Sunday, 19 March 2017

Fab Firsts - Q&A with Catherine Hokin

Fab Firsts is my new regular Sunday feature, that is going to be highlighting books that are firsts. When interviewing authors, it will be about their first book, as well as other firsts in their lives. When reviewing books for this feature, there will be a mix of debuts, first books in a series, the first time I read an author, and possibly other firsts depending on what I can think of!

If you are an author wanting to take part in Fab Firsts then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you.

I hope you enjoy this look at a variety of hopefully fabulous firsts, while making some sort of dent in my review and paperback TBRs which are my current main focus!

My name is Catherine Hokin. My debut historical fiction novel Blood and Roses came out in January 2016 and I also write contemporary short stories, a couple of which have won prizes and been published. I live in Glasgow, am married to an American and have 2 children who are a lot taller than me.

1) Can you tell us a bit about your first book?

My novel Blood and Roses retells the story of Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI, and her pivotal role in the fifteenth century Wars of the Roses. It is intended as a revision of a woman usually depicted as the ‘witch’ demonised by Shakespeare. Against a court which could be described as a medieval House of Cards, the novel examines Margaret as a French Queen in a hostile country, as a wife trapped in marriage to a man born to be a saint and as a mother whose son meets a terrible fate she has set in motion. The book is partly told through memoir: as Margaret desperately tries to stave off the judgement of history by writing her own truth—a desire she knows is almost certainly doomed – she unfolds a web of intrigue, shifting alliances and secrets and reveals herself as a woman forced to play the highest stakes to pull a throne from the spoils of the battlefield.

2) What was your original inspiration to become a writer, and to write your debut?

I have wanted to be a writer for a long time and have been scribbling for years but life got in the way. About 4 years ago I was able to take a day a week to write and that is when I really got started – writing needs time and headspace. As for Margaret – I have been fascinated with her, and the demonization of her, since I was a child. My father was a member of the Richard III society and Margaret drove him mad – my interest began!

3) How long did it take you to write your first book?

Almost three years including the research which took almost as long as the writing. The problem was time, not inclination. I could only give it a day a week plus the odd hour I could claw at weekends - I’m not an evening worker, my brain gets fried! Now that I am writing full time and the youngest is at university, the process has got a whole lot quicker.

4) If you could do anything differently in retrospect, what would you change about your debut, or how you went about writing it?

I think it needs a bit more sense of place – a couple of reviews have said that and I tend to agree, it can be hard to get the balance quite right. I have also learnt far more about planning during my mentorship for the second novel and that has made the writing of it far quicker. The other quibbles are to do with the format and publishing niggles over which I had no control. All writers will want to unpick their work and I could find any number of flaws but I don’t want to go down that road - I’m very proud of it, it’s sold steadily and reception has generally been incredibly positive, even among readers I don’t know!

5) Was your first book self or traditionally published, and how did you go about making that decision?

It was traditionally published and I went through the usual submissions/rejections lark on the way. I think it’s sad that there seems to be a sense of competition between the two routes – there’s equal amounts of good and bad in both camps from what I can see. I went down the traditional route out of personal choice and it has opened a lot of doors including getting a mentorship with the Scottish Book Trust, being able to join the Historical Writers Association which has been a big network for me and getting an agent. I’ve still done most of the marketing but that’s the deal nowadays no matter who you publish with.

6) Do you have any tips for other first time authors?

Learn the craft and I don’t just mean writing. I was hopelessly na├»ve about the publishing process and have suffered for that – there are proof-reading issues in my book that still make me want to scream and that comes down to my publisher not being able to do their job and me not having the right knowledge to pull them up with. I also didn’t understand just how small a small publisher’s reach is. Get really comfortable with social media: it’s fun and it’s where your main marketing will come from, but do not ‘sell’ – be interesting. And enjoy the whole daft rollercoaster – getting published, seeing my book in a bookstore (actually in three, awesome) and being asked to do events and interviews is a dream come true. I get to say I’m a writer – I feel very lucky and I am loving it.

Tell us about your first…

1) Book you bought

It was about a girl called Perdita and had time-slips to Tudor England and something about Samarkand in it. If anyone knows what on earth it was, help – I’ve been trying to find it for years!

2) Memory

A Christmas party in a hotel my dad worked in when I was about 3 – they had miniature jars of jam and I was enamoured of them, still am. I thought they belonged to fairies.

3) Person you fell in love with

Marc Bolan – anyone else is a secret

4) Holiday you went on

My parents moved from Liverpool to the Lake District before I was born so I did holidays backwards and went to Liverpool, loved it and became an eternal urbanite. My first ‘holiday’ was in a caravan in North Wales with my aunt and uncle. Luckily it was close to Liverpool.

5) Prize you won

The History Prize at school. I was a geek.

6) Album you purchased

I’d like it to be something cool but I think it was Once Upon a Star by the Bay City Rollers. Things have improved since.

7) Sport you enjoyed participating in

Absolutely none! A situation which has never changed despite being a mean (in all senses) hockey player throughout school.

8) Embarrassing moment you can remember

I was embarrassed by everything, now I’m embarrassed by nothing – there are people who would prefer the original state of affairs to be re-instated, particularly when there’s red wine involved.

Thank you Catherine for agreeing to answer these questions.

Catherine Hokin Bio
Catherine is a Glasgow-based author whose fascination with the medieval period began during a History degree which included studies into witchcraft, women and the role of political propaganda. This sparked an interest in hidden female voices resulting in her debut novel, Blood and Roses which brings a new perspective to the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482, wife of Henry VI) and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses.  Catherine also writes short stories - she was a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition  and has been published by iScot magazine - and blogs monthly for The History Girls. She is represented by Tina Betts of the Andrew Mann Literary Agency.

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Twitter @cathokin

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