Heather: Hi Susan! Welcome to The Maiden’s Court. I’m happy to have you stop by today and share with us more about your book, A Kiss from France. Can you first tell me how you discovered indieBRAG and what being awarded the B.R.A.G. MedallionTM has meant to you?
Susan Hughes: Hello, Heather, thanks for asking me. I noticed the indieBRAG golden sticker on Helen Hollick’s book covers at a selfpublishing workshop. We had a chat and, after looking at other honorees’ books and their good reviews, I decided to put my first novel up for it. I was delighted that A Kiss from France was awarded that honour, particularly as to qualify for it a book has to pass muster on so many different criteria and is judged by several different reviewers. It’s a validation and has inspired me to keep on writing to meet this standard.
H: That has to be a wonderful feeling, especially for the first novel that you put out into the world to be awarded this honor.
Could you tell our readers a little bit about your book, A Kiss from France, to whet their appetite?
SH: It’s set in London between 1917-1919, so towards the end of WWI and its immediate aftermath. The two main characters are Lizzie and Eunice, who work in a munitions factory ‘for the duration’ (i.e. as long as the war lasts) filling ammunition shells with TNT. Lizzie sees the war as an opportunity to improve her prospects, but Eunice just wants the war to be over so she can return to being a wife and mother. Neither get what they bargained for. Amidst falling German bombs and the danger of working with explosives, both women get pulled in by the ‘you might be dead tomorrow, so enjoy yourself while you can’ morality of a capital city at war. They make certain questionable choices in the heightened emotional atmosphere of war. Come the peace, they are forced to confront the unforeseen repercussions of those wartime choices.
H: I must say that the thing that interested me most about your book was that story about the munitions workers placing notes in the boxes of shells that would go to the front lines; was this something that actually occurred? Can you tell us more about how you came across the idea?
SH: The notes in shell boxes intrigued me too. This did actually happen. I was reading about lonely hearts’ advertisements during WW1 when I discovered one of the other ways love affairs were kindled was by munitions workers putting notes of introduction into shell boxes, and getting replies from soldiers. I saw it as a rather romantic gesture, but also imagined the possibilities for intrigue in such a practice!
H: That is one way to make a connection with someone!
My grandmother helped assemble bombs of some type during WWII, did you have any family inspiration that you used in either the stories told in your novel or in your characters of Lizzie or Eunice?
SH: My inspiration came from some WW1 postcards I found among my grandmother’s possessions after she died, and I wove a story around the imagined sender and recipient. My own mother encouraged me not to be confined by my sex or class. I think more than a little of her ethos has found its way into the character of Lizzie.
H: Authors always have awesome historical tidbits that just can’t possibly make it into their novel. Can you tell us one such tidbit you loved but couldn’t incorporate into A Kiss from France?
SH: During my research I discovered that even back in 1915 you could buy fake tan. They didn’t call it that, of course, but ‘sunbronze’. This surprised me as I knew it wasn’t fashionable for women to have a suntan in that era and then I discovered the product was aimed squarely at men. Price: 1s 9d 2s 9d a pot. However, I couldn’t see my down-to-earth, lower middle class male characters using such a product or subscribing to such ‘vanity’ so I filed it in the mental ‘who knew?’ box.
H: Wow, that's surprising to me too! I never would have thought of that!
For those who have not read your work, how would you describe your writing style?
SH: A few readers have said I have a conversational style as a writer. Perhaps this is because I like to use dialogue quite a bit when telling a story, both for character development and for moving the plot on, or because I often read my work aloud to myself to check whether it flows. I also prefer my writing to have a good dose of realism.
H: What drew you towards independent publishing as opposed to seeking out a traditional publisher? Has there been anything that was more or less challenging that you expected? Would you do it again?
SH: I was aware of the independent publishing route, but as one agent had shown interest in my manuscript and I lacked confidence in my technical skills to go it alone, I put going indie on the back burner. After a frustrating six months’ wait for an answer from the agent (eventually she said ‘no’) I decided to just go for it. I knew I’d have to draft in technical help to get my book published and it was certainly a massive learning curve. The other challenging aspect of independent publishing is the marketing. It is time consuming when all I want to do is write the next book, and the next and it requires a different approach.
H: I can imagine that it can be a challenge to have to take up the helm on so many aspects when you self publish. I love hearing those success stories of authors who have been able to find what they are looking for through indie publishing. For our readers, any words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
SH: Get a good structural edit done before you consider publishing. Your work will be better for it. Do a skills analysis of what you can reasonably do for yourself; for what’s missing, hire an expert, but shop around for the best deal before you commit. If you’ve got a limited budget, make sure you keep some of it to spend on a good cover design. It’s worth it. Finally, don’t be disheartened by negative feedback, but don’t dismiss the constructive criticism. Never stop learning. Good luck!
H: Excellent suggestions, to be sure! I can't say enough, as a reader, how important a good edit and cover design are. There are self-published books that I have skipped past because the cover design was not appealing and I'm sure the story was good! Thank you Susan for spending time with us today!
Susan Hughes grew up near a small mining village in the north of England. For as long as she can remember books have always been a part of her life. When she didn’t have her nose in a book she was climbing trees, catching water boatmen from a nearby stream, or go-carting in back lanes with the kids next door.
After university and a career in the City of London, she moved to the rural West Country with her family. Her first novel, A Kiss from France, was inspired by a handful of WWI silk postcards found among her grandmother’s possessions. She is now working on her second novel, set in inter-war London.
Find Susan Hughes: Website | Twitter
As men toiled on the front line, back home munitionettes made the armaments and fought battles all their own.
London 1917. Lizzie Fenwick is young, ambitious and in love. At least, she thinks she’s in love with the soldier who answered the note she concealed in a box of ammunition shells. She spends her days filling shells with TNT, and her nights dreaming of the mysterious Harry Slater.
Eunice Wilson knows the exact moment her marriage to Jack began to fracture. He refused to enlist, and their patriotic neighbors never let her live it down. Now he’s been conscripted and she can’t help but feel regret for shunning Jack before his departure.
As separate tragedies cause Lizzie to make hard choices and Eunice to cope with loss, the two women are unsure how to adjust when peace finally returns. Little do they know that an earlier war-time betrayal will force them to confront everything they knew about friendship, loyalty and love.
A Kiss from France is a historical fiction drama set in London’s East End during WW1. If you like compelling human stories, believable female protagonists and the suspense and intrigue of war-time, then this heart-felt tale of two women who yearn to feel alive in a broken world is for you.Buy the Book: Amazon | Amazon UK | Itunes | Kobo | Barnes & Noble
We are delighted that Heather has chosen to interview Susan Hughes who is the author of, A Kiss from France, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, A Kiss from France, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
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