Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Hi, Fiona. Garth Pettersen and I’m a young 68 (how did I get that old?).
Fiona: Where are you from?
I’m originally from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, but have lived in Chilliwack, BC for about thirty years. It’s a farming community in the Fraser River Valley about one and a half hours drive upriver from Vancouver and the ocean.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I’m married with three grown sons in their twenties. My wife, Barbara, and I own a five acre property, which around here is called a “hobby farm”. I board horses for people and spend more time with the horses than their owners. I ride Stella, an Andalusian-Arab mare two or three times a week. I also volunteer as an assistant instructor providing equine therapy for children with disabilities. That’s the highlight of my week.
I worked as an elementary school teacher for years until retiring in 2010 (that’s when I was able to get serious about writing). Before that I taught English and Writing at the secondary level. In my twenties and thirties I worked at a myriad of jobs: logging, fish plant work, construction, lead smelting, rodding and chaining on survey crews in the BC wilderness, acting, and teaching meditation.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I’ve just signed a contract with Tirgearr Publishing. They are going to release my debut novel, The Swan’s Road in November this year.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve always enjoyed writing and have always received good feedback for my work. I recall writing a children’s story as my evaluation project for a university Verbal Communications course. The professor gave me an A+ and told me I should be earning a living writing children’s stories.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Interesting question–that’s what interviewees say when they don’t know an answer. I won $100 prize in an essay contest when I was eleven–big money in 1960. From that time on, I knew I wanted to be a writer. It’s easier now to think of myself as a writer because I dedicate so much time to writing and improving my craft, and because I’ve had short stories published. But when did I transform from a wannabe to thinking of myself as a writer? Probably when I retired from teaching, started writing and getting feedback from an excellent writing group. I knew I had a talent for writing, but having my work critiqued taught me it wasn’t a done deal–I had to learn the craft of writing. When I started working on the craft, I felt I was a writer.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
The Swan’s Road is actually my second book. The first was a Young Adult novel based on some of the antics my older brother and I got up to when we were kids. A teaching colleague of mine suggested I write the story I had told her of my brother and I sneaking into the shipyards near our home. I did, then decided to keep going. It morphed into a kind of Hardy Boys adventure. It was great writing and revising practice.
The idea for The Swan’s Road began when I agreed to do a “Write-Off” with my friend (and mentor), Kensington Press author Michael Hiebert. He arrived with several books. We each had to choose one, find a story idea, then write a story. Michael is a prolific writer and he took off typing on his laptop almost right away. I found it very difficult to produce anything. The very noise of his typing put me on edge. “I’ve got to check the horse,” I said, and left for a break.
I must have done that a few times, before I finally found an idea to write from. I had chosen a book on European history. I had just finished reading one of Bernard Cornwall’s Saxon Tales and had Saxons and Danes on my mind. The fact that I read in the Viking section informed me that when Cnute was king of England (and Denmark and parts of Norway and Sweden) he traveled to Rome for the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor. That struck me as so cool, that this rough Danish warrior would be present amid all the pomp and splendor of Catholic Rome.
I checked to see if Cnute had a son and found he had three. I thought: what if one of his sons traveled with the king? I made his second son Harald my protagonist and began with crossing the English Channel. I barely got started by the time Michael left, but finished the story of the channel crossing later. My friend loved it.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I enjoy playing around with titles. I make lists of possibilities. I think it started off as Journey of the Northman or something old school like that. Hiebert suggested words that are successful commercially: swords, shields, warrior, blood, death , moon, spears, etc., and I came up with Blood Moon Road. I thought that was good and even wrote a blood moon into the story. But after I found at least five other books with that title, it had to go.
Then I got the idea of going through The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Beowulf for phrases. That gave me another list of possibilities. “To sail the swan’s road…” was part of a line in Beowulf. I thought about how swan’s sail on water, walk on land, and fly over land and sea, how they are loyal to their mates for life. I really like this title.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I think I have a rhythmic style. I really enjoy reading aloud to children. I learned from trial and error as a teacher that some books can be read aloud and others can’t. The difference is rhythm. Either a sentence flows beautifully or it doesn’t. I wrote a blog about this on my website.
In writing historical fiction the research is of course important. I’m always questioning: what would she be wearing? how did they fight using that kind of sword? what mountain passes over the Alps did people use in the eleventh century? But I found an equal challenge in language. I tried to stay away from vocabulary that came into English much later. So I researched word origins as I was writing as well as the history. Did you know that Churchill used predominantly Anglo-Saxon originated words in his “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat” speech? Those words deliver.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I think a writer is always drawing from his or her own experiences, even if they are from books read or movies watched. It’s amazing what you draw from. I enjoy reading about characters with qualities I aspire to have. I can’t read about people on downward spirals. If the protagonist is heroic, the reader feels heroic. That’s the joy of reading.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
It certainly would have helped to travel to these locations. I know I hate it when a writer sets a story in my region and doesn’t realize the cities of Vancouver and Victoria are separated by the Georgia Strait. I’ll die if I’ve made that kind of mistake. For The Swan’s Road I used my memory of some places I had traveled to, and for the rest I researched.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
That’s still in process.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Perhaps that one should never give up hope, that despair is a passing state.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I have always been an avid reader, in fact it has been my principal coping method for dealing with stress. I enjoy many different authors: Blake Crouch (futuristic), Patrick Rothfuss (fantasy), Joe Abercrombie (fantasy), Peter Lovesey (English mysteries), Jo Nesbo (Nordic Noir), Rene Denfeld (superb writing). The best book I’ve read recently is What We Become, by Arturo Perez-Reverte. I guess what was exceptional for me in that book were the characters and the storytelling. The character arcs were such that I was constantly surprised by what they did. Just when I had the character figured out, the author took me deeper. Great book.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
The Chilliwack Writers’ Group. People have different opinions about writers’ groups, but I get such constructive feedback in this one, I look forward to every meeting. An intelligent, humorous bunch of caring people.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I’ve had my career. Now I write because I want to. I also want to see how far I can go in the world of publishing.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Sometimes I can get a little “teachey”–supplying some historic fact because I find it interesting. I should edit those bits out for the sake of the story.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned so much about eleventh century Europe. It was a learning experience every step of the way. I also learned a lot about structuring a novel.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I don’t know. Probably some unknown Scandinavian actor, or maybe Alexander Ludwig who plays Bjorn Ironside in Vikings. He is from Vancouver, by the way. Not a young American actor, though. They tend to be too cocky and less professional in my opinion.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
I have two cards propped up on my desk. One says: “Let the characters tell their story. Write to discover what happens. Enjoy.” The other says: “Pretend you’re someone who can do it.”
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I always feel a kinship with a writer when I read his/her book, like I’m sharing that person’s experience. I look forward to readers connecting to me in that way.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m about to start The Defectors by Joseph Kanon. He writes great thrillers (?), usually set just after or during the final months of World War II.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not the first, but many I read early on. The fifties didn’t produce as much great children’s literature as now, though there were a few classics. I read a lot of adventure: The Missing Monoplane, by John Creasy, The Valley of Adventure (and the rest of that series) by Enid Blyton (who gets a bad rap these days), and of course, The Hardy Boys, which I’ve managed to collect, complete with the old dust jackets.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Some of the things kids say innocently, I often find very funny, or a joke with an unseen twist, told well, or when somebody makes a quick comeback to match my own over-rated wit. What I don’t find funny are American sit-coms with one-liners and laugh tracks. Don’t really know what brings a tear to my eye. It doesn’t happen that often–something incredibly, beautifully human.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Just one? I’m a great fan of Teddy Roosevelt. I think he was a truly great character who challenged himself and his children to dream big and accomplish bigger. Besides being a great president, he was cowboy, gentleman, soldier, and explorer. Such an interesting fellow.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Too many. I read, carve, build, ride horses, hike and trail ride, canoe, etc., though some of those not so often any more.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Anything well-written, well-acted, well-directed with engaging characters and storyline. I love Game of Thrones. Lately, I’ve been addicted to The Bridge on Netflix (retold as The Tunnel in the UK) and other Scandinavian and Icelandic shows. Best U.S. series: True Detective and Narcos. Best Canadian series: Motive.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Indian food. Blues and reds. Cool and not brassy jazz.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Read and then read some more. Maybe act. Draw.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“Well, at least you’re reading.”
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
My website is www.garthpettersen.com
My novel, The Swan’s Road is being released by Tirgearr Publishing on November 15 and is now in pre-order on Amazon and other sites.
If you can’t find it you’re spelling pettersen incorrectly.
Thank you, Fiona. I hope you read The Swan’s Road. Cheers.