Hello readers, internet maniacs, and other assorted freaks, goths, and lovers of the odd! Our series of author spotlights continues! Today’s subject in the hot seat is author Carol Browne (with and “E” at the end, don’t forget the “E”, boys and girls!) Firstly, Carol, nice to have you with us. You’re another member of the Burning Willow Press asylum. How you diggin’ life over at Burning Willow?
Thanks, Mikey. So good of you to have me on your blog and thanks for pointing out the ‘e’. It has dogged me all my life. My name sounds simple and ordinary but I’ve spent my life saying, “That’s Carol without an ‘e’ and Browne with an ‘e’.” My middle name is Ann and I don’t use it as it would further complicate matters. To answer your question, I have been very impressed with BWP. I find most authors I know are friendly and supportive but the management can vary a great deal. Edd and Kindra at BWP seem to do such a lot for their authors and get involved in promotional activities far more than I had expected. The company has a very upbeat vibe and a family feeling and that is so necessary when you are dealing with the fragile egos of creative people!
Carol is one of our very first authors (that I’m aware of) that actually has a piece of non-fiction published. We like to have a lot of fun in our interview series, but for a minute I think we need to actually be serious because of how important a story it is that you’ve written. Please share with the readers what this touching story is about and why it’s important this story gets told and is remembered. Also, explain how you came to write this, as I’ve heard it’s a bit of an unusual story.
My novella Being Krystyna – A Story of Survival in WWII was published as an eBook on 11-11-16 and I was delighted when it came fourth in the 19th Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll for non-fiction, especially as writing non-fiction wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. In 2011 I had a chance encounter with a guy in a Polish restaurant who told me it was his dream to see his mother’s life story in a book. She was a Polish Jew who had survived the Holocaust and emigrated to the UK. He knew I was a writer but I said I couldn’t do it; I only write fiction. Non-fiction to me seemed like doing assignments at school. Anyway, I tried to find someone who might be interested in taking this on but no-one was. I knew it was important to tell these kinds of stories and so eventually I said I’d have a go at it. He gave me some notes he had made, details of his mother’s life, and they threw me into a panic. How to turn them into a book rather than just a string of facts? How to treat the subject sensitively while also creating something people would want to read? But I had this flash of inspiration for the structure of the book, telling the story through the eyes of a biographer who visits the old lady, Krystyna, in the care home where she lives. I used my Polish friend Agnieszka for this because she really did visit Krystyna twice and this also allowed me to highlight the contrast between the lives of two Polish women and the reasons why they ended up living in the UK. It turned out that my publisher Dilliebooks, of Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK, was looking for this type of creative non-fiction for a new series of novellas they were planning and Being Krystyna was a perfect fit. My publisher felt that, given what is happening in the world now, the book’s message is extremely relevant and important. The racism and intolerance that brought about the persecution of the Jews have never gone away and you know, Mikey, there’s that old saying that those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it. It’s important that stories like Krystyna’s are recorded and remembered so people are aware of what can happen when we start treating our fellow humans differently because we don’t like their race, colour or creed.
Check out this amazing story RIGHT HERE.
Wow. That is fucking amazing. Next time you see or speak with that lovely lady will you tell her someone from across the pond sends their love. Nothing but respect for that lady, seriously. And kudos to you for writing it. Stories like that need remembering. Thank you.
Thanks, Mikey. I only met Krystyna once but I made sure I shook her hand when I left. I wanted to touch someone who had been through things I had only heard about or seen on old news reels. She’s 95 now and her dementia is really bad so I doubt I’ll see her again. She certainly would have no idea who I was. Sadly, she will never read this book about her life.
And I hope you know just how hard you’ve made this interview. Do you have any idea how hard it is to follow up the Holocaust? But alas, I must try. I like to give my readers a little insight into each author and point out their quirks or interests. You have one of the most unique interests that I’ve come across yet. I’ve heard you read tarot cards. How’d you get into this and what’s one of the stranger readings that you could share?
It all started when a friend gave me a pack of tarot cards when I was 19. My mother’s family are all a bit psychic in varying degrees and while I think I’m probably as psychic as a house brick, I do have quite good intuition and I found I could do very accurate tarot readings. I didn’t have much confidence in myself—which goes for most things I do—so the small fee I used to charge, which was a couple of quid, I would give to animal charities. My cards became like blankets eventually so I got a new pack and I just couldn’t work with them. Some years later I have received another pack from the friend who gave me my original deck and I am trying to get back into the craft again.
What I like about the tarot is that it is more about counselling than divination. Yes, it can point out future trends but if you don’t like where you are going, it gives you the chance to change matters. There are many future paths ahead. A friend recently said that my shtick, if you will, is that I put small details into readings that make them ring true. The first reading I did for my second husband I told him he used to play the trumpet when he was a boy. He was actually in a marching band. “How the hell did you know that?” he asked. I have no idea. Now while you’re wondering how many husbands I’ve had and whether or not they all ate the poisoned mushrooms, I think one of my stranger readings was in my kitchen one evening, doing a lady’s tarot while two of my professional clairvoyant friends were with us. I told her she mustn’t be afraid of the spirits she saw round her bed at night because they were benevolent guides. She said, “How did you know that?” I said, “It’s not me, it’s the cards,” but my other friends then started getting messages from these guides and they were talking to people I couldn’t hear or see. One of my friends said there was a spirit standing over me who had told me to say what I did so they could help the person having the reading and that, “there are loads of spirits in the room now”! I found it very uplifting and weird at the same time. Eat your heart out, Zak Bagans. Am I waffling on a bit, Mikey? I’ll stop now.
I’ve heard you’re a proofreader, which means you’ve probably handled tons of manuscripts. Without giving names, what is the oddest thing you’ve ever been given to proofread?
I’m a really good proofreader because I have OCD and that makes me pay attention to detail! I wish I proofread manuscripts but my clients aren’t writers. They are mainly students. Nearly always immigrants—you know those awful people over here taking our jobs—and they need assignments and CVs checked and some of them have their own businesses so they ask me to proofread their web content or blogs. I don’t recall proofreading anything odd. I proofread a dissertation on James Bond once for a lovely Slovakian lad who is now a teacher and a dissertation on how to test for fungal infections (ew, but who knew you could write a whole dissertation on that!). Today I proofread a newsletter on nutrition. Quite soon I hope to be proofreading a script for a TV comedy.
Also, I know you have a heavy interest in animal rights and the like. You’re quite the little hippie, my dear. Are there any charities you’d like to shine some light on while you’ve got the chance?
Yes, I’m definitely a tree-hugger. I try to tread lightly upon the Earth and believe it is a conscious entity and we should revere it as our mother. I feel an affinity with pagans and indigenous people so I support the rights of those like the Native Americans who are trying to protect their water and sacred land. For ethical reasons I became a vegetarian 33 years ago. For the past 5 years I’ve been a strict vegan and I love it. I support a number of animal welfare organisations when funds allow. In the UK there’s the Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. There’s the International Fund for Animal Welfare which does so much to help animals worldwide and Four Paws and International Animal Rescue and SPANA; I mean, the list is endless and I couldn’t single any out, although one of my favourites is a UK charity that has taken in hundreds of rescued animals of all kinds: Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk. It annoys me when people say never mind about animals why don’t we help people, and I say, why can’t we help both? It’s their world too, isn’t it? We are all just creatures together on this planet and we all have a right to be here and live our lives free from harm and exploitation.
Okay, time for the meat and potatoes as they say: you’ve got a fantasy trilogy with Burning Willow coming up. How ‘bout you break out a little synopsis and give us a sneak peek into what’s coming? I also heard, I believe it’s this story, had a past life somewhere else…so tell everybody the journey this novel has gone on to get where we are now.
Yes, the trilogy is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy set in Britain in 500 CE. I wrote the first draft of Book 1 40 years ago. (Yes, while I was in my pram). When I wasn’t submitting it to publishers, it spent years at a time in cupboards and suitcases, before making an appearance as a self-published behemoth of a book in 2007. It was then entitled The Lorestone and it sold about 70 copies in total. One of the people who bought it loved it so much she begged me to write a sequel. So in 2009 I did (Gateway to Elvendom). A year later I realised there was a third book that needed to be written to make the journey of the characters complete. That book was Wyrd’s End. Inspired by my tiny fan base, I decided to try once more to get the book published and my luck was in. Musa Publishing offered me a three-book contract for what was now The Elwardain Chronicles and Book 1, now entitled The Exile of Elindel (and with at least 33,000 words and many plot holes edited away!), was released as an eBook on 18th April, 2014. Musa sadly went out of business in February, 2015, but I was lucky to be accepted by BWP in December of that same year. And all that because 40 years ago I heard a record on a juke box, had a picture of two characters pop into my head, and felt compelled to write their story.
So you see how you should never give up on a creative project, even though it can take years to get anywhere. And as for all those rejection slips, they are merely battle scars.
Here’s the blurb of The Exile of Elindel as it now stands. The rest of the trilogy is the continuing story of these same characters but with more sub plots, magical creatures, and relationship complexities.
Elgiva, a young elf banished from Elvendom, must seek shelter among the Saxons as her only hope of surviving the coming winter.
Godwin, a Briton enslaved by the Saxons, is a man ignorant of his own inheritance and the secret of power he possesses.
A mysterious enemy, who will stop at nothing to wield absolute power over Elvendom, is about to make his move.
When destiny throws Elgiva and Godwin together, they embark upon the quest for the legendary Lorestone, the only thing that can save Elvendom from the evil that threatens to destroy it.
There is help to be found along the way from a petulant pony and a timid elf boy but, as the strength of their adversary grows, can Elgiva’s friends help her to find the Lorestone before it falls into the wrong hands?
I know you live over in the UK. Are you sick of the fact that most Americans think everyone over there talks like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins? And while we’re at it, “Need ya chimney swept, gub’ner?”
I don’t know what you mean, Mikey. I sound exactly like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, just in a higher register. I do have a chimney as well and it hasn’t been swept for about 20 years so probably does need a bit of a clean. My godfather went to America when I was a child and never came back. He loved it and took American citizenship, and once a month would write to me about his adventures there. He instilled in me a lasting fondness for the US of A. We have our own misconceptions about the States too, mainly thanks to all the American TV we were bombarded with as kids. (But you also gave us Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory so all is forgiven.)
Okay, you’re writing fantasy: How does modern fantasy like Harry Potter compare to the classics like Lord of the Rings?
As someone with an honours degree in English Language & Literature, I should be able to answer this fluently and easily while impressing you with my erudition but I feel I’ve been poked in the grey matter with a pointed stick. All I can come up with is the difference in style, which is a result of changing trends in writing over the years. Tolkein’s prose has more padding than a warehouse full of duvets and if LOTR landed on a publisher’s desk today, some ruthless editing would be required. Nowadays, there’s a great deal of emphasis on the active voice and the POVs too. When I first worked with an editor, I had no idea that head-hopping was a hanging offence or that adverbs were the spawn of Satan. As a reader, reading books like LOTR, I had grown up with that particular wordy style, and it didn’t seem odd to me. Bit of a culture shock! And what in heaven’s name was the active voice?
You’re stuck on a deserted island. Which fantasy character from your favorite fantasy novel would you want to have stuck with you and why?
I’m torn here between Gandalf from LOTR and Lord Mhoram from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (but have long suspected they are really one and the same being). I reckon if you’re marooned somewhere, having a companion who can wield magic is probably a good thing.
Last question, once you do your fantasy trilogy with Burning Willow Press, what’s the one genre or the one story you really would like to get out there?
I have a sci-fi novella called The Star Attraction I would love to see published. It’s about a shapeshifting prostitute called Tyler who works in The House on Glimmer Street on a planet called Genevra where all the trade routes in the galaxy converge. When Tyler falls in with British cop, Jerry Kinsella—who has come from Earth on the trail of a fugitive—hilarity, drama, and sexual ambiguity ensue. At least, I hope so. I have only submitted it to one publisher so far and, being British like me, I thought they would get its quirkiness, but no.
Thank you, Carol, for putting up with the interview. For anyone interested we’ll hook you up with links where you can find Carol and her writing below.
Thanks, Mikey, for a splendid interview, and apologies for waffling on and using British English (assuming you kept the spellings!). I’d like a quick shout out here too, if I may, for my UK publisher Dilliebooks.co.uk. They are open for submissions if anyone wants to try their hand at non-fiction!
Amazon US – https://tinyurl.com/jesnssb
Amazon UK – https://tinyurl.com/js4d2ab
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorCarolBrowne
Twitter : https://twitter.com/@CarolABrowne