Thursday, August 02, 2007

An Interview with Carol Townend

Carol Townend was born and brought up in Yorkshire, in the north of England, and went to a convent boarding school at Whitby on the East coast. Before global warming got going, winters on the East coast could be harsh, with blizzards blowing snow into huge drifts. The roads would become impassable and sometimes the school would be cut off for days. Carol has fond memories of these times, when she would tuck herself into a window seat and grab a book from the school library.
Carol is not sure which of the Sisters was responsible for stocking the school library, but the shelves were not simply filled with copies of Bede’s History of the English Church and People or The Confessions of St Augustine. Several of the Angélique and Rogue Herries books somehow found their way in. It is a bit of a mystery how they got there and Carol will admit that they were not exactly on public view, being hidden behind The Synod of Whitby, but whoever put them there, she would like to thank them. They sparked a lifelong interest in historical romance and sagas.
Of course, Carol’s reading tastes have altered somewhat since those convent school days, but fiction always comes first, contemporary as well as historical. The picture above is Carol researching at Les Chateaux de Lastours in Southern France.

And this one is the Moat at Larressingle Bastide Town, in Gascony - 13th Centry.

What attracts you to your time period?
My favourite period is medieval, but I love history generally. The ways that other generations lived is endlessly fascinating, but who can resist the idea of a chivalrous knight? And don’t forget the buildings; there are hundreds of gorgeous medieval castles all over Europe, just waiting to be visited. And the cathedrals! Two favourites are Chartres with its magnificent elongated stone statues and other-wordly stained glass. And Durham - there’s something about the solidity of those chunky Norman pillars, deeply carved with chevrons and acanthus leaves - Durham Cathedral, it gets to me every time…
My husband and I have just come back from a research trip to France. We stayed just south of Carcassonne for a week and I had a wonderful time dragging the poor man uphill and down dale to see dozens of Cathar Castles. I am hoping to use the material to inspire a novel or two. We did have something of a glitch on the technology front as the camera broke and we didn’t realise until we got home. We took it to our local camera shop and they said that the data on the card was unreadable and that we had lost ALL our photographs. Disaster. But, no. Luckily my brother is a professional photographer and he did something magic involving a ritzy new rescue programme and most of the pictures were saved.

Here is one of some 13th-15th Century beamed arcades in Mirepoix, France.

Writers often use photos of movie or tv stars for inspiration, who has been the inspiration for some of your heroes?
Sometimes a face jumps out of a magazine, and I know that, given the right costume, it could be the face of my hero or heroine. Generally though, it’s better if I don’t know too much about my ‘model’, so I can get to hear the developing character in the story. For my current work in progress I am using a cropped picture from an advertisement which only shows part of the hero’s face. That way he keeps his mystery. I like a bit of mystery in a man!
At other times, objects can help. If I get stuck, one of the best ways of becoming unstuck is to pay a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. It is chock-full of design ideas, and the images often strike a chord. Once I was getting nowhere with a novel and simply staring at a pattern made of Italian mosaics told me how to finish it. Another time a visit to the Cast Court to look at effigies of Medieval Kings and Queens did the trick. Or was it the carving on that vast Renaissance door…? The British Museum is also helpful in this way, but art galleries work equally well. It is probably something to do with giving your brain new images to work with. Who knows? I certainly enjoy the visits!

Above is another of the rescued research pictures. It is a view of the lists from the ramparts in Carcassonne, France.

What is the worst thing about being a writer?
The risk of putting on weight due to too much sitting at a desk. Not getting out enough. That’s why research trips are so necessary! The picture of the cloisters shows where monks could exercise in between singing the offices or illuminating manuscripts. It is the Abbaye de St. Hilaire, in France.

What is the biggest challenge you face when you are writing a book? The beginning, the middle or the end?
When I first thought about this question it seemed that teasing out one particular plot-line from all the other potential plot-lines was the biggest challenge. It’s not easy finding an idea which will have the power to keep you going for 250 pages or so. Which would imply that beginnings are most challenging. Then I remembered that I ALWAYS get stuck in the middle. Everything drags. The narrative drive seems to have lost its force and the characters’ motivations have become muddled. Middles are hard. (That’s usually when I am to be found haunting the corridors of the Victoria and Albert Museum!) And then again, sometimes the endings just won’t work out. You read through and wonder why you chose that particular story to tell, which is another way of saying that letting go can be hard!
Come to think of it, neither the beginning nor the middle nor the end is exactly easy…


Charlene Sands said...

Hi Carol,
Love the pics you posted up here! I too, get stuck in the middle at times, but I've found a way to add some strength to the "middle" syndrome by using the Twenty Things That Will Happen in the Story technique, then -- and if I'm not careful I end up with MORE story than I wanted. :)
A very interesting post!

Carol Townend said...

Hi Charlene!

Too much story, yes, I can relate to that. I'm in that exact place with the next WIP. The plot has run away with me and if I am not careful, it's going to be way TOO long...

Best wishes


CherylStJ said...

A convent! Who knew? Your interview is fascinating and I enjoyed the pictures ever so much. Thanks!

Carol Townend said...

Hello, Cheryl,

Yes, I was so glad my brother managed to save the pictures. It took me a while to sort them, you were lucky not to get the whole lot! We will have to buy a new camera for the next trip...

Best wishes


Janet said...

Wow, Carol! You've seen and been to such interesting places - all the kinds of places that I've only read about in books. ::sigh:: Thanks for sharing the photos that were rescued by your brother.
Janet Kendall

Carol Townend said...

Hello, Janet!
I LOVE research trips, any excuse for a bit of travel. We hope to get to France again sometime and I shall have to make sure we have a camera I can operate, although it is probably best that my husband continues to take the pics because that leaves me free to (as he charmingly puts it) 'do the day-dreaming'.
Best wishes