Thursday, 16 February 2012

Author Spotlight: Gwen Kirkwood

I am delighted to welcome the very interesting and helpful writer, Gwen Kirkwood, to my blog today. Gwen has a long list of publications, and her wonderful novels (and a few novellas) are rich with family detail in a country and farming background, taking readers into an absorbing tale. She lives in southern Scotland and her beautiful surroundings provide a backdrop to many of her stories. As an experienced writer, Gwen is always willing to pass on some of her knowledge and encouragement to newer writers, but she is one of the most modest successful writers I have the privilege of knowing.

The Silver Link - The Silken Tie is one of Gwen's print novels, now available on Kindle.


Elspeth is the last of the Elliots of Everanlea. She shares her grandmother's love of their Scottish heritage and she is determined to preserve it, but running a large hill farm presents problems, and a danger neither of them could have envisaged.

Elspeth is dismayed when her father advises her to sell out to her neighbour, Robin Armstrong, for feuds between the Elliots and the Armstrongs of Arnhill are legendary. Even if she wanted to sell, could she bear to sell to the man she would never forget, or forgive, for humiliating her in front of her friends when she was sixteen? Besides her grandmother has engaged a manager, the charming and handsome, Howard Elliot. He appears very eligible, and Elspeth is reluctant to question her beloved grandmother’s opinions, but Howard is unfamiliar with the ways of Border shepherds.

In spite of their stormy relationship, Robin Armstrong offers his help – but he admits he has ulterior motives. So can she trust him? Or should she continue to rely on Howard?

The Silver Link - The Silver Tie is available from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)

Welcome to the Reading and Writing blog, Gwen. Many thanks for answering these questions and giving us some excellent insight into the farming world.

Thank you Rosemary for inviting me to your own very popular blog and for generously giving your time to share this with me today.

How much of your own farming background goes into your novels?

Some people are extremely good at researching facts and scenes about places they have never seen in reality. I am neither confident nor comfortable with this so I follow the advice “write about what you know”. In my case this is farming as I have lived on farms almost all my life. I am aware that if readers want to learn about a subject they will choose a text book, not a fictional story, so my novels depend on strong characters and I try to keep farming and country life as an authentic background.

Most writers agree that research, or knowledge, should be like an iceberg - a solid base but only an intriguing peak in evidence. I am constantly trying to think of a different event or situation so that my readers will not be bored with farming details as I have some loyal followers who have read all of my books. Both my agent and editor have asked for more farming details on occasion but I do not like situations to be contrived. They must fit naturally into the character’s life and work. It may be the death of a favourite horse, the tragedy of a foot and mouth outbreak, or the satisfaction of helping the birth of a calf from a favourite cow, or a life and death rescue from an intelligent dog, as in A Home of Our Own. Whatever it is, it will affect one of the main characters and if I have written it well enough the reader will share in his/her joy or sorrow.

I enjoy history too and often incorporate real life events when they occur at the correct time in a character’s life so I keep a careful note of dates and ages, especially when writing a series which covers three or four generations. The first Fairlyden saga starts pre 1900 and the fourth takes us to the Second World War. The Home series starts at the end of the war and is continuing. Farming didn't change much during my grandparents’ lifetime with horses and hand milking and a mixture of animals and crops. The war brought tractors. Milking machines took over from the women milking by hand.

In one book I tried to show the desperate shortage of food after the war and farmers being compelled to plough up grassland, whether or not it suited them. Gradually farms have amalgamated and this affects some of my characters as they struggle to find the money for bigger units. More farmers specialise in only one or two types of animal now, and some only grow crops and do not keep any animals - though not in my books. Last year my son installed robots so the cows can come to get milked by themselves whenever they feel the need. This is more natural as calves suckle regularly. The book I’m writing now is the first I have written up to present day. I shall introduce milk robots as a new slant, but they’ll also cause friction between some of the characters.

Has farming changed a lot over the years since you started writing?

It is not only farming which has changed. My early romances were written in the 1980s and are too short to have much farming detail. The Silver Link - The Silken Tie is set on a sheep farm near Langholm and if mobile phones had been in use then they would have changed the whole plot.

Incidentally, I often use the names of actual towns to fix the area but I never use real characters and I change the names of villages and farms in case local people try to attach identities to my characters.

You began your writing career the traditional way – do you think e-books are a good idea?

Over the years I have had a lot of support from my local papers and libraries but on the whole I don’t enjoy the marketing which most publishers expect from authors these days. Marketing and utilising social media are essentials for any authors who are self-publishing, either in book format or digitally. Although I still prefer the sight and feel of a real book I intend to make more of my books available for digital E-readers. I think (and hope) it will keep them available. Paper books go out of print in a relatively short time due to economics, cost of paper and storage and general outlay, unless an author is lucky enough to write bestsellers which stay in continual demand.

Do you have a view of the countryside from your writing place?

When I look out of my windows and see the countryside on all around me, and watch the changing seasons, I think how lucky I am, but I keep my desk away from the window, partly to avoid distraction, but also because I do not like the sun shining on my computer screen.

Could you pass on some wisdom, or tips to newer writers, please

Well what works for one person may not work for another. I am not a plotter so I would say get writing and keep writing. Do edit diligently later though. My stories depend on characters. You only get to know them as they, and the story, develop. It is like getting to know new people in a village. The joy of writing is you are in control and you can do what you like with them and their situations. Later, when you know them better, you can strengthen them or change their name or hair colour or whatever you wish. I enjoy this editing stage but I know many writers hate it. Remember there is nothing to love, hate or change if you don’t get on with writing the story.

Hint for busy mums with lots of interruptions. Before you log off try to jot down a few words to remind you of your train of thought so that you can get straight into the next writing session when the opportunity arises.

Thank you so much for those wise and interesting answers, Gwen!

You can find Gwen's books on her website and further information on her Blog and as one of the five authors on Novel Points of View.

(Sagas grouped in their series)

1. Dreams of Home - Severn House
2. A Home of our Own - Severn House
3. Heart of the Home - Severn House
4. Another Home - Another Love (due May 2012) Robert Hale Ltd

1. Secrets in the Heather - Severn House
2. Call of the Heather - Severn House
3. When the Heather Blooms - Severn House

1. The Laird of Lochandee - Severn House
2. A Tangled Web - Severn House
3. Children of the Glens - Severn House
4. Home to the Glen - Severn House

1. Fairlyden - Headline
2. Mistress of Fairlyden - Headline
3. The Family at Fairlyden - Headline
4. Fairlyden at War - Headline

The Fairlyden series are out of print but will become available as audio books at libraries and from Audible during the next 18 months and as digital E-books as soon as I can upload them.

Shorter single romance novels

These were originally written and published under Lynn Granger but I have now uploaded them to Amazon and Smashwords as e-books under my own name of Gwen Kirkwood

Lonely is the Valley (available soon)
The Wary Heart
The Laird of Lochvinnie
The Silver Link-The Silken Tie
Written on the Wind
A New Beginning (title of printed version was Shattered Dreams)

Gwen Kirkwood is supposed to be retired but she can’t imagine a life without writing. She has three adult children so with her son farming over the garden wall, and one daughter with an ice cream parlour only a mile in the other direction, she sees a lot of her grandchildren. “They keep me on my toes and up to date with life,” she says. She also enjoys local history, gardening and reading.


Carolb said...

That was a very interesting interview, thank you, Rosemary and Gwen. :-)

Joanna said...

Thank you so much, Rosemary and Gwen. This was a fascinating interview and I love the idea of likening research to an iceberg.
All Gwen's advice is marvellous, particularly the idea of making brief notes before logging off for the day.
Thank you!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for visiting, Carol!

Glad you enjoyed Gwen's advice as much as I did, Joanna!

Teresa Ashby said...

What a lovely interview - thank you Rosemary and Gwen and some great advice there x

myraduffy said...

I so enjoyed that interview, Rosemary and Gwen. It's fascinating to read about the detail of other writers' lives.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Teresa!

It is indeed, Myra! Thank you.

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Needless to say I owe Rosemary a big thank you for inviting me and for her time and patience. It is so good of you all to read and comment so many thanks Carolb, Joanna (I'll see you on Twitter!),Teresa and Myra.

Paula Martin said...

What a great interview, Gwen. I enjoyed so much reading about the farming background to your stories and the changes there have been over the years. Must admit I'd never heard of milking robots, but what a clever idea!
My stories, like yours, develop as they go along, and I agree about getting to know your characters as the story develops. I love it when they surprise me!
Good luck with your latest release.

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Hello Paula and thanks for your comment. The robots are fairly new and originated in Scandanavia. I agree it's lovely having the characters to play around with, and surprise us - a bit like the paper dolls which came with all sorts of costumes to chop and change! Can you tell I'm young at heart.

Paula Martin said...

Oh wow, Gwen, I remember those paper dolls! I loved them! I made lots of different 'clothes' for them, and made up stories for them all to 'act out' LOL!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Paula - I used to love the paper dolls and clothes on the back of the Bunty magazine!

Gwen Kirkwood said...

We're all young together then and it's clear we had imagination from an early age. Rosemary I could almost get to enjoy this blogging!

Susan Bergen said...

Great to read about the delightful Gwen Kirkwood. I, too was an avid Bunty paper clothes collector. Got my mag every Saturday! Perhaps that's where the fantasy world began?

Paula Martin said...

Paper dolls - I could write a ream about them! Dick and Dora were my favourites - no idea where I got them from, but I loved them! Can still picture them in my mind even now!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hello Susan - thanks for commenting. I'm sure you're right about the fantasy!

Gwen - this is the fun part of blogging!

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Thank you for looking in Susan. Sometimes it's good to remember the simple pleasures. After all they helped to make us writers.
Paula I enjoyed reading about you on the RNA blog today.
Rosemary - I am almost converted, until I have another spell of neglect.

Vikki said...

Sorry I didn't manage to drop by yesterday...enjoyed reading your interivew, Gwen and sounds like you have idyllic surroundings to inspire your writing!

Joan Fleming said...

Thank you, Rosemary and Gwen, for such an interesting interview. I'm looking forward to reading how the milk robots feature in your tale!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Vikki and Joan!

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Vickki thank you for taking time to look in on us. Hope you enjoy SAW.
Joan thank you. I doubt if I shall dare put much detail re robots in the story. They phone up when there is a problem though. May be able to put some bits in. As ever it depends how the flow goes.

Patsy said...

It's very true about getting to know the characters as the story develops. That's true for readers and writers, I think.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Absolutely, Patsy - thanks for commenting.

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Thank you for commenting Patsy. You're so right about getting to know the characters but it can be satisfying, and sometimes exciting by the time you get to the end, can't it.(Even frustrating sometimes too)

Talli Roland said...

Sounds like a fascinating read, Gwen! I love the advice that what works for one writer may not work for another.

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Thanks for taking time to comment, Tali. I often think writers are divided into two camps - plotters and character driven. Even then there are so many variations. It's a bit like cooking. Its' the end result which counts.

Janice Horton said...

Hi Gwen & Rosemary - thank you for such an interesting interview! Gwen lives quite close to me in the beautiful south of Scotland countryside and has over the years offered me wise and valuable writer tips in our conversation without even realising it - as she is so modest and generous as well as successful. I loved the tip that you cannot love hate or change what you haven't yet written so get writing - true and to the point!

A wonderful interview. Xx

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Aw thanks Janice. It does make me wonder though what other "blethers" I have uttered without realising it.
I believe we're due to meet up soon? Remind me to watch my words!

Rosemary you have really done me proud and here's a final BIG THANK YOU and all the good wishes and success you deserve.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Talli and Janice!

You're very welcome, Gwen - it's been great having you here.

Sara Bain said...

Don't know what Southern Scotland would do without the wonderful Gwen Kirkwood. Great interview, Rosemary: you're getting really good at this! Well done both.

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Thank you for dropping by, Sara. I'm not the one who is wonderful but you're right, Rosemary does make an excellent job.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for that, Sara - Gwen has been a star!