Sunday, 18 September 2016

Diana Talks to Charlotte Betts

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Charlotte Betts in the lift at HNS16 - the Historical Novel Society conference that was held this year at Oxford. Charlotte was one of the people who were making everything run smoothly and enabling us to enjoy the conference, but she was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Charlotte is one of those enviable people who always looks immaculate and I could only admire how she always looked as beautifully presented however harried she must have been feeling.

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Charlotte Betts discovered a passion for writing after her five children had grown up and left her in peace. Demanding careers in hotel design and property force her to be inventive in finding time to write but she has achieved seven novels in eight years. One of her short stories was published in Scribble and others short-listed by Writers’ News and Real Writers’. She has won first prize in five short story competitions and wrote a regular column on interior design for The Maidenhead Advertiser for two years. She is a member of WordWatchers and the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Charlotte, I am sure that you are tired of being asked the usual questions that would be interviewers ask authors, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

If your latest book The House in Quill Court was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

I had to think hard about this. I’d like Carey Mulligan or Lily James to play Venetia, though both have brown eyes instead of blue-green. The heroine’s spirit and personality is more important here than the colour of her eyes. Perhaps the actress could wear coloured contact lenses? Aidan Turner doesn’t have blue eyes either but would in all other respects be perfect as Jack, the hero. I’m sure you ladies will agree with me on this!
(Note by Diana: Does 'anyone' ever look at Aidan Turner's eyes???? :-) )

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

I’d like to write a really dark psychological thriller. Alternatively, a series of detective novels about a quirky detective who lives somewhere exotic. I don’t have any particular plots in mind because, if I did, I’d become so involved with it I’d have to write the story. I don’t need any distractions at present from producing one historical novel each year!

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I always have a bone china mug of tea at my side – I hate thick mugs! I prefer to write somewhere quiet, though I’ve learned to tune out of background noise, such as in a coffee shop or on a train. I rarely listen to music as it’s too distracting, though I have been known to put Sounds of the Sea on my i-pod to drown out conversation. My most important ritual is to daydream, usually when walking the dog or at the point of falling asleep. That’s when my plot gets sorted.

What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

I couldn’t possibly comment! I would hate another author to quote one of my books as being the worst book they’d ever read so I’m not going there.

What makes a book unreadable for me it to find it full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Even if you tell a terrific story this sloppiness shows a lack of courtesy to the reader. It’s not hard to find professional editors who will correct these mistakes. Then there is waffle. I want a story written in clear, beautiful language that makes me look at life differently and teaches me something new. I dislike apathetic characters and improbable plots. I could go on …

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

I used to have my own interior design business, which was my dream job. I loved (almost) every minute of it. It’s necessary for my wellbeing to be creative in one way or another. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to write full time now and this satisfies that requirement for creativity.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?

I need tea, builders’ tea, on an hourly basis for the creative Muse to sit on my shoulder egging me on. I enjoy a glass of white wine sitting in a sunny garden and a glass of red by a fireside but, if I was forced to make a choice between tea and wine, then tea would win.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

Any font that is clear and unfussy. I want people to read my story not admire the font.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

The diary of someone who lived in whichever period I’m currently writing about. It could be written by a servant or a queen because both would contribute their own view of society at that time. A queen’s maid might give an insight into the lives of both.

Original sources are incredibly valuable to the author. Samuel Pepys’s diary was my bedside companion for years when I wrote three novels set in the seventeenth century.

Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?

It is sometimes annoying when a real historical person won’t conveniently die to suit my plot but it’s up to me as the writer to create a story that fits the facts. The manuscript I’m currently working on has part of the plot revolving around Caroline of Brunswick. Her life events meant I had to make my fictional part of the story cover a much longer period than I’d have liked.  

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?

I always adhere to the facts. When I’ve chosen a particular point in time as the setting for my story I research the events carefully and write these out as the ‘skeleton’ of my story. Then I weave the story I want to tell through this, bending the fiction to fit the fact and never the other way around.

It’s important to me that my readers can be confident I’m not ‘messing’ with history. When I read historical fiction I like to learn about history and would be disappointed if I discovered the story wasn’t correct. Of course, facts can be subjective. For example, in the case of a battle, the story is often written from the victor’s point of view. A German soldier might have written a very different account of a WWII battle than that of a British soldier.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

I spend a year or more thinking about and writing a novel and to make it real to me I daydream a great deal. Since I always identify with my heroine, after a while I feel as if I’m living a parallel existence. Sometimes I have to stop and think where I am! It’s as if I have a tiny television screen in my mind and I watch the story in all its detail but if something isn’t working I roll back the film and rewrite it. Daydreaming is a valuable and powerful tool for an author.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

Always! If I don’t hate my villain and love my heroine it’s unlikely my reader will feel strongly about them.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

Whilst I read historical fiction I also like mysteries and psychological thrillers such as those by Nicci French. I’m a sucker for recipe books as I love to cook. I re-read books I’ve had for years: Mary Stewart, Dick Francis, Robert Goddard and Jean Plaidy. I also get a buzz from whatever research book I’m reading. If I didn’t, I doubt I’d write historical fiction.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

I should probably say a glass of negus or ratafia but the answer has to be, whatever the reader enjoys most. For me, of course, it would be a ginormous cup of strong tea. No sugar, please.

Last but not least... favourite historical author?

There are too many to mention but I shall begin with Tracy Chevalier, Philippa Gregory, Anya Seton, Elizabeth Chadwick, Judith Lennox, Diana Gabaldon …

Diana, thank you for inviting me to be interviewed for The Review. I’ve enjoyed answering your thought-provoking questions.


Charlotte's latest book, The House in Twill Court, is available in both Kindle and paperback editions and has had some exceptional reviews

Amazon UK

© Diana Milne July 2016 © (Charlotte Betts August 2016)

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