Monday, 27 July 2015

Pat Walsh - Keep Writing, Keep Reading and Never Give Up

Pat Walsh is one of my tip-top favourite writers. I relish her beautiful prose, I admire her sparkling story-telling and her characterisation is warm and real. I wanted to know about Pat, her life, her work, her address ...no, the restraining order is an effective deterrent. So read on, for all about Pat and her TOP TEN TIPS for writers. Addy Farmer



Pat Walsh was born in Kent, and spent her early years in Africa and Ireland. Her family eventually returned to the UK and settled in Leicestershire. From the age of nine, she knew she wanted to be an archaeologist, and she still works in archaeology today. She live in Bedfordshire with her husband, three rats and two goldfish, and is the proud owner of two grown up children. Her first book for children, THE CROWFIELD CURSE, was shortlisted for the Times/Chicken House competition, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and the Branford Boase Award. It was published in 2010 by Chicken House. The second book in the series, THE CROWFIELD DEMON, was published in the UK April 2011 and the US in January 2012. THE HOB AND THE DEERMAN, the first book in a new series (Hob Tales), was published in 2014.

Addy: Let's begin with some history ... when did you start writing seriously?


Pat: Writing stories and drawing picture to go with them is something I’ve always done. When I was a child, I used to make small books from folded paper and write stories in them. However, I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was nine, so my focus was on that for many years and writing is something I did purely for my own pleasure.

After university and jobs in various archaeology units, I began to enjoy the writing more than the day job. Having my children and living abroad put the writing on the back burner for a while, but it never stopped completely.

After returning to the UK, I worked in a commercial unit in Northamptonshire and wrote The Crowfield Curse in my lunch break and in the evenings. By that time, I thought of myself as a writer first and an archaeologist second.


Addy: You are clearly interested in folk tales and history and the supernatural. You evoke the blend so well! What sparked your interest and why write about them?


Pat: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in the supernatural, and myths and legends. As a child, I read fairy tales and Greek myths and legends, and when I was twelve, I came across the Vikings. It was love at first sight! I read the sagas and Norse myths and became just a little bit obsessed by Viking archaeology.

As for the supernatural, ghost stories were always a part of my family life. I was born in a haunted cottage in Kent and the ghost put in an appearance on the night I was born, so my mother told me. She and the midwife didn’t see anything but clearly heard footsteps crossing the room. As my mother was in the late stages of labour, neither of them could make their escape, so there they stayed, terrified, listening to the unseen presence pacing the floor.

We moved to Africa soon after I was born, and our first home there was also reputed to be haunted. My grandmother used to tell the best ghost stories and she swore most of them were true, and being Irish, my family embraced Halloween wholeheartedly.

Who doesn't love a pumpkin?
I spent part of my childhood in Leicestershire and in those days, ours was the only family in the neighbourhood who celebrated Halloween. We would carve turnip lanterns, which I would advise anyone never to try. They were actually swedes and it was like hacking into concrete. These days I have a deep love of pumpkins and I think that has a lot to do with my memories of manhandling swedes. We would tell ghost stories, duck for apples and eat barmbrack (a fruit loaf).
Barnbrack - tastier than it sounds, just watch how you bite into it
In it would be a pea, coin, stick and rag and depending on what you go in your slice, it would give you some idea of what the year had in store for you. There was no commercialism, no Trick or Treat, only an age-old sense of the Otherworld lurking in the darkness, and wonderfully scary. As for my love of history, that always seems to have been there, all wrapped up with a deep and abiding love of archaeology.


Addy: Then again how would you characterise your work?



Pat: I write historical fantasy. Archaeology forms the bones of the story, the framework to hang the story on, and the fantastical elements take the characters off into strange new directions. I don’t set out deliberately to write for children, I simply write a story. My books are read by as many adults as children, so perhaps that shows.

Addy: Who do you write for?



Pat: I write, as I have always done, for me. Probably very selfish, I know, but I write what I would like to read. I write to make sense of all the things, the odd ideas and thoughts milling around inside my head. And sometimes it works!
actual photo of a hob
Addy: It's an oldie but goldie where does your inspiration come from and how does your writing process follow on?

Pat: Inspiration can come from anywhere, and usually several ideas have to knit together before a story sparks into life. With The Crowfield Curse, my first published book, I had the idea for the hob for a long time, just this little hairy creature caught in a trap.

Then I visited a ruined abbey near my home. It had never been a prosperous place and the monks went through some pretty hard times. I wondered what their lives would have been like and what kept them hanging on, scratching a living in their cold, shabby abbey. These two things just lurked in the back of my mind and might have stayed there if it wasn’t for an elderly woman I met in a shop one day. She was unwell and I found a chair for her to sit down. I stayed with her until she felt well enough to go home, and she told me a story about something that had happened to her when she was a child.
The place is important
She lived in a tied cottage out in the countryside, and one snowy night shortly before Christmas, she needed to visit the brick toilet at the bottom of the garden. Just as she reached the end of the garden, a bright light appeared.

‘It was an angel,’ she told me with a smile. ‘Just standing there in the snow. An angel.’ She said that she had never told anyone about the angel, except for her husband, and now me. Something clicked into place inside my mind, and the image of an angel in the snow joined with the idea of the impoverished abbey and the hob, and Crowfield was born.

 My writing process begins with mulling over ideas and a storyline, and then making lots of notes. I have to get the characters sorted out first and I have to find the right name for each one. The setting, place names and time of year are just as important and until these are all in place, I can’t start writing. I write the first draft in longhand in notebooks, usually in one of several cafes near my home. The next draft is written on my laptop at home. I rework, rewrite and replot endlessly, and the finished book is about as far from my first draft as it’s possible to be.


Addy: What are you reading at the moment?


Pat: I’m reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is full of mystery and beautiful imagery, and The Piper by Danny Weston. This book is a creepy and atmospheric MG novel, set on the Romney Marshes during the Second World War. I’m also reading various books and articles, researching my next book.



Addy: How did you break into being published? 



Pat: After the usual disheartening round of rejections from agents and publishers, I entered The Crowfield Feather – as The Crowfield Curse was originally called – for the first Times/Chicken House competition. The book was shortlisted but didn’t win – Emily Diamand’s wonderful Flood Child won, but I was offered a publishing contract by Barry Cunningham. I remember it being a wildly exciting but terrifying time. I don’t think I slept for weeks leading up to the day the book finally came out. For a while I was leading this strange double life – getting on with the day job while all this stuff with the book was going on. Looking back, I wish I’d relaxed and enjoyed it all more. The second book, The Crowfield Demon, was a much more sedate affair.

Addy: Do you recommend having an agent?



Pat: I think having an agent makes a writer’s life a lot easier. Many publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, only those submitted by an agent. They deal with contracts, a minefield for most writers, and will help you to build your career. However, securing a good agent is not easy, and the agent has to be right for you. Each one has their own way of doing things and you need to be comfortable with that. It’s essential for the relationship between a writer and an agent to work well on both sides. And there are writers who get by very nicely without an agent, but for someone starting out, I’d advise them to try and find representation.


Addy: So, we come to those essentials ...




Pat Walsh's Ten tips for the Would-be Writer.

  • Get the first draft written. It won’t be great, it might be awful, but it will be written. Now you can start working it into shape.
  • Chapter One: hit the ground running. Don’t tell us about the weather, the lovely countryside views or your main character’s thoughts on the price of cheese.
  • Get straight into the story, create a scene, and grab your reader. Plenty of time later to feed in the background details.
  • Write what interests you, what you would want to read. That way, the words come from your heart.
  •  Don’t follow trends just because you think that this will lead to fame and riches and success, because it most probably won’t. The bandwagon you leap on today will have trundled away over the horizon by the time you finish your book and find a publisher. The world doesn’t need more zombie vampires.
  • Write the book only YOU can write, not the one that’s been written fifty times before.
  • Write every day, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes between washing the dog and chasing a trolley around the supermarket. You may well have a demanding job but even the stingiest employers let you take a lunch break. Use it wisely.
  • Keep a notebook for ideas, thoughts, scraps of interesting dialogue. You might not use them now but you’ll be glad of them one day.
  • Keep your descriptions under control. Don’t fall in love with the sound of your own words. Flowery prose and lots of big, clever words should not to be encouraged to rampage through your work. Simple language can be beautiful too, and it’s a lot easier to read.
  • Read your writing out loud, though probably not while you’re on the bus or queuing up for a sausage roll in Greggs. You’ll quickly pick up on sentences or words that your reader will trip over. If you know deep down that something isn’t working in your story, or that a passage is dull or slow, listen to that voice in your head and rewrite! If you find it dull, then so will your reader.
  • Finally, and most importantly, read. Anything, everything. Keep one eye on how the writer uses language and conveys ideas. Learn. And then go away and read some more.
It’s a tough business and it’s so easy to become disheartened and think you’ll never get a break, but you can be sure that most published writers have been there, done that and have the scars to prove it. Persevere: keep writing, keep reading and never give up. And the very best of luck!

My grateful thanks to Pat for being a guest on the Slushpile and sharing her wonderful words. I can't wait for the next Hob book! Check out Pat's website and buy her books! 


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