Tell us something about yourself.
I was born in South Wales and also lived in London before moving to Canada when I was eleven. My parents would frequently take me to museums and cultural sites on weekends in 1960s London and, while at the time I may have thought it a boring way to spend time, it was the best thing they did for me to create a curiosity about certain topics for which I now have an avid interest.
What inspired you to write this book?
It was in 1999 when I decided I wanted to write a novel. In fact, it was in the frozen foods section of our local grocery store when I finally made the decision to begin. Odd, yet true. I was feeling quite blah, and the manager, a very upbeat chap, made an unrelated remark about life not being a dress rehearsal, or something to that effect. For whatever reason, his words spurred me on and I returned home with the firm decision to get the book written, instead of just thinking and talking about it. I’ve often thought of that day, but this is the first time I’ve written of it.
How did you choose the title?
Harbinger of Secrets was the third title in line. The working title was “Damage,” but an agent told me it would be confused with another book by the same name. It then became Harbinger of Lies, but ultimately turned out to become Harbinger of Secrets, because deception in all forms is a major theme throughout the book.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
The obstacles I encountered seemed to be similar. A number of literary agents wrote to me telling me they were impressed with my writing and that the story was good, however, because it was set during 1940s (wartime) England, they didn’t think there would be an audience for the story in North America. It seemed silly to me, frankly, because such books – and films – like Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Charlotte Gray,’ Graham Greene’s ‘The End of the Affair,’ ‘Enigma’ by Robert Harris, ‘The Unlikely Spy,’ by Daniel Silva, and recently, ‘The King’s Speech,’ are all set during the same era and people all over the world are enjoying these books and films. If there’s a good story to be told, I don’t think a historical period or locale ought to take away from that fact.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. Much emphasis was placed on creative writing at my primary school in London, England during the ’60s. I was never any good at maths and preferred writing, which I found considerably easier, so I always did rather well in my English classes at elementary and high school. I have a background in teaching computer courses, which began in the early 1980s, so I took advantage of my knowledge of both word processing and computer systems in general to assist in my writing. I always maintain the most advantageous course I ever took was my grade nine typing class where I learned how to touch-type on old, bulky manual typewriters. If you can touch-type on those brutes, you can type on anything. My only regret was not taking shorthand. It would have come in so handy over the years.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Since my first novel (and now second novel) was set during the 1940s, I frequently would play all sorts of music from the ’40s, as well as having an antique writing desk with vintage items strewn about. I couldn’t help but be inspired to slip back into wartime London. I would also read my favourite authors’ works to get in step, so to speak, with their cadence. It’s a perfect starting block to get any writer off and running on the keyboard. I also had a photo at my desk of Graham Greene editing The End of the Affair with his trusty Parker 51 fountain pen.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
I have an antiquated book of baby names. An author has to be very careful when naming characters, especially if the story is set during a period in history. I didn’t want anything that would be outlandish or unbelievable. The fictional names also have to suit the characters. I changed characters names as I wrote the novel, simply because they didn’t suit who the characters turned out to be.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
It took a long time to write my first novel. My main downfall was that I would write a chapter and then edit and edit and edit, almost to the point of lunacy. I won’t do that again. I learned that literary agents are an odd bunch, some of whom ought to take lessons in common courtesy. I further learned that if you want something done, you have to make it happen.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Not edit ad nauseam. Nit-picking over the tiniest minutiae at the beginning is a waste of time. Write the story, then go back and edit and details and research.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
Without a moment of hesitation, my favourite author is the late British writer, Graham Greene. His descriptive prose is second to none and he is the most eloquent writer I have ever encountered. A close second is the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, whose phrasing and choice of words is magnificent.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I am currently writing the beginning chapters of a new novel, also set during WWII, tentatively titled, “The Hedgerow War.” While this book is also 1940s wartime, part of the book takes place in Merritton and St. Catharines, Ontario, as well as in France and England. It’s the story of a Canadian woman who is sent to England to train as a spy and dropped into France to work with the French Resistance. I want to take advantage of my research of the British wartime training schools, time spent in Paris and Normandy, France, as well as including a Canadian element, using personal research from family photographs and diaries.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Don’t sit around waiting for things to happen. Make them happen! Do your own homework and don’t rely on others for research. Don’t fret over literary agents’ responses or attitudes, but do what you need to do to see your book in either print or in digital format. Also make sure that you have a quality product – if you are financially able, hire a seasoned editor, and graphic designer/typesetter to ensure a polished book. Don’t skimp on the basics, especially editing. There is nothing worse than reading a book that has spelling mistakes and poor grammar; it’s an instant turn-off. Also, if you are writing about something that requires specific knowledge, take the time to do the research. Don’t guess!
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
I would say that women would prefer this story, however, I’ve had men of all ages comment that they enjoyed it.