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?
My name is Jan Harvey. I am fifty seven years old and fifty seven is actually my lucky number, so I’m expecting big things this year!
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire and have lived alternately in the north and south of England throughout my life, but I am now very settled in The Oxfordshire Cotswolds.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I was brought up by Plymouth Brethren. I found it very restricting and dreamed endlessly of being a creative. By comparison, I loved school and excelled in sports and art but most of all I loved english and I owe my all consuming love of literature to my teacher, Mrs.Wrin.
Ultimately, I chose a career in art and studied at Southport College of Art then Leeds University gaining a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration. I was lucky to be able to chart my own course in design, illustration and publishing by owning businesses that encompassed all three disciplines. At the end of my career I had notched up twenty six years of magazine editing and production but, as print media diminished, I had to make a big decision about my future. It was a choice between designing websites or going for the less lucrative option, of being an author. Writing won out but I had a lot to learn so I applied myself and studied hard. I had to learn everything from finding my own creativity and style to understanding the mysterious workings of the publishing world.
I live with my husband Paul and our flat-coated retriever, Byron in a lovely country village and have a busy lifestyle. I am a creative coach, an artist and I run a networking group so I rarely sit still, but that is how I love it. In what little spare time I have I love listening to live jazz music, having fun with my friends and, of course, dog walking.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
It’s big news! My second novel, The Slow Death of Maxwell Carrick is released on 4th October. It follows the success of my first book, The Seven Letters and I have nerves that I’m sure all authors have about the follow up novel; Will it be good enough? Will everyone like it?
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Since those first essays and stories I produced for Mrs. Wrin when I was twelve I wanted to write. She was very encouraging but I lost my confidence when I moved schools and I just did not gel with my new English teacher. I studied literature again at Art College where I had great encouragement, but writing was put to one side as I developed my career. It was a writing course with Arabella McIntyre-Brown in 2011 that really got me going. She took me to one side afterwards and said: ‘You’re not just a writer, you’re an author, write that book!’ It was a real confidence boost and I wrote a novella that Arabella kindly critiqued for me. I knew the novella wasn’t right as my first book so I decided to write a full length novel and there began the four years of research that brought about The Seven Letters.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It was the moment with Arabella that convinced me but I did many more courses and sought the opinions of other tutors too. I found I was immersed in a world I was loving, albeit extremely hard work.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
The inspiration for The Seven Letters was a picture of the women in France having their heads shaved as a punishment for collaborating with the occupying forces. I couldn’t get over how cruelly they were treated when so many others had also aided and abetted the Nazis. Then, there was one particular picture of a woman being chastised whilst carrying a baby. That was the moment I decided to research the subject further and it opened up a whole new world for me.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The title of my first book came to me as I realised my protagonist Connie was finding letters as the mystery unfolded. I don’t plan my stories so it came as a surprise that there were seven letters. I’ll let you in on a little secret here, there were only six letters so I popped an extra one in because seven sounded so much better.
Fiona: Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I write time split novels so that the modern day is contrasted with a story from the past. I write in this way because I loved reading this genre. I am great fan of Daphne du Maurier and Barbara Erskine, so I think it just felt right for me.
It is challenging. I have to make the two time scales intertwine and make sure they relate to each other throughout the book, even if that is subliminal for the reader. I also base the books in The Cotswolds and Paris so there are two countries and cultures to juggle too. Luckily, I do love a challenge!
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
In both my books there is a complete mixture of my personal life experiences and what I have learned through research and pure observation. In The Seven Letters one of the characters, Matt, was brought up by the Plymouth Brethren so he’s very much me but Connie loves horses and is fanatical about books so I’ve given her a number my qualities too. After all, they do say write about what you know.
In The Slow Death of Maxwell Carrick, one of the protagonists is a retired editor, like me, so I was able to draw on that knowledge. I have based this book in my village so I dare not reveal who I have included in there, but I have made an effort to remember some of the names and colourful characters of people who lived here in times past.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Oh yes! We had four trips to Paris and a lot of pounding of pavements was involved. My husband, who has been one hundred percent behind my career as an author, sponsored the trips and quite simply, without him, there would be no books. I had to carry out a great deal of research in The City of Lights, but I have to say I enjoyed every single minute. I love Paris and the French we have met have gone out of their way to help us even if some of my questions were, at times, strange.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I write about strong women and what they are forced to do to survive war. Both of my novels revolve around this theme. I also hope readers will agree with me that war is a tragic waste and that we have lost so many people who could have made this world a better place, it’s a message that needs to be repeated over and over again because we still resort to conflict so easily.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favourite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I’ve just discovered Sarah Winman and her book Tin Man. It was a lovely book that left me with a surge of emotion when I read the last chapter. I’m certainly going to read more of her work. Tin Man also featured some of my interests (the art of Van Gogh) and locations I am very familiar with which was actually quite spooky.
My favourite writer is Emily Brontë. I loved Wuthering Heights, which I studied in depth for O-level. I think that helped because it is a book with so many layers and, of course, it’s a time spilt novel.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
The Chipping Norton Literature Festival (ChipLitFest). I am still indebted to Clare Macintosh who set it up just as I needed a darn good festival to hone my writing skills.
She blazed a trail and now Jenny Dee is carrying on her good work. I have learnt so much about writing, publishing, authors and readers and I would have been lost without it.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I do. It is. I love it.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I had to draw on the history of my own village so I the very real sense I had to learn quite a bit about the various legends and stories I’d heard from different sources. I also talked to a number of nonagenarians about their wartime experiences and that was an absolute privilege for me.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Oh, believe me, I’ve already worked out the cast list for both books. The latest though would be Aidan Turner playing Maxwell Carrick. I wrote it with him in mind….hope springs eternal.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Yes, don’t give up! Keep on honing your skill, you must never stop learning, but also it is essential to have your work critiqued as you go along. I used the Writers Magazine service and Fiction Feedback. Both were invaluable and if you receive criticism, take it on the chin and make it work for you, don’t be defeated.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I would ask them to buy books from local bookshops whenever they can. The internet is killing off the bricks and mortar shops, but there is nothing like a recommendation from the staff at your neighbourhood outlet. There is nowhere quite like a bookshop. We must use them or lose them, the same goes for libraries.
I would also add that the last person to get paid is the author and with a certain internet giant taking 65% commission buying direct from the author if you can is what keeps us afloat and ensures there will can write more of the books you love.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I am about to read ‘A Gathering Light’ again. I love Jennifer Donnelley’s writing and I have, not for the first time, bought this book as a gift for a friend. I promised her I’d re-read it so we can discuss it together! I love talking about books.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
It was the Cat in the Hat, but I loathed it. My reading really began with the Narnia Chronicles and I realised I was lost forever to the world of the book. Lost and not ever wanting to be rescued.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Laugh: My son Max. He inherited my scathing northern humour.
Cry: Animal cruelty. I cannot bear it.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Cary Grant. I absolutely adore his films. There is something about him that is just perfect.
I’ll give you an insider tip: One of my characters is named after him.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Riding was my hobby but I had to give it up after a serious fall. I miss it very much and that is why horses always get a mention in my books. Otherwise, I enjoy exploring new ways of making art so I have done felting, pottery, sculpture and fused glass and I do intend to learn how to write poetry.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I love period dramas and Poldark, for example, is wonderful. Did I mention Aiden Turner? I also enjoy gripping dramas that are well written but I cannot abide the constantly rehashed detective show. I’m tired of the captive woman in the cellar now, I think we need to move on. Mostly though, I need to feed my habit for watching old black and white films from the fifties.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
My husband and I like a variety from thai food to a traditional roast. We’re cutting down on meat now and so we enjoy discovering vegetarian meals.
I live for colour, I am a magpie. I have synesthesia which means I think in colour. It’s hard to expalin but if I remember a telephone number I remember each figure as a colour, and not just a plain colour but tints and different hues too!
Music wise I am also a magpie. From Mozart to experimental jazz via musicals sums me up nicely.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I have a lot of plans. Mostly reading! I’d love to spend more time just reading. I’m quite a political animal so I’d enjoy working to make life better for people – and animals. I’d also like to get back to singing, I used to be part of a choir. Most of all I’d like to do more exploring with my husband. We spent a wonderful week in Anglesey and I’d love to return. In truth, I was researching my next novel there, so it was a working trip!
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
Drinking fine champagne, in a French Chateau, with my husband telling him how much I love him and then giving him a list of who to give my paintings to!
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
I have a daily mission to make at least one person chuckle every day. So I’d like ‘She made us laugh.” That would do nicely.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
My new book, The Slow Death of Maxwell Carrick, is published on 29th October and will be available on all platforms, but do go through my website for signed copies and a special something extra with your order.
My website is www.janharveyauthor.com and people can follow on my facebook too.
I really enjoy interacting with my readers.
Thank you for asking such great questions. I enjoyed this interview.