A regular visitor to Authors on Show for some time, Loretta Proctor graciously accepted the offer for an interview. Read what she has to say about her work and other areas of interest.
Loretta Proctor is an Anglo Greek born in Cairo, Egypt. She came to England when a small child. She has been writing since her teens and won prizes and competitions in her early days, but gave up writing for many years. Now retired, she has found time to return to her early love of storytelling. Her first book,The Long Shadow is set in WW1 Greece. Her latest work is The Crimson Bed, set in Victorian London against a pre-Raphaelite background of artists and their loves and lives.
1. First, thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed for Authors on Show. Tell our readers how you got started and how long you've been writing.
My first half-page story, written at the age of six, was titled The Adventure of a Piece of String. My mother praised it so much it got me hooked on the storytelling experience! I never stopped after that. However, I wrote my first real ‘novel’ in an exercise book at the age of twelve and that dramatic marvel was called Is this Vengeance? Ghastly title, isn’t it? Maybe I thought I was Jo in Little Women. I stopped writing after the 1970’s for various reasons but began again when I retired to Malvern UK, about ten years ago. The classics were all I read when young and my love of those beautiful stories and perfect prose made me yearn to be great writer. Now I’ve settled for just being a writer.
2. The Long Shadow is some fine historical work. What inspired you to write about such a topic?
Being half Greek and half English, I wanted to explore my own inner quest for roots and identity. This inspired the story of Dorothy Clarke who becomes a Red Cross nurse in the First World War and goes to Salonika with the Eastern Front. Her son Andrew, born from her love affair with a Greek officer, returns to Greece in the second half of the book on a mission to know who he is and where he belongs. As I began to research the subject, I became more and more passionate to tell the story of the brave men and women who served in Salonika and whose heroism was as great as those on the Western Front. They have been neglected by history. I genuinely feel my book fills this gap.
3. Tell us more about The Crimson Bed (without spoilers, of course!).
It arose from reading Sarah Waters marvellous book Fingersmith. This led me to write a tale set in Victorian Times. I have always loved Pre-Raphaelite art, fascinated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti who was a brilliant, flawed person. From this was born the character of Henry Winstone ( loosely based on Rossetti) and his friend Frederic Aston Thorpe. Fred is a failed artist, a man with a tormented conscience who wants perfection, but cannot live up to it. The crimson bed is an heirloom, an Elizabethan bed passed down in the family of the heroine, Eleanor Farnham, and is also symbolic of the crimson paint so loved by the artists, blood, wombs, inheritance of all kinds. It’s presence weaves a theme throughout the story, a clue to the whole mystery. I wanted this story to be full of colour, sensuality and feeling as well as portraying a more middle class set of individuals with all the strictures and hypocrisy from which these characters try to break out.
4. Who designed The Crimson Bed's book cover?
The picture on the cover is a favourite of mine. It’s called The Crystal Ball by John Waterhouse who came later than the Pre- Raphaelites, but painted in their style. The original picture is now in a private collection in Mexico. I purchased the use of the picture from Artothek and sent it to Matador, my publisher, who then designed the whole effect. It looks great and perfectly captures the mood of the book.
5. What is your overall favorite genre(s) to write? To read?
My Greek mother gave me a wonderful selection to read in my youth: Kazantzakis, Ibanez, Colette, Zola, Maupassant, Turgenev, Tolstoy. I came to English classics later and also enjoyed the best of American literature. My daughter introduced me to more modern writers and developed my taste for crime! I love strong heroines with lots of passion and guts like Scarlett o’ Hara, Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre and so on. There has to be a strong psychological theme to crime stories such as one finds in the work of Patricia Hindsmith’s Strangers on a Train and Ruth Rendell’s dark, but deeply observant works. I also love the atmosphere of Raymond Chandler and other 1930’s crime writers. In my own books, I try to develop the psychology of the characters and understand them, warts and all. Heroes and heroines have to be real people not cardboard cut-outs. My stories are mostly dramatic love stories set in the twentieth century and not later than the Victorian era.
6. What do you most like about writing? Least like?
Writing is an escape from life’s troubles, another world where I am in control of what happens At least that’s the idea. In truth, as all authors know, the story suddenly takes off and the characters appear from nowhere and start to tell their story. But I can still decide who to bump off and who to rescue! It’s wonderful when a piece flows well, when I’m feeling the drama, the fears, the loves and passions, seeing it all roll before my inner eye like a film. It’s indescribable the sense of exhilaration when a book is finished, a true ‘brain orgasm’! I’m not joking. It’s a coupling within of one’s male and female side and a birthing comes from that union.
Like all writers, I can be lazy and not feel like writing at times but I make myself sit down and write a few lines, however, stupid, then suddenly, I’m off. It’s harder when writing historical fiction because you need to know all the facts and that slows down the flow of thoughts. Just now I’m writing a sequel to The Long Shadow and finding it a bit of a struggle as it’s set in the 1960’s and I need to get it right. I think proof reading is the most boring part of the process. By then I’m sick to death of the story and want to move on! I seldom read my work when published. I would want to start the story all over again and write it better. One has to let go.
7. When did you first know that you wanted to become an author?
The desire to create has always been there. Art is also a creative process to which I was drawn, but words and stories won the day. I began a novel called My Little World when I was about fifteen. This was my first, thoughtful, serious work. I remember telling myself, "I’ll make a heroine who does all the things I want to do, runs her life her own way." This particular story is still ongoing and will probably never be published but it gives me …oh, such deep satisfaction. A soul story, you might say, which alters as I alter. It’s quite different now to the original theme - just as I am no longer that fifteen year old girl. Maybe my daughter will have it published when I’m gone; a testament to my inner life.
8. What is your definition of a "good book"?
On the whole, I like simple writing, utterly loathe some of the florid prose encouraged by ‘creative writing’ courses. It feels so un-natural and contrived. The writer is ‘writing’ rather than letting it flow just as some actors ‘act’ and don’t become the part. One needs to be lulled into believing it to be real. Daphne du Maurier, Robert Goddard, Ruth Rendell, writers of that ilk, strike the balance for me. They have a beautiful mix of dialogue and atmospheric description in simple normal prose with the occasional beautiful metaphor or simile that stands out and becomes memorable - like a stunning piece of jewellery on a simple, elegant dress. A lot of modern writers do the equivalent of ‘bling’ with their overwrought descriptions.
The books that remain forever vivid for me are those with depth and an understanding of human frailty. A little hint of mystery and the supernatural adds spice such as in Charlotte Bronte’s Villette or Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. One of the best books I read recently is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History where the characters are drawn despite themselves into a macabre murder. And though Stig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy is horribly violent, his character of Lizbet Salander is brilliant. She will definitely be added to the pantheon of amazing heroines. But I do love a little humour too. Too much darkness is depressing.
9. Where can your books be purchased?
The Long Shadow is a POD [print on demand] book available from varied booksellers on Amazon.com for US buyers. You can get signed copies at Author’s Den as well. It is on Amazon.co.uk. for UK buyers. However, if any Brits would like a signed copy it would be better to purchase directly from me at email@example.com I do a cheaper price. I hope to get this out as an e-book when the rights revert to me next year.
The Crimson Bed can be purchased directly from Matador here, Amazon and other booksellers, or signed copies from me. There is also an e-book version.
10. Do you have any web sites or online social media pages?
Of course! My website is www.lorettaproctor.co.uk
The facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Crimson-Bed/273274840949
My blogspot is http://booksandotherthings.blogspot.com
Come and visit me! Thank you so much for asking me for this interview.