Sunday Sojourn – with Angela Wren

So, Christmas Day is over, Boxing Day is all boxed up – time to relax, and read this Sunday’s interview. Today, I’m joined by Angela Wren, to talk about her writing, including Messandrierre, which was released on 6th December.

Angela Wren

So, tell me a bit about the setting you’ve written about.

My novels are contemporary. My first one, Messandrierre which was published on December 6th, is set in the recent past and begins in September 2007.  The setting is the Cévennes in France – a place I have visited often. Whilst I was there in September 2007 it began to snow overnight and the scenery the next morning was stunning.  That was when I had the idea for a body being buried and the evidence of the grave being hidden because of the snow.  It’s a description of the burial, the snow and the mountains that begins my story.

I also write short stories and some of those are set in the past – mostly the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Cover artwork for Messandrierre

What sparked your first foray into historical fiction?

Reading, I suppose. I’m an avid reader and my favourite genre is murder mystery/thrillers, but I also read the classics, and romance and historical.  An interest has always been there but actually setting a story in the past – that came from researching my family tree.  I didn’t just research dates and registers and census records.  I also researched the social history of the time to enable me to understand what my ancestors had to deal with on a daily basis, the problems they faced, what they read in the newspapers – if they could read, that is.

Finding out that two of my ancestors worked on the docks in London as Deal Porters lead to a story entitled ‘Calling On’. Dockers of the 19th century had a tough time and my ancestors would have had periods of no work and could not guarantee to get work when there was Deal to be unloaded.  They had a very hard life, I think.

Tell me a bit about your research process – are you able to stay focused, or do you find yourself distracted by new, interesting snippets or stories?

When I’m actually undertaking the research I usually stay focussed and the interesting snippets and stories get hoovered up with all the other bits of info I’m looking up. When I’ve got back to my ‘writing shed’ – actually a room in my house that’s full of books and a computer – that’s when I get distracted by the interesting bits and pieces!

Which is your favourite of any real historical characters who have appeared in your writing?

Only my ancestors have appeared in my historical stories, so that question is like asking me to choose which of my brothers I like best!

So I’m going to say that my fictional hero, Jacques Forêt, from my novel Messandrierre is my favourite character. He’s kind and caring and just the sort of guy you want around when the going gets tough.  He’s determined and steely and he believes himself to be a man of his word – and, as his creator I can vouch for that!

Have you ever had to include a real historical character you’ve really disliked?

The short answer is no. But in another of my short stories, ‘Treading’, the Ganger (who is a fictional character) on the docks is a baddy and he attempts to kill one of my ancestors!

If you could visit any historical event or period (as a witness only, no changing things!), which would it be, and why?

Wow! There are so many things I would want to see or witness, from the building of the pyramids or Machu Picchu to the Western Front and Gallipoli where some ancestors served, or the Coffee House in London where another ancestor worked.

There are so many things I would want to witness – but if it really can only be one, then I would want to be a fly on the wall in the Cabinet Office War room for the duration of the 1939/45 war. More recent ancestors of mine served during that conflict, I studied that period of history at school and I’ve never stopped being interested in what happened during that time.

And how about ‘rewriting’ the history books? If you could change any single event, which would it be, and what would be your preferred outcome?

Another big question! It would be very easy and noble to say I would ensure the Franco-Prussian war never took place or that slavery never happened or any number of other things.  But the world is the place that it is precisely because of those terrible things and the lessons learned as a result.  If they were changed, we may not be who and what we are now.

So, my choice would be to change a question on the 1841 census. On that census the enumerators only had to record whether an individual was born in the county in which they were living at the time of the census.  For one of my ancestors – the potboy in the Coffee House in Southwark, London – the answer is ‘No’.  So, I will never know who he was or where he was born and therefore who the rest of his family were.  A very large and solid family history brick wall!!

Finally… You’re allowed a whole afternoon to yourself with anyone from history. Who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?

Again, an almost impossible question to answer. I’d love to talk to Shakespeare, or Henry James or Nathaniel Hawthorne.  In fact, I’d love to talk to all the dead authors on my many and varied bookshelves.  But that wish will never come true.

So, I would like to go that Coffee House in Southwark and talk to that 15-year-old Potboy in my family tree. I’d want to know who he is, where he was born, what he knows about his own ancestry and, most of all, what his life is like.

Thanks for your time, Angela.

You can find Angela’s website and blog here and here. She is currently working on the follow-up to Messandriere, which is set in the village and in the nearby town of Mende, with the story beginning in October 2009. Messandrierre is also available from Amazon US and Smashwords.

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