Today I have the very great pleasure of welcoming Mary Rensten to Chat About Books! 🙂
Thank you, Kerry, for inviting me onto your blog.
You’re very welcome….
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
Myself and my books. Okay. Well … I make no secret of the fact that I am ninety-one, and there are now things I cannot do easily, like climbing up steps to reach a high cupboard! I can still write though … and I do! I started off as a free-lance journalist – my first paid-for piece was in 1975; it was a humorous article for a magazine called Annabel – and at the same time I was writing plays: my first love, as way back I went to drama school! I have written non-fiction books and educational material – I was a teacher for ten years – and I also created a couple of word games. I now mainly write novels and I have had three published.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
The idea for my novel Letters from Malta – which was a No. 1 best-seller! – came from an unplanned visit to a military cemetery there; Her Almost Perfect Husband began as a dream, and my most successful stage play, A Common Woman, resulted from supporting the women of Greenham Common in the 1980s.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
Not intentionally, but a character will sometimes be an amalgam of features from several different people.
How do you pick your characters’ names?
I don’t! They have to come from them!
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
I will try. (This is for a play or a novel. ) Have an idea, jot down scribbled notes, map out the storyline and the time line – important to get this sorted early; also create the characters’ back stories. (As the author I need to know, and actors ask for them!) Then comes a very rough first draft, which journalists used to call the ‘first dreadful’. So far it is all in longhand. Now I go to the laptop and work on the next draft. And the next. Then it’s editing and tweaking, and more editing and tweaking … until I feel the book or play is ready for me to let someone read it. I find it very hard to decide when a piece of work is finished; there’s always something I could write differently. I do wish I could get a piece 100% right first time, but it never happens … not to me!
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
Five? I have a lot more, but these would certainly be at the top of the list: Rose Tremain, Tracy Chevalier, C.J. Sansom, Alan Bennett and John Steinbeck.
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Alan Bennett, and I would ask him about An Englishman Abroad, one of my all-time favourites, about how much is fact and which bits are fiction, and how much licence a writer may take with history in the interest of drama!
Were you a big reader as a child?
Oh yes. I remember reading Little Women when I was seven.
When did you start to write?
I wrote a play – kings and queens and a princess – when I was ten. I still have it! I was one of those nerdy kids who actually liked writing ‘compositions’!
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
Far From The Madding Crowd. I would give it the happy ending that the film has.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
That’s a tough one. Well … anything by Rose Tremain or Tracy Chevalier, I think.
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
I shall have to think about that one … in case I ever do! (Possibly Never Too Late as I didn’t publish my first novel until I was 80.)
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
I would invite Eliza Doolittle … and I would take her to one of the posh cafes in Covent Garden.
Tell us a random fact about yourself
I have recently become a great-grandmother!
What are you working on right now?
A memoir about my childhood in Jamaica in the 1940s. Floella Benjamin’s Coming to England started me thinking about my own young days in a new country and how much I owe to that beautiful island.
Tell us about your last release?
My latest book, which came out in March, is a novel, Her Almost Perfect Husband. It is described as ‘A poignant story of love and deception, and the importance of human relationships set against material success.’
Do you have a new release due?
No, I don’t. (Next year, I hope.)
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
Sorry to be boring, but nothing really! I feel a sense of relief … and at the same time emptiness: I have lived with those characters for so long – several years – and now they have gone!
How can readers keep in touch with you?
By Twitter. @MaryRensten Please do!
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
I am a member and a Vice-President of SWWJ (Society of Women Writers and Journalists) a wonderful, friendly, international organisation which has been supporting writers since 1894! We love to welcome new writers … and readers, too, both women and men! Right now we are unable to meet in person, but we have regular virtual events. (Have a look at our website swwj.co.uk.)
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Mary 🙂
Thank you, Kerry; it’s been a pleasure.