Your warm-hearted family sagas are based in rural Scotland. When and where did your love affair with Scotland’s beautiful country and history begin?
I have three Scottish grandparents so I had a yearning to see Scotland for myself. I came to Dumfriesshire to work as a milk officer, inspecting dairy farms. The work was not as I had expected but the people were very friendly and I loved the warmth of the red sandstone buildings and the beautiful landscapes with fresh green hills and glens and lots of trees. I have never wanted to leave, especially not after I met and married my husband, a Scottish dairy farmer.
Are any of your wonderful characters based on real people or are they all purely of your own creation?
My characters are all fictional but I think writers must be influenced by people they have met, even if it is only subconsciously. I had a wonderful mother-in-law so a few of my older characters may have some of her kindness and wisdom. We can read of bad characters every day in the newspapers. I have three adult children who keep me up to date with the opinions of their generation. My grandchildren are of varying ages and I often include children. Writers keep on learning and developing and so do the characters but I have never written about a real person.
You took a six year career break. When you returned to your writing did you feel as if your work had changed at all?
I don’t think my writing changed. I still wrote another series of four in a family saga following the generations. My books are shorter, 100,000 words or less now, but that is due to the policy of different publishers.
To date, what has been the most memorable or significant event within your writing career?
I had written four short romances but it was a tremendous boost to my confidence when an agent sold my first long saga to Headline in a very short time. A good editor can have a big influence and Jane Morpeth helped me a lot.
Secondly, I rarely enter competitions but after a long gap from writing it was a lovely surprise to win the Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2000 when it was resurrected by the RNA for the millennium. It was judged by Richard Lee of the Historical Novel Society.
What top tip would you give new writers wanting to become published writers in today’s market place?
Persevere. Try to write a little every day, even if it is only a couple of sentences. Keep a notepad handy. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your characters, or improve your plot, while you are travelling, ironing, peeling the vegetables. Thinking time is important too. Listen to the advice of agents and editors, not friends. If you do self-publish pay a reputable copy-editor to check your work first.
You have seen many changes within the publishing industry. What do you think of the new emphasis on social networking and Internet presence?
Honestly? I hate it – well some of the time! I want to be left in peace to write, BUT writing used to be an isolated occupation so I am pleased we now have opportunities for keeping in touch with other writers, getting and giving help, as well as marketing. Networking has become essential so I do my best, but it can take up a lot of time.
Your new book Darkest Before the Dawn has a very strong cover. Can you tell us something about this novel and what inspired you to write it?
This is the fifth in a series of 5 novels beginning with Dreams of Home at the end of World War II. Darkest Before the Dawn brings the series up to present day with the third generation of the Caraford family. Two of the characters are quite young with problems belonging to their generation so it could almost be a young adult novel, although I did not set out to make it that way. However, it also brings farming up to date with robots for milking cows, arguments between the generations about changes, as well as an unexpected and rather satisfying love affair for two of the older characters.
Joe Lennox becomes bitter and deranged and blames Billy Caraford when his son is killed in a car accident, but Billy has lost his best friend and is badly injured himself. Despite the misgivings of his parents he is still determined to be a farmer. He summons his courage to go to university but privately he regards himself as a cripple now. He is convinced no woman could love him or want to be his wife.
Kimberley is orphaned when her father dies. She moves to Scotland with her aunt but she is nervous about changing schools until Billy helps her find new friends. Both Kim and her aunt become involved in the affairs of the Caraford family and as Kim grows into a lovely young woman she finds the strength of character to confront problems and fight for the life and the love she craves.
What is next for Gwen Kirkwood?
I am going back to the 1800’s and this will be a single novel rather than a series. It has less emphasis on farming but is still set in Scotland. No title yet.
My thanks for taking the time to answer the questions in such an honest and open way. I shall look forward to reading Darkest Before the Dawn when it is available later this month!