Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Interview with Carolyn Hughes, Author of Squire's Hazard

8 October 2022

Special Guest Interview with Carolyn Hughes, Author of Squire's Hazard

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

It’s 1363, and in Steyning Castle, Sussex, Dickon de Bohun is enjoying life as a squire in the household of Earl Raoul de Fougère. Or he would be, if it weren’t for Edwin de Courtenay, who’s making his life a misery with his bullying, threatening to expose the truth about Dickon’s birth…

I'm pleased to welcome author Carolyn Hughes to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Squire’s Hazard is the fifth in my series of historical novels set in the fourteenth century, The Meonbridge Chronicles. The first in the series, Fortune’s Wheel, set in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death, explored the social and personal upheavals of that terrible time. The subsequent novels, which address different aspects of medieval society, community and personal relationships, follow on chronologically, three to four years apart, and in book five we have reached 1363.

The baby boy we met first in Fortune’s Wheel, Dickon de Bohun, is now fourteen. After a semi-lowly start in life, Dickon is destined to be lord of Meonbridge, and is undergoing training as a squire, in anticipation of being knighted in a few years’ time. In this novel, I wanted to show Dickon as aware of the social differences between him and his fellow squires, and being somewhat cowed by them yet determined to prove his worth. He believes he has to justify the trust his grandfather, Sir Richard, put in him when he made him his heir, despite Dickon being the result of an illegitimate liaison between Sir Philip, Sir Richard’s son, and a village peasant girl.

But I also wanted Dickon to grow rapidly from boy to man. He is beset by problems. The first is being bullied by another squire, who seems to have discovered the “secret” of Dickon’s birth and considers him unfit to be training alongside him and his more aristocratic friends. The second problem is falling for a girl he cannot marry, where his challenge is to ensure he treats her with honour. The third, though he doesn’t know it until late in the novel, is being the object of a village woman’s long-held rancour towards his family, which will prove Dickon’s most painful test.

This aspect of Squire’s Hazard is essentially a coming-of-age story. As we move towards the culmination of the Chronicles series (which is planned for book seven), Dickon has to grow, intellectually and emotionally, as well as physically, so that he is ready for the challenges his life as lord of Meonbridge will bring. Squire’s Hazard shows his first major step in that development.

However, the storyline of Squire’s Hazard has several threads, as all my Chronicles do. We hear the voices of other characters: Libby, the girl Dickon falls in love with; his grandmother, Lady Margaret; Edwin, the bullying squire; the rancorous village woman, Margery.

The several threads I have woven together in this novel have enabled me to revisit themes that I have always enjoyed writing about in the Chronicles: gardens and gardening; food; farming practices; medieval traditions; artisan skills, such as carpentry and weaving, and aspects of medicine. But I’ve also been able to explore one or two new themes: the training and lives of squires, and the use of plants not only for food and in healing but also as a tool of witchcraft. Incorporating all these themes helps me, I hope, to bring the fourteenth century to life, to help readers connect with the lives of my Meonbridge people, and appreciate, if only in a small way, their similarities to us as well as their differences.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I don’t really have a routine, though I do write most days (unless I’m on holiday or spending time with family and friends). “Writing” usually involves some creative work: drafting the current WIP; editing a completed one; planning the next one; occasionally writing a blog post. But I will also spend some time managing my Facebook ads, writing to my Team Meonbridge followers, engaging in social media (Facebook and Twitter).

In terms of writing process, I’m a plotter/pantster. I always outline a new book at chapter level, usually including a few scenes and even snippets of dialogue when I can. But, when I’m drafting, I use the outline as a guide, not an agenda, and I do “pants” most of the scenes and dialogue. I have no problem diverging from my outline or restructuring it as I go. I also edit as I go, and edit again if later chapters demand a rethink, then edit yet again (probably two or three times) when the first draft is complete. My process is neither speedy nor perhaps “efficient”, but it works for me. Once I’m done with editing, the manuscript goes first to beta readers (more editing…) and finally to my professional editor (and yet again…).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write! Lots! Practice makes perfect, they say, but more modestly, in my own experience, practice has certainly made “better”. Putting pen to paper – fingers to keyboard – frequently, even if not for very long, gradually hones your writing skills. Reading, too – with a somewhat critical eye – can help hugely in understanding what works and what doesn’t in structure, language, imagery and so on. I would also urge you to share your writing with trusted others… With friends, of course, especially if they’re writers too, or are voracious but critical readers. But also I recommend joining a writers’ group for regular writerly feedback on your work, and (hopefully) empathetic support. And, of course it follows – do take notice of what people say about your writing!

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

For me, paid advertising – I use Facebook mostly – works. I don’t spend very much money, so my sales aren’t high, but running the ads does clearly make a difference. I do occasionally engage in a couple of tweet-sharing groups with fellow historical novelists, which must “raise awareness’ of my books though I cannot judge whether or not it makes any difference to sales. Around publication time, I do things like this – have a book tour, where kind and sympathetic bloggers and other authors give support by promoting my new book to their followers, as well as boosting and focusing my advertising efforts.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

This discovery wasn’t exactly “unexpected” but, when I was researching poisonous plants – in anticipation of using poisoning as a plot device – I was intrigued to read about several modern cases of wolfsbane poisoning. Most were accidental, but one or two were deliberate – in other words, cases of murder. If anything was “unexpected” it was that the use of herbal toxins for bumping off, say, your spouse, was still a “thing” in the twenty-first century. In a particular case of husband-murder, the wife got away with her crime initially, as the symptoms of the poisoning were not immediately apparent.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Squire’s Hazard has taken me longer to write than the previous books, and I think that is because I was finding it all quite “hard” to write! And the hardest scenes for me, in this book and the earlier ones, are those involving emotional conflict and psychological distress, in particular where characters are keeping secrets, are being deliberately “economical with the truth”, or have lost touch with the truth. Because I’m writing in series, 

I’m inevitably referring back to earlier events, which one character might “remember” differently from another. It’s important to maintain consistency and continuity of characters from book to book, but also to have them develop and change. Getting that balance can be tricky, and is one aspect of writing about characters that I find most challenging.
What are you planning to write next?

I’m already writing book “4.5” of The Meonbridge Chronicles series, which is a companion novel to the main series. I decided to write a spin-off from book 4, Children’s Fate, when readers wanted to know what happened to the heroine at the end of book 4. The book is called The Merchant’s Dilemma. Next, I will write the sixth Chronicle proper, for which I have a plan but not yet a detailed outline.

Carolyn Hughes

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About the Author

Carolyn Hughes has lived most of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, as she wrote and edited material, some fascinating, some dull, for an array of different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.Having written creatively for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage, alongside gaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Find out more at Carolyns website and find her on Facebook: CarolynHughesAuthor and Twitter: @writingcalliope

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