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  • Karen Hamilton-Viall

Fanny Garstang - Multi Genre author

Fanny Garstang is a thirty something indie author who lives in Gloucestershire with her husband, daughter and pets. She's been writing novels since her teens and has written in multiple genres, including historical, fantasy, romance and supernatural. We had a cosy chat recently about her writing.

How many books have you written?

I’ve been writing since my teens so have about 20 books as a minimum. I currently have 4 published books. I’ve been scribbling away since then, so there’s probably about 20 books completed in various shapes. Some will probably never see the light of day. Whereas others I’m planning to go back to at some point. And there’s about 10 more where I’ve got a beginning and nothing more, because I’m very much a pantser. I’ll just let the ideas flow and see where it takes me.

Do you want to tell us about some of them in brief?

I'm mainly a historical writer, as that's my favourite genre to read and I love history so I currently have two historicals out now. I have one called Kukulcan's Mesenger, which is set during the precolonial classical period of the Mayans of Mexico, mainly in Chichen Itza, about a young man who can speak with the gods. I have another out called The Crusade's Secrets, which follows two generations of the same family as they go on the first and second crusades.

I also write fantasy novels. My published novel, the first in a series, is called The Guardians of the Valley. I like fantasy because it gives me the chance to play around with costumes. I love historical costumes and fantasy gives me a chance to use influences from different historical eras.

I also have a contemporary romance, which is secretly my favourite, Biker Leather and Woolly Sheep, which was originally my attempt as a teenager to write a thriller, very poorly, but I loved the main character in it so much that he found his place when I rewrote it as a fun romance with a hint of mystery to it, set on a farm in North Wales.

You write in lots of different genres, romance, fantasy, historic fiction, etc. A lot of people only write in one. Why did you choose to write in so many different genres?

I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. As a reader, I have no problem picking up any book, and so I just go where my ideas take me. My romance started off as a teenager’s attempt at a thriller. I write historical novels because I love history. As I said before, fantasy just because it gives me a chance to play around with historical periods and costumes. I follow wherever the idea takes me. I confess some of them are inspired by dreams. I’ve got a dystopian novel that’s about two thirds of the way through, that’s based on a dream.

Kukulcan’s Messenger is set in the world of the ancient Mayans. It’s an unusual setting for a British author to write about. What inspired writing that story?

It was a book that started my writing. In the Lonely Planet book on the Yucatan, that my parent’s still have, there’s a little info box in it talking about how people used to think that the Mayan’s chucked virgins into the sacred cenote of Chichen Itza. Which is not true. They did throw in human sacrifices as they have found the bones but it wasn’t necessarily virgins. It literally just started off with that- what if I wrote a book about somebody falling in the cenote and then coming out of it and I literally I wrote a good two thirds of that book whilst on our fortnight holiday. My parents bought me a notebook for me to start writing it and when we got home, I filled in the blanks of my knowledge.

Is that how you write? Do you do it all by hand or do you write on a computer?

I handwrite first, then I type it up. I have tried typing it straight onto a computer before. I’ve got one or two books that I wrote straight onto a computer but they’re not brilliant to be honest. Maybe I’ll return to them one day but I’m happier writing by hand. I enjoy writing. I don’t want to feel like it’s a chore, so sitting at a computer counting the words, that’s not me. Yes, I’m doing a lot of writing at the moment but if I only write a sentence or two a day, that’s it, I’m not fussed, and then, when I type it up, that’s when the achievement comes. Wow, I’ve written 50-60,000 words! You can carry a notebook around the house with you if you’re in the middle of a writing frenzy. So that’s why I write by hand first.

What research have you undertaken for your historical books?

I confess I’m no Philippa Gregory or Alison Weir with their lovely two-page bibliography at the back listing what books they’ve used. I always used to compare myself to Jean Plaidy, because she was the first historical writer I ever read. She didn’t have bibliographies at the back but there was enough detail to show she knew her stuff. I have enough knowledge of different eras to start a novel. I don’t really plan. I will start writing then I’ll hit a point where I’ll go look something up, buy a book, research it, etc. That’s the point where I’ll start Googling; the wonders of that internet, it’s improved so much since I first started writing Kukulcan’s Messenger and The Crusade’s Secrets. They were my first two historical novels. You can look up so much more information these days. While I’m Googling, a book often comes up as a suggestion. Then I will look for that book and I’ll buy it. I bought a book by Fray Diego de Landa, which was the main book I used for research for Kukulcan’s Messenger. It’s an account of his adventures amongst the Mayans in the 16th century and he recounts everything he knows about them.

The Crusade’s Secrets started off with an abridged version of Raymond of Aguilers’ HistFrancorum qui ceperunt Iherusalem (History of the Franks who captured Jerusalem). I found it on the internet way back in the nineties and it’s still out there.

Has your archaeology degree helped in writing your historical novels?

Probably not, it did help with my archaeological ghost story. No, I lie, I wrote it before I did my degree. Everything I knew about archaeology in that story, was gleaned from Time Team. Including the fact that you had to call the police if you find a skeleton, to prove that it’s not actually a modern-day murder. I’m writing it now and there’s going to be a lot of my actual archaeological experience and knowledge in it. Especially because I’m setting it in Silchester, where I spent two weeks onsite. It won’t exactly copy the dig that the University had but it will be using the knowledge and experience I gained from there.

Do you plan every step of your novel before you begin, or do you write spontaneously?

I will tend to have a beginning, I might have an end, I might have a middle. And that’s about as far as it gets so I just go with the flow. Occasionally I might plan a little bit or a section but otherwise, I just go with the flow. The one and only time that I tried to plan the story, the characters ran away with me and changed direction completely towards the end. The most planning I’ve ever done for one book was an Ancient Egyptian one I've written which is currently titleless because I wanted to do one about ancient Egypt, and it took me a while to come up with a storyline, but I finally worked it out. It’s based on The Book of Gates, an ancient Egyptian Funerary Text. Which are the hours that Ra travels overnight through the underworld, before being reborn, so I had to do some research on that one to make sure, I was getting the right things that happened in the right hours, so that’s the most research I’ve ever done. And I researched in a few different areas to make sure that I was reasonably accurate, although like everything in ancient Egypt, there are different translations of it, so some of it didn’t quite match up but you pick the best bits out of each hour, to make a story.

I’m envious of the people that can plan and plot every detail. I don’t work like that myself.

No, it takes the fun out of it. If you literally plan every detail, I think. Later on, down the line, 2nd or 3rd edit, is where I work out where the chapters start and finish.

I like that idea. Which character that you’ve created holds the dearest place in your heart?

I didn’t know this was a term until I joined Instagram, but George (Biker Leather & Woolly Sheep) is my book boyfriend. He will be so forever more. He was inspired by Ioan Gruffudd. All my school friends know who he is because they read snippets about him. I went to a friend’s hen do earlier in the year, and it was all old school friends. They all want a copy of George, so I ended up taking about five copies for everyone to have.

Which person in your life has had the most influence on your writing?

I wouldn’t say she’s necessary influenced my writing, but she has been my biggest fan, my biggest cheerleader, it’s my grandmother, my mum’s mum. She’s literally read every book I’ve written, from the worst writing including George as a very dodgy thriller. She’s not in the best shape anymore, so my mum has now taken over that role of beta reader. The first book I printed in paperback has an acknowledgement to my grandparents. I don’t know if I’d have carried on writing if I didn’t have somebody who would keenly wait to see what I came up with next. She’s not a fantasy reader like me, but she loved my dragons, so I’ve just kept going and going with my dragons, because she wanted to know more and learn more.

I saw on your Instagram feed that you’re close with your mum as well. She’s like a best friend?

Yes, she is. For a long time, even though my mum knew I was writing, I never let her read any of it. I think I first let her read one when I reedited Kukulcan’s Messenger ready for its rerelease. That was the first, then she read my Egyptian novel, and they’re the first two I let her read. Partly because she always joked that she’d get the red pen out and edit it all, because she was a primary school teacher. I also didn’t want her reading any of my dodgy teenage sex scenes but my grandmother was one step away, so I didn’t feel so embarrassed giving her my teenage ideas of a sex scene. We do think of ourselves as really good friends. We’ve had girly holidays together and we have very similar tastes in books and interests.

If you could spend a day chatting to an author, alive or dead, who would it be?

Now this was a hard one, because I think different periods of my life would be different authors, so, when I was younger, I loved Joan Aiken. She’s had an influence on my writing as well, because I read every single one of her novels. She’s a history writer but I read somewhere that she’d probably be classed as steampunk these days. She’s most well-known for Wolves of Willoughby Chase. In Wolves of Willoughby Chase, you get introduced to a character called Dido. Blackhearts in Battersea, is her second book in a huge series of ten plus books, following Dido as she travels around the world meeting new people and having adventures. It’s very steampunkish. It’s Victorian but an alternative reality, with steam engines and stuff. There’s a channel tunnel which links England to Europe. The wolves from Europe use that tunnel underneath the channel to come back and start roaming the country. The one that always resonated with me, that I read several times was called The Stolen Lake, which was based on Arthurian legends, with a very fat lady of the lake searching for her King Arthur. So, when I was younger, Joan Aiken would have been the person that I’d want to speak to. As I’ve grown older my mum’s love for the Brontes has sat with me. I read Jane Eyre as an eleven-year-old. Everyone’s always shocked when they hear that. At that point, there weren’t a huge number of teenage books, unless you wanted cheesy romances, or Nancy Drew, and I wasn’t into that sort of thing. So, I literally turned to my mum for recommendations. As a young teenager I was reading Victoria Holt. Jean Plaidy. I had a go at Jane Eyre, I never finished it first time round, but I’d read enough of it to fall in love with it. So, I’d love to meet Charlotte Bronte and learn more about her. At university I studied Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey. I knew the odd scene of the Iliad from Rosemary Sutcliffe’s two books but then having read the Odyssey itself, I loved it and so I’d even happily meet Homer to be honest. I’m sounding such a geek, aren’t I? (Laughs)

If you could have the life of one of your characters, which would it be?

I will confess, this was the hardest question for me to answer. Because I would say their lives are all so fantastical, it’s hard to imagine living their lives. I would have to say George and his relationship with Lily the other main character. They’re living on a farm in North Wales. It’s a vague dream that I’ve always had from childhood. I’ll never have a farm. I know how much hard work it is, but it’s one of those dreams that everyone has isn’t it, so that would be the closest to living my books life.

If one of your books was picked up to be made into a movie, which one and who would you like to see staring in the key roles?

Another hard question for me because I’ve never thought of it. Yes, I’d love one to be picked up and turned into a film but I don’t know if I’ve ever thought who would play who. I even struggle scrolling through actors and actresses to find any of my characters in any of them. So, as I said before, a younger Ioan Gruffudd would be perfect for George, because he secretly is him. For Kittal in my fantasy series Guardians of the Valley, the main character in that, Sean Bean would be perfect for him. Because he’s an older character and my fantasy series isn’t some young person discovering that they have magical powers, I purposely wrote it with a forty-year-old man in it, as my main character. And it’s been that way since I wrote it as a teenager.

If you could choose one item from your books to own, what would it be?

All the costumes! Because that’s what I secretly want to do. I don’t think I want to be a historical re-enactor but if I could just go to a museum and try on all the historical costumes, I would be the happiest person in the world. The closest I’ve got, is my wedding dress. I saw that, it was Tudor, wasn’t it?

Yeah, Tudor inspired. My mum and I made it between the two of us. And the underskirt is the net skirt that my mum used in her wedding dress.

Aah lovely, where did you get married?

Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire. It’s a Tudor building with a Great Hall, owned by the National Trust.

Do you write every day?

Sort of. As I write by hand, and I write for enjoyment more than anything and a way of relaxing. If I don’t write one day, I’m not that fussed. Other days you might find me scribbling away. Last year, when I was writing some of my books, I had scene after scene in my head and literally as my child was at the table playing with playdough, I was scribbling away. I stopped for a couple of days because I ran out of steam and then I went back to it.

Do you have a favourite writing spot?

On the sofa.I can take my notebook wherever I want, in a hammock, on the sofa, on a beach, an aeroplane.

If you had to choose between your books making you a wealthy author and them making a positive difference in your life. What would you choose?

This is a very philosophical question, I thought. I don’t think what I write would make a positive difference in anyone’s life, but would I want to be wealthy? I’m not sure at the moment, as an indie author. I think I’d be happy just to earn enough to pay for a holiday. I like travelling. I love going abroad and discovering new things, you know, so would I want to be a wealthy author, and literally sitting down every day and it starting to feel like a chore? Probably not. Contracts go, you have to write five books and you’re struggling for ideas. Or I’d happily stay as I am and just earn enough that I could afford to pay for one holiday a year. I think I’d stick with that.

Do you have any upcoming events where fans can meet you?

I’ve just started to explore that option now that I’ve got a few different books published. The cover artist for two of my books thinks they would sell well in one of the big London Comicons. I’m probably going to be doing one of those in July next year. I’m just waiting for my work to approve my holiday. And one of my friends who has been one of my big supporters, since I’ve been writing. She’s going to come and be my wing woman. I’m also looking at local markets and fayres as a way of getting my books out there.

Where can fans find you on social media? Do you have a website?

Instagram. I haven’t created a Facebook page. Everything book related is on Instagram. I’ve got my author’s page on Amazon. If it all starts to pick up, I might look at creating a website, but I’ve got limited funds, so I’d rather concentrate on the books at the moment. I know people do newsletters but I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin there.

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