Andrea, how long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I suppose I’ve always enjoyed the process of writing and any research involved but I started to focus on it more when my mother was distressingly ill about eleven years ago; I found writing my thoughts very therapeutic. Then I decided to do an Open University creative writing course. Following that I joined a local writing group where I was able to do monthly writing exercises which were critiqued. I gained confidence and started to write my novel but admitted it to hardly anyone.
Man of Glass is set in the 14th Century and you write about the difficult topic of the plague. Why did you want to write about this period and subject, and what were the challenges?
Initially, I was motivated by an ancient abandoned village in East Yorkshire which I visited with my husband. The only existing building from the medieval period was a church. The place spoke to me of past lives and I felt I could bring my interests together in such a setting. I felt I could be inventive while using factual material as a platform.
The first wave of the Black Death plague was a period when fact, myth, superstition and faith mingled. Writing about it now therefore, allowed me an enjoyable creativity and I was drawn to imagining a family reacting to the horror of it. Also, I was aware of looking back 700 years with modern eyes as we struggle to find new ways of curing disease when antibiotics fail.
My finished novel is completely different from how it started. Art, church and medical histories have always been my main area of interest. When I was first motivated to write about the plague, I found out that one of the GCSE history subjects was health and disease. I attempted to write my novel covering the medieval period with facts lifted from the course material. In this way, I hoped to produce a novel that would aid revision. I found that I couldn’t raise interest in this idea and realised that writing a novel didactically didn’t work. So I began again, writing the things that inspired me personally.
What research did you do?
I have a first degree and masters in the History of Art, gained as a mature student, from which I have drawn much research material. I had to do a lot of reading but have a collection of books which grew quite a lot. Of course, the web is good for investigating subjects but one has to be careful that the source material is well researched.
I am grateful to Instant Apostle for putting me right on several occasions about a historical or biblical fact, and sometimes questioning my own knowledge in an effort to get things right. However, I do claim artistic freedom and supposition in some areas.
How did the plot and characters evolve?
They evolved over a long time, about five years. Being new to writing novels, I had periods where I wrote and wrote, changing the characters until they began to develop as real people. Then I would leave it alone for a couple of months. Stained glass has been a passion of mine so it was easy to make Amalric the young apprentice around which everything else revolves.
I couldn’t get away from the idea of wanting to inform my reader about something new. For myself, I feel cheated if I read a book from which I learn nothing – I don’t necessarily mean facts, but character, humanity, humour. So my knowledge of the period, disease and the making of windows set the background to an almost inevitable plot.
I trained as a nurse (way back) and was able to see myself in an extreme situation and feel the helplessness and lack of control.
Which character do you relate most closely to and why?
I thought I would be able to answer this question easily but no. There is inevitably I guess, something of me in each character. Then after thinking, I realised that I relate mostly to a secondary person, Matilde. Because of when she lives, the place she lives in and her own personality, she is unable to fulfil herself in her healing role until she finds someone who really believes in her. I understand the frustrations she must have felt.
What was your hardest scene to write and why?
The easiest to write were the scenes in which I could describe illness and glass – the things I know. I sped along. The hardest were the secondary scenes of place and time, where it was important to show rather than tell. I waffled a lot and wrote far too many words. Cutting the number of words, as required by the publisher, was hard but so good in tightening up the plot.
What do you hope readers will take away from Man of Glass?
I hope readers will learn something of the art of stained glass. Understanding the history and Christian symbolism is, in my view, key to understanding the glass in our churches today.
I hope also it will show doctors and clergy in a good light and as human as the people they serve.
It might stimulate conversation about how without knowledge and effective medication, disease would limit our lives tremendously.
I am approaching my middle seventies, I would like other people of advancing years to realise that with determination and the right publisher, it is possible to be part of the literary world.
Has your faith influenced your writing, and if so, how?
Yes my faith was important for Man of Glass. A chief character is a local priest. I hope I have shown him to be a follower of his faith’s rules but willing to bend when it comes down to individuals; his love of god and people being paramount. I have known people at all levels of faith and this is how I have largely found them to be.
Amalric, the main character is on his own faith journey discovering the struggle between faith and science. I understand that – he finds room for both in the end.
How did you find the publication process?
Relatively easy and helpful – enjoyable even. Emails were answered speedily and I feel I have been guided through the process without stress. It has been perfect for my inexperience and age. I am very grateful to Instant Apostle.
What one piece of advice would you want to give to a new writer?
If you want to be published – do your homework to find a publisher. I did not take the advice of my OU course or writing magazines to research publishers or agents. I changed my story to provide what I thought publishers wanted but when I found Instant Apostle, I realised I had not always been true to myself. With them, I was able to write in the way I wanted to write. I had wasted a lot of time.
What are you working on now?
Well… I am not writing for a career so I feel there is no urgency. I am though, working on a plot set in first century Britain but this is a new area for me and requires a lot of research.
I am also gathering material for a coffee table book on stained glass.
However, at my age, life can throw things that prevent plans from working out. So we shall see…
Finally, what is your favourite book and why?
I’m not sure what to say for this as I don’t really have a favourite and those that influenced me when I was much younger don’t inspire me as much now.
I suppose one that sticks in my mind is The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck because of the use of language. I like the books of Alan Bennet for his lovely Yorkshire-ness.