Mary Wood’s background reads like a novel.
Born in Kent to a large family, Mary says they were poor in money but rich in love.
“My parents were a miss-match that worked,” Mary tells Just Heard, Just Read, Just Seen.
“My mother came from an upper-middle class family and had the benefit of a good education and dad an east end barrow boy, who could have achieved things had the system been in place for the lower classes at the time. Instead he went to war at the age of fourteen, saying he was older.
“The powers that be must have known, but they were willing to take him and others like him into the bloodiest conflict the world has ever been involved in and sacrifice their youth, their sanity and even their lives.
“I now live in the North West in a lovely seaside town.”
Just Heard, Just Read, Just Seen (JH,JR,JS): Are you a full time working writer or do you have a ‘day’ job?
Mary Wood (MW): Yes, a full time writer now and retired from the nine to five life. I used to write whenever I could, even then, but had a stressful job so found it difficult at times.
JH,JR,JS: Are you married? Do you have children? Pets?
MW: Married for 49 years. How about that? First time lucky and going for gold. Four wonderful children who have given us grandchildren and great grandchildren, life is full of love. I am a very lucky lady.
JH,JR,JS: You are a published writer– can you tell us a little about your most recent work, without giving away too many spoilers? What is the target audience?
MW: My first published book, An Unbreakable Bond, is also the first of a trilogy I have named, ‘The Breckton Trilogy’ after the fictional, Yorkshire mining town forming the backdrop of all three novels. They are described as being Catherine Cookson colliding with Downton Abbey as we see life from both sides of the class system of the era, and how the actions and decisions of the rich impact on the poor.
My books deal with life in its raw state in particular the diminished role of, and respect of women. There is domestic violence, rape of servant girls, incest, prostitution and, a child sex ring. There is the struggle of the poor, and how their sense of community shines through, and the frivolous life of the rich, their power struggles, and how they rode roughshod over all to get what they considered their right. But they were not without their heartache as we meet a young woman taken in marriage for no other reason than her wealth and see her enduring humiliation.
In the first book, An Unbreakable Bond, it is the period of 1913-1932. Two young women, Megan and Hattie, brought up in an orphanage, and having formed a strong bond, are at first, ‘the victims’ of most of the degradation, but they gain strength from each other. They fight back and win through, finding a rare and true love does exist for each. From the other angle we are involved in the lives of the rich of the town, the owner of the mine, a rich and powerful young woman, the widowed, Laura Harvey. She crosses the divide as she falls in love with her groom and her actions to get her desire trigger an event which has far reaching consequences.
The second part, To Catch a Dream, is a prequel and covers the period 1877-1900. In this we meet the ancestors of the above characters. We gain an insight into their background and the circumstances of Megan and Hattie’s birth. We follow Megan’s Grandmother, Bridie as she goes from a blissful country life in Ireland as a child, to one of fear when her mother dies just as Bridie reaches the age of sixteen. Soon after her father takes her away from all she knows as he flees the men of the Irish cause, The Fenians. Bridie is betrayed by her father, who rapes her, and by the young gypsy lad she falls in love with, and ends up a prostitute. Her life collides with Laura Harvey’s Father in law, Andrew Harvey. From his perspective we see how, he gained riches and power by marriage to a young woman every man would reject, solely for her inheritance. How he humiliates her, and yet, came to love her. His affair with Bridie coincides with the return of the gypsy lad to claim her, his actions lead to her downfall and impacts on generations of women to come.
These two books can be enjoyed as separate novels and read in any order, but my intention is for them is to form part one and two of the trilogy in the order I have described them as a it is better to read, An Unbreakable Bond, first, without some of the knowledge gained through reading To Catch a Dream.
The third book, Tomorrow Brings Sorrow, takes the story forward from 1939 to 1950 and is a crossover of the generations as we stay with Megan and Hattie, but become involved in the lives of their children, and with the third generation of Harvey’s as they all cope with the past against the terrible happenings of the present in a world ravished by war. It is scheduled for publication in July 2012.
My books are published in paperback as well as on Kindle, but these events don’t happen simultaneously. The paperback came first with An Unbreakable Bond, then Kindle, but To Catch a Dream is already on Kindle and the paperback is due out in May 2012. Both books are charting in the top twenty in their relevant genres – Family Sagas, Historical Fiction and Romance Sagas, Romance Historical. I had a target audience in mind of female from thirty up, but find all age groups and many males are enjoying my work, which is very pleasing.
JH,JR,JS: What inspired you to write?
MW: I was born with the urge. My teachers used to try to curtail my enthusiasm a little as they were tired of receiving a whole novel when they set me a title for a composition. They acknowledged my talent, but resources and their time couldn’t keep up with me. I also come from writing stock. My great grandmother (maternal) was a published writer in the nineteenth century, so… I just have to write…
JH,JR,JS: Is this the genre and style you usually write in? If it isn’t, what moved you to make a change?
MW: Yes, I am fascinated by how life was and how women coped. A lot of what I write about does happen today, I know from experience, having worked as a probation service officer for ten years. There is nothing I haven’t come across or had to deal with directly about life in all its raw forms, but women and children have rights now. They don’t have to put up with abuse. In the era I write about, rich women were married off for the sake of the family fortune, and poor women lived with the belief as still happened when I was a young girl, that there is no such thing as rape. Children didn’t have a voice or a listening ear, and domestic violence was looked on as a harmless, drunken, clip round the ear on a Friday night, or keeping the missus in check.
JH,JR,JS: How did you come up with the title?
MW: The titles were easy, the stories made them. The bond between the two girls and the endurance of it helping them through adversity naturally led to, An Unbreakable Bond. In this book there is a thread running through about the importance of a locket with the inscription, To Catch a Dream. This had a link to the past and to the future, so became the title of the prequel. Tomorrow Brings Sorrow, is apt to the times – a devastating world war, continued problems for the next generation and the going forward of two children, taking forth the hopes of the next generation.
JH,JR,JS: Which character do you like the most? Why?
MW: This one is difficult as I am the kind of person who sees good in all. So, I find it difficult to hate. I found something redeeming in the most evil of my characters, just a small nugget my readers can hook onto. I think this is important rather than a blanket evil which cannot be penetrated. But of course I do have my favourites. Megan and Hattie, coming from nothing, coping with all I have mentioned and finding strength to help each other, their lives provide the substance of two of the books. And, the lovely, Cissy seeing life through a light-hearted gaze and yet capable of deep love and understanding, and her mam, Issy, a salt of the earth woman, who spans all three books, with a wicked sense of humour and always ready to soothe, or stand up for, or against.
And Jack, gentle, Jack the kind of man women fall for, leading him into making bad decisions and yet, coming through as the rock for so many. Sister Bernadette, whose thinking is well intentioned, but leads her to take actions that devastate generations. Dvina, the overweight, not blessed in the looks department, rich girl married for her money, whose lovely nature leads to her husband falling in love with her, but remaining ashamed to take her out into society. I admire her courage in dealing with his many discrepancies with whores, her strength that in the end, binds his heart to her. So many characters in three book and I am involved deeply with them all.
JH,JR,JS: Is this a ‘sit back and read for pleasure’ book or is there a message in your book you want readers to grasp – or is it a bit of both?
MW: It is both, though not a message as such more an awareness of what women before us endured. How their lives were. These women were our ancestors, our grandmothers and great aunts, even the female children who died at a young age were our great aunties. I’d like young women to think about this and the strong women who changed things for them, like Emily Pankhurst, fighting for women’s right to vote and Germaine Greer fighting for many rights we enjoy today . But mostly to get involved, to feel the emotions, live the situations and come to love the good characters and understand the bad ones.
JH,JR,JS: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who or what inspired you?
MW: As mentioned, it just seemed to be in my blood, but I didn’t actually sit down and put pen to paper until the late eighties (literally – as no computers for all then, and I didn’t even have a typewriter at first). The support, both financial and otherwise of my brothers and sisters – like I said I came from a very large family, the thirteenth child of fifteen – had made it possible for me to give up work to take care of our mother in the last year of her life. Though rewarding, this wasn’t an easy task. I remember it was a long hot summer when I began this journey and in the afternoons when mum slept I sat out in the garden with a pad and pen. It was escapism for me.
I wanted to write down my emotions in the form of poems, but ended up penning a novel of 120, 000 words before the end of the journey. I still have that manuscript. It was rejected many times, but with helpful comments, which I learnt from. I never stopped writing, and most of what I did became part of this trilogy. I didn’t have any success as publishers used to say my genre was ‘dead in the water’ but now it is experiencing a revival and I am at last reaping the rewards of having readers choose my books in such numbers as to secure me a place up there with the great and the good. So you could say my inspiration to finally, ‘get down to it’ was the emotional change in my life at the time.
JH,JR,JS: What books have most influenced your life?
MW: As a child I read all the classics. I lost myself in the same world I do now, Dickens’ world of poverty and injustices, Austin’s world of the privileged. I progressed to popular fiction to Georgette Heyer, became engrossed in her regency world, and then my ultimate hero, Catherine Cookson taking me into the gritty world of – how it really was – once more, but not from the gentile view of a Victorian writer as Dickens had, but from the harrowing view of a Tyneside lass who had lived through it. Along the way I have enjoyed digressions into crime novels, at one time hooked on Agatha Christies- who done its – and I like, and based my style on Penny Vincenzi. Following the format of switching between chapters devoted to characters peopling the parallel lives I depict.
JH,JR,JS: What book are you reading now?
MW: I have taken three of Jeffrey Archers out of the library – a diverse selection – I read him about ten years ago and enjoyed his books. I have been influenced to pick him up again as I find myself just behind him in the charts. This thrilled me – me – an unknown, charting with such a renowned author. Yes, he has his critics, but he is very successful. I tweeted him, telling him I was honoured to be just behind him with my first book. My claim to fame is that he tweeted back, saying: ‘thank you and well done’ made my day.
JH,JR,JS: Are there any new authors that currently interest you?
MW: I don’t know how ‘new’ Janet McCloed Trotter is, but she has piqued my interest, again from seeing her books around mine in the charts and because she writes about Tyneside and the strong characters Catherine Cookson did, but I am yet to read her. And, Harriet Steel, who has written, Becoming Lola, a novel based on the true story of a notorious Victorian lady, but I haven’t read either, nor others who have piqued my interest because they are all Indie authors and I do not have a kindle (yet). This is the reason I bring my books out in both formats, I want to reach all of my potential audience.
JH,JR,JS: What type of music do you listen to when you write?
MW: I don’t. I like me and my characters to live through our experiences in our own world. I need peace and quiet, with a view of the garden, so that I can rest my eyes on the grass, the trees and whatever the sky I throwing at us as I listen to them talking to, and through me.
JH,JR,JS: Do you have any little ‘things’ you do or traditions you follow when you write?
MW: None that I am conscious of, though I do love to have my laptop early in the morning, with me propped up against a mountain of pillows and life just awakening around me. I seem at my most creative then. Hubby is used to this and just turns away, snorts a bit, then goes back to sleep…
JH,JR,JS: Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated space, a particular office or piece of machinery?
MW: Laptops have changed everything. They have become the new writing pad and pen. I have a notebook and I can take it everywhere in my shoulder bag, It is as light as a feather. So I could say, anywhere and everywhere. Other than that, I have a desk in my bedroom in the bay window and this is another of my favourite places. I plonk my notebook on there and sit for hours, working. I have reference books around me and a board on the wall nearest where I can pin family trees and information about my characters and their lives.
No filing cabinet, but drawers full of useful things like post-its, discs, fullscap writing pads and printer ink. My printer sits on my desk on one side and a box I had a present in at some time or other and now filled with oddments like elastic bands, paperclips and drawing pins etc, and an old cocoa container full of pens, pencils and marker pens, sits on the other.
JH,JR,JS: Mac or PC?
JH,JR,JS: Do you ever write longhand?
MW: Yes, it is my cure for writers block. Weather permitting I will revert to my first experience of writing a novel and sit in the garden, or if not, somewhere I can see it, and cure my – where do I go from here – blankness. I also print off to edit my work.
If I edit on screen I miss so much. On paper, my manuscript becomes a book and I can curl up and read. Mistakes blare out at me, as does ‘flat’ writing or an overdone point or repetition, anything really.
JH,JR,JS: How long does it take to finish a project?
MW: I took years and years to complete An Unbreakable Bond and wrote what seemed hundreds of versions, but that was my learning curve and working life interfered with time allowances. To Catch a Dream took me six months and I have set four for Tomorrow Brings Sorrow. I have broken it down to achieve at least four chapters a week. There are a planned Thirty Six chapters – so nine weeks, leaving seven to re-write, edit, polish and format.
JH,JR,JS: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
MW: Not about the story or the characters, but I would edit again as I learn and progress, maybe tighten it, more. But readers seem to love it, so…
JH,JR,JS: What do you love most about writing? And what do you dislike about it?
MW: I love the escapism, the creating of people who become real to me, the research, the emotional journey, but nothing compares to holding my published book in my hand, and absolutely nothing to seeing it displayed in the window of Waterstones on the day I did a book signing there. And now, with all the social sites, the interaction with other authors and more especially, my readers – hearing them talk about my characters as if they are real… It’s all wonderful. Don’t like… um..um…
JH,JR,JS: What are the three pieces of advice you would give a new writer?
- Respect the craft of writing – okay you have talent, but talent isn’t enough, learn your craft. Think of a DIY man. He has talent, he can make a table. The table will be serviceable, fit for purpose, but a time served wood-worker would make a better table, his will have nicely rounded edges and a smooth finish. It will be sturdy with neat joints. But then, think of the master carpenter, the craftsman, he will make a table of beauty. It will have a polish on it so deep it will look like a mirror, the edges will be ornate, the legs curved and carved to perfection, it will be admired by all and take the best place in the house. You do the same, become a craftsman, take your story-telling ability and turn it into an art, finely polished and a thing of beauty.
- Don’t cut corners. Plan your novel. Use your basic idea and write a step sheet, a work that will outline the whole of your story, let you see where you need to research, where the peaks and troths are. This is when you can let your imagination – story telling – have its rein. When finished, you have your working copy and will have taken loads of notes of the things you need to pinpoint, research, remember. Then, interview all of your characters. Ask them everything, in my case, I even asked about their lavatory, which set me off on a trail of research of how the rich and the poor coped, in very different ways, with this basic need in their daily life. Some of what you follow up, you won’t use, but it is important you know it. It will keep you on track. I have read a book recently by an author I previously mentioned, very famous, and found she put the wrong guy with the wrong girl in a whole scene, it confused me for ages and I nearly gave up, until I realised she’d mixed the names up. And, she had someone inherit from her husband, when the girl had never actually married the man. Careful planning will help to guard against this. And, in the end you will benefit. You will find the actual construction of your final work much easier. And, the last bit of the plan? When finished, leave your MS alone for at least two week before you begin to edit. You will then see it as it is. Bits you thought were there; will not be. Bits you thought worked; won’t. Scenes, even favourite ones will glare out as padding and need cutting. Editing will be painful, but much better accomplished after this rest.
- Enjoy. If it becomes a chore, it will show. If you don’t like, or have time for research, seek out someone who does. I love it but for my first book I had very little time for it, so I passed the task to my eldest daughter who at the time was a stay at home mum with small children. She relished it and spent hours in libraries with the kids in kid’s corner and her foraging away finding answers to my questions for me. If the writing is bogging you down, stop. Go for a walk, clear your head and come back refreshed. You will get there. It will all come together. And if you have taken time to followed the three steps I outline, you will reap the rewards. Go publish.