Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and sixty-sixth, is of Laura Wilkinson. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights. You can also read Laura’s interview here. For the chance of winning an e-version of Laura’s new book, leave a comment at the bottom of this post and Laura will pick her favourite.
Born in Liverpool 8, in the shadow of the Anglian Cathedral, Laura grew up in a Welsh market town. She read voraciously as a child (and still does) and told many tales, but never got as far as writing any of them down, unless ordered to do so by her English teacher. After school, the hedonistic delights of Manchester beckoned and here she studied for a BA in Literature, as well as ramming in a serious amount of partying. Since then she has steadily made her way south, and now lives in a never-to-be-chic area of Brighton, about a ten minute walk to the Downs and twenty minutes to the sea. Both landscapes are a source of great inspiration, along with the mountains and valleys of Wales. Before fiction, she worked freelance as a journalist, editor and copywriter. She’s married to a musician and is mother to two ginger boys.
Laura learns so much about the world from the books she reads, especially novels, and, believes that, along with her family, they have made her who she is. Writers she admires are too numerous to mention here, but contemporary authors whose work inspires and awes consistently include Maggie O’Farrell, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood.
Laura began writing fiction around eight years ago. She has had published short stories in magazines, anthologies and digital media. BloodMining, her first novel, won a minor competition, and was published in 2011 by Bridge House Publishing, a teeny-tiny company based in Manchester. Her second novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, is recently published by Accent Press.
To complicate matters (at least for Laura), she writes steamy romance for erotic imprint, Xcite, as L.C. Wilkinson. All of Me, part one of the Rapture series, was published in 2013 and part two, All of Him, is published later this month.
Alongside fiction, Laura works as an editor – freelance and for literary consultancy, Cornerstones – and in education.
And now from the author herself:
My latest novel is set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike and is a story about love, friendship, community and cakes. And being the best you can be.
I’ve been asked if the story is a personal one and why my interest? I am not a coal miner’s daughter; I didn’t grow up in a mining community. I don’t hold truck with that adage ‘write what you know’. On the whole, I prefer to write about what I don’t know – my stories are often my attempt to understand aspects of the human experience, if that doesn’t sound too la-di-dah for a writer who essentially sets out to entertain. But like most writers, consciously or not, my work unearths questions and dilemmas which fascinate and puzzle me – the ‘what ifs’ – and my stories are attempts to unravel them.
Once the first draft of Public Battles, Private Wars was finished, I realised it was a journey tale, a rising star story, and that my own history could easily have paralleled my lead, Mandy’s, were it not for a couple of crucial influences. (Though I have to add that I don’t see myself as ‘star’ in any light!)
I come from a working class family, from a tightly-knit, inward-looking small community. Like Mandy, I could easily have married and had children young, too young some might say, stayed put. My life would have taken a very different course. But I didn’t, and this I credit to education and the socialist beliefs of my immediate family, and the people they mixed with as a result.
My mother and stepfather may not have studied for A levels or degrees, though they were both eminently capable. The eldest daughter, at sixteen my mother left grammar school and worked for her parents, as was expected. And despite a fearsome intellect and nine O levels, my stepfather trained as a mechanic, because, well, that’s what you did where he came from.
When I was growing up in the 70s, my mother worked as an assistant at the county library and my stepfather at Shotton Steelworks. Their involvement in the Labour Party exposed them (and my grandparents) to feminist, Marxist and Socialist ideology and thought. They mixed with head teachers and other professionals. They wanted a better life for their children and society as a whole. So I was encouraged to stay on at school and when teachers suggested that I just might be university material the idea was not pooh-poohed.
And I do have personal experience of industrial conflict. I was still at school during the steel workers’ strike. The first in the industry in over fifty years. While plans to sell off the nation’s family silver of British Gas, Telecom and others were being hatched, the newly-elected Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, shipped in American bully-boy Ian MacGregor to dismantle the industries which were the bedrock of the manufacturing north, beginning with steel.
In a period of economic recession, the 14-week strike hit many families in north Wales hard. We were lucky; my mother worked full-time, and though it was low paid, it was secure. Both sets of grandparents worked. Others were not so lucky, and when, on 31st March 1980, the steelworks shut forever, things got a whole lot worse. 6,500 people received their marching orders that day; the largest number of redundancies in a single day in western Europe. On the free-school meals register for the second time in my life, this time, I was not quite so alone.
When the miners came out on strike, there was never, ever, any doubt which side of the line I stood on. We shook buckets, marched and raised funds to support the miners and their families. When defeat came, it was horrible.
And then my life rumbled on, and I near enough forgot about the miners until I came across a photograph of a group of miners’ wives while I was researching another story idea set in the 80s. There’s a wealth of writing on the strike, but very little fiction, and until this year none focused on the women’s role in the conflict. Prior to 2014, I knew of just three novels. This year, as far as I know, there are at least two more, and, interestingly, both focus on the women’s role.
A writer friend, Amanda James, was a young miner’s wife in 1984. She asked if I had been and we spoke of the importance of distance for a writer, how it can be best to leave the telling of important stories to those who are not, or were not, too emotionally involved. Especially with something as polemic as this strike. It remains extremely raw for so many even now, 30 years on.
Fiction allows us to explore human emotion and shared history (or herstory) in a way that non-fiction can’t; it allows us to empathise more fully, walk in others’ shoes, experience what they experience. Perhaps my novel is a what if I’d had another family, what if, like Mandy, tragedy had set my life on another path at a crucial age, ‘what if’ my ‘salvation’ came from an unexpected quarter, as Mandy’s does, and a ‘would I’, like Mandy, have had the courage to take the risk.
I’d like the novel to be seen as an inspiring tale of possibility and hope; the potential in us all. And I hope it brings the stories of the miners’ women to a younger generation of readers, as well as reminding older readers of an important period in modern history.
You can find out more about Laura and the novel, including Book Group Questions, here: http://laura-wilkinson.co.uk, and if you’d like to buy her book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Public-Battles-Private-Laura-Wilkinson/dp/1783755164 and http://www.amazon.com/Public-Battles-Private-Laura-Wilkinson/dp/1783755164.
For the chance of winning an e-version of Laura’s new book, leave a comment at the bottom of this post and Laura will pick her favourite.
What they say about Laura’s work:
- ‘Vivid and engaging. A touching, well-written novel’ Welsh Books Council Reader Report for Public Battles, Private Wars
- ‘BloodMining is compelling, and Wilkinson ably navigates the tender, sometimes fraught exchanges between her protagonists. Though its scope is ambitious, and could easily have veered off-course, BloodMining’s deft interweaving of complex themes makes for a haunting début.’ For Books’ Sake
- ‘This is a co mpelling story that raises important issues and will linger in the mind long after the last page has been turned.’ New Books Magazine
- ‘This mind-blowingly original novel asks big questions about a woman’s right to choose when to have children… This is a book that will haunt your dreams.’ Books at Broadway.
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