In my quest to improve my writing skills and learn from the masters, I interviewed Charmian Hussey. Charmian’s life is fascinating in itself: top fashion model, archaeologist, Oxford graduate, rare-dog breeder, traveller, a friend to Agatha Christie, she is also a bestselling and Internationally acclaimed author. A children’s novelist, “Charmian Hussey writes with an ambitious blend of fantasy, mystery, and ecological adventure”.
So let’s hear what she has to say about the whole business of writing:
What first inspired you to first start writing?
The original inspiration for me to write undoubtedly came to me from my mother. She was well-read and I knew she loved books. She also clearly loved reading to me – almost every night of my life, until I was ten years old or more. Those bedtime stories were such a joy: Mary Plain; Baba; The Just So Stories; Little Grey Rabbit and many more. How I loved the storytelling!
My first school was a convent school where I was a very slow learner. Yet every child was encouraged by the nuns to write a piece for the school magazine. The competition for that was fierce. But egged on by my mother, as ever, I did my best; I enjoyed the challenge. I still have some of those magazines, including my first ‘works’ – mostly poetry, which I’ve always loved and written.
And how did that progress?
Brought up in a semi-detached house in a north London suburb, the youngest of three sisters, I was well aware of my parents’ struggles – during the war and then post war. Yet my mother, appalled by my gabbling speech, decided that I must learn to speak properly. I had wanted music lessons, but there was so little money available; elocution lessons won.
Rita Beale was a brilliant teacher. She gave me my love of the spoken word: Shakespeare, Tennyson, all the classics. From then on I was hooked on words – a state of affairs that was greatly enhanced-when I moved on to grammar school – by an inspirational Latin teacher. I loved the rolling flow of the language: Caesar’s Gallic Wars, Vergil’s Aeneid read aloud to us by our teacher. In my turn, it’s important to me that my writing reads well too. I read every sentence aloud –to try to ensure that the text flows comfortably.
Were there any other key elements that helped you?
My love of the words and storytelling was further nurtured by the radio, which in the nineteen forties and fifties played a crucial role in our lives. Quite apart from Uncle Mac, I have never forgotten a wonderfulseries where the listener accompanied a journalist – reporting historic events as they happened –‘live’ from famous ancient sites: Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids.
The best was a dramatic visit to the painted caves at Lascaux: following behind prehistoric people; flares blazing along dark tunnels into the very bowels of the earth; creeping forward secretly,to get a better view of the artists; whispering and very tense, lest anyone spotted us – the intruders.
How would you suggest keen amateur writers start off a career in writing books?
The best advice I can give to anyone who would like to be an author is to keep writing and to keep reading, as well as listening to the radio – that way imagination can flourish, far excelling any experience which is fed to us on a screen. Of course one should never generalise, but I worry about our children now: overloaded as they are by daily screen-fed entertainment. It serves to provide often stunning images, some of which are much too lurid and will never be erased … but it doesn’t stretch the imagination or allow the soul to fly free.
My Lascaux images will never leave me. But created in my mind by me and by my imagination, they have, I know, enriched my life, encouraging me to want to pass on my other imagined thoughts and images. And that’s where writing becomes such a joy.
Do you have a set pattern in the way you work?
I always start with chapter one and then immediately write the last chapter, so that the big bit in between is like a ‘magical mystery tour’: building, building, building the story. There are lots of surprises along the way as events link up to create the full picture. The linking-up becomes compulsive. It’s like weaving a multi-coloured tapestry. The warp is the basic story structure; the weft is all the intriguing details, always backed-up by careful research. That is the most exciting part: finding an extraordinary link which you hadn’t known existed, until you were living your way through the story … finding the link that brings you full circle … So exciting! I always love it.
Thank you Charmian for sharing your thoughts with us!
Charmian Hussey interviewed by an amateur blogger at Majoula’s Chronicles.