We are delighted to welcome Author, Paula Harmon, to the interview page of Autumn Chickens.
I’ve lived in Dorset since 2005 and consider it home, but I am a little rootless perhaps. I was born in North London to parents of English, Scottish and Irish descent. Perhaps feeling the need to add a Welsh connection, my father relocated us westwards every two years until we settled in South Wales when I was eight. I went to Chichester University before making my home in Gloucestershire and then Dorset. I’m a civil servant, married with two young adult children. With several writing projects underway, I often wonder where the housework fairies are, because the house is a mess and I can’t think why.
Welcome, Paula, to Autumn Chickens, the brand new magazine style website devoted to thinking people in mid-life and beyond. Congratulations on being one of the first authors to be interviewed for the site.Tell us a little about yourself.
When did your writing really take off? What made you decide to publish your first book?
I always meant to be a writer but life got in the way, and I made more and more excuses not to really try. Then when my dad died, an old school friend came to his funeral. As children, we’d lived in our imaginations and it turned out she’s now a professional writer. With her encouragement I entered a local short story competition and was short-listed. I then joined various writing groups. In 2015, my friend mentioned Nanowrimo (where you write a 50k novel in November). I gave it a go
and finished the novel (though it’s still in a cyber-drawer) and somehow during the same month I also wrote a piece of flash fiction every day. On a kind of roll, I continued in the December. In 2016, having shared most of those stories online and knowing that no publisher would look at them, I self-published ‘Kindling’ and ‘The Advent Calendar’. I was 52.
How do you feel about writing? Has it made a difference to your life?
I often dreamed about finding a room in my house which I didn’t know was there. One day I heard
that this dream represents buried creativity. At the time, I was very stressed, wasn’t doing anything
creative and was quite miserable. From the moment I decided to stop waiting for the perfect
circumstances and just get on with writing - I felt a massive release. Writing enables me to express
my feelings and work through them in a way I can’t do otherwise. Sometimes it helps me find the
humour in a situation that I might not otherwise see. When my dad was ill, I wrote down a lot of
what was happening in the third person and some of this became the more serious parts of ‘The
Cluttering Discombobulator’ but even those include humour - for example recalling my sister
having to ‘drive’ his electric wheelchair in the hospital and nearly destroying various walls along the
way. It was my way of processing things.
How does the writing process work, when you co-write with another author?
Val Portelli and I pulled together a collection of short stories and called it ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales’and that seemed to sum them up. That process involved deciding which story went in what order (‘after you’ ‘no, after you’) and making editing suggestions throughout. It was slightly more involved starting the ‘Caster & Fleet Mysteries’ with Liz Hedgecock. We chose a character each and took it in turns to write a chapter from that woman’s perspective.
How many books have you published? Do you have any favourites?
Five written just by me: ‘Murder Britannica’, ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’, ‘Kindling’, ‘The Advent Calendar’ and ‘The Quest’. One with Val Portelli ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales’ and six with Liz Hedgecock, starting with ‘The Case of the Black Tulips’ which is set in 1890. Choosing a favourite is like choosing a favourite child! ‘Discombobulator’, ‘Kindling’ and ‘Advent Calendar' are perhaps the most personal. The first is based on a real 1970s childhood and a real 2012 reunion (admittedly the rest is pure fantasy) and some of the stories in the other two are true (or true-ish). ‘Murder Britannica’ started as 200 words jotted down in a lunch break, and I had great fun creating the monstrous Lucretia and putting her in a murder-mystery in an imagined Romano-British setting. ‘Weird and Peculiar’ is full of stories that Val and I enjoyed writing sometimes from the same prompt and I have become so involved with the characters in the ‘Caster and Fleet’ mysteries that whenever I see anything late Victorian in London I imagine them seeing it too and become quite emotional wondering what they’d have been doing when WWI broke out.
Which of your books might especially appeal to readers in mid-life and beyond? Why is this?
‘Murder Britannica’ has at its heart Lucretia and Tryssa - two women in their 50s who have always avoided each other until forced together by a series of deaths. Lucretia feels the world should revolve around her. Tryssa is the only person who doesn’t take her seriously, which annoys Lucretia very much. ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’ is about a rather serious forty-something woman and her very eccentric seventy-something father. When he falls ill, she recalls a 1970s childhood when he was her hero and she knew how to have fun, while he dreams of amazing adventures in which being a mobility scooter is a bonus not a hindrance. Both ‘Kindling’ and ‘The Advent Calendar’ have a mixture of characters from different age groups (and eras) - there’s really something for everyone in there as there is in ‘Weird & Peculiar Tales’. The main characters in ‘The Caster & Fleet Mysteries’ are in their twenties but several proud women in their forties have their own places in the unfolding plots.
As we are approaching Christmas, can you give us a few extra details about ‘The Advent Calendar’?
I recalled my childhood when advent calendars didn’t have chocolate - you simply opened the relevant door and got excited about the picture revealed. I wrote down 24 images that were the kinds of things that used to be behind those doors, folded them up and put them in a pot. Every day before Christmas Day I picked one and wrote a story prompted by that word. The idea was that the book would represent Christmas as it is or can be, rather than how it tends to be portrayed, so not many are sentimental. There is at least one true story, there’s a ghost story, a mystery, sad stories, silly stories, happy stories - none however without hope at their hearts.
Tell us about your most recent book or project.
Murder Durnovaria - out for pre-order, to be released in December.
An ancient grove, broken promises, a lost keepsake. When Lucretia gets wind of a legacy, she travels to Durnovaria to claim it, taking Tryssa as a travelling companion. Little does anyone know that outside the town, two hapless grave-robbers are digging up the past rather than simply old jewellery. Before too long, it’s up to Tryssa to find out who would kill rather than reveal long-buried truths.