Hannah Fielding grew up in a rambling house overlooking the Mediterranean. Her earliest memories are of listening, enchanted, to fairy stories at the knee of her half-French half-Italian governess Zula. When Hannah was seven she came to an agreement with Zula: for each story she told me, she would invent and relate one of my own. That is how Hanna’s love for story-telling began.
A very warm welcome to you Hannah, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.
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 you like living there?
My husband and I split our time between our family home in the Kent countryside in the south of England, and what was originally intended to be a beach house in the south of France. Each has its charms, its advantages and its disadvantages:
My husband is a countryman at heart and adores the rolling countryside of Kent, which for centuries has provided fruit and other cash crops for the London market. We live in an area of rolling down-land only a mile from the English Channel that is devoted to wheat and barley and maize. Being close to the sea has always been a great blessing for me: I grew up to the sound of the surf on the beaches of Alexandria, Egypt, and while the Kentish shore is very different from the beaches of my childhood, the impact on me is the same – open skies, good air, passing ships in the distance heading for mysterious, foreign lands. The history of this part of England, ancient and modern, also fascinates me. We are only a mile or so from the Battle of Britain Memorial on the white cliff not far from Dover, a reminder that Kent has always been a part of England very closely connected with Europe and everything that happens there. But most of all I love my house in Kent because it’s my home: the place I always return to, where my children grew up and where I have spent my happiest years. In summer the weather is warm, just as I like it, and the garden with its orchard and its giant beech trees is a picture postcard. The autumn and winter months have their own charm. There is no better feeling than snuggling in an armchair in front of a log fire with a book.
Then there is my French home. I have always loved France, and French was my first language from my days of a convent school to my French Literature degree at Alexandria University. We’ve come to find France wonderful in so many ways, and we now find ourselves spending more and more time there. Again, we live close to the sea, with a view across the bay to St Tropez. It is the brilliant colours of the vegetation, the fresh fruit and vegetables and variety of local fish you find at the open-air market place, and the warmth that enthral us most. Did you know that Bougainvillea now comes not only purple, but also in red, orange, white and all shades in between? Stunning! We also love to watch the sailing boats, and even the sea itself provides constant changes of colour and mood.
Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child?
Looking back, I seem to have been remarkably consistent. I acquired a taste for romantic fairy stories from an early age and have stuck with romance ever since. I have, of course, also read the many French and Egyptian writers of history, philosophy and social commentary – fiction and non-fiction. I am now confident that I know what I like – which is well-written romance that delivers likeable and interesting characters, a good plot and a believable resolution. For a story to be credible to me, the central characters need to be explored for good and bad. Their humanity is all. They will never be perfect, but we will identify with them, or at least understand them and their actions. I think I have always embraced books that deliver on this.
Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?
Absolutely! When I was a child the first Egyptian Revolution started and all talk at home was very serious and fraught. This went on for years, covering all my teens, and I think I sought refuge in books that carried me to another place. I had no desire to read of horror or death or war. I tried science fiction, but never found myself immersed in the story. Instead, I sought romance in glamorous places and always hoped for a happy ending. I also read a lot of French poetry, which gave me a good ear for the beauty of language. Today I set my stories in places I have visited and that have kindled in me some sort of connection. For each of my books, I suppose the place is my muse.
Do you have a set routine when you are working on a novel?
Yes, I have a very rigid routine which has served well. Having researched my facts thoroughly, I plan my novel down to the smallest detail. Planning ahead, I have found, makes the writing so much easier and therefore so much more enjoyable. Then, when I am ready to begin writing, I settle into a regular routine – writing each morning and editing the previous day’s work, taking a break for lunch, writing a little more and then going for a walk somewhere inspirational, like the woods or the beach.
Where do you do your writing best?
I am a very passionate and emotional person, and as a writer, nothing affects my mood more than the setting in which I write. I love warm, vivid colours and lush landscapes, and I like nothing more than to watch the sun sink over the horizon from the balcony of my mas in the south of France. Places and settings have always had a powerful impact on me, and certainly this is apparent in my writing.
In France, my favourite writing place is my gazebo in the garden, surrounded by bright and exuberant vegetation and overlooking the Mediterranean sea. Just as important to me, though in a different way, is my house in Kent. While the English countryside doesn’t have the same intensity of heat or colour you find looking over the bay of St Tropez, my refuge and inspiration there is our oak-panelled library, where I write surrounded by the works of all my favourite authors. I especially love writing there while a wood-burning fire is roaring in the stove and an almighty storm is howling outside.
What helped you decide to actually write fiction novels?
From an early age, thanks to the encouragement of my imaginative governess, supportive and well-read parents, I enjoyed writing poetry and stories. I have never really stopped writing as I grew older, as I have always kept a diary in which I put down not only my feelings but also descriptions of scenes that have captured my imagination and of people I met.
Though I had plenty of stories to write when I first got married and had my children, with running my own business refurbishing rundown cottages and managing my home in the country with its dogs and horses, I had no time to concentrate on my writing. Only when I knew that my children were standing on their own feet did I take up writing seriously. After I had written a couple of books, it was really Nicholas, my husband, and my children, Christian and Alexandra, who pushed me to try to get them published.
My grandmother was a published author of poetry and my father published a book about the history of our family, so writing runs in my veins. I guess I always knew that one day I would follow in those footsteps and forge my own path in that field – a subconscious dream which finally came true.
To quote Anais Nin: “If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write.” I do all that. Writing is my life.
When you are writing a novel, how do you place yourself into the time period that you are actually writing about?
Research, research, and more research. I think that the atmosphere of a book is a crucial element contributing to the reader’s enjoyment. I find it impossible to get this right without a real awareness of the details of the daily life of the time. Visiting a place and reading about its history is only the starting point. I need to have a clear picture in my mind of a street full of the people of the time where I can examine in my mind’s eye the clothes they are wearing, the food they are eating, the mannerisms they have. If I can create that picture in my mind, I think I have a chance of creating the right atmosphere in my book.
I think that environment and atmosphere are the most important elements for me. I believe that the setting in a romance novel is essential for establishing a romantic mood and transporting the reader to the fantasy world I am creating, to capture not only their attention but also their emotions. The reader must be able to see, feel, taste, hear, smell everything my heroes and heroines are experiencing, and I call upon all the senses to render an authentic ambiance.
So, I physically travel to the locations, and I find a street café and simply watch people, sometimes for hours. Then I explore every angle of time period in the setting itself. Politics, language, customs, fauna and flora – every facet of a country helps me to form the setting of a film in my mind where I can place my characters, knowing that their experience will be genuine and that my story will come from the heart.
How do you go about imagining, developing and giving real lives and personalities to the characters that we read about within your books?
I probably do it subconsciously. I have met so many interesting characters on my travels and while living in various countries that some of them are bound to come out in my writing. Saying that, you will always find in my books an older person who is a wise confidante to either the hero or the heroine. That is the shadow of my governess, a lovely lady who was with us for twenty-five years, whose advice was always wise and who nurtured in me the love of telling stories as she herself was a wonderful storyteller. Other than that I do not consciously draw on characters or situations from real life.
For me the development of a story doesn’t happen quickly. I have usually visited somewhere which has resonated with me and I find myself imagining fragments of a story in that place. I will know that I want to locate a story in this place when these fragments begin to come together in a plot. I usually return to the place with a lot of ideas and I quickly meet characters and new elements of the story as I explore with increasing focus.
In The Echoes of Love, I actually saw my heroine, Venetia, in the street. In factionly saw her from the back as she was walking away from me, but she was one of those confident, impeccably groomed international women you often see in Italy. The hero, Paolo, was just as serendipitous: my husband introduced me to an Italian lawyer who had extraordinary charm, but who seemed to have been bruised by life. Later, I found it easy to build a tragic history around this figure.
Did you encounter any difficulties in getting your book accepted and published?
This only gets more difficult. As readers move from paperback to downloads, publishers are developing new business models and nothing stays the same. My new publisher resulted from the very positive reception of my first book Burning Embers, which was published by Omnific in the USA. Working with a London publisher and a fresh team is very different, but just as enjoyable.
What is your favourite book and why?
My favourite book of all time changes every couple of months! I read constantly and there are the most wonderful books being published all the time. I love writers who are versatile and bring real ingenuity to their work. For a glimpse at some of the romance novels I’ve really enjoyed, visit my ‘Books I Love’ page athttp://www.hannahfielding.net/?page_id=759.
Are you currently reading a book at the moment, and if so what is it?
I am currently rereading Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy. It was originally written in Arabic, but the English translation is excellent and brings the story and the characters to life. Mahfouz’s Nobel Prize for literature makes every Egyptian very proud. We regard him as the Egyptian Balzac; his stories describe so accurately small communities in a Cairo suburb. I think he makes every writer wish to tell the truth, whatever the genre, whatever the plot.
I also have a couple of romance novels on my Kindle, which I’ve downloaded from NetGalley to review – perfect escapism!
How do you connect with your readers?
I have a website, www.hannahfielding.net , with a personal blog which I update at least three times a week. This is gloriously self-indulgent: I write about books, poetry and places I find interesting, and include lots of photos of my favourite views, flowers, you name it.
I also have a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Hannah-Fielding-Author-Page/340558735991910?fref=ts. I don’t spend enough time on Facebook, but I Tweet a lot, and I have a growing band of friends on Twitter (https://twitter.com/#!/fieldinghannah) whom I value immensely.
How do we find out more about your new book?
First of all, take a look at the book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgWkph8Tpwo. The publisher invited my input for this trailer and the director Jack Jewers has made something really worth watching. I am hugely proud of it.
You can also check out The Echoes of Love page on my website: www.hannahfielding.net/?page_id=3018/.
Also, follow my blog (www.hannahfielding.net) and Twitter (@fieldinghannah) to keep up to date with news pre- and post-publication. There will be plenty of chances to win a copy of the book!
When can we buy your new book and where?
My book will be available on Amazon from 6 December – the perfect Christmas present for romantics, young and old.
Hannah, 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.