Time for another questionnaire-style interview with an author with a book from Unbound Publishing (my own East of England is in edits with them as we speak, and will be out in due course). Today, it's the turn of Virginia Moffatt, who's here to tell us all about her new novel Echo Hall:
1. Who are you and what’s your book about?
My name is Virginia Moffatt. I am a writer from Oxford. After decades of working in social care, I’ve had a few different jobs. I currently work as a Procurement and Contracts Manager in a multi-academy. I’m married with three teenagers who are all in full-time education.
Echo Hall is my first novel. It is about the echoes of history and asks the question, is conflict inevitable or can we find another way?
2. Why should folk read your book?
Firstly, I have tried to write a rattling good story and create characters you will care about, and want to follow through to the end. Second, because I think it has something interesting and useful to say both about the nature of war and peace, and the role of women in society. I would hope that it is the kind of book that will linger long after the final page has been read.
3. What’s the appeal of your book?
It’s got a lot of different elements – gothic, family saga, politics, history – so I think that is appealing to a wide range of readers. It is also fiercely feminist, with three strong heroines: Ruth in the 1990’s, Elsie in the 1940’s and Rachel whose story runs between 1911 and 1924.
4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy?
Please, please, please buy it from your local bookshop, or if you can’t do that order it via Hive, as they will give a donation to your favourite High Street shop. It is also available via the usual online platforms if you prefer them.
5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:
I don’t really have one, because writing is crammed in the spaces I have between work and family life. I tend to do it in fits and starts, so when I’m in a writing phase, I’ll be up at 6 and write till 7 before getting ready for work, making sandwiches and chivvying teenagers out of the house. When approaching a deadline, I’ll probably be continuing in the evening after tea, between 7 and 9, and for as much of the weekend as I can get away with. From time to time, I go away on writing retreats which are very productive as I can please myself and will write from the moment I wake till the moment I go to bed.
I tend to finish a draft and leave it to cook for a bit. So if I’m not working on a nonfiction project or blogging, or posting guest articles, I use that time to market my work (currently Echo Hall and an essay collection I’ve edited; Reclaiming the Common Good: How Christians Can Help Rebuild This Broken World. I am looking forward to a day when I can work part-time and have at least one day a week devoted to writing, but that’ll have to wait till the day I get a major book deal!
6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. I had to read a lot of books about writing when I studied for a Diploma in Creative Writing and I found most of them dull and prescriptive. A friend sent me Bird by Bird. I immediately loved the accessible style and the fact that Lamott recognises there are many ways to write - you have to work out what methodology suits you. I also love the encouragement in the title, drawn from real life experience when the author’s brother was overwhelmed with the enormity of a school project on birds. Their Dad fixed it by telling him to approach it Bird by Bird which is great advice for any project but particularly helpful for procrastinating writers.
7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:
Only three? Gosh.
I love Gothic novels, but I think it is Wuthering Heights, that’s had the most impact on Echo Hall. When I was writing, I went back and had a look at how Nelly Dean tells Lockwood the story of Heathcliff and Cathy, to help me write Rachel’s story. For a while, I had Rachel’s son telling this to Elsie when they were trapped in a cottage overnight, but in the end, I changed it to a letter format. However, I hope something of the spookiness of Wuthering Heights remains and there are one or two nods to it in the book.
The structure of the novel is also inspired a bit by David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which is a series of interlocking parts. Each story is told till the halfway point, and then another story begins which has a connection to the previous. The sixth story is told in the centre of the book, and then we get the second half of the fifth, fourth etc till we are back at the beginning. I actually can’t remember if I’d worked my structure out before reading Mitchell’s book, but I certainly recognised the connection by the time I’d finished my first draft. I kept checking Cloud Atlas after that to see how the author constructed it and found that very helpful.
Finally, I reread George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying to get a sense of 1930’s life. Elsie, the second of my three heroines is living in the 1940’s but there are some flashbacks to her life before the war, and Orwell was a definite influence on those segments. He gets name-checked too.
8. Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without
The Lord of the Rings. First read it aged 13 and roughly every 18 months/2 years ever since. I love it for its heroism both big and small, huge scope and sense of landscape, journey and adventure.
Cloud Atlas, because it is an astonishing journey through time and space, full of intriguing characters, interesting ideas, heartbreaking situations. Mitchell also uses language and imagery to great effect. It is stunning and I find something new every time I pick it up.
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. It’s a brilliant novel about life, death, fate and God with the most heartbreaking last line ever.
9. Any words of writing wisdom?
Write the story only you can write. Develop a thick skin to deal with the critics. Work hard, experiment, learn from critique. Keep going, and believe in yourself, your time will come.
10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:
Three generations of women experience love, loss and conflict during times of war. Is such conflict inevitable or can we find another way?
Social media contacts:
@aroomofmyown1 (twitter) Virginia Moffatt & Echo Hall (Facebook)
Unbound URL: https://unbound.com/books/echo-hall/
Rapture and what comes after: Flash Fiction Collection. Gumbo Press (2014).
Life without Jargon: How to help people with learning disabilities understand what you are saying (1996).
Reclaiming the Common Good: How Christians can help rebuild this broken world Darton, Longman and Todd.(2017).
‘Nothing More and Nothing Less.’ A Lent course inspired by the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’. Darton, Longman and Todd. (2017).
Huge thanks to Victoria for her time and thought. Can't beat an Owen Meany fan! Echo Hall is out now, so please rush out and grab an armful of copies!