A superhero who speaks the language of flowers and trains on tea! Read more and find out!
If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?
When I visited my Victorian maiden great aunts, two small, neat women with white hair parted in the middle and drawn back into tidy buns, I discovered two fascinating women. A post mistress and a teacher, both in their nineties, they had lived through some of the most fascinating changes in the world.
The Victorians built railways, invented cameras and mechanized food and clothing production. With all that going on, nothing fazed my aunts. When I came to write my first ‘proper’ novel, I just had to set it in the glorious Victorian era in honour of my 19th century ancestors.
Of course, these were not the first words I wrote. The first book, fortunately lost to posterity, was a story about horses that I wrote sitting on the floor of my bedroom when I was eleven.
I love to be alone to think. I read recently that people would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit quietly, with nothing to do. These people must not be writers, that’s all I can say. Give me a desert island and I’ll be happy – for a while, at least.
Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?
I’m a lucky wife, mother of three (two boys, one girl) and grandmother of another three boys. My daughter and I think there are too many men in our family. Even the fish is called Alan.
Where do you get your superpowers from?
I have another ancestor – George Moir Bussy. Turns out, he was a Parliamentary journalist and, at one time, a friend of Charles Dickens. Through tracing him, I not only discovered a long-lost cousin in Papua New Guinea and some other cousins in the USA but also a genealogy, handwritten by one of George’s sons in 1875, setting out our family tree way back to the 15th century.
George’s wife, another feisty Victorian like Philomena, the heroine of An Independent Woman, continued to edit a newspaper after his death.
With ancestors like those, I owe it to the family to keep writing. Is it in the blood?
Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?
I write in the smallest bedroom in the house which, as it still contains a bed, means I have to use the tiniest desk in the universe. My nose almost touches the screen as I type. I keep notes pinned to the board on the wall, but once I’ve written them, I hardly ever use them. When I finish what I’m writing, I’m always surprised to see how far the story has taken me from the original ideas on the board.
An Independent Woman began as the story of what happened in the great Western Railway crash at Sonning in 1841, but Philomena’s story took over.
What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?
I train on tea – Earl grey. I’m told my London grandmother (yes, another ancestor) fed me tea when I was three months old. That was real tea – standard NATO – strong with milk and two sugars.
My husband is the best tea-brewer in the world and I’m the worst.
Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?
Oh, I wish I could wear Victorian clothes. I’d choose those of the aristocracy, of course, not coarse cotton aprons! I’d love to wear frills and flounces, and maybe a late Victorian bustle to make my waist look small. I’d avoid crinoline, though. It was almost impossible to sit on a normal chair in one of those without the front lifting up.
I’d learn the secret language of fans and that of flowers, so only my suitors would know what I was saying.
What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?
I hate the feeling of panic, that the story I’m writing is total rubbish and there’s no way I’ll ever get to the end, anyway. I tell myself that, somehow, if I keep plugging away, words become sentences and sentences group themselves into paragraphs. When I’m really stuck, I take a walk on the beach at Burnham on Sea and watch the seagulls. They inspire me to soar.
What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?
Pure fear. Having achieved what seemed like a lifetime dream, to find a publisher and hold my book in my hand, writing the next filled me with terror. Could I really do it again? Thank heaven for those seagulls.
What important lessons have you learned along the way?
To never give up. To read every book on writing I can get my hands on and listen to all the advice out there, then make my own mind up on how I want to write. I like clean romances and cozy mysteries, with twists and turns that make me think, so that’s what I write.
What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?
I’m amazed at how thrilled people are when I tell them I’ve written a book. It gives me that glow all over again. I love it when my family say they’re proud of me, and I just adore kind reviews.
If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?
I would give myself more space and time to write. It’s only when I stopped full-time work that I had enough mental energy to write every day. On the other hand, I loved some of my work – as a speech and language therapist, and as a witness intermediary in the criminal courts. Those experiences were priceless.
What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.
Never write anything, whether a story, a letter or an email, in anger. Remember that anything you write is there forever (except, fortunately, that first horse story.)
Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.
An Independent Woman is where Northanger Abbey meets Downton in Victorian England. Here’s the blurb:
With nothing left from her childhood except a tiny portrait of a beautiful woman, some skill with a needle and the knowledge of a dreadful secret, Philomena escapes her tormentor, Joseph and the dank fogs of Victorian London only for a train crash to interrupt her quest for independence and freedom.
Trapped between the upstairs and downstairs occupants of the great country house, Philomena hears whispers of the mysteries and lies that lurk in empty corridors and behind closed doors. Her rescuer, the dangerous, enigmatic Hugh, Lord Thatcham, wrestles with his own demons and makes Philomena’s heart race, but she must fight her passion for she can never marry.
Haunted by her past, Philomena’s only hope of happiness is to confront the evil forces that threaten to destroy her.
What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?
I’m halfway through the sequel, another mystery romance, set In Thatcham Hall. Then, there’ll be a third book in the series, probably in 2015, before I finally wave goodbye to the Dainty family and move on to new ideas.
Many thanks to you, Maria, for interviewing me on your website – I’ve loved your questions and had lots of fun.
You can find Frances at: