Pantomimes & Fairy Tales

Christmas would not be Christmas in the UK without the onset of the pantomime season.  Theaters up and down the land give way to the colourful, family, slap-stick humour of the pantomime. Celebrities appear in the most surprising roles to join in the seasonal fun. One of the most popular titles is the adaptation of the beloved fairy-tale Cinderella.

Poor Cinderella is a persecuted heroine. She has lost her own mother and father and is left in the ‘care’ of her step-mother and her daughters – the ugly sisters.

The origins of Cinderella can be traced back through different cultures at various times in history from: Greek mythology, Chinese fable, seventeenth century France in Perrault’s verison in 1697 and the Brothers Grimm’s Ashenputtel to name but a few.

It is a universal theme. Beauty is more than skin deep and so is ugliness. Cinderella’s rescuer can be magical, human, a tree – or in my version on this Cinderella theme, a combination of faith, hope and love in human form who seeks justice for my poor Ellie. Of course, the greatest of these is love 🙂

An Interview with Eileen Ramsay

Eileen RamsayThank you, Eileen, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be my guest this month.

You have had a fantastic breadth of life experiences from teaching the children of international politicians and celebrities in the USA to working in Migrant Education. What lasting impressions did this contrast leave you with?
One fact that has remained with me through all my years of teaching is that, no matter the social position of the parents, the wealth or lack of it, education or lack of it, ALL good parents want the best for their children. Another is that poor parents – and I’m not talking finance here – come from every strata of society. I have had extremely wealthy parents leave seriously ill children in hospital while they jetted off to join some celebrity at a ski resort and I have had really poor Mexican parents turn up at my door begging for “Trabajo ahora?” whenever there was a school outing that cost a little money. They didn’t want a hand-out, they wanted to work to earn the money.

What is it about Mexico that appealed to you so much?

I visited Mexico often and studied Spanish language and Mexican music there. I love its fascinating and sometimes sad history. It is incredibly beautiful. The people are proud and they are generous and full of humour and you have just given me ideas for articles!

Would you agree with the observation that despite having lived with the lifestyle of the very privileged, you always seem to have kept your focus on what is important in life – family and reality?

You’re right, I did enjoy some incredible experiences and my upbringing was certainly not among the privileged but one wonderful woman in Washington DC reinforced all my early lessons. I had just met the man who was to become my husband and I wanted to impress him – shallow person that I am – with my ‘new’ family. I was taking him to lunch – to be introduced – and we walked into the house to see the lady of the house on her hands and knees washing a floor.  It turned out that the resident ‘cleaning lady’ wasn’t feeling well and had been sent to bed.

‘But why are you washing the floor?’ I asked.

She looked up at me and laughed. ‘Dirt,’ she said, ‘is no respecter of persons.’

My husband, of course, fell in love with her on the spot.

Churchills AngelsWhen did you break away from teaching to develop a career in writing?

Teaching and writing marched together for years. I wrote stories for Sunday School magazines and I wrote reading materials for primary schools. I was able to use knowledge of Native Americans I had gained while living in the US to write something a little different – Bud and the Hunkpapas was a favourite. For a few years I wrote from 4am to 6am but resigned when our younger son went to university.

Are you a very disciplined writer in the way you organise your day?
Organise?  I can already hear the laughter of those who know me.
I am disciplined. If possible I write every day; some days I write all day and well into the evening – that’s research time too. I use a laptop that has no internet because I can’t resist an email pinging in. My husband is learning to cook – our sons and lovely daughters-in-law sent him on a course – and he does one meal a day and he helps with housework – does all the heavy things and brings me a cup of coffee in bed first thing – and so I have 30 mins of ‘fun’ reading.

How and when did your first breakthrough as a published writer occur?
I went to a writing conference at USC where the great Michael Shaara, Clive Cussler, and the editor Charles Block were speakers. A friend typed up part of a Scottish Regency novel I’d been writing – I had even fewer technical skills then – and Charles Block read it. He was waiting outside a lecture room for me on the last day, handed me the script and said, “I think this will go but have chapters one and two change places.”

I had introduced the heroine in chapter two and he advised that the heroine should always be right there in chapter one. We returned to live in Britain that summer; I managed to get an agent – long story and sent her the finished, rewritten manuscript. A few days later she called and said she’d attended a party the evening before and an American editor had asked her about the availability of Scottish Regencies.  She showed her the typescript and it was bought! I looked at it a few years ago and it was rather dire – wouldn’t be published today. I rewrote it, correcting errors, and published it on Amazon!

You were established as a saga writer and then made the bold and successful move to writing romances based around the world of opera and music. What inspired this departure?

I had written children’s books, Regencies, Sagas and serials and I wanted to write contemporaries. I went to an artist chum’s exhibition and found myself thinking – What if all these paintings were of one person? The idea stayed and grew like Topsy and I wrote a book about an artist who loved a tenor – my favourite voice!  It was read by several reputable editors and agents but no one wanted it but almost everyone made sensible points. (I occasionally bump into one or two at an RNA party and we chat perfectly happily!)

            At a book launch I found myself standing beside a lovely woman who asked me if I wrote books like those of the superb writer onstage. I said “no” and told her my friend’s publisher had just, that very day, rejected me.

            “I didn’t reject you,’ said the woman and gave me her card. “Send it to me and I’ll have a look.’

            I dithered for days and eventually rang my friend, telling her I felt badly about, even inadvertently, using her launch to contact a very senior editor. She looked at me and said. “Don’t be stupid; if anyone holds out a hand to you in this business, grab it.”

            I grabbed, sent it and received the manuscript back with a “NO” for which she gave her reason. She also told me I really needed a good agent and suggested three. Two had already rejected me but I had not heard of the third and so I had one more go.

            The agent accepted me as a client, and, with her guidance, I rewrote a few scenes. The agent, the brilliant Theresa Chris, sent the manuscript to auction. It went for an amazing amount of money and was then bought by several foreign publishers.

Wave Me GoodbyeLast year, ‘Wave me Goodbye’ was published under the name of Ruby Jackson, which I understand is the first of a series of novels ‘Churchill’s Angels’.  Please tell us something about this new project?
I suppose, like many writers, after five best-selling books, I fell out of favour. Theresa stayed with me, encouraging me, advising me.  A few years ago, she asked if I would like to revisit WW11 and after much thought, I said yes. I did not know, of course, that  an editor at Harper Collins had conceived the idea of publishing a series of books about the courageous women who did everything from catching rats to ferrying Spitfires; the women she calls Churchill’s Angels.  Using the pseudonym, Ruby Jackson, I have now written four books; two have been published so far.  It’s been an enormous privilege. I’ve met land girls, pilots, nurses, etcetera and been awed by every one of them. Their stories need no exaggeration – they were quite simply – superb.

You obviously love historical fiction and research your chosen topic thoroughly. What advice would you give to anyone who was considering writing a historical novel?
Advice would depend on which era and which country but obviously I’d say, find out as much as you possibly can about the person the time and the place. Read everything, especially newspapers of the time, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Archivists and librarians are great sources and remember there are archivists in famous department stores, in grand hotels and in universities.  They know what you don’t know you don’t know!

What is next for Eileen?

I have no idea; my head is spinning – that way, or that way but I did visit a conductor friend at the Royal Opera House earlier this year. He has been keeping me accurate about conducting and conductors for several years as I have an idea. He asked me about progress.

‘I’m afraid, for the past four years, the poor man has been standing on a rock looking out to sea.’

He shrugged. ‘Well, there are worse places for a conductor to stand.’

Now, wouldn’t you want to discover the worse places?!

More from Eileen

Website: eileenramsay.co.uk
Blog: Eileen’s Blog

An Interview with Nicola Cornick

Nicola Cornick - profileWelcome to my blog, Nicola. I must confess that your childhood interests me. I have visited many stately homes and heritage sites over the years and the idea of going to school in the dower house of C18 Harewood House fascinates me. Was this where your love of history and academic research began?

Thank you very much for inviting me to visit today! It’s a pleasure to be here.

I think I was very lucky to go to school in an 18th century house! It was definitely inspirational. There was a very grand staircase, a beautiful “winter garden” where we took our art lessons and lots of old nooks and crannies to explore. The house was surrounded by parkland too so we could run wild in the grounds and we could tell each other scary ghost stories on the dark winter evenings! I think that being in such a historic atmosphere intrigued me and sparked my curiosity; I wanted to learn about the house and its past occupants and from there my love of history developed.

Could you tell us about the work you do at the National Trust’s Ashdown House?

I’d love to! I work as a guide and historian at Ashdown House, a stunning 17th century hunting lodge in Oxfordshire. I show people around the house and give them a guided tour telling them about the history of the house and the Craven family who owned it. It’s a fabulous, romantic-looking place and the history is rich and romantic too! I also do lots of research into the history of the house. I’m learning about it all the time and the more I discover the more fascinating it becomes. We’ve just found some secret tunnels leading off from the wine cellar!

Your first Regency novel was published in 1998. What is it about this era that appeals to you so much?

I’ve always loved the Regency era as a writer and a reader. Like so may readers I started with the books of Georgette Heyer and their wit and the beautiful way that Heyer evokes the era really enthralled me. I love the elegance and the manners and the fascinating contrast between the outward show and the intense emotions that may be hidden beneath the surface. One of the challenges for a writer is to find a way for those emotions to be expressed within the constraints of the behaviour of the time.

How did your breakthrough into publication happen?

I had a long journey to publication. My first book, True Colours, was twelve years in the writing because I was also working full time and could only snatch short periods of time to write. Mills & Boon rejected my first attempt as having too much adventure and not enough romance. I re-wrote it twice more before they finally accepted it.

Who or what was your biggest inspiration in becoming a fiction author?

There have been so many people who have inspired me. The writing of authors such as Mary Stewart and Daphne Du Maurier fired me with the desire to be a writer when I was in my teens. My teacher, Mrs Chary, inspired in me a huge love of history and for that I will always be grateful to her. I always knew that it was historical fiction that I wanted to write. The other big influence was my wonderful grandmother, whose collection of historical novels I devoured and with whom I watched costume dramas on a Sunday night!

One Night with the Laird - US copyYou are an enthusiastic traveller on a world-wide scale, but for your latest series you have headed north of the border and changed period for The Lady and the LairdOne Night with the Laird out this month and the final book Claimed by the Laird, which will be published next year. What triggered this change in location and direction?

I do love travelling and have been lucky enough to visit some amazing places all around the globe. One of my favourite places, though, is Scotland and I have wanted to set a book there for years. It was fascinating to research Scotland in the early 19th century and see the similarities and differences in politics and culture compared with south of the border. It was huge fun to write the Scottish Brides trilogy!

What is next for Nicola?

I have lots of exciting plans for next year.  There are several new Regency ideas I’m going to be working on, plus a book inspired by Ashdown House!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing some of your unique experiences with us.

Thank you!
More by Nicola:

An interview with Gwen Kirkwood

Welcome, Gwen!

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.

Darkest Before the Dawn

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!

More by Gwen: