Anne here, introducing Pamela Hartshorne, an English writer who writes for Harlequin as Jessica Hart, and whose mainstream historical novel called Time's Echo, is about to be published under her real name.
Pam's led an adventurous life — she's travelled widely, has worked as a journalist, a cook on an outback cattle station, and as a production assistant in the theater. She has a PhD in Medieval Studies from the University of York, and she's an excellent, award-winning and best-selling romance writer (& a RITA winner.)(Photographs © Kippa Matthews)
I've always been a huge fan of her contemporary romances and can't wait to read Time's Echo. It's had some wonderful reviews already: "a novel of superb power," and "a tantalising novel that moves effortlessly between the past and the present, detailing the lives of two women joined together by tragedy. This is female fiction at its riveting best." And just yesterday, a word of mouth recommendation of a friend of mine who had no idea I was interviewing Pam, telling me about this "amazing" book that I had to read.
Anne: Pam, after years as a historian and a writer of contemporary romances — presumably quite separate activities — you've branched into writing a mainstream historical novel. What inspired you to do this?
Pam: I turned 50 in the same year that my 50th romance was published, which coincided in its turn with a spectacular crash and burn on the relationship front, and I realised that I really needed to change. I’ve always loved the idea of a time slip (What if you could know what it was really like in the past?) and having spent years working on a PhD about Elizabethan York, it seemed sensible to put my research together with everything I’d learnt about story-telling over the previous 20 years. (The relationship has since been resuscitated, btw, so I had to give John an acknowledgement for being the inadvertent instigator of my career change!)
Anne: When we first discussed this interview, you told me Time's Echo was "a time slip, set partly in the 16th century and partly in the present, and is part historical fiction, part ghost story, part psychological thriller and part romance." It sounds fabulous — I love time slip novels, and Nicola Cornick, who's already read it, says it's wonderful. My copy was ordered from here. Tell us about the story.
Pam: I’m thrilled that Nicola enjoyed it and will wait nervously to hear what you think, Anne! As you say, Time’s Echo isn’t strictly a historical novel, but tells two intertwined stories, one in the past and one in the present. The premise in both time periods is one that fascinates me: what if we could turn back time and relive our lives? Would we be able to identify the moment we made a mistake, the tiny choice that changed everything? How different would our life be if we had turned left instead of right, or if we’d turned back because we’d forgotten something rather than gone on?
One day in 1577 Hawise (pronounced Ha-wees-a) Aske smiles at a stranger in the market place and sets in train a story of obsession and jealousy, of love and hate and warped desire. Drowned as a witch, Hawise pays a high price for that smile.
Grace Trewe comes to present-day York intending to spend as little time as possible sorting out her dead godmother’s affairs before moving on, the way she has always done before. Having survived the Boxing Day tsunami, Grace knows how lucky she is to be alive. She looks forward, not back.
But in York Grace discovers that the past cannot always be ignored. Her godmother, Lucy, has been dabbling in the occult, and Hawise is searching still for peace. Through Grace, she has a chance to relive her life, but will she be able to avoid making the same mistakes again? The more Grace is drawn into Hawise’s life in the Elizabethan city, the more parallels she finds with her own life. For Grace, too, has failed a child. . .
Is Grace possessed? Or is she suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Either way, she learns that she cannot move on until she has come to terms with the past.
Anne: It sounds wonderful. Tell us about Grace. Do your characters spring to life on the page, fully formed, or do they slowly emerge in the writing?
Pam: Hhhmmnn, that’s a difficult question. I think I’d say both in the case of Time’s Echo. When I set out to write the story, I was expecting to find the present day story easy enough (I’d written 50 contemporary romances, right?) but I thought I’d struggle with the need to make the past authentic without alienating the reader. As it turned out, Hawise wrote her own story. I don’t remember ever thinking: I’ll make her do X or say Y. She just jumped into the screen and took over the writing – I wish that happened more often!
But when it came to Grace, I found it much harder, to tell you the truth. I think it was partly to do with the concept of a time slip. This extraordinary, fascinating, frightening thing is happening to her, and at the same time she’s dealing with the consequences of undiagnosed PTSD. So Grace has a lot to deal with and that doesn’t leave much room for frivolity or fun. For a long time I tried to make her one of my flirty romance heroines, but that just didn’t work. Grace is stubborn and sensible and furiously self-reliant and once I let her be herself, we got on a lot better!
Anne: I'm always fascinated by the spark of inspiration where a writer gets an idea —a face, a piece of music, a painting or a snatch of conversation and thinks "there's a story." Was there such a spark for Time's Echo?
Pam: It was more of a slow burn than a spark. My PhD was based on local court records in Elizabethan York, and I spent so long working on them that I felt as if I got to know the individuals who were presented for various petty offences.
The entries tend to be very brief, but one incident stood out: a miller called Miles Fell was fined for not muzzling his dog, a mastiff bitch which had bitten Nicholas Ellis on the leg. I don’t know what it was about this entry that made me picture it so clearly. I felt as if I knew what Fell was like (he turns up in the records a lot) and I imagined all the other individuals I “knew” watching him with his dog and poor Ellis hopping around holding his leg.
Once you’ve got a scene in your mind, it’s hard to let go of it. I began to think of what it would be like if you came across that entry and remembered it, if you knew exactly where they were and what had been said … Would that be fascinating or would it be frightening - or both?
Anne: What kind of research did you do for this novel?
Pam: Witchcraft (old and new), the Boxing Day tsunami, PTSD, de Clérambault’s syndrome, sociopaths, exorcism, herbal remedies, regression, New Age religions - and just about everything to do with everyday life in the 16th century! I soon discovered that a PhD about mending the streets and disposing of waste wasn’t much use when it came to knowing about childbirth or marriage rituals, or what people then wore or had for breakfast . . . all of it fascinating.
I loved doing that research – and there’s still so much to read. Wherever possible, I like to read primary sources for the historical background; reading what people actually did and said in their own words makes the past so much more vivid. I’m currently reading the Assize Court records for the Elizabethan period and finding them really intriguing – so many stories there! I’m less rigorous for the present day stuff, I’ve got to admit. It’s amazing how much you can find with a little judicious Googling!
Anne: You're an avid traveller. Do you write while you're travelling or do you keep the activities separate?
Pam: I wish I could write when I was travelling – I love the idea of tapping away on my laptop under a vine-laden pergola in the sunshine somewhere - but sadly I only seem to be able to work when I’m at home in my study in York. On the plus side, it means I’m never tempted to take a laptop, so I’m able to cut myself off completely when I’m away. I always mean to ponder my next plot, but the moment I leave home, my mind goes blissfully blank. I tell myself that inspiration is simmering away on the back burner but I just don’t realise it. . .
Anne: Do you have a writing routine?
Pam: I write three drafts - a shitty first draft (to quote Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird), a shitty second draft and a final draft, which usually involves a complete rewriting – and my routine depends very much on how close I am to a deadline. I’m hopeless when writing the first two drafts. Every Monday I vow to have a week when I do nothing but write, but I always end up frittering away my mornings, and most of the afternoon too. I am so easily distracted! I really only write effectively after 9.00 at night, which means my days are spent feeling guilty about not knuckling down and then having a late night frenzy of writing.
I wait until I’m really terrified by a looming deadline before I have a real routine for rewriting the entire book. I’ll set my alarm and get up at 6.30, and make myself write 500 words before my shower. Then I have to do another 500 before coffee, 1000 before I’m allowed lunch and so on. I don’t know why I can’t make life easier for myself and write steadily all the time but I seem to need the adrenalin rush of pure panic. My next deadline is 31st October, and I need to rewrite 120,000 words before then; think of me lashed to my keyboard for the entire month!
Anne: Ouch! Best of luck with it. Can you give us a small taste of Time's Echo?
I begin to turn away, but Widow Dent lays a hand on my sleeve. It is gnarled and knotted and mottled with age, but there is strength to it, too, that stops me in my tracks, and Hap whimpers.
‘Go back,’ says the widow.
Her eyes have taken on an eerie blankness, just as they did that day Elizabeth and I met her. ‘Go back,’ she says tonelessly. ‘Go back while you still can.’
I look down at her in confusion. ‘I don’t understand. Go back where?’
‘Back the way you came,’ she says. ‘Or take a different path.’
I bite my lip. I am late as it is. What is the point of taking a different path?
‘Go back!’ The urgency in the widow’s voice makes the fine hairs at the back of my neck stand up.
Frightened, I step back from her and click my fingers for Hap. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I have to go.’
Picking up my skirts, I run along the path, to the ash tree and to Francis, with Hap at my heels. I choose not to go back. I go on.
Anne: I can't wait to read it. There's another excerpt here. So, Pam, what are you working on next?
Pam: I’m back in Elizabethan York, writing another time slip called The Memory of Midnight. Although the premise of a time slip is the same, it’s a very different story, and much darker in lots of ways. I’ve been making myself uneasy with some of the scenes! As I mentioned above, this has to be finished by the end of October, and there’s a lot of work to be done yet. . .
After that, I’ll be putting my Jessica Hart hat on to write another romance – my 60th – so I’m looking forward to a change of tone for that, and then I’ll be slipping back to the past again!
Anne: Ooh, good, I'm so glad you're not giving up romances — I love your romances.
Thanks so much Pam, it was lovely to have you on Word Wenches.
Thank you for inviting me, Anne. I often read the Word Wenches blog - so it’s a real thrill for me to be here with all you experienced historical authors!
To celebrate, I have a copy of Time’s Echo to give away. It’ll be no surprise to learn that I’m a huge fan of historical novels. John of Gaunt, in Anya Seton’s Katherine, was the first historical hero I fell in love with, but there have been so many gorgeous heroes since. . .
Leave a comment below telling me which hero from any historical novel you would most like to meet, and I’ll put you in a lucky dip. I’ll post a book anywhere in the world, so if you’re a winner, Time’s Echo could be winging its way to you very soon!