A conversation with Anstey Harris – Author or ‘The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton’
Today, I take the pleasure of having Author Anstey Harris on the blog. Her new book is all set to release January 2019 from Simon and Schuster UK and people are already talking lovely things about it, including me. I am totally in LOVE with her book and I urge you all to read it too! It is such a wonderful book with a very pretty cover making it a whole package!!
Anstey discusses her book and the musical inspiration from her Violin maker Husband. She has some brilliant advice to overcome common traps for aspiring writers through her experience as a teacher of Creative Writing. She aspires to win the Costa Award someday and I wish her nothing but success for her incredible writing!
Scroll down to read her full interview along with the details of her book at the bottom of the page. Click here to read my full review of the book.
Anstey Harris teaches creative writing for Canterbury Christ Church University and in the community with her own company, Writing Matters. She has been featured in various literary magazines and anthologies, been shortlisted for many prizes, and won the H G Wells Short Story Award. Anstey lives in Kent, UK and is the mother of the singer-songwriter Lucy Spraggan.
Syllables of Swathi: Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
Anstey Harris: I have written 6 or 7? They’ve mostly been butchered and become other things so it’s hard to tell. None of my back catalogue will see the light of day but it all taught me my craft.
I had a book published in 2015 by Dahlia (a small multicultural press): When Ali Met Honour (which I wrote with the crime writer Alex Caan) and under the pseudonym of Ruth Ahmed (our middle names). Nadeem (Alex’s real name) and I come from such different backgrounds that we, literally, just wrote our own lives. I went to his brother and sister-in-law’s house for dinner and came back and wrote it up as Honour’s first visit to Noor’s house. We both had an interest in comparative religion – me from my position as a confirmed atheist from a very religious background (& I am pathologically committed to other people’s right to practise their own religion), and Nadeem from his position as a modern British Muslim, and the novel sprang from that.
This novel is far more fictional, if that makes any sense, although there is – obviously – a good helping of real life in that my husband is a violin maker.
SOS: Where were you raised? Where do you live now? Do you have any pets?
AH: About 8 years ago, I returned to the town where I was raised – and at some point – will write about the peculiarities of returning to a place where other adults know who you were as a child, but nothing in between.
I have two dogs who I adore. I have always had pets but I think I am coming to a point in my life where they won’t be replaced when they expire as I need to do some travelling and living aboard.
SOS: Your new book ‘The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton’ is all set to release in January. Tell us a bit about the book. How long did it take for you to write it?
AH: The fledgling version of this book appeared about ten years ago. Since then I have written Honour and Ali, another unpublished book called A Year in the Cemetery and another 30k of something that I gave up on. These – along with my first two novels (one about internet dating and one about the TV programme Wife Swap) – have all put their contribution in to this book. Every word you write brings you a bit closer to your best performance – and you need to practise, practise, practise.
After the writing comes the real meat: the rewriting. I had fantastic advice, first from a friend who is a non-fiction editor but has an awesome eye for a story arc, and then from my agent Sarah Manning (bona fide best agent in the world if you’re looking to sub to anyone).
SOS: In ‘The Truth and Triumphs..’ Grace runs a Violin shop where she restores and makes various instruments. What inspired you to the theme? Did your husband, being a Violinist, help you in your writing process?
AH: My husband is a violin maker. When I left teaching I went to work for Colin in his shop as a front-of-house person, typing novels behind the counter. I picked up enough information to write the book but then had him and a cellist friend read it to check for authenticity.
Click to read why you MUST READ this beautiful book!
SOS: Tell us a bit about Grace. Who is she and What is she like?
AH: Grace is a very complicated character and, like all of us, a product of her experience. The only way to truly understand her is to spend some time in her shoes – and for that you’ll have to read the book.
SOS: What three words sum up your book?
AH: Music. Love. Friendship
SOS: I had tears reading your book. Have you ever felt emotional over a book? What is the first book that made you cry?
AH: The first book I remember crying over – and I didn’t stop for days – was Casey by Joyce Stranger, the story of a little black cat. I still have it (I must have been 8 or 9 when I read it) but daren’t read it again: it nearly destroyed me.
SOS: You teach Creative Writing. What according to you are the common traps for aspiring authors? What are your advice to overcome those?
AH: I hate that so many BRILLIANT people (and this is the same in art and music) who deserve success don’t have it – and conversely too. I hate that there is a ‘mark of success’ (ie being published) and you have to reach it, rather than a number of measurable achievements that tell you you’re nearly there – if that makes any sense? You can‘t be ‘nearly’ published (although I was for a long time). So the only advice worth listening to is NEVER QUIT. You are guaranteed never to sell that book you haven’t written, otherwise there’s all to play for.
One of the vital parts of the learning-to-write process is to start listening to advice from other people. When people tell you something doesn’t work, don’t react with knee-jerk defence: instead, ask yourself if they might be right and what you can do to fix that.
SOS: Could you tell us an early experience you had, where you learned that language had power?
AH: I was quite a difficult child to keep entertained – my concentration span was, and still is, very very short. I’d gone on guide camp and had been very naughty for the first couple of days. In order to make me both well-behaved AND happy, Diana Knight, the guide leader, asked me to tell campfire tales to the other girls. It was my first, magical, experience of the power of storytelling.
SOS: What does literary success look like to you?
AH: See above! But my absolute dream is to win the Costa Prize!
SOS: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
AH: I think research is incredibly important. If you are thrown out of a book by a factual inaccuracy, it is impossible to get back in and believe in the characters. I do whatever I can, whether that’s talking to people or visiting new places.
SOS: What are you working on currently? When can we expect your next book?
AH: I’m not sure of the publication date of my next book but it’s well underway. It’s the story of a woman and her son who reach the end of their tether.
SOS: What did you edit out of this book? and Why?
AH: It’s imperative in the writing process to take advice from other people and streamline your story. What was hard in this book was letting go of some characters who were muddying the waters (there were three hilarious old women who played in a local orchestra in an early draft – they will be making an appearance in my next novel as volunteer museum guides – they were too good to be lost forever and everything in fiction is recyclable…).
SOS: Fun book Fact?
AH: I had no idea who Mr Williams was or what he was doing in my book. One day, while I was writing, he just knocked on the door of Grace’s shop and introduced himself. He is entirely created out of, and by, the story-world.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (January 2019)
Plot: GRACE ATHERTON HAS FALLEN OUT OF LOVE … AND INTO LIFE
Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.
Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.
It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …
Click here to read my full review of the book.