14 Jul 2013

Author Interview: R L Bartram

In 1910, no one believed there would ever be a war with Germany. Safe in her affluent middle-class life, the rumours held no significance for Victoria either. It was her father's decision to enroll her at university that began to change all that. There she befriends the rebellious and outspoken Beryl Whittaker, an emergent suffragette, but it is her love for Gerald Avery, a talented young poet from a neighbouring university that sets the seal on her future.

After a clandestine romance, they marry in January 1914, but with the outbreak of the First World War, Gerald volunteers but within months has gone missing in France. Convinced that he is still alive, Victoria's initial attempts to discover what has become of him, implicate her in a murderous assault on Lord Kitchener resulting in her being interrogated as a spy, and later tempted to adultery.

 Now virtually destitute, Victoria is reduced to finding work as a common labourer on a run down farm, where she discovers a world of unimaginable ignorance and poverty. It is only her conviction that Gerald will some day return that sustains her through the dark days of hardship and privation as her life becomes a battle of faith against adversity.

1.  If you could work with any other author who would it be and why?

Several come to mind,  but  one that stands out is Ernest Hemingway. I feel I could have learned so much from him. He had an understated, but very powerful style of writing that gave him an international appeal. For me, he had a unique insight into the human spirit. His novels weren't only about war and death, but also about courage and faith. Typically, when his critics remarked that "he'd lost his touch", he sat down and wrote another best seller "The Old Man And The Sea", It was a  story about an old fisherman who everyone thought was past his prime, who went on to catch the biggest fish his village had ever  seen. Typical of Hemingway, there was a profound message, a sting in the tail, at the end. He lived life to the full and understood what it was about. That's why he was able to write so vividly about it. Writing and life, they were for him as they are for me, .indivisible.

2. What would be a typical working day for you, when and where do you write?

Actually, it would be a typical working night. I like to write at night because it's so much quieter. Generally I begin about 11pm and go on to 3am. That's my core time. If I'm on a roll I'll go on longer. I always write the first draft in long hand, I go faster that way. It's usually two to three drafts down the line before I commit it to type. I always write in my dining  room, at the dining table,  which looks out onto my large, secluded back garden. It's particularly good in summer. I have all the doors open and let the night breezes wash over me.

3. What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Knowing when to stop. Deciding whether a story is finished or not. It's so tempting to keep adding bits that there's a real danger of losing spontaneity. It's the same with corrections. It's always a question of what to take out and what to leave in. Thank goodness I have a professional editor, or I'd never get a book out at all. Even when the book is published, I can still think of things that I would have  liked  to have put in. It's the same with "Dance The Moon Down" Even now there are a half dozen things that I can think of that I'd like to have done differently.

4. When and why did you first start writing?

I was seventeen (that was years ago). I read a book that impressed me so much I thought, "I'd like to do that" In the same week I read another book which I thought was rubbish and I thought, "I can do better than that". It was a volatile combination and the first step on a very long and often rocky road, but I've loved every minute of it. At the same time, I've always had an urge to communicate my thoughts to other people. I see a starry sky or a glorious sunset and wonder "Would others like to hear of this?" So far, it seems, they do.

5. How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I read an article in "The Nation"  a now obsolete periodical, written by John Galsworthy the author of "The Forsythe Saga  in June 1914  entitled "Studies in extravagance, the latest thing" Basically it was a critique of the times and the younger generation, of whom he said were "born to dance the moon down to ragtime" Of course we now know that they, in fact, fought the bloodiest conflict of the twentieth century. The irony of that statement inspired me to write my novel. A huge amount has been written about the Great War, so I decided to look for a different angle. Further research proved that whilst the men and even the animals had been extensively used, almost nothing, in fiction, had been done about the women who were left behind and the contribution they made. I hope my novel will help to redress the balance a little.

6. Are you a big reader, if so what are you reading now?

I don't read as much as I'd  like to. I spend most of my time writing. Text books for research are my main fair. The last piece of fiction I read,(or rather re-read)  about a month ago, was "The Ashton Papers" by Henry James. It's an excellent novel by a brilliant writer with a superb twist in the tale. I thoroughly recommend it.

7. Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?

Writing is a tough business. Fame and fortune may always elude you, but never give up. The real reason any of us write is for the love of it. Never forget that there's always someone out there waiting to read a good story.