Friday, May 17, 2013

Exclusive Author Interview with Penelope Wilcock

I was so thrilled when Penelope Wilcock agreed to help me conduct an interview on this blog! Recently my sister-in-law-once-removed-ish friend, Rebekah, ordered the first three books in the Hawk & Dove series for her personal library but sent them to my house so I could read them. When I was finished and told her how much I had enjoyed them, Rebekah ordered the next three, which are now sitting upon my shelf waiting for time to be read. You can find the details about the first three books here if you aren't so fortunate as to know anything about them. I hadn't even heard of the series before Rebekah posted a gripping quote around Easter time on Facebook and I demanded to know if I could borrow the book. At any rate, the Hawk & Dove series centers around the lives and relationships of a monastery in the medieval period of England. The authenticity of Penelope's voice was part of what made the books so lovely...and when I asked her about it, her answer was just as delightful! Read the following interview and you'll see what I mean. :) (my questions are in bold, Pen's answers are not, and any side-comments I make are italicized)

How are you doing on this lovely May day?

Enjoying the sunshine here on England’s south coast. Our garden is a haven of birdsong and roses, herbs and wild flowers.

You live in England and have a garden? Lovely! It's a dream of mine. 

Have you always been a writer, or is this a relatively recent foray?

I have written stories since childhood, but my first published book (1990) was The Hawk & the Dove, the short novel that began the series of that title.

How did you get the idea for your Hawk and Dove series, and do you remember where you were when it came to you?

Yes, indeed I remember. I have five children, who were all born within six years. When they were little, their father worked hard to take care of us all so I could be the home-maker for our family. A musician, he taught school by day and often worked in the evening teaching adult education classes, and playing or conducting in orchestras or dance bands. So I spent much time alone at home with little children – and though their company delighted me, still in a way I felt lonely. In a rather solitary childhood, I had always invented imaginary friends, and it occurred to me that I could do so again. Once I invented my band of characters and began to tell myself stories about them, I wondered if they might be worth sharing – if others would enjoy the stories too. The first three novels were written while my children slept or played, and the subsequent Hawk & Dove novels came much later, when I decided to revisit the series for fun after seeing it run for twenty years without ever going out of print.

What a neat story! I love it when books grow out of a interesting case and not because someone is originally a writer by profession.

Through the series I personally grew very attached to Brother Tom, and Peregrine. Were those men based off of real people you have met?

I feel as though I have met them, but the reality is they came into being by themselves with no help at all from real life.

Do you work better in silence and solitude, or do you prefer company of some sort, be it music, a pet, etc?

I work, and live, mostly in silence and solitude.

What do you drink while writing-- coffee? tea? lemonade? nothing?

Nettle tea. And sometimes Earl Grey.

What inspires you?

As a person, I am inspired by the ocean, woodlands and hills, beautiful architecture, music, and by light of every kind – starlight, sunrise, wood fires, candles, moonlight, sunset, and the light that shines from all living beings. In my life I have been significantly inspired and influenced by St Francis of Assisi. As a writer, I am inspired by human interactions that I observe randomly wherever I go.

Initially, was it hard to sell the idea of a book about a quiet, undramatic community of monks to agents and/or publishers?

Not at all. Our lodger at the time worked for a publishing house, and took my manuscript to the office. He left it on the desk of a commissioning editor who read it and loved it. There followed twenty years of happy professional relationship working with the same editor. Then I married him. After that it got harder because he can no longer commission books from me straightforwardly, as I am now his wife. They have to pass various tests-by-committee.

Haha, that's so funny. And what a blessing that you actually had a publishing-house employee living with you...definitely handy. And now an editor as a husband? Very nice. ;) 

The stories in the books are presumably actual accounts passed down from mother to daughter through hundreds of years till the "present day" when they reach Melissa. Is Melissa at all based off of you?

Ah, no. Remember I said I have five children? I thought they would enjoy to see their lives in print, so the modern-day frame tale is a kind of digest of our home life at the time, with some real family anecdotes. My second daughter’s second name is Melissa.

Makes me wonder about Cecily. I have a five sisters of my own and I had to laugh every time I read a bit about sounded so much like Anna!

I love the presence of Light all through your books, and the way you unashamedly present the Gospel, yet I never felt that your style is preachy or stifling. Do you think it is because the books occur in a church-setting and the subject is perfectly natural, or did you take pains to make certain you were not doddering along?

I like to think it is because Jesus is real, and my experience of Him is real, and if I write about that honestly my readers will catch a glimpse of the wonder of His presence in my life.

Well said! This is how I hope to come across in my own writing.

You portray medieval monastic life quite vividly and accurately--what were your research methods, and how long did it take you to grasp the era? 

At different times in my life I have lived and worked with both monks and nuns, and monastic spirituality has substantially influenced my own practice of Christian faith. And then I was greatly blessed to study at the University of York (I read English), where I walked every day through the ancient streets and worshipped at beautiful York Minster. During that time I got to know some of the Benedictine monks at Ampleforth, and I lived in an interdenominational lay community. My studies included the literature of the Middle Ages – Chaucer and so on – and I learned about the structures and language of those times.

Absolutely fascinating! It must have been so neat to read English in such an historic place...I think your story is the most authentic of all "research" methods I've yet to come across. This made me smile.

Who is your favorite character in the series?

I change my mind about this. Hard to say. I have a soft spot for Brother Cormac. I think you haven’t yet read books 4, 5 & 6, have you? A character is developed in those books whom I have come to love dearly.

They are on my shelf! Cannot wait to "make friends" with this fellow!

I won't spoil the series for anyone who hasn't read them, but we know that a certain beloved character is dispensed with in the third book--was this a hard decision for you to make?

I have worked as a care assistant in various places where chronically and terminally ill people are nursed, and as a hospice chaplain. In the third Hawk & Dove novel, The Long Fall, I wanted to give a voice to those hidden lives. In many novels and dramas, it is the doctors and nurses who are the stars, the people they care for having merely supporting roles. I wanted to give back centre stage to people who had been pushed by illness to the margins of their own lives. The character you refer to offered to be the one who would make the slow, painful journey.

What is your number one tip for aspiring writers?

What most people call “writing” – tapping out words on a keyboard – is but the end of a long process, the tip of the iceberg. Writing is holistic; it includes listening, thinking, dreaming, exploring, imagining. So, when people ask you: “Are you writing at the moment?” always say, “Yes.” Refuse to feel guilty in the long empty dream-time of gestating a book, when you feel restless and uneasy and have nothing down on the page as yet.

Again, well-said. Thanks for acknowledging those "awkward" stages of "in between books"!

And would you like to give us an entirely random piece of advice, writing-related or otherwise?

You can have two. Never walk backwards in a grocery store. Eat ripe peaches in the bath.

Hahaha! Thank you so much, Penelope, for your time, your words, and those two priceless pieces of advice at the end. They made me laugh aloud. :D Everyone else, if you'd please thank Ms. Wilcock for dropping by and visit her at Kindred of the Quiet Way, I am certain she'd be pleased to say hello! And don't forget to check out the Hawk & Dove books...they are going down on my personal favorites list. :)


Thursday, May 16, 2013

And the fanfare of trumpets: TUM TA TA!

After over-much hemming and hawing and not-really-knowing what I'm doing and how to do it, I have settled onto two writing projects. One is Top Secret, and the other is entitled, The Baby (Thrice Removed). On this blog I may refer to it alternately as "The Baby" and as "Thrice Removed". Either one is correct. This story is best defined as "whimsy". It's not quite fantasy, besides occurring in another world, because so far I haven't come across anything that couldn't occur here. If it is fantasy, it's of the Alice in Wonderland  variety. But the thing remains, the book starts in London when The Baby goes missing, and involves a tumble down a puddle, and a surge out of a pool of water, and suddenly you're in Crissendumm trying to convince the Royal Family that The Royal Baby is actually your Baby and you'd very much like to take it home now. It's rather a mess, and I love Jamsie and Richmond and The Baby already, and here is a gobble of Chapter Three for you to forage through and judge.

From The Baby (Thrice Removed) by Rachel Heffington, Chapter Three

Richmond had finished retching up the horrid puddle-water, and pulled his wits together enough to sit up and realize—with a profound sense of relief—that Jamsie was beside him. “You still alive?” he whispered through the dark.
Barely,” Jamsie said. Her voice had in it the offended dignity of a cat that has fallen off a garden wall.
What was that?”
A puddle, stupid.”
It wasn’t a puddle.”
Was too.”
Jamsie! A puddle is a shallow bit of water.”
Says who?”
Richmond hugged himself, feeling the cold now that he was mostly alive. “Do you realize what bosh it is to sit here arguing about what that thing was?”
Do you realize you began it?”
Richmond sat in the dark and shivered alone. It would have been much more comfortable to scoot over a bit and shiver with Jamsie, but knowing women, she’d take it to mean he was apologizing—which he most distinctly was not. A dark wind whished along the banks of the whatever-it-was they’d come through, and it seemed to Richmond that it was what most books liked to call an “ominous” breeze. He wished he someone had thought to put a streetlamp somewhere about. Had they fallen straight out of London-town proper into the country surrounding? They certainly had to have come a long way for that to happen—the nearest farm was a thirty minute drive in a cab. What a shoddy business—one moment a fellow is walking along in the park looking for The Baby, the next he’s down a puddle-hole, the next he’s throwing up the water (and lunch besides) and for toppers, the night’s as black as…shoe polish. “Jamsie?” A trickle of terror—or could it be water?—crawled down Richmond’s back. “It’s dark.”
I know that.”
It wasn’t dark a minute ago when we fell.”
Richmond listened to Jamsie catch her breath, hold it, and let it out. “We were falling for a long time. It could have got dark,” she finally said.
Richmond shook his head. “Not that long—we’d have drowned. We tested last summer at the Pools, if you recall, and neither of us could hold our breath longer than forty-five seconds. Jamsie—where are we?” He needed to know. His head was upside down and backward without geography in its proper place. He even felt an odd, urgent desire to panic. Nonsense. A Balder—especially a male one—never panicked. It was against the Code.
Richmond was still making up his mind whether to panic or not when a form stepped away from the blackness of the night around them and became a blackness of its own. Richmond stood at the same time Jamsie did, and they stumbled into each other. Jamsie’s hand clamped around his own, and Richmond felt a centimeter taller and a smidgen braver. The black form was still and midnight-silent.
It neither moved nor spoke, and yet Richmond was certain it wasn’t a…what was that word? Ah yes—a figment of the imagination. A figment of the imagination wouldn’t make Richmond’s stomach wrench like it was doing presently.
The wind muttered again, and tattered pieces of black flung out on either side of the Thing’s body. A cloak, Richmond thought. He must be an assassin. He was more curious than frightened at that thought. An assassin was at least human—not a banshee. He’d rather die at knife-point than be…digested by a creature.
Jamsie’s hand tightened over his and Richmond cleared his throat.
He took a step forward. “Excuse me.” Richmond didn’t want the Thing to think him impolite, but he wasn’t certain if it was a “sir” or a “madam” so he thought it better to leave that part off. “Excuse me, who are you and are you up to any mischief?”
“Mischief?” The form’s voice was black as crows. “What is mischief but a dashed good joke tried on the bally wrong person?”
Richmond eased his weight from one foot to the other and licked his lips. Jamsie’s face was twisted into a sailor’s knot of confusion. This wasn’t how Assassins acted--really, now. “Excuse me, but who are you, and would you mind stepping into the light so we can get a good look at you?”
The Thing moved a step closer and Richmond and Jamsie stumbled back. “There is no light, which is how I like it.”
Jamsie elbowed Richmond and he realized what a blunder he’d just made. The Thing--whatever it was--now knew that they couldn’t see well in the dark and it apparently could. That put them on all sorts of wrong footings. “But what are you?”
“I am Admiral of The Fleet,” it said.
“You mean like ships?” Jamsie had popped up on the other side of Richmond now, and he could see her face, still quizzical.
“No,” The Thing said. “Like birds.”
“Oh, I see,” Richmond said--only he didn’t, quite. “Er, listen.”
The Thing stepped forward with a rustling like taffeta, and before he could help himself, Richmond put his hand out and grabbed hold of a cold, slick arm; he shivered. The Thing glanced down at Richmond’s hand which was just a pale, white-looking blob outside of his jumper-sleeve, and then back at Richmond’s face.
“Don’t touch me,” it seethed, and seemed to grow larger.
“Sorry.” Richmond patted the arm. It felt like--why, it felt like feathers! “What sort of an Admiral did you say you were again?”
“Admiral of the Fleet.”
“But you can’t have a fleet unless you’re speaking of ships.”
The Thing raised one side of its cloak. “Can’t you?”
“I can’t,” Richmond said in a voice that hung just barely above a whisper.
The Thing raised the other side of its cloak, and Jamsie’s fingers tightened around Richmond’s shoulder.
“Then again, maybe you  can have a fleet made up of something else. If you want it,” Richmond hastened to add, stepping backward at the same time.
He tripped. Over what--a root, or Jamsie’s foot--there was little certainty. But what was certain was that in an instant Richmond was on his backside, having landed hard on something tubular and metal. “Ow!” Then he ripped the thing out from under him with a frisson of excitement wriggling up his backbone. “Jamsie--my torch! I’d forgot!”
One flick of the thumb later, and The Thing’s precious darkness was spoiled. In fact, the gleeful beam of Richmond’s battery-powered torch showed that mysterious, inky form to be the most curious conglomeration of things he’d ever seen: There were a dozen crows--wings outstretched--clinging to the shoulders of a frail, peeved-looking old man as if trying to cover him. There was a long top-hat of the Abraham Lincoln variety, and a blanket of the Wild-Indian Variety which looked a deal smudged with soot as if the old man had been busy attempting to dye it black.
“You’re a...a...”
“A what?” The man’s croak was so sudden, his crows flapped off and away, leaving him even frailer-looking than before.
“Well, you’re a person!” Jamsie finished off.
Richmond went up and touched the man’s arm again. It was still cold and slick, but Richmond now saw it was because his shirt was made of crow’s feathers like some people were accustomed to wearing chainmail. He shone his torch in the man’s eyes to see if he would squint--he did.
“Ey, whaddyer doin’ that for?” the man complained, stumbling back a step. “If you want to talk, come where it’s dark.”
“We like the light,” Richmond retorted. “We’ll stay here, thank you.”
“Have it your way, you bally kid.” The man eased himself to the ground and stretched two spindly legs before him. He wore bright green garters and striped stockings which lessened his generally dismal appearance.
Richmond tossed Jamsie his torch and settled on the banks of the pool in a pile of last year’s dandelions. A pinch of fluff went sailing away into the darkness on  a sudden wind. “Can we start by saying our names?”
“Have it your way,” he repeated, only this time the man sniffed at the end with a great deal of Suffering.
“I’m Richmond Balder and this--this is Jamsie.”
The man held up his palm against the brilliant stream of light Jamsie directed at his face. “I like jam. With toast especially. I don’t get much toast these days.”
Richmond chuckled. “Her name isn’t Jam. It’s Jamsie, which is just what we call her. Her real name is--”
“Richmond, you wouldn’t dare.”
“Oh come on, Jamsie. It’s not awful.”
“It is.”
She sniffed and adjusted the torch so it shone in his eyes.
He threw his arms across his face. “Ow--get off it, would you?” She was being such a girl.
“Only if you stop trying to tell people my real name.”
“Fair enough, your Highness.”
The Admiral of the Fleet shifted and cocked one eye at the pair of them. Richmond felt as if he’d said something he shouldn’t have, and it bothered him to not know what he’d said that was so interesting.
“Is she--” the man stuttered, “I mean, are you...”
“Are you part of Them?”
“Of whom?” Jamsie asked in a very confused voice.
“Of the Highnesses?” He hissed the last part and looked around in visible apprehension. “Please don’t tell me you’re truly a Highness.”
“What the blazes do you mean?”
“I think he’s cracked, Richmond.”
“Do you, now?” Richmond rolled his eyes and yanked the torch from Jamsie’s hand, flicking it off. Darkness enveloped them again, and he could almost feel the Admiral relax till he was just a form in the darkness again.
“Ay, that’s better by heaps,” the Admiral croaked.
Richmond assembled all his thoughts in martial order before speaking next: “Am I right in thinking we aren’t in England?”
The Admiral twitched his shoulders in clear dismissal of the idea. “You, my young friend, are most certainly not in England. England is out t’other end of the Puddle.”
Richmond rose and stretched, keeping his back to the puddle so he wouldn’t have to see the cold, reptilian glint of the moon-sliver on its surface. “Then would you mind very much telling me where we are?”

I hope you enjoyed this bit of Thrice Removed, and please stay tuned for an exclusive Inkpen Authoress interview with British author Penelope Wilcock! It is a really neat one, so please come back and check in tomorrow to hear about how Ms. Wilcock's real life experiences have prepared her to write about a medieval monastery! :)  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Inkpen Poetry Day: Altar-Gleam

Wow. Haven't seen that title for a while, have you? Well. This poem is just the result of some intense work God has been doing in my personal life, and it was written in a moment of agony and hardly edited so I'm not saying it's wonderful, but it is heart-felt and true, and was my offering to God in that moment of will contending with Divine Will...


Oh, Lord, it rends my soul to give
this wish--desire--full away,
Not clinging to a piece of hope;
A piece that says, 'Perhaps someday...'

For now the thing--so frightening clear--
Is to release it dark and full
and keep no sliver-thought of me,
though giving leaves a gaping hole.

Desire--oh, how sharp the spears
of joy that haunt this favorite dream.
But am I Your's enough to push
this treasure toward Your altar's gleam?

The thund'ring toss of straining mind.
The clashing knowledge: this is right.
The heart's own cry: 'Oh, please, not yet!'
The beckon of Your fire bright.

No looking back, no holding on,
I watch my treasure dance in flame.
And then I feel inside my soul
the power of Your tender Name.

I've given what was dearest mine
but just before the wound bleeds free
You staunch the flow and catch my heart
and with Your Lover's arms hold me.

What looks as ash is only just
the dust from which Your plans arise
And though I feel the burning here
I see the mercy in Your eyes.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hamish has a Blockage

I take the stand that honesty is the best policy, and if I am going to be perfectly honest with you, that would result in the admission  of something I've never admitted. To be quite frank, I have what is commonly called Writer's Block. My case probably springs from being out of practice because since finishing the rewrite of Fly Away Home, I haven't put my mind to any particular project, having too much to do before my trip. But I can't really deny the fact any longer:

"Hamish has a blockage."

Joy and jubilation. Throwing of rose petals and all that. I discussed my problem with my all-wise sister-in-law-ish friend, Abigail, and here is our conversation in toto: 

  • Abigail Taylor

    This does not surprise me, since you refused to tell me your project yesterday. It's your guilty conscience haunting you.
  • Rachel Heffington

    no, its the fact that I haven't written since January, seriously at least.
    and all my projects seem stupid.
    and I don't know how to make interesting and original plots.
    and I say hang all agents
    and I am penniless and broken down and dull and listless
    I need Vitametavegimen
  • Abigail Taylor

    Hmm. let me take case history. How long have you been having this crisis?
  • Rachel Heffington

    since getting ready to go to Romania
  • Abigail Taylor

    I diagnose that prior to Romania, your experiences had run dry, you were in need of inspiration. And now, post-Romania, your inspiration is still too raw and elusively poignant to translate into adequate words
    Trivial words will not do, weighty words will not come, and there you find your condition
  • Rachel Heffington

    oh. that is spot on. how'd ya know? marvelous, for real! 
  • Abigail Taylor

    And so I would prescribe a refill on living, and let the words bide their time. Perhaps even channel a bit more drawing and painting for now!
    Trace what won't be spoken

Her diagnosis was frighteningly accurate. I don't know how she does it, but she does. And so I am going to take her advice, and not try to push the thing. Oh, of course I'll keep writing--my brain explodes if I don't--but I'm not going to push for over-the-top productivity, or pushing out a story that isn't ready to come yet. I am going to wait and live life, and expand creatively in other directions. Sooner or later, I think the blockage will fix itself. But till then? Well, some prayers for inspiration and revived pizazz would not go amuck.

Actually, upon closer inspection, I really do think my writer's block this time comes from having too many elusive, poignant inspirations. A wedged gob of overload. Let's bide our time and see what comes out of this hash!

Now what do you do when faced with writer's block? Let's discuss ideas in the comments below!