5 October 2020

Special Guest Interview with Pamela Stephen, Author of Artists and Spies

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

In 18th century France, artist and nun Charlotte Le Juge needs to change her life in a radical way. Her pioneering decision takes her on a journey which will bring danger and romance in equal parts.

I'm pleased to welcome author Pamela Stephen to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

This was the year I published my first novel, Artists and Spies. It tells the story of Charlotte Le Juge, who discovers that she is the daughter of a famous painter and realises that the talent that she has used to paint convent altarpieces is a passport to life in the outside world. She leaves the convent after the death of her father, to pursue her new career. She is accompanied by Antoine, the son of her father’s butler, a resourceful man who has lived in England before, and harbours a secret past. They are in the company of a novice nun who also dreams of a life outside the convent walls, and has Charlotte’s help to get free.

The novel is set in Paris and Chiswick in the middle years of the 18th century. It is published by Amazon, and available as a paperback and ebook. It is also available through Kindle Unlimited.

What is your preferred writing routine?

During the early part of this year, I got into the habit of writing for about two hours at a time. When I look back on the writing of that novel, I can’t believe that I wrote it on a tablet, using a free notes app! It meant that I could only create six hundred odd words at a time in a section, before the app stopped recording the words. I think that might be why the two hour stretch has become a habit. Write for an hour, check it through, make sure it’s saved. Check that the research still holds good. I learnt to keep a separate record of chapter titles and opening quotes, just so that I had plenty of scope for the text in the chapter.

Now I have a laptop, and a proper writing package. What a relief! It doesn’t object after the first hour of writing, and my fingers are hitting real keys instead of the virtual keyboard that would randomly disappear for reasons which I didn’t understand.

So I set up my laptop, get in the zone by wasting time on Google - online shopping, checking book sales stats, fiddling about, then start. And just in case, once I finish, I print out finished chapters, or complete short stories in first draft. I know, I know, it’s a waste of paper, but leaving it only on the computer seems risky and makes me anxious. That might be something to do with the four tablets I’ve managed to work my way through, each one doing peculiar and unaccountable things before I had to either 1. take them back to the shop, or 2, throw them out. I notice from looking online that writers fall into two camps - the pantsters ( seat of the pants, I presume) and planners. Just to be clear, I’m a bit of both!

What advice do you have for new writers?

I’m not sure I feel qualified to give any advice to anyone about writing. I was an English teacher though for many years, and one thing that really gets in the way for a reader is the kind of technical mistakes that prevent you from enjoying the flow. Spelling is right up there. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that it needs to be addressed in the second draft at the latest. Get someone else to read it for you, especially if you’re not confident that you can spot the errors. Join a critique website (and get a thick skin) There are some good ones out there. But if you think you’re going to submit your work to a publisher, check that it isn’t an access to all site.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

I’ve had good reaction to my efforts, but I suppose that getting into real bookshops rather than only being in the ether would be a good goal. There are so many books on Amazon, for example, that it’s easy to sink without trace. Giveaways certainly seem to have helped me, as well as Kindle Unlimited.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I was researching the world of a real life painter after a visit to the museum in Perpignan, France. Hyacinthe Rigaud, a Catalan artist, was born just as as his home town came under French rule. In middle age, he married the widow of a government official, and she had a young daughter who was educated at a distant nunnery. The idea that the girl was his daughter came from a piece of research I read by an academic George Gallenkamp who speculated in the 1960s that well before the couple married, they had a child. It occurred to me that if she were the daughter of a renowned artist, she might well have inherited the kind of talent that would give her a career, at a time when most painters were men.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I wrote a murder scene in my first novel. I remember doing lots of research for it about suitable weapons and various other important details. I also remember being very pleased with it. Then I passed the chapter to my husband who asked me about four questions connected to the murder and its aftermath. I realised that the whole thing didn’t work. In the end it took about four rewrites more than anything else in the novel before I thought the plot was right.

What are you planning to write next?

An easy one. I’ve started a new historical novel, set in the early Georgian period. I wanted to be able to write about Venice, so my story begins there. Fittingly it is a historical romance. The story then shifts to England, where the lovers meet again. I’m also three quarters of the way through a collection of contemporary short stories.

Pamela Stephen 

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About the Author

Pamela Stephen is the author of ‘Artists and Spies’, a novel about Charlotte Le Juge, stepdaughter of the celebrated 18th century artist Hyacinthe Rigaud. She was born in Berkshire, in the United Kingdom, but has spent most of her life in the East of England. She now lives in Lincolnshire with her husband, and is currently working on a new historical novel, and a collection of short stories. You can find out more at Pamela's blog and follow her on Twitter @PamStephen13

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