Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Interrogating Shayne Parkinson

Shayne Parkinson is a Kiwi author of historical novels.  She has a habit of appearing in Amazon's top 100.

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

I write what I'm drawn to write, and hope that people will want to read it. If my heart wasn't in it, I think that would show through in the writing—I wouldn't make a very good job of it!

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.

I've had an interest in history since I was a child, but this particular passion for writing historical fiction grew with the process of discovering my characters and the world they inhabit. I wanted to find out more about how they lived, and the more I learned the more fascinated I became.

While the historic period has shaped the attitudes of my characters and the events of their lives, and the period details are as accurate as I can make them, the books aren't about those details. I believe

that in some ways people are the same across the ages. We all have dreams and disappointments, loves and losses, joy and sorrow. For me, historical fiction can show us something of how our forbears lived—such different lives from ours—and can help us feel a kinship with them.

I find it easier to identify with ordinary people than the great and powerful, and although mine are imaginary they're as real as I can make them. I'd like to think that my characters give something of a

voice to those who lived obscure lives of quiet struggle and small triumphs, wanting the best for their children, even though their idea of "the best" might be very different from ours.

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?

The folders are mostly computer ones, where I store away bits and pieces: future plot ideas, snippets about characters' lives, interesting names for characters or places, odd little events I hear of. I also have boxes of things like old photographs and diaries.

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with?

I really don't think there's much of me in any of them—I don't think I'd survive long in a 19th century farming valley, especially with all that childbearing. I did bequeath one or two of the city dwellers my incompatibility with early mornings. One of my characters, Sarah, has a very comfortable life and is financially independent; I think hers is the life that would suit me most. She's also (like me) hopeless

first thing in the morning. One reader described Sarah as going through life "with her elbows out"; I think I have a less black-and-white view of the world than she does.

The one I'd most like to be with is Frank. As I say at the end of one of the books, my husband was my inspiration for the very finest aspects of Frank’s character.

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?

He remarked a while ago that it always feels as if we have a houseful of people, even though it's only the two of us! He does cheerfully cope with sharing the house with my motley assortment of characters. We often discuss their motivations and how they'd handle particular circumstances; there's even some role-playing at times.  The boundaries don't *quite* blur to the point of forgetting who's married to whom, though.

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

Confession time: I re-read a lot, especially my old favourites. My single favourite author is Jane Austen, and I never tire of revisiting her. Rather than having a favourite genre, I like books with engaging characters and/or appealing settings. I also read quite a lot of non-fiction, particularly in the area of New Zealand history.

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?

Well, there's the theme park, and the "Amy's Trail" tourist venture... oh, you mean in real life, not daydreams? I just put the books out there and hope for the best. I have lots of lovely readers who encourage friends and acquaintances to read the books, and this word-of-mouth is the best promotion I could hope for.

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?

Very grateful to the reader who's taken the trouble, and mortified at having let a work out into the world with an error in it. Fortunately it hasn't happened very often!

What do you like most about visiting KUF?

The open, welcoming atmosphere, and the way writers and readers mix so comfortably.

What is on your near horizon?

In a fit of madness, I've decided to work on two books at once: the next in my fiction series, and an unrelated non-fiction work about a scandalous incident in 19th century Wellington. How well I survive this remains to be seen.

Where can we find you for more information?

My website is www.shayneparkinson.com. It has some background details of the books' settings, along with my contact email address.

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