Name Annie Whitehead
Where are you from Nowhere, having moved all over the world, but settled now in the English Lake District. My father was in the armed forces and I was born in Germany on British soil, so I have the rare distinction of having two birth certificates. Early life was a series of house and school moves, from the Far East to the Netherlands. I went to four different secondary schools and took a year out before I studied History in London and gained my BA (Hons) in 1985. I’ve been married for nearly 26 years and have three grown-up ‘kids’.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My second published novel “Alvar the Kingmaker” has just been released. It’s the story of a 10th century nobleman and the challenges he faces when too many people demand his loyalty and protection.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve always ‘scribbled’, but it was when I was a final year student that I realised all I wanted to do for a living was write.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I’d finished the first draft of my first novel. It wasn’t great, but I knew I had something I could build on.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My love of history, and of reading historical novels.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I think I do. I tend to write in third person, but I keep the point of view to just a few characters, so that you’ll only see inside the heads of a select number of the ‘cast’. I always like to show the reader what I can see, so I’m careful to set each scene.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I find titles really difficult. For my first novel (To Be a Queen) I played around for ages with the words, but I knew I wanted to convey the fact that the heroine knew what it took, sacrifices and all, to be a Queen. With Alvar it was harder – the working title was Might and the Mitre, to convey his struggles with the Church establishment, but then I realised it was more about his role, and that was most definitely that of Kingmaker.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Interesting question. Maybe that it’s worth bearing in mind just what desperate lengths people will go to in order to achieve their ambitions or desires. And that hypocrisy gives off a pungent whiff. I know from my work with school pupils and as a parent, that even very young children can smell a hypocrite.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic ?
I’d like to think that it’s very realistic. Only one of my main characters is fictional. I researched the history, although I’d had a good head start having studied the period for my degree, but I did extensive research into how people actually lived – what they wore, what they ate, and how they viewed the world.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not directly, because it’s a work of historical fiction. But I was able to identify with some of the choices and dilemmas faced by the women, particularly their progression into motherhood and the change in perspective that comes with that.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
I’m not sure that any particular book has influenced me, but I would say my mentor has to be my tutor when I was a student. Ann Williams is an eminent Dark Ages historian, highly respected and incredibly generous of her time. She brought that period to life for me and we are still in regular contact over 3o years later.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I have several books on the go at any given time. I’m currently reading and scoring books entered in a novel competition, so I’m probably not at liberty to say!
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Through my writing I’ve been lucky to discover lots of new writers. One who stands out as having an exquisite turn of phrase is Prue Batten; I’ve just finished her ‘Tobias’. My favourite read of last year was ML Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, again because of the phrasing. With both of these books, there were moments when I just looked up and thought – I wish I could write like that.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
My plan is to release my third book about Anglo-Saxon Mercia early next year. It’s already written, but I need to find a cover and have it proofread etc. I’m currently working on a non-historical novel, which was a prize-winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition a year or two ago. I’d been a winner the previous year and when I turned up again, judge Fay Weldon remembered me and said, “My dear, you really must finish this novel.” So that’s what I’m trying to do!
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
When I first began writing, it was just me and a notebook. I live a long way from family members too, so it was very much a solo project. Since the release of my first novel I’ve been embraced by a lovely ‘family’ of fellow authors, too many to name individually.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I might focus slightly more on the ‘supporting actress’. I wrote ‘Alvar’ before ‘Queen’ and if I’d written them the other way round I might have followed ‘Queen’ with another leading female protagonist. But in the re-writes I expanded her role considerably.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I remember writing stories in my bedroom when I was quite a young child. At around the age of eight I wrote a series of tales about Ferdinand the Hedgehog.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
“Alfreda sang quietly while she worked with the batches of wool. The rhythmic movement of the carding combs moving back and forth in her hands was familiar from childhood and now, as then, she was soothed by the pulsing regularity of the action. She sat slightly apart from the other women. She was still unsure how much they knew or guessed and she wished neither to insult them by pretending, nor to reveal the truth if they were not already aware. Thus rendered dumb, she worked alone, speaking only when she needed some more wool to work on. She had almost finished the latest lot when she heard the shouting. She was always frightened by the yelling, but now her hand went quickly to her belly in an instinctively protective gesture.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
With each new piece, I find it harder to get started. Knowing that the first draft will be, essentially, rubbish, it’s hard to just type it out anyway, knowing that most of it will get edited/deleted.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’m not sure that I have a favourite author. I have favourite books, and they are usually favourites because the characters within the pages have become real people to me. Any author who can do this, gets my vote.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No. The landscape and buildings have changed so much since the 10thc that there’s precious little to see. I have visited a few, though. On holiday in North Wales many years ago I was really moved to discover that, quite by chance, the guest house we had picked purely on the basis that it could accommodate our family of five plus my parents, was located just across the road from the monastery at Clynnog Fawr, a place where Alvar is recorded to have been in AD978. It was magical to know that I was walking in the same place, even though the church building that stands there now is more modern.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The illustration for To Be a Queen was supplied by the publisher. I designed the Alvar cover myself, using an image for which I’d purchased the rights.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Initially, it was the realisation that I didn’t know much about how the people lived. Later, it was the exhaustion that comes at the end, when you are scrolling through your completed manuscript looking for typos and inconsistencies. Somewhere between the first and final draft is a happy place where I can dawdle, sometimes for years!
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Begin the story in the right place, and find inventive ways of dropping in any necessary exposition.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
When you are despondent and feel like giving up, ask yourself what you would rather be doing instead. If the answer is nothing, don’t give up – you are a writer.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
The Anglo-Saxons weren’t mystical, mythical, magical beings who dwelt with elves and monsters. They were medieval, with systems of government as sophisticated as anything the Normans introduced. Their period spanned more than half a millennium; to lump them all together is akin to saying that we live like the Tudors did.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I don’t. But it was probably a Janet and John book.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
The Monty Python Fish Slap Dance makes me laugh every time I see it. Seeing other people upset, and missing my kids are two things guaranteed to make me cry.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
I would like to meet someone from the 10th Century, just to see how accurate my portrayals are.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
“She was kind, and she was a good mother.” I think if one can be kind, it’s a good way to live.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I really enjoy ‘working out’ and I do pilates, yoga, weight-training, kick-boxing, walking and cycling. Lately I’ve become rather addicted to the new generation of colouring books.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Any good film or TV drama, comedy shows. I’m not a huge fan of crime dramas, although I did enjoy Lewis and Happy Valley.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I don’t really have a favourite food or colour. I’m a massive fan of music though – I love The Who and have done since I was 11, but I also like folk music, classical, 70s rock, 80s synth and some newer Indie bands that my kids have introduced me to.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I would love to have been a professional singer and did have a taste of that life, but nerves/stage fright got the better of me.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Yes, I blog here: