Today I'm thrilled to welcome to my blog my dear friend the award-winning actress, writer, film-maker and all-round lovely person, Carol Drinkwater. Carol's latest novel, An Act of Love, is published just two days from now.
Welcome to Broad Thoughts, Carol. What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?
I have been writing since I was about eight years old. From the age of four onwards, or from any consciousness about the future and making choices, I wanted to be an actress. I then discovered words.
When I was naughty my parents used to banish me to the spare bedroom. This room had two wonders as far as I was concerned. The first was that there was a large square wooden platform that stood about five feet off the ground. This became ‘my stage, my theatre’. I could climb onto a chair and from there onto the stage where I could ‘perform’. The other gift the room gave me was that this spare room was where my father stored all his fancy dress costumes. As well as being a musician, my father also had his own theatrical agency at the back of which was his fancy dress shop. He would travel all over buying up costumes from old theatres or fancy dress shops going out of business, or wherever. He stored them in this room. It reeked of mothballs and old bits of fur. Those smells were potent to me, they held all possibilities.
So, now I had a stage and costumes, but no plays, no words. Daddy got me a huge Shakespeare jigsaw puzzle, like an enormous round plate. At its centre was Shakespeare’s head. Encircling this portrait were thirty-seven coloured images. Each was a depiction of a moment from one of Will’s plays. That jigsaw puzzle took up a large section of my stage. I skirted about it, prancing back and forth (about two steps each way!) dolled up in costumes from Daddy’s rails of clothes. I was attempting to imitate the silent figures in the jigsaw portrayals.
My next precious gift was a Complete Works of Shakespeare. My very own hefty black Bible from which I copied out words, sentences, that I did not understand. Those words were the beginning of writing for me. The seed, the keys to universes I had not yet encountered. Coxcomb, for example. What was that? I put the words in the mouths of the characters I was dressed up to represent. Even if I didn’t understand the difference between Falstaff or Mistress Quickly and Cleopatra! But those names conjured up so many ideas for me.
Then I began writing short plays or exchanges of dialogue between my newly-born characters. By the age of ten I had written a play that I produced, directed, starred in at school. This we performed at my Irish convent and then I took it on a “tour” to local old people’s homes. The residents watched on from their wheelchairs in utter bemusement!
That sounds intriguing. I wish I'd been there to see it!
Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?
It is a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age novel. It is also a WWII story of love and courage. One young woman’s journey from the revelation of first love, through her darkest hours, to ... (The novel tells the rest!!)
What was the inspiration for this book?
Inland of where we live on the French Riviera, the Côte d’Azur, I came across a remarkable story of a small mountain village whose inhabitants welcomed into their community almost a thousand fugitive Jews. They hid these refugees for almost a year between November 1942 to September 1943 when the Nazis arrived into this Free Zone region of France. At that point the Jewish families who had made friends, built relationships with their French hosts, were obliged to flee.
Did you do any research for the book?
MASSES and masses.
I love research, but it's a real thief of time...
What does a typical writing day involve for you?
A great deal of hard work! When I am at work on a novel or novella, I usually write for about seven hours. It sleeps with me too. The characters, their journeys, their desires, disappointments and confusions. It is a twenty-four hour commitment!
How do you decide on the names for your characters?
Interesting question. Some characters seem to name themselves. Others I look for in local directories or I take them partially from people I have met or heard of.
Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?
I am one of those who sets out to work without knowing where I am going. The stories unfold and develop as I write. It is an exciting and sometimes terrifying process.
I know exactly what you mean. That's happened to me too. I've tried plotting out a novel in advance, only to find that the characters have their own ideas and take the story in a whole new direction!
Which writers have influenced your own writing?
So many. Well, Shakespeare as a beginning. Marguerite Duras, Isabel Allende, Graham Greene, William Boyd. Every writer I have ever read has had some tiny influence on my work, even if only for me to say "I don’t like that" or "This story doesn’t speak to me". Films, too. I am a film fanatic, and watching films is a method of comprehending and getting to grips with story-telling for me.
I filmed episodes of James Herriot’s stories for so many years that his work began to seep into me. I understood that his love of his territory and those around him gave his books a special magic. And he never wrote down to his readers. Two very important lessons for me.
What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?
Holding the finished work in my hands, talking to readers at literary festivals and other book events, sitting on a plane or train and spotting someone reading one of my books – that is all very special.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
WRITE, just keep at it. There is no other way, no magic solution. No one else will write YOUR book. It comes from you and that can be both a joyous and a painfrul process, dragging it out into the open and onto the page. But it is also a WONDROUS process. It never fails to amaze and thrill me. (PS: I should listen to my own advice more frequently!!)