Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Carolyn Hughes

Today I'm delighted to welcome the lovely Carolyn Hughes back to The Hippo. Carolyn's first visit was as part of my Southern Virtual Book Festival and you can read that post here and today she's here after having just finished a blog tour for her latest book A Woman's Lot. You can check out all the wonderful blogs who took part in the blog tour by heading over to Brook Cottage Books and there's still a couple of days left to enter the giveaway to win an e-book copy of  Fortune's Wheel: The First Meonbridge Chronicle so I'd definitely make sure you take a look!

Well I think I've left Carolyn waiting long enough so let me introduce her to you all and tell you about her new book.

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Hughes

                                                      Author bio
Carolyn Hughes was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After a first degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. It was fun for a few years, but she left to become a school careers officer in Dorset. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the Government. She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest, several years ago, that creative writing and, especially, writing historical fiction, took centre stage in her life. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.

A Woman’s Lot is the second of the Meonbridge Chronicles, her series of historical novels set in fourteenth century England. The first, Fortune’s Wheel, was published in 2016. The third in the series is well under way.


How can mere women resist the misogyny of men?

A resentful peasant rages against a woman’s efforts to build up her flock of sheep… A husband, grown melancholy and ill-tempered, succumbs to idle talk that his wife’s a scold… A priest, fearful of women’s "unnatural” power, determines to keep them in their place.

The devastation wrought two years ago by the Black Death changed the balance of society: more women saw their chance to build a business, learn a trade, to play a greater part. But many men still hold fast to the teachings of the Church and fear the havoc the daughters of Eve might wreak if they’re allowed to usurp men’s roles and gain control over their own lives.

Not all men resist women’s desire for change – indeed, they want it for themselves. Yet it takes only one or two to unleash the hounds of hostility and hatred…

                                            *    *    *    *

What book/books made you cry and why?
Helen Dunmore books: Most of them, probably, but The Siege in particular. This story of the siege of Leningrad is harrowing and deeply moving. Dunmore draws her characters so well that it is easy to empathise deeply with them, so that when they are put into such devastatingly appalling situations, when the struggle to find anything at all to eat drives them to extraordinary lengths, to be honest I was in pieces… And I think I would be again, if I read it now… Brilliant writing. 

This sounds like just my kind of book so I’ll be adding it to my ever-growing TBR mountain!

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Years ago, when I was writing contemporary women’s fiction (all unpublished), it was rather domestic noir-ish and I did wonder then about using a pseudonym if they were ever published, as I wasn't sure I wanted my family and friends to know I’d written such stories! Now, as “Carolyn Hughes” is essentially an historical novelist, I think that, if I ever did go back to those noir novels, I’d have to publish them under a different name, because the novelist personas would be so different.

What other authors are you friends with and how do they help you become a better writer?
Oh goodness, quite a few really! Having joined lovely Facebook groups like The Review, I’ve made quite a few author friends that way. But one author who is a “real” friend (in the sense that I’ve known her for thirty years) is Ann Swinfen. Ann writers historical novels, including, among others, The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez, stories of political intrigue and double dealing set in the 16th century, and the Oxford Mediaeval Mysteries, set in the 14th century, in which bookseller Nicholas Elyot is the sleuth. Both series are brilliant and well worth reading. However, as I’d known Ann for so long, when I was seriously contemplating trying to get published, I threw myself on her mercy for help on how to proceed. She gave me lots of great advice, and she still does. She’s an amazingly prolific writer herself, but never stints at sharing her experience and knowledge of the (self) publishing world. A good friend indeed!

What’s your favourite under-appreciated writer/book?
I don't think he’s really “under-appreciated”, but I do find quite often that, when I mention William Trevor, people haven’t heard of him. But they really should have! He’s always been one of my favourite writers. He’s absolutely brilliant at short-story writing, although I love his novels too. His characters are typically eccentrics or people living at the margins of society: children, the elderly, single middle-aged men and women, or the unhappily married. His stories have real atmosphere, superb dialogue, and are disturbing, affecting and amusing. The keenness of his eye and ear has brought to life some ordinary and yet extraordinary characters. A master!

I’m afraid to say that I’m one of the people who has never heard of him as well Carolyn, but I will be taking a closer look at his books now.

What do you think is more important: characters or plot?
For me, characters. Though of course there has to be “plot”, or storyline, otherwise the novel would have no momentum, no forward progress. The characters have to have something to be concerned about, a problem to solve!

But my books are definitely “character driven”, in that it is their personalities, concerns and motivations that really drive the story. I write my characters – or at least the main narrator characters – in a way that is very consciously intimate. And sometimes I get terribly drawn in to a character’s plight. And here’s the thing about “characters”: they no longer exist once you close your laptop lid… Except that, of course, they DO! They hang around inside your head. They talk to you in the middle of the night. They evolve from being just a name with a set of invented features and traits into a corporeal-seeming person with thoughts and feelings, worries and aspirations. Goodness! No wonder I think they’re important.

You get a brilliant idea/thought/phrase at an inappropriate moment (eg in the shower or driving) what do you do?
This often happens to me in the middle of a restless night, or when I’m out walking. Even when walking, it’s not always easy to stop and write in your notebook, but I do sometimes dictate my thoughts into my phone. If I can’t do that - for example, so as not to wake a sleeping husband - I say it over and over and over in my head, in the hope that it’ll still be in my mind come morning. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t…

If a genie granted you three wishes what would they be?
1. To slow down time. To enable me to write more novels.
2. To speed up my writing. To enable me to write more novels!!
3. To make me instantly the cello player I always wanted to be but for which in truth never had the talent. The cello still stands beseechingly in my sitting room but, although the spirit is willing, the flesh (i.e. the talent) is very weak. Sigh…

Maybe this could be an option to consider for your cello Carolyn! 😉

You can find out more about Carolyn, her books and connect with her using the links below:


Carolyn also blogs on the 20th of every month on The History Girls which is a great blog to visit if you enjoy historical fiction.

I'd like to thank Carolyn for taking the time to stop by and chat today and to wish her lots of success with A Woman's Lot.  🥂

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