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, I’m Ann Bennett and I had my 57th birthday a couple of weeks ago.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born in Pury End, a tiny village in Northamptonshire, England, but now live in Farnham in Surrey. In the interim I’ve lived in London, Paris (briefly), East Anglia, Devon and the Isle of Wight.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I’m the youngest of six daughters. I went to school in Northampton, and on to study law at Cambridge. I then qualified as a solicitor in London and worked in the City for a couple of years before having time out to travel to India and South East Asia. My dad had been in the army on the North West Frontier in India, in the Malaya campaign in the second world war, and a prisoner of war of the Japanese on the Thai-Burma railway. He died when I was seven, but I remember some of his stories. Because of that connection, that part of the world has always held a fascination for me. I am now married with three sons and we have travelled so SE Asia many times as a family. I had a career break of ten years while the boys were small and during that time started writing in earnest. It took a long time and a lot of persistence to get published – my first book, Bamboo Heart (inspired by my father’s wartime experiences) was published by Monsoon Books in 2014. They went on to publish Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road, also about the war in South East Asia.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I’ve just released my fourth book ‘The Foundling’s Daughter.’
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing when I was a child. I wrote books about witches when I was little. My dad taught Latin and Greek and owned lots of books with incomprehensible titles. One of my first illustrated stories was about two witches whom I wanted to have mysterious names. I called them (copying titles on the bookcase) Didaskalos and Thucydides. I’m not sure why I wrote, but I loved language, and stories just came to me that I wanted to put into words.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’m not sure that I ever have properly, but when my first book was published I suppose I started thinking that I could call myself one.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was called ‘Shivaji’s Ladder’ and it has never been published. It is about a girl who discovers, after the death of her father, that he was in fact adopted, and that he was born to the wife of an army officer in British India as a result of an illicit affair. I’m not sure what exactly inspired me to write that book – I wanted to write something about India, but I’ve a feeling the plot was loosely based on a story that my mother told me about the father or grandfather of one of her friends. I finished this book in 2002 and kept the manuscript. I’ve used extracts from it as the basis for Anna’s story in The Foundling’s Daughter.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
For ‘Shivaji’s Ladder’ I wanted something intriguing, which conjured a sense of place. The book was partly set in Matheran, a hill station near Mumbai which I visited during my travels. Shivaji’s Ladder is a very steep path near Matheran which I used for some significant scenes in the book. The Foundling’s Daughter centres on a scandal involving babies abandoned by their mothers in the 1930s. The central character is the daughter of one of those babies, searching for the truth about her father’s birth. It seemed an apt title.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
All my books involve a present day (or more modern) strand, and a strand from the past, which come together at the end to resolve the story. It is difficult to ensure the two strands are told in parallel and that I don’t give away secrets about the past too early in the modern strands. The Foundling’s Daughter tells the stories of three women in parallel in this way – it was quite a challenge to keep all the different balls in the air.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The Foundling’s Daughter is a work of fiction, however, the life experiences of some of the characters are based on reality. The trials and tribulations of relationships in the book are meant to be realistic as are other aspects. For example, Sarah, the main character works in the restaurant trade. One of my sons is a chef, so I’ve heard quite a bit about the business from him. The basic inspiration for the book came from finding out about my great grandfather, Brice Bennett, who ran a county school for pauper children in Wargrave, Berkshire. He had eleven children, many of whom worked as teachers in the school. They lived in a large Edwardian house near to the school (the inspiration for Cedar Lodge) and I imagine that Brice Bennett was a fairly charismatic character. However that’s where the similarities end. The book is about an orphanage, and Ezra Burroughs, the superintendent, is a charismatic Baptist preacher, once a missionary in India, who underneath the charm has a dark side.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Bamboo Heart, Bamboo Island, and Bamboo Road are all set in South East Asia. I first travelled there in 1985, spent six months there in 1988 and have been back many times since. My diaries from my 1988 trip have provided a much inspiration for those books, as have observations on more recent trips.
The Foundling’s Daughter is set partly in British India in the 1930s. Once again, trips to India in 1988 and 1990, and photos and diaries from those journeys have provided inspiration for some of the scenes in the book, in particular visits to the palaces of Rajasthan, Mumbai (then Bombay) and to the nearby hill station, Matheran.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?’
I believe Monsoon Books used Cover Kitchen for the Bamboo Trilogy, but for the Foundling’s Daughter, Jane Dixon-Smith was recommended by my friend and writing buddy, Siobhan Daiko.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Basically I wanted to write an entertaining story, but I would say there are three key messages: Our family history and roots shape us; You might not know those closest to you as well as you think; and Establishment figures sometimes abuse their position to exploit others, thinking they are untouchable.
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?
New writers. I haven’t read that many lately. I’ve been focusing on established authors in the genre in which I’m writing; Rosie Thomas, Jenny Ashcroft, Julia Gregson, Kate Furnivall, Dinah Jeffries, Rosanna Ley. However, I did read a brilliant book by a relatively new writer quite recently; Red Joan by Jennie Rooney. Having just googled it I’ve found out that it’s being made into a film with Judi Dench – so not that new in fact!
One other emerging writer whom I admire enormously, is Chhimi Tenduf-La, who writes brilliant books about Sri-Lanka including the Amazing Racist, Panther, and Loyal Stalkers.
I love Graham Greene’s books above all. His ability to evoke exotic places, his sparing prose and the unsparing truth of his writing.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Monsoon Books. I’m so grateful to Monsoon, a small, independent publishing company originally based in Singapore, but now also in the UK, for believing in my writing.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I’d love to write as a career one day. However, for the time being I don’t want to starve so need to keep on with the day job!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not really, no. I gave it my best shot.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
It’s difficult to find the time alongside a full-time job. However, I’ve learned to just keep at it. Even if you only manage 300 words a day, it will eventually grow into a full-length book.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
There are three main characters. I have people in mind for all three. Carla Gugino for Sarah, Anne Hathaway for Anna, and Eileen Atkins for Connie.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Yes – what I said above. Just keep at it. I’ve had writers block at points during the process of writing all my books. I get quite anxious and down about them sometimes. But I’ve learned to just keep going, even if what you write isn’t great, it can be edited later on. Giving up isn’t an option.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I’m really hoping you enjoy reading my books and would love to hear any feedback (warts and all). One of the most brilliant things about having books published is interacting with readers. I’m eternally grateful to anyone who spends time reading my books and like nothing better than for them to let me know what they think.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. We watched the Amazon series on TV, so I wanted to read the book that had inspired that. This isn’t my usual genre though.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not really. Both my parents used to read to me every night. I remember reading Black Beauty to myself though – one of the first books that made a big impression on me.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I can usually find something funny in most situations, which sometimes gets me into trouble! Favourite (relatively recent) comedy show is the Peep Show.
Cruelty – especially to children or animals makes me cry.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
The Dalai Lama. I did a lot of research about Buddhism for Bamboo Road, written from the point of view of a member of the Thai resistance during the war. This piqued my interest and I’ve continued to read about Buddhism since then. In 2012 my Thai teacher took me along to a football stadium in Aldershot, packed with Nepalese Buddhists, who’d all gathered to see the Dalai Lama. He was very late, and it was a freezing cold day, but when he finally arrived, he walked round the football pitch, surrounded by a crowd of well-wishers, simply exuding peace and well-being and radiating happiness and goodwill to everyone around him. This is someone who has faced persecution and exile from his homeland. I’d liked to have met him, not just observed him from the crowd.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Writing and reading feature heavily! I also have been learning Thai for quite a while. I love cooking, walking in the countryside and, of course, travel.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Mainly binging on box-sets. I’ve watched loads of these, from Mad Men, to Boardwalk Empire, to Twin Peaks, Hidden, and The Crown. I just watched the Darkest Hour, about Winston Churchill ,which was brilliant.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Food – curry.
Colour – not really sure depends on the context, but I love a deep red sunset.
Music – David Bowie plus anything nostalgic from the seventies and eighties.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Read a lot? I’m not sure what could stop me writing.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
I don’t want to think about that yet. I probably wouldn’t have a headstone anyway and would prefer my ashes to be scattered somewhere beautiful.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Facebook pages https://www.facebook.com/Ann-Bennett-242663029444033/