Ever since I read Trisha Ashley's book Good Husband Material back in 2001, I've watched out for her books. They create a world that I feel I know at the same time that they invite me to explore parts of it I haven't visited yet, but am sure I want to know better. And I always want to spend time with Trisha's people.
I love her people -- and her animals (even her not-so-bright hens) and her chocolate and her roses and all the other intriguing bits of Trisha's world that amuse me, entertain me, and always make me eager to come back for more.
If you haven't read Trisha's books, you can find out a bit more about them from Trisha herself who generously answered my questions this week. Then do go check them out on her website or have a look at the online booksellers. If you're in UK, you can probably find them at your nearest Waterstone's as well as other bookshops and possibly the supermarket.
Without further ado, here's Trisha!
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, but I actually completed a children’s novel when I was eighteen. It was truly dreadful and totally unpublishable, but you learn such a lot from writing your first book. Of course you do tend to think your first novel is absolutely perfect, just like your new baby, cradle-cap, crossed eyes and all.
The Magic of Christmas, out this October, will be my twelfth romantic comedy, though it’s actually a major reworking of an earlier novel, Sweet Nothings. I always felt there was so much more I wanted to say about the characters and situations in that book, so much more material I wanted to add – and that’s what I’ve done! So I hope no-one minds if I count it.
I’ve had a couple of Regencies published in the past, too, most recently Lord Rayven’s Revenge – I love the Regency era and have a collection of newspapers and Ladies Almanacs from that time.
2) What started you writing in the first place?
I wanted to be a writer and painter from being a little girl and thought that all I needed to do to be a writer was read a lot and get on with life, so I went to Art College. I still paint, which gives me immense pleasure, but the writing has become the dominant strand.
I never intended to write a series, but several of the recent ones have been set in the same area of rural West Lancashire and so there was naturally some overlapping of people, place names and so on. I now do see the Lancashire novels as a sort of series, but they are all also stand-alone novels.
You will notice in several of my books that the heroine subscribes to Skint Old Northern Woman, the magazine Charlie in Every Woman For Herself started up: so that’s also a little link.
I get emails all the time asking me to write sequels to the Lancashire books, but I’d rather carry on doing linked but stand-alone ones for the moment. If one of my books is ever made into a film, though, then I promise I’ll write a sequel!
4) Are there more coming along in the same series of inter-linked books?
Yes: The Magic of Christmas is set in the same area and the new novel I’m writing will be, too. But Avon HarperCollins are going to reprint two earlier novels, Good Husband Material and Every Woman for Herself, set in Bedfordshire and West Yorkshire respectively, and I don’t rule out setting one or two future novels in other favourite locations.
5) You do a lot of first-person stories. Have you always done your books from a first-person point of view? What are the advantages? Disadvantages?
My Regency novels and most of my short stories are in third person, but my contemporaries are always in first-person. I find I can slip inside the heroine’s skin so much easier that way and become someone quite different from myself by seeing things through their eyes. So I’m a shape-shifter, really, even if I don’t have to put myself to bed in a bucket.
But when writing first person, you have to remember that the main protagonist can only know what she sees, hears, or is told about – you can’t just shift to someone else’s viewpoint. So that can be challenging. I quite often do introduce someone else’s first person viewpoint in some form, though, like diary entries or letters - or more directly, like the sections from Feargal’s viewpoint in Good Husband Material.
Multiple first-person viewpoint novels need a master storyteller, like Barbara Kingsolver with her novel, The Poisonwood Bible.
To a first-time novelist I would say: write in third person past tense and severely limit the number of your viewpoints. But if you must write first person, then don’t attempt to do it all in present tense. Sophie Kinsella makes it looks so easy, but it’s actually terribly hard to pull off successfully, so save it for a later novel.
6) Do you have a favourite setting?
Many! I love Wales, and three of my novels are set there. The Generous Gardener (paperbacked as Sowing Secrets) was set in the Conwy valley and inspired by the lovely Bodnant gardens. And Every Woman for Herself was inspired by the rugged Brontean moorlands of West Yorkshire, where I lived happily for several years. But I am deeply rooted in the traditions of rural West Lancashire and very comfortable writing about that area. So many people think of it as an industrial county, all smoke-blackened factories and back-to-back terraced houses, like in Coronation Street (a popular and long-running British soap series), but even in the industrial towns the lovely countryside has always been just on the doorstep and enjoyed by everyone.
7) Do you have any particularly tough parts of the book to write? Are some parts always easy?
Well, it’s always tough to get going because I’m stepping out into the darkness with each chapter, hoping the magic carpet will unroll under my feet and carry me onwards. And it always does…though that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid one day it won’t!
8) Do you do much research? Hands on? Books? I’m particularly thinking of the chocolate making in Chocolate Wishes. Or the rose-growing in Sowing Secrets.
The topics in my books are all things I’m interested in, I just go into much greater depth researching them for the books. Some of it stays stored away in my head (I often surprise myself by what I know!) and some gets pushed out to make room for a new subject. I put on a lot of weight while researching chocolate making for Chocolate Wishes – but then, I’m always prepared to suffer for my art! I got fascinated by the various types of cocoa bean and also learned a lot about cooking savoury dishes using chocolate, which is something I’d never even realised was possible before starting out.
It’s all too easy to get carried away with research, because it is such fun. For instance, a very minor strand in Chocolate Wishes is that the heroine loves scented geraniums. So I found a geranium nursery and ordered some…and now I have millions of pots of variously scented geraniums everywhere!
9) Is there a method to your writing? Do you work things out ahead of time, or do you follow your characters and see where they go?
I am very much character-driven. With each novel I start by asking a major, life-changing question about what will happen to the main protagonist – the premise – which I will answer by the end of the book, and that’s both exciting and inspiring. I don’t know the answer when I first start to write it, but it will become clear to me as I go on.
So the story grows organically, though there is always a point when I must stop and carefully work out the timeline, before carrying on.
10) Some writers make collages or have ‘sound tracks’ playing in their heads or in their office. Do you?
An important ingredient for me is the Wall. It’s always the one right behind my pasting table (but that’s another story). Anyway, in the middle of the Wall I stick all the material I’m collecting for the current novel: cuttings, photos, dried plants, timelines, spider-charts, millions of Post-it notes covered in ideas and snatches of dialogue…tons of stuff, by the time I actually sit down to start writing it. To the left side of the Wall is a space where I start to stick things relevant to the novel I will write after the current one; to the right are ideas for future novels. As I finish one novel, any material left in the middle of the Wall is removed and replaced by that from the left hand side. Then one of the ideas from the right hand side is transferred to the left…Are you still with me? There is method in my madness…or possibly, madness in my method.
11) I know you have a Muse. Tell us about him. Any other sources of inspiration?
Muse, whose first name is Lucifer, slipped into my head and took up residence while I was reading Paradise Lost at school and has refused to leave ever since. He is male (unlike most Muses), steely-blue, wears a lot of leather, is winged, has talons (so that’s where my blue nail varnish went, then) and is devilishly handsome, if you like that kind of thing – but also neurotic, vain, bad-tempered and chancy. He only eats words, but gets through a lot of Leather Food too, so I’m starting to suspect that he does more with it than just rub it into his wings... Most mornings I have to arm-wrestle him into submission before he will deign to give me any help, but I always win.
I often say I am inspired by food, flowers and friends, because they are so often strong themes in my novels, but very often you can add ‘family’ too - perhaps dysfunctional, or not in the traditional mould, but loving relationships, nonetheless.
12) What’s next on Trisha Ashley’s list of books to write?
I’m just beginning the book due out next spring, but I’m still hugging the ideas close to my chest at the moment….and I’m really enjoying the research!
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Thanks, Trisha, for answering my questions -- and whetting my appetite for a revisit to Sweet Nothings as The Magic of Christmas when it gets a revamp and expansion this coming holiday season!
In the meantime, a lucky blog reader will win a copy of Chocolate Wishes (just in time for Easter!). Just leave a comment and you will be in our drawing for Trisha's scrumptious book. The winner will be announced on the weekend in the comments. If you are the winner, please email me and I'll see that your book is sent your way.
Anne is celebrating! Just this week Romantic Times gave her its Reviewers' Choice award for her Harlequin Presents, The Virgin's Proposition as Best Presents of 2010!