This week’s guest on the Inheritance Books sofa is history buff Carolyn Hughes. Welcome to Inheritance Books Carolyn, make yourself comfortable. While I put the kettle on, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve come to writing, or rather publishing, quite late in life. I’ve written creatively on and off all my adult life but, for many years, work and family were somehow always the main focus of my life, and it wasn’t until our children flew the nest that I realised writing could now take centre stage.
Even then, although I wrote some short stories, and one and a half contemporary women’s novels, my writing was rather ad hoc, and my tentative attempts to approach agents met only with rejection. Thinking that a Masters degree in Creative Writing might give me more focus, I enrolled at Portsmouth University. It worked! I wrote the historical novel that is now published as Fortune’s Wheel.
Why an historical novel? Well, when I had to choose what to write as the creative piece for the MA, I mostly just wanted a change from the contemporary women’s fiction I had been writing. But the choice I made was somewhat serendipitous… In my twenties, I’d written about 10,000 words of a novel set in fourteenth century England. By chance, I rediscovered the fading, handwritten, draft languishing in a box of old scribblings. Although, to be frank, the novel’s plot (and the writing!) was pretty dire, I was drawn to its period and setting. The discovery gave me one of those light bulb moments and, a few days later, I was drafting an outline for the novel that is now Fortune’s Wheel.
It was true that I’d long been intrigued by the mediaeval period, for its relative remoteness in time and understanding, and, I think, for the very dichotomy between the present-day perception of the Middle Ages as “nasty, brutish and short” and the wonders of the period’s art, architecture and literature. I wanted to know more about the period, and, through writing an historical novel, I’d have the opportunity both to discover the mediaeval past and to interpret it, to bring both learning and imagination to my writing.
Having written Fortune’s Wheel, I’d enjoyed being back at university so much that I decided to read for a PhD at the University of Southampton, and the result was another historical novel, as yet unpublished, The Nature of Things. By then, the historical fiction bug had well and truly bitten me. I soon realised that I had more stories to tell about the world I’d created for Fortune’s Wheel – a fictional manor, called Meonbridge, situated in Hampshire’s Meon Valley – and I started to plan a series of sequels. So, when Fortune’s Wheel was published last November, it was as the first of “The Meonbridge Chronicles”. I hope that the second will be published later in 2017.
Which book have you inherited from the generation above?
What an interesting question. I assume the thought behind it is to tease out possible influences on my writing life? (That is, indeed, the intention! – RB) However, in trying to find an answer, I realised that I couldn’t recall either of my parents (or their siblings) ever reading, or encouraging me to read, fiction! We certainly had books in the house, but, apart from the usual run of children’s books (Enid Blyton, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Hans Andersen…), they were mostly reference (although, as a child, I would pore over them avidly for hours). But there was no Plaidy or Seton to inspire a love of historical fiction!
So what special book might I say my forebears passed down to me? I’ll choose one that perhaps inspired my love of history: This Land of Kings 1066-1399. A children’s book, published in the 50s, with bright illustrations, it was a school prize – I was nine – attained for “Progress”! As it covers the Middle Ages, perhaps, long ago as it was, it sowed the seed that grew into Fortune’s Wheel?
Which book might you like to leave to the next generation?
I will take “next generation” to be my children, one boy, one girl – both very much adults now. I think I will leave them a “history book” too, one that has more recently inspired my plunge into writing historical fiction. I have a facsimile of The Luttrell Psalter, a wonderful fourteenth century religious tome that is full of illustrations of medieval life. I love it, and I’d like to think my children would love it too, knowing how much it has meant to me these past few years…
Thank you for sharing your favourite books with us, Carolyn. All the best with Fortune’s Wheel.
Would you like to share your own Inheritance Books? Email me or mention it in the comments.