Elizabeth Chats With…Carolyn Hughes

One of the things I love about this life I have chosen is the huge community of writers out there, and the serendipitous  nature of the contacts we make. I first ‘met’ author of historical novels, Carolyn Hughes, via one of the writerly Facebook groups and it was only some time later that we met in the flesh at a conference in Leicester. It is such fun putting a face to the person you have been chatting to for so long. And now we have come full circle as she drops in for a virtual chat.

Hello Carolyn and welcome. let’s start with an old favourite: what is your earliest memory — and how old were you at the time?

I can hardly believe this is truly a “memory”, but it has stuck in my mind for such a very long time that I feel it might be real… I am perhaps seven months old and lying in my perambulator – one of those massive Silver Cross carriages. It must be late spring because the apple blossom is out (although I presumably don’t know it’s apple blossom…), and my pram has been stationed beneath one of the many apple trees in our south London garden. In my mind now, I can still see the pink fluffiness of the flowers dancing above my face, and smell their faint sweetness. A fantasy? Something I witnessed much later? Truly, who knows? But it has resided in my “memory bank” for nearly seven decades, so I’m happy to believe it!

What was your favourite subject at school—and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?

I liked English (obviously), but adored Art. I was pretty good at it, too, and dreamed of being a stage designer, impressed by the amazing stage sets I saw in West End theatres, especially those for musicals. (The dream eventually faded when the new world of computers beckoned.) I loathed PE… I didn’t mind hockey and netball, where I could set free any aggressive tendencies (!) but, oh, how I hated the gym. The vaulting horse and the climbing frame were my particular bugaboos, and I’ve avoided jumping over and climbing up things ever since!

Talking about yourself, how would you finish the sentence “not a lot of people know…”?

I’ve got nothing very wacky to offer here, but something perhaps a little different… When I was at university in Leicester (sometime in the Middle Ages), I was Director of the Arts Festival, then a gown & town affair. It was fabulous because I got to choose which musicians and artists to invite. My favourite was the wonderful French cellist Paul Tortelier, who came with his daughter, the pianist Maria de la Pau, to have lunch with me on the day of his performance. What a thrill…

Where is your favourite place on earth — and why?

Every year for the past twenty-eight years, we have spent at least a fortnight, although these days it’s five weeks, in the wonderful department of Drôme, in south-eastern France. We go back year in, year out, because it is almost like a “fix” that we cannot do without. Why? It is of course beautiful, with magnificent mountains; gentle hills; rushing rivers; wine, olives, garlic, tomatoes, cherries, lavender…; ancient perched villages; extraordinary geology… It is also quiet, with few tourists, and sometimes we feel we have the roads and countryside almost to ourselves. Of course there are lots of beautiful places in the world, but Drôme is our particular, and favourite, place…

How do you relax?

Well, a rhubarb gin and tonic often does the trick! But I don’t think I do consciously relax–I’m not one for sitting down in the evening to watch TV, for example. However, if I’m being idle–that is, I’m not writing/editing/blogging etc., or being a domestic goddess, or taking some exercise, or even simply reading–you will usually find me tackling a crossword or some other puzzle in the newspaper, or doing a jigsaw on my iPad! I love puzzles of all kinds, and they can help me to while away many a happy hour…

If you could meet one person from history, who would it be–and why?

Given that I write historical fiction set in the fourteenth century, I think I might like to meet Geoffrey Chaucer and talk to him about his pilgrims. How did he come up with their characters, had he met such people, did they all emerge from his imagination? Chaucer might well have been an old goat–I’ve no idea–but I’m sure he’d be fascinating to talk to.

Watch a film, go to the theatre, read a book or talk to friends–which would you prefer?

I feel a bit guilty saying this, for I do enjoy talking to my friends, but I think if I really had to choose, it would be reading, because I do so love to lose myself in a good story. Watching a film probably comes second, because it’s something I do quite often with my (grown-up) daughter, when we can treat ourselves to a film in which neither of our partners is interested!

Would you describe yourself as left-brain (analytical), right-brain (intuitive) or a mix of both?

Looking at the definitions of left-brain/right-brain, it occurs to me that the difference is not dissimilar to the plotter/pantster argument that writers often like to engage in. “Plotting” your novel is mostly left-brain, I guess, while right-brainers would just let their writing go with the flow and see what happens. That being the case, I’m both, because I do plan my novels, but I don’t allow the planning to get in the way of my creative flow.

Will you always write historical fiction, or might you try another genre?

I think I’ll stick with histfic, although I do have two contemporary women’s novels that I wrote before Fortune’s Wheel that I might return to someday… But I do love writing about the Middle Ages! I’ve long been intrigued by the mediaeval period, for its relative remoteness in time and in our understanding of it, and, I think, for the very dichotomy between the habitual present-day perception of mediaeval life as “nasty, brutish and short” and the wonders of the period’s art, architecture and literature. Before I finally decided to write Fortune’s Wheel, the briefest of investigations quickly convinced me that I wanted to know more about the Middle Ages, and I soon realised that, by writing an historical novel, I would have the opportunity both to learn more about the mediaeval past and to interpret it, which seemed like a thrilling thing to do.

The second of my Meonbridge Chronicles, A Woman’s Lot, which is a sequel to Fortune’s Wheel, will be published in the next few months, and the third book in the series is already well under way.

Thank you, Carolyn for taking the time to come and chat to me. Readers you can find out more about Carolyn, her writing and her books via her website and blog; she also posts on the 20th of each month on The History Girls blog. She is on Facebook; Twitter; and Goodreads. Fortune’s Wheel is available on Amazon or from SilverWood Books

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By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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