads. But in the UK there has never been a bar to the marriage of first cousins – in fact the Darwins and Wedgewoods intermarried for several generations.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
I like historical facts, and see them in terms of a skeleton on which build the flesh of fiction. I do a lot of research to be sure that time and place are accurately depicted, and with regard to Louisa Elliott and Liam’s Story, the family situation as well as the love story is based on real events. A similar principle applies to The Master’s Tale – it was based on the facts of Capt Smith’s life, and little-known events which led to the sinking of the ‘Titanic’.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I’ve probably answered that one! Re personal experience, I would say that mostly I don’t use it in a direct sense – but it underpins a lot.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
While researching the Elliott books, I met two people who were to have a profound effect on my life and writing. One a genealogist, and the other a professional historian. In their separate ways, they taught me a lot.
Regarding influential books, from childhood to teenage I loved the 19thC classics, everything from Louisa May Alcott to Tolstoy and Thomas Hardy. I still go for novels with great characters, and a lively style of writing.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
The Fear Index by Robert Harris
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
The latest to stand out for me is BA Shapiro. Her novel, The Art Forger is so good, I’ve been recommending it to everyone. Looking forward to the next.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Currently editing my fourth novel, Moon Rising – set in 1880s Whitby and featuring Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula – for ebook publication. Also writing a new novel set during the Siege of York, 1644. (English Civil War) It’s a completely new era for me, so I’m learning a lot.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Originally, my agent at AP Watt in London, and also my publisher, Carmen Callil, and editor, Alison Samuel, at Chatto & Windus – they were all brilliant at confidence building.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
It certainly was for me – back in the day I was extremely lucky and earned a lot. Now I earn peanuts – but I’m still writing!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not so much the latest one, but I had the perfect opportunity when I picked up Louisa Elliott and Liam’s Story after 20 years. Having decided to publish them afresh as ebooks, I was able to re-edit, cutting unnecessary descriptions and shortening long sentences. My aim was to make both books crisper for a new audience – but without losing any of the story.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Initially, studying English Literature at school – and later, as an adult, taking advanced courses in History and English. The way certain themes were explored, the language used, the different approaches writers make. And having a broad taste in books, I could see what was good, what worked for me – and what left me cold.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
This extract is from the first chapter of Moon Rising. The female narrator is returning by train to Whitby after an absence of 20 years, when a man from her past (Bram Stoker) speaks to her.
I knew the voice, its quality and intonation, even though the pitch was deeper than I remembered. At first I thought he was speaking to someone else, and was terrified to turn, but when I did, I saw only the man I’d run into outside the hotel, the one I’d felt gazing at me earlier. My mouth twitched into a polite half-smile as my eyes skimmed over him and away, and then flashed back with shock.
The broad-brimmed hat shadowed his face; removing it, he bowed briefly and gave a wry smile, quite at variance with the intensity of his gaze. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘It is Damaris Sterne – just as I thought.’
It was years since anyone had called me by my given name. I knew him then. Under the bright lights his eyes were unchanged, and in the moment of recognition my smile froze. For several seconds I stood in rigid disbelief; then, hard on the heels of shock came a surge of guilt so hot it seemed to scorch my face and throat. The pain made nonsense of the years between: our last meeting might have been a matter of days ago instead of half a lifetime.
Totally unprepared, I took a step backwards and almost fell; would have done so had it not been for the steadying hand at my elbow. Even so, a stranger’s help would have been more welcome. Angrily, I shook him off, not wanting to be reminded of the first time, all those years ago, when he’d pulled me back from the edge of a cliff.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Writing historical fiction is much easier for me than writing something set in the present-day. Unless it’s a blog, I find it harder to find the right note.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’ve read too many to have a favourite author – although there are several whose books I’ve re-read over the years. All of Daphne du Maurier’s novels, most of Robert Harris and Ruth Rendell, and the early novels of Philippa Gregory, Anne Rice, and John le Carré.
They are all different in theme and approach, but the quality of the writing stands out. They transport the reader to their time and place – and that, to me, is what a good novel is all about.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I certainly used to – before the internet I was always planning research trips. Nowadays, much is available online – but if I’m writing about a particular place I feel it’s important to go there. Armed with maps and some local history, it helps me to picture the world in which my characters lived – and the environment that shaped them.
Re The Master’s Tale – I was fortunate in that I’d spent a lot of time at sea with my husband, so was able to write about Capt Smith’s seagoing life with confidence. I’d sailed around the world – including Cape Horn – and visited both Hong Kong and New York. But I’d never been to Liverpool – so that was a must. I found Capt Smith’s house, saw his wife’s family home and where they were married, and these details helped form both his character and the novel.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Ned Hoste, of 2hDesign
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Keeping going while life insisted on getting in the way!
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Ideas are easy. Getting them down on paper is the difficult part. Writers need discipline, preferably a regular routine, and above all the guts and determination to see it through. Completing my first novel, even though it was a failure, proved to me that I could do it – all I had to do was keep going. It’s hard work – but the satisfaction of writing something good (even a paragraph you’ve struggled with) makes it all worthwhile. And as for reaching the perfect ending – sublime!
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Believe in yourself, and if possible join a writer’s group. The support will be invaluable, especially if there’s a workshop where you can air the current project. Reading aloud is the best way to ‘hear’ your own mistakes, and other writers generally have something constructive to say. Even if you don’t always agree, it makes you think.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Think of the writer working in isolation for what may have been years – and when you’ve finished the book, please take a few minutes to leave a review.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No, I’ve been reading since the age of five!
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would like to meet and why?
The real Louisa Elliott – to ask if I got the story right
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Haven’t thought about it. But I’ll tell you what I was always determined not to have written on my headstone: She was a good housewife !
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Reading, travelling, painting
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I enjoy a good drama, even better if it’s a series with wonderful sets like Downton Abbey. I’m into detective series too. And I still watch a BBC quiz show, University Challenge, which has been running for decades – and if I can answer more than three questions, I reckon I’m a genius! (The show inspired the 2007 film, Starter for Ten, with James McEvoy. )
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I’ve eaten and enjoyed foods from around the world, but my favourites nowadays are traditional English recipes (cooked by me) Chinese-style at a good restaurant, and French food cooked in France.
I love the colour blue in all its shades – reminds me of the sea – but my taste in music is varied. From pop to classical with film scores, folk ballads and heavy rock thrown in – I listen in the car or while I’m cooking, and find certain tracks inspire the writing.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Film director – maybe. But in writing novels, I get to design the sets, write the dialogue, play all the parts and direct the action… Great fun!
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?