Tuesday, 3 July 2012

An Interview with Leah Fleming Author of the Newly Released Novel ‘The Captain’s Daughter’.

Leah Fleming was born in Bolton, England to Scottish parents. After university she made a career first in teaching, later  emigrating to Yorkshire with husband and four children finding herself catering in market stalls and cafes, doing stress management and counselling in the National Health Service as well as trying to live the “good life”  in a Dales village. Working in this landscape brought out the storyteller within; ideas are usually marinated for a few months each year under some olive grove on Crete. She has published 15 novels. Shortlisted for Romantic Novel Association awards in 1998 as Helene Wiggin and 2010, Leah’s latest novel The Captain’s Daughter, is currently shortlisted for the Premio Roma Award in Italy for Foreign Fiction 2012 under the title: La Strada in Fundo al Mare.

A very warm welcome to you Leah, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.
Thank you for asking me, Calum. I’m delighted to be joining you here.

For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a bit about the part of the world that you are currently resident in and why do you like living there?
I live in the uplands of the North of England in the limestone hills that are called The Yorkshire Dales, full of dry stone walls, rivers and sheep. It is famous for cheese and rain so once a year, we fly off to the Greek Island of Crete for a few weeks where I can write under the olives and the sun.

Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child?

I read voraciously, mostly Enid Blyton stories about The Famous Five and Secret Seven: children having adventures in the country and at the sea.

Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?

I suppose most of my family stories are about journeys through difficult times at home and abroad. Groups of friends pulling apart and together interest me.  As does military history for some reason.

What made you decide to become a writer?

Storytelling is in the genes. I come from a line of McClean island storytellers on the Scottish island of Tiree. I was a scribbling child but other careers turned me from any idea of being a novelist until my four children left home and I thought I’d make time to learn the craft seriously. It was only then that I found my true calling in life.

Do you have a set routine when you are working on a novel?

To produce a novel every year means a professional approach. I write ideas, notes, text in the morning and read for research in the afternoon but some of my best writing is done in the middle of the night by torchlight.

Where do you do your writing best?
I write out my story by hand usually in winter in a rocking chair with a blanket in my study, but most of the first draft has already been marinated on Crete in the sunshine.

What else apart from your obvious interest in history helped you decide to actually write a historical fiction novel?

My editor at Simon and Schuster pointed out one or two key events and anniversaries that might interest me: i.e. Titanic’s 100 year anniversary this year. I jumped at this as I knew very little detail about this momentous tragedy other than the film! I chose to make the sinking the starting point for my story rather than the main focus and began to research the lives of survivors.

When you are writing a novel, how do you place yourself into the time period that you are actually writing about?
I have a picture board on my wall with all sorts of snaps, articles, anything around that period or topic. I read everything I can; diaries, biography, visit museums at home and the USA to fine tune detail and listen to anecdotes or watch old film footage. I try to immerse myself in the subject. Walk over the actual locations and imagine myself back in time...

How do you go about imagining, developing and give real lives and personalities to the characters that we will read about within in your book?

I think when I’ve done my homework thoroughly and sometimes before that, my characters appear complete with their name from behind a screen, as it were. They are part of me and I go on the journey with them. They live in my head and I talk to them. I do sometimes find inspiration from real lives, steal bits and pieces of peoples’ history, but never of people I know. The characters become friends or enemies and I live out their story as if watching e a film.

Did you encounter any difficulties in getting you book accepted and published?
When I first began to write for publication it was a hard learning curve, being rejected and told to try again. Most of my books have been commissioned by the publisher but I had to get a good agent to take me on and believe in me before I got published.  She edited my work until she felt it was worthy of being shown to editors.

What sort of research did you have to undertake for your novel ‘The Captain’s Daughter’?
Masses of reading was required, visit s to Museums in Springfield ,Mass. Liverpool National Maritime Museum, attending lectures on the actual sinking of the ship. I was lucky I once lived in Lichfield and knew the statue of Captain Smith which is at the heart of the story. I went to Italy and visited the Lace Museum at Sansepolchro Tuscany. This again sparked off so many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. The joy of research like this is endless but at some point enough is enough and I have to sit down and write.

What is your favourite book and why?

This is a difficult one to answer as so many spring to mind. As far as writing literature is concerned, it has to be Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’. It helped me through a difficult time in my writing career and it fell off the shelf at my feet in Borders in Ohio...so it was meant to be.
For novels it is probably has to be Olivia Manning’s: ‘The Balkan Trilogy’ with complex loveable irritating characters and an epic wartime story.

 Are you currently reading a book at the moment, and if so what is it?
I seem to have two books on the go. Researching WW1 I’m reading:  ‘The Beauty and the Sorrow’ by Peter Englund. By my bedside is Tessa Hadley’s ‘The London Train’, which is two stories linked by the railway, beautifully written and conceived.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests that you enjoy in order to give you a break from your normal routine and your writing?

For fitness I walk with friends and attend a Pilates class. I sing in a large community choir. I have young grandchildren so am called on for school run and babysitting duties, We go to the cinema, concerts and theatre which means quite a trek sometimes. I love baking for the village hall afternoon teas. I ‘m a volunteer driver for the mobile library, for the housebound so I’m not sure how I manage to find time to write...

Can you give us a hint about any other books that you may have in the making at the moment?
I’m currently editing my next book out in January 2013. ‘The Girl Under The Olive Tree’. It is set on Crete during WW2 , loosely based on a true story, it deals with friendships and Resistance to occupation. I have wanted to write about this wonderful island for many years.

Leah, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary site. I would also like to thank-you again for taking the time to speak to us today.

It has been my pleasure and delight to share my thoughts with you all. Thank you.

Just Released:-

If you would like to find out more about Leah and her writing, the link to her website is given below:

1 comment:

  1. So pleased I took time to read this very interesting interview. You're an inspiration, Leah!


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