I am joined today by Hilary Spiers whose novel, Hester and Harriet will be published in paperback tomorrow by Allan and Unwin. You can order a copy here: Hester and Harriet
First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?
After a working life that defies the description ‘career path’ (encompassing law, speech therapy, teaching, the NHS, youth services and health policy – you may divine from this that I have a low boredom threshold), I’ve been a full-time writer for some years now. I write both fiction and plays and since the age of 11 have been involved with the theatre, both acting and directing. I am an avid reader and theatregoer and when not writing, reading or at the theatre, I’m generally to be found in the kitchen.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always read voraciously (the torch under the covers as a child) and written: excruciating poetry as a youngster (doesn’t everyone?), bits and pieces for performance, short stories. The death of two friends in close succession some years ago together with a week spent on a creative writing course prompted a ‘carpe diem’ moment and coincided with a time when life (and a very understanding and supportive husband) gave me the opportunity to nail my colours once and for all to the writing mast.
Tell me about your journey to publication
When I made the commitment to write full-time, I regarded writing as my job. That meant being at my desk as close to 9am as possible, and putting in a working day. I looked upon it as my apprenticeship. I set myself the challenge to submit something – a short story, a play, even occasionally a poem – somewhere at least once a fortnight. The successes were, inevitably, heavily outnumbered by the rejections. But I enjoyed enough success to decide that I should keep ploughing that lonely writer’s furrow. I may be a bit of a gadfly at times, but, boy, am I stubborn! My stories appeared in several anthologies and Pewter Rose Press published my collection The Hour Glass in 2009. Five years ago I started an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University and the feedback from that spurred me on further. That and a very close friend and stalwart reader of drafts who is a merciless nag (bless her!), constantly urging me to keep going. Finally, in 2014, everything started to come together. My play First Do No Harm enjoyed a three week tour of the Midlands and I was taken on by the wonderful agent Jane Gregory who loved Hester and Harriet, as did Allen & Unwin, my publishers. As a primarily Australian company (although with a growing UK presence) they chose to launch in Australasia over Christmas, with the UK launch in March 2016.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
Two middle-aged sisters. Two complex, very different and sometimes cantankerous sisters who, en route to a dreaded family gathering, happen upon a frightened young East European girl and her tiny baby. They take them home, where they are soon joined by Hester and Harriet’s stroppy 15 year old nephew, seeking sanctuary from his parents. The sisters’ lives are upended as they become caught up in dark and increasingly dangerous doings.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
That’s the oddest thing. It started life with the working title of the sisters’ names and it never changed. I thought my agent or the publishers might suggest something different, but no-one ever has. Thankfully.
How do you plan to celebrate/did you celebrate publication day?
Publication day in the UK falls on a day when I’m directing a rehearsal so I shall have to wait until about 10.30 before I can raise a glass of bubbly!
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I do. I’ve just completed a second draft of the sequel to Hester and Harriet, which takes the sisters abroad, while nephew Ben wreaks havoc back home. And I’m also working on a couple of plays at the same time, both of them featuring strong uncompromising women.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
I was lost in Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (clever, clever, clever – I adore unreliable narrators), and was gripped by the twists and turns of Sarah Hilary’s Someone Else’s Skin (gruesome as it was at times). Lisa Genova’s Still Alice was a hard but compelling read, as Alice, in the grip of early-onset dementia, seeks to keep hold of her life.
What are you reading just now?
Right now (January 16) I’m galloping through Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. Oh, I do love her writing! Like Life After Life, this bobs about from period to period but her great skill is in making this patchwork into a coherent whole, with characters of immense depth and fallibility. Such wit!
Tell me about your reading habits: book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?
Ideally, a book. Nothing like the smell and feel of opening a new book. Too mean to buy hardbacks, I always wait impatiently (as I am for Helen Dunmore’s latest) to appear in paperback. Kindle on holiday (saves me taking a separate suitcase stuffed with books). The terror of running out of books while away (I’m a very fast reader)! At least with a Kindle, you can download another immediately. I never allow myself to read during the day (except the paper or if I’m recording a novel for Calibre, the service for blind or print-impaired readers – Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, at the moment, brilliant!) because that would spell disaster for doing any work, but I can’t turn the light out at night without a solid slug of fiction first.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
Only via my website www.hilaryspiers.co.uk , I’m afraid. I’m the most dreadful Luddite as regards social media, despite the best efforts of my sons.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
It has to be Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. (This assumes that I could put aside my conscience and all my scruples, and I do mean all .) The ultimate survivor, she blazes through the pages in a riot of chutzpah, breathtaking hypocrisy and devilish cunning. She’s captivating, witty and utterly, utterly shameless, in thrall to no man and entirely her own woman. I wish.