Tag Archives: Daniela Denby-Ashe

The Armitage Authors Network Interview With Catherine Winchester

We loved bringing you the sweet North & South romance “A Merry Little Christmas” this weekend and now The Armitage Authors Network is pleased to bring you our interview with the author, Catherine Winchester. We talked to her recently about Richard Armitage as an inspiration for her heroes, her writing process and what it’s like to market herself as an independent author.

Armitage Authors Network: Welcome to the blog, Catherine. Can you tell us a little about how you became a fan of Richard Armitage?

Catherine Winchester: Watching North & South. I’d been on a historical drama bend and having rewatched all my favourite classics, I looked for ones I may have missed. N&S had good reviews so I tried it.

AAN: What was it about him that’s been an inspiration to you as a writer – him as an actor, a particular character, etc.? How are your heroes inspired by him?

CW: I can’t say what it is about him that inspires me. All I can tell you is that to write a scene, I have to be able to see it, and he’s such a versatile actor that he’s very easy to picture in a myriad of different roles.

AAN: You’ve published two North & South novels, one a continuation of Gaskell’s story and one a time-travel romance. Can you tell us a little about the difference between writing John Thornton as the husband of Margaret Hale in Northern Light and John Thornton as the employer and suitor of modern woman Carrie Preston in What You Wish For?

CW: They were very different, actually. For Northern Light, I wanted to focus on Margaret’s desire to affect change among and for the working classes, something that John came to see the logic in too. The Victorian era was full of social change as many in the ruling classes sought to improve things for the working classes. The Victorians brought in the first laws governing things such as child labor and working hours, they made education compulsory and they gave the working man the vote, so it was an era of huge social change. The whole story was built around John and Margaret’s desire to build a “model village” for their workers, which I based on the village of Saltaire. Saltaire was built in 1851 by Titus Salt on the river Aire, hence Salt-aire. He wanted to provide his woolen mill workers with decent living conditions and although there were older model villages, Salt’s was in the same time period, region and in a similar industry.

Northern Light: A Sequel to North & South by Catherine Winchester

Northern Light: A Sequel to North & South by Catherine Winchester

I also had to stay true to the social mores as they were written by Gaskell. Her writings are very clean, morally speaking, and I had to honor that, despite my historical research painting a very different light of the times. One example is sex. Much Victorian literature ignored it completely and it is just assumed that both men and women were virgins on their wedding night. Actual figures for illegitimate births and pregnant brides show that at nearly fifty percent of women had sex before marriage. Prostitution was the second biggest employer of women, second only to being a servant and syphilis infected one third of the armed forced and 10% of the general population in metropolitan regions. In addition, birth control was available in the form of condoms made from animal intestines, sea sponges soaked in vinegar, quinine or olive oil, vaginal douches and even diaphragms, usually called rubber pessaries. Advertisements for such devices appeared in many publications of the time but it’s worth remembering that few people could read in the 1850s, so only the educated could access them as proved by the difference in birth rates between the working and upper classes. Many examples of such devices still exist in medical museums.

Clearly there was a lot more sex being had than the Victorians would have us believe but aside from a brief mention of there being ways to impede pregnancy and a doctor’s advice to stop ‘marital relations’ when Margaret’s pregnancy faces complications, I never touch on the subject of sex in Northern Light. The Victorians were also very hypocritical with sex though, assuming that men would seek sex and while that was frowned upon, it was acceptable, while a woman who was discovered having premarital or extra marital sex was a pariah.

What You Wish For by Catherine Winchester

What You Wish For by Catherine Winchester

In What You Wish For, I have a modern day female heroine who has obviously lived by our modern social mores and isn’t a virgin. I felt that I had to address this in some respect as it was probably one of the biggest differences in how we live our lives and likely, the most shocking thing about how modern British women live to a man from the Victorian era. I also gave John a past that would be in keeping with the times, he isn’t a cad or a bounder, but he isn’t a virgin either. Then of course, it was fun to explore some of the other differences between then and now in things such as medicine. The Victorians actually knew very little about the human body, for example many doctors still believed in bloodletting as a treatment and cure and they believed that bad smells transmitted disease and caused infection. Ignaz Semmelweis, the first doctor who suggested that doctors and surgeons should wash their hands in between patients and wear clean aprons — they wore dirty ones as a sign of their good trade — died in disgrace, a broken man.

So yes, the approach to each was very different but as an author, both were rewarding.

AAN: You’re incredibly prolific, can you tell us a little about your writing process?

CW: It stems from insomnia. I’ve had trouble sleeping since I was a child and it only got worse with adult problems. While I lie there, rather than replay events or worry about things, I have always created stories to distract myself. Once I began to write, certain scenes would plague me night after night, until I purged them by writing them down, then the next night, the story could move on in my mind.

AAN: You write in several genres, do you have a favorite?

CW: Honestly, it’s speculative fiction, sci-fi and fantasy type, but while my works in that area have been well received, they aren’t big sellers. I like all the genres I write in though, or I wouldn’t write them.

AAN: You’ve been very open about having dyslexia. How has that affected the way you write?

CW: It stopped me for many years. I would write stories in school feeling as proud as punch but they came back covered in red ink. They never commented on the story, only the spelling and grammar used to tell it, so I ended up thinking the whole thing was rubbish.

I kept creating stories in my head though and then I discovered Star Trek tie-in novels. I didn’t even know fan fiction existed but began to craft stories around my favourite TV shows of the time, which back then were Star Trek: The Next Generation and Quantum Leap. I would write stories based on them in spiral bound notebooks then later, on my school computer. I never showed them to anyone though, I didn’t see the point. When I finally got a home PC, I discovered fan fiction and began to post a few stories, they were in email groups then, rather than on a specific site. I’d moved onto Buffy the Vampire Slayer by then.

I think the internet was generally a nicer place back then and everyone was supportive and appreciative of my efforts. I don’t recall my spelling mistakes ever being brought up back then. Slowly, I learned how to better craft and pace my stories, and I’ve taught myself far more about spelling and grammar than my school was ever able to teach me. It still took over 10 years before I felt ready to try writing an original book.

AAN: What was the first piece you published?

CW: The first book was Past Due, part one of a vampire series. There are five planned, of which I’ve written three.

Past Due by Catherine Winchester

Past Due by Catherine Winchester

AAN: What made you decide to publish independently rather than through a publishing house?

CW: I sent the book to publishers and while I had a couple reply asking for the full manuscript, it went nowhere. But the book was written and just sitting there, doing nothing, so I looked into self-publishing. I had nothing to lose by that point, and my family rallied around to help me edit and proof it. I taught myself to use GIMP graphics program (which is open source and free) and bought stock photos for the cover.

The Reluctant Duchess, written by Catherine Winchester and narrated by Eva Hathaway

The Reluctant Duchess, written by Catherine Winchester and narrated by Eva Hathaway

AAN: How did the audio version of The Reluctant Duchess, narrated by Eva Hathaway, come about?

CW: I’d heard about it, it’s another amazon company, basically self-publishing for audio books with the royalties usually split 50/50 between author and narrator. You can also pay a flat fee to the narrators. It was a very new thing for me as I was expected to critique the version and make changes. Considering that I knew nothing about audiobooks and voice work, it was very uncomfortable for me, but I was lucky to have picked someone who seemed to know what she was doing and she did a very good job. When I can face it, I intend to turn my other books into audio books too because with the 50/50 royalty split, you have nothing to lose.

AAN: You do all the marketing on your books, can you explain to our readers a little about what’s involved in that?

CW: I have tried almost every marketing trick going and have found that very few of them actually pay dividends for the time involved. The best promotional tool I’ve ever used is Amazon’s Select’s free program. For every three months you agree for your eBook to be exclusively with Amazon, you can give it away for free for five days. I know it sounds counterproductive but it really does encourage new readers to give your book a chance, which results in reviews on your page, sales of your other books,assuming they liked what they read, and recommendations to their friends and family. A lot of people tie their Amazon and Goodreads accounts to Twitter, so purchases and reviews automatically appear on their Tweets.

Other than that, I’ve rounded up my personal experiences with other marketing ideas on my blog.

You can find Catherine Winchester’s books on Amazon here.  Her books are archived here under the tabs John Thornton, Armitage Inspired Heroes, and Other Works by Armitage Authors. Follow her on Twitter @CatWAuthor and on Facebook here. She also blogs at Catherine Winchester.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#NS10: Going Back To The Beginning

The Armitage Authors Network continues our celebration of the 1oth Anniversary of  North & South this week with a special post from three of the authors we’ve archived: Elizabeth Hanbury, Phillipa Ashley, and Georgia Hill. They recently spent some time exploring Quarry Bank Mill, a site that Elizabeth Gaskell may have used as inspiration for Thonton’s Mill and the Master’s house, and they shared their photos and memories of what the early days of the fandom was like below.

Happy Anniversary!

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the first broadcast of the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South.

Anyone who has only recently discovered the delights of N&S and John Thornton/Richard Armitage might not know the internet phenomenon that followed its original broadcast. The three of us (Phillipa Ashley, Liz Hanbury and Georgia Hill) were there when it happened and to celebrate this special occasion, we’re sharing our thoughts and recollections of those heady days.

“Quarry Bank Mill – it’s believed that Elizabeth Gaskell would have known the Gregs (who owned QBM) as her uncle was employed as doctor to the child apprentices there and Hannah Greg was a Unitarian and therefore part of EG’s circle. It’s been speculated that EG based N&S/JT/MH on Quarry Bank Mill, Samuel Greg and Hannah Greg.” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

So let’s begin with a bit of background…

Back in November 2004 there was very little pre-publicity about this new period drama series North & South, even from the BBC. It arrived on British TV screens on Sunday evening, 14th November, relatively unheralded and unannounced. Then (as now) the BBC has a specific area on its website – messageboards – for comments and discussion on TV and Radio programmes. A messageboard for N&S was started shortly after episode one was broadcast. At first these discussions took place on the BBC’s general drama board. The contributions were plentiful but initially fairly restrained because the board was strictly moderated – more on this later. Then, someone asked “Is it just me, or is Richard Armitage hotter than a thousand suns?” and the floodgates opened!

By the end of November, the volume of messages being posted had swamped the general board, so a new board was opened especially for N&S in mid-December which sparked another 5,000 messages. This unprecedented reaction to North and South and the outpouring of emotion caused such a stir it even got a mention in the UK national press.

"Reconstruction of a mill workers cottage, built in Styal village near to Mill." Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury

“Reconstruction of a mill workers cottage, built in Styal village near to Mill.” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury,

Liz says…

I was desperate to find out more after watching North & South. I’d never had such a reaction before to a TV drama before and to this day I don’t know why this production and Richard Armitage/John Thornton got under my skin as they did. Some people have described it like falling in love and it’s a fair comparison. It was certainly a wonderfully intense response. Having searched on line, there was very little information about the adaptation and even less about Richard Armitage, unless you were looking for the former US Deputy Secretary of State! I didn’t make the connection when watching N&S but I’d actually seen Richard before briefly, on stage, when he played Angus in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth in 1999.

Eventually I found the BBC drama messageboard where a very long conversation was already going on about North & South. My first feeling was one of relief. I was just pleased to find others had been similarly affected. I thought I was the only one going crazy over it!

I joined and did at least remember to use a pseudonym although the weirdos I’d been worried about finding in an on-line chat room all seemed remarkably intelligent and erudite people, quoting Gaskell, comparing the original text with the adaptation and discussing many aspects of 19th century culture and literature. The atmosphere was heady and strangely comforting for those of us caught up in this extraordinary passion. Discussion was fast, furious and fun with dollops of desire for a certain TDHCMO (that’s short for ‘tall, dark, handsome cotton mill owner’ – we created our own acronyms and phrases for speed of posting and to get around the moderators. For example, ‘South American River’ was used when you wanted to point people towards ‘Amazon’!) alongside sensible literary discussion and analysis.

A campaign was started to get the series out on DVD as only a few lucky souls had had the foresight to record every episode.

The board was strictly moderated, and messages would be removed without warning if the moderators thought we had broken the rules. We never knew who the moderators were. We only knew the two BBC hosts, Ian and Claudia, who occasionally popped up to post in the threads. There were no pictures on the board and no smilies.

Also, the board was only open until 10pm in the evening, so there would often be a mad rush just before then to post messages. It was hard to tear yourself away, such was the intensity of the discussion. One evening I made the mistake of putting on a face pack thinking I’d spend a few minutes checking on the latest postings and news. Three hours later I was still staring at the PC screen, utterly engrossed and still wearing the face pack!

And some of the threads were side-splittingly funny and off-the-wall – there was a Milton Pantomine thread featuring Henry the Horse and a thread which discussed which washing powder Mrs Thornton used to get John’s shirts so white!

It was a magical and unforgettable time and out of it came things I’ll always I treasure: the N&S DVD which might otherwise not have seen the light of day, and which continues to gain the series new fans and incite the same passionate response we experienced back in 2004; some wonderful friendships and plenty of laughter; and indirectly the push I needed to take my scribblings out of the drawer, dust them off and start writing again.

I hope Richard and the rest of the cast and crew of N&S 2004 find it heart-warming to know how many good things N&S 2004 has been the catalyst for, and feel proud to have been involved in something that continues to delight 10 years on, as well as engender a strong sense of community and goodwill among its many fans worldwide.

"Kitchen garden at the Apprentice House – produce from kitchen garden was used to feed apprentices." Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

“Kitchen garden at the Apprentice House – produce from kitchen garden was used to feed apprentices.” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

Phillipa says….

 I’ve never heard that face pack story, Liz! I’d love to have seen that.

 Whizzing back ten years to that dark Sunday evening in November 2004…

 I’d always loved period dramas and when I saw N&S trailered, I thought I’d give it a go, BUT (please hide behind the sofa at this point) I hated Thornton in the first episode. I thought he was vile when he kicked the millworker and not handsome, but scary. I told my husband and daughter that I might not bother with episode 2, however, they really enjoyed it so I decided to give the series a second a chance.

 Some way into episode 2, I suddenly thought: wow, this is good and wow, this character has a magnetic charisma that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Basically I was completely hooked on the series and on Richard’s portrayal of Thornton and I wanted more of both.

 Internet forums were relatively new back then, so while I was looking for more details on the series I happened upon the BBC Drama messageboard. It was there I saw a thread that said something like: “It is just me or is John Thornton hotter than 1000 suns?”

 The board is where I ‘met’ Liz and Georgia but they had screen names then. It wasn’t until many months later that we finally met in the flesh.

 I have North & South to thank for that, and for introducing me to writing fiction and to my other C19 close friends.

"Inside the mill with machines and cotton dust!" Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

“Inside the mill with machines and cotton dust!” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

 Georgia says…

Heady is exactly the right word. It was an extraordinary time. I’d gone through something similar with the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, back in 1995. The big difference? No internet! I had to make do with a ‘Making of’ behind the scenes book and a trip to some of the film locations. Although I still harbour a fondness for both television series and Colin Firth (who doesn’t?!) the obsession soon waned. With North & South, I had a access to a community of intelligent, educated and, let’s face it, swooning Richard Armitage fans! It revived my love of 19th century literature and history and introduced me to many books I probably would have otherwise overlooked.

I have very fond memories of the BBC site. I’d never been on an internet chat forum before and it was an absolute delight. Like having a non-stop gossip with like-minded people. We’d begin a thread discussing one thing and it would drift into something really quite different. What began as an opera topic, ended up as a discussion on whether we thought our literary hero was a virgin. There were in jokes galore too. The main snag was, at that time, I only had a dial-up internet connection. This meant not only was the phone ‘engaged’ for hours on end, I quadrupled the phone bill. That took some explaining.

Meeting up in London – for the first time – was scary. It didn’t help that a friend suggested all these women may not be all they seemed. The person who claimed to be a Jane Austen literature expert on the board may be something completely different for real! Thankfully, everyone turned out to be as lovely in real life as on the board – and as easy to talk to. We’ve gone on to have some really enjoyable weekends – to mills, Chawton and to Edinburgh where many N&S locations were filmed. I’ve made some lasting friendships which I treasure. And, of course, it sparked off my writing career.

Great fun and happy memories.

"Tables set out for celebration dinner – complete with yellow roses of course!" Photo used with kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

“Tables set out for celebration dinner – complete with yellow roses of course!” Photo used with kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

 Footnote…

The BBC N&S board carried on until February 2005, when it was shut down in a cost-cutting exercise. Allegedly ;0) Actually I don’t think they could cope with the deluge of posts! Richard Armitage himself posted a message to us the day before it closed and the response caused the board to go into meltdown. It never quite recovered before its final closure the following evening!

One of the members had already set up another board elsewhere for discussion about 19th century literature. When the BBC board closed, she kindly set up some extra boards about N&S for us on the C19 Messageboard, and most of us moved over there.

Copies of some of the conversations we had about North & South on the BBC board in the three months after it was aired can be found in the archive board on C19. A few members had the prescience to save some of the best ones.

And that mention in the UK national press? The Times printed an article about the phenomenon that was the BBC N&S board just before Christmas 2004. You can read it here.

We hope those who were never on the BBC board enjoy reading about that heady time. We certainly will never forget it! Let us know if you have any questions about those early days and we’ll do our best to answer them.

You can find Georgia Hill in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @georgiawrites. Phillipa Ashley is in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @PhillipaAshley. Liz Hanbury can be found in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Hanbury.