Interview with an Author”

Honeymoon is your second novel, tell us about Honeymoon.

It’s a love story but it’s not a romance. A complicated, inconvenient past unravels during Rosie and Fergal Pierce’s short honeymoon on the West Coast of Ireland with revelations of death, betrayal and deceit that would seem to implicate Fergal. The truth is hard to find and threatens to wreck not only the honeymoon but lives of others too. Rosie faces hard decisions and decides to trust her own judgement and find her own way to help Fergal reclaim his past.

What was your inspiration for the book?

During a trip to research my family tree to County Clare I spent some time in a churchyard that overlooked the wild Atlantic Ocean. It was such a desolate and haunting place, a good place to lie for eternity and a good place to start a story.

What about the cover?

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? That silver embroidered moon unravelling. The artist’s sister is a friend of mine and I was cheeky enough to ask and she was kind enough to agree that I could use it for the front cover. The picture is called Moon Wave by Lateefa Spiker

What inspires you to write? Have you always been a writer?

I came late to writing, after I’d had a family, after I’d had a ‘proper’ job but the compulsion write was always there. Or, to be more exact, the compulsion to make up stories and what ifs and other endings to films. A story is rather like gossip. You want it to pass from mouth to mouth like wildfire, be embellished in the telling and the retelling. Writing it down it is a much slower process – never mind turning it into a book – but the wish for it to spread, hand to hand, by word of mouth is similar.

Why chose self publishing?

Life is short! My first book, Murielle’s Angel, was traditionally published and it’s a long, slow process even after you have a publisher.

Are you available to speak to local book groups?

Certainly. I would be delighted to discuss the book with reading groups. Authors need readers. All the characters a writer dreams up need readers to breath life into them.

What is the most valuable help readers give authors?

Apart from reading the book and talking about it and passing it on, one of the best ways is to write reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.

Where is the new book available?

The library should order it for you, the little shop, Pieces for Places in Barmouth stock it, otherwise it’s on line from Amazon. I have copies and can be contacted via my website. https://maryjhowell.co.uk

Do you have plans to write more?

Stories come from everywhere and nowhere. I’m always dreaming of something, and I certainly hope to.

Your first book is set in Spain, Honeymoon is set in Ireland would you say setting is important in your books?

Setting is important for me, personally, so I would think yes, very important. I am currently working on a story set in Dyffryn. I’m not sure where it will lead yet. I’ll have to wait and see.

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Front Cover for the novel Honeymoon by artist Lateefa Spiker

I have the artist’s permission to feature one of her pictures for the front cover of Honeymoon, my new, soon to be published novel, a mystery and a love story.

The embroidered silver moon, unravelling piece by piece is a captivating image and so apt for the story of a honeymoon disintegrating under the weight of harsh facts.

Revelations of a murky past threaten to ruin the fledgling marriage when Rosie and Fergal Pierce are on honeymoon on the west coast of Ireland

A raft of characters, living and dead, persuade Rosie to give Fergal a second chance.

Sweet Caress

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The life and loves of photographer, Amory Clay, spanning decades of the last century effortlessly recording momentous events such as the rise of fascism, the Second World War, the war in Vietnam and finally California in the late sixties.

It could be age but whenever I close the final page of a book these days I’m blowed if I can remember what and who it was about. Even the cover, as in this case, brought dim recollection. A flick through a few pages and the prose was indeed a sweet caress. The story came flooding back.

 

I see dead people

Once as a joke, when urged in an ice breaker at a writing group to share something special and having nothing to match the others’ revelations I said, ‘I see dead people.’ It was a good rendition of the little boy, Haley Joel Osment  in the film, The Sixth Sense, and was accepted as a joke, but I was only half joking.
Those faces that are to be seen in the clouds, on gnarled tree trunks, amid foliage are the dead people I see. They are also to be found on floor tiles, wallpapers, book covers, paintings. I could go on.  For a writer they are a fabulous resource. Characters. Whole lives, histories, with sadnesses and triumphs to be discerned in the static, often heroic features.

Could these grotesques, beauties, young and old, male and female, peasant and aristocrat that peopled the inanimate world around have once been real? Could they be the last earthly expression, the lingering sigh of an actual person? And if so, why these faces and not others, or all?  And what say, happened to the bust of the Roman emperor complete with laurels and toga who inhabited a cork tile in the bathroom when the cork tiles were consigned to the tip and replaced with stone?

It led again to Thornton Wilder and the Bridge of San Louis Rey, a book that has haunted over the years for the beauty of the prose and its meditation on the seeming randomness of life, love and death. Perhaps in order for a face to appear in this great pantheon of the sky their must have been love. Not necessarily the all consuming, self destructive passion of Mimi or Anna Karenina, more a love for humanity.

  
This passage resonated: ‘for those who had no capacity for love (or rather for suffering in love) could not be said to be alive,and certainly would not live again after their death. They were a kind of straw population, filling the world with their meaningless laughter and tears and chatter and disappearing still lovable and vain into thin air.’

And finally, ‘There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.’

The Rake’s Progress

 

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I have downed tools; writing tools that is and no longer sit for hours with pencil and paper, or rattling the virtual keys of a laptop. Writing used to be a joy. Increasingly, over the last months and especially into the new year, joy has morphed to aversion; that exam feeling, impending doom, futility. Ugh.

Now there is the rake. It’s probing fingers scrawping weeds, trails of ivy and fallen leaves to satisfying heaps hour after hour. The repetitive sound and action soothes as it productively, seductively whiles away time.

I look now at denuded swathes of what was euphemistically called the wild garden and feel a deep calm. Why ever did we make paths here, lined with the granite stones that proliferate above and below the soil? Without the stones there is more unity, more peace. The garden plot sweeps majestically to its finale – the road and, with a squint, the sea.

Barrow load after barrow load of stones large and small is tipped into the insatiable stream. Admittedly the stream is fuller and faster following recent rains, but even so it swallows these incomers as if it can never have enough. (Just as well, I have nowhere near finished.)

Perhaps those rough hewn stones strewing the garden are metaphors for stumbling blocks, words, and life and the garden are simpler without them.

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Crawling Through Thorns

 

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I almost didn’t read this book. The title was off putting. It sounded to my prim ears a tad self inflicted, self indulgent.

But what did I know. it is a quote from a Welsh poet Waldo Williams and not as I thought a life style choice… The trials of being homosexual. It is about forgiveness and the lengths needed in order to forgive injustice. Rather than chose bitterness one must do what it takes even crawl through thorns.An image of the First World War comes to mind. Crawling through barbed wire.
I understand the title of this book now and my prejudice and misunderstanding

It was uncomfortable reading too, at first, for a convent girl with a conventional, sheltered upbringing.

Set in Barmouth, a town I have visited most of my life and now live close enough to visit daily should I chose. The experiences of a boy, pretty much the same age, growing up with the realisation of difference was uncomfortable reading.

Growing up a homosexual, with the guilt that engendered with trysts and casual sex hard to reconcile with a ‘normal’ childhood. Perhaps there is a gender difference, too. Sex simply wasn’t on the agenda in the all female household I grew up in.

Memory can be a false friend, but despite being labelled as from a broken home we did well enough. What constitutes an idyllic childhood anyway? Day trips to Barmouth lying on the beach with my sisters in thick jumpers breaking our teeth on sticks of rock from the rock shop. My mother was preparing us for the first of several road trips to the south of France and so the four or five hours drive to and from Wolverhampton, were about right.

I stuck with the book and glad I did. Mostly an absorbing read with some very moving and lovely writing, it is a coming of age story,  the life of John Idris Jones, who happens to have been born a homosexual. Coming to terms with what that means in his community and the wider community makes a compelling read, as he and the wider world find acceptance, including aversion therapy by electric shock treatment as a cure and the dawn of AIDS and that devastation, written from the perspective of a gay man in San Francisco.

There are powerful recommendations to live by to take from the book:
‘kindnesses are for passing on’,  or if of religious bent, ‘God finds us where we are, and ‘The journey is home’, which I take to mean the journey of life is your life, not a stepping stone.

The eulogy for his dead friend is testament to both hero and friend.
Of how many people can it be said we are better people for having known them?

It shows a closeness born of true friendship that not everyone is capable of.

The ugly colour war can turn a man’s soul

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Some novels from the first word seem to fit a groove that satisfies on a deep level. The groove small children find when a story takes them out of themselves with an expectant sigh. It does not have to be a favourite story, it can be new and strange about something they know nothing of. All they know is this is worth their complete attention and wait for the magic to work.

Irene Nemirovsky: even the cadence of the name conjures such expectation. An iconic kiss for the front cover, a period of history so much written of and lamented, a masterful and confident voice and translation; Fires of Autumn has it all in spades.

The novel explores French life in the great sweep of the 20 th century. Published posthumously and written in the last two years of her life, after she fled from Paris in 1940 and before her arrest and eventual death in a Nazi concentration camp. It is a prequel of the Suite Francaise masterpiece.

It is a coruscating, tragic evocation of the reality of war and its dirty aftermath and the ugly colour it can turn a man’s soul.

We do well to remember when banalities are bandied by Cameron and his ilk, as they square up and posture for unleashing the horror of war.