Hello. On Thursday night I went to a talk by former local author Marion Grace Woolley at Northampton Writers Group, at the Quaker Meeting House, Northampton, England. Marion is very active on Facebook and Twitter and having self-published a short story collection, published novels with Green Sunset Books and Netherworld Books but most recently has landed a deal (and even an advance!) with publishers Ghostwoods Books.
Although various topics were covered, Marion primarily talked about her latest novel, a historical fantasy, Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran.
She initially talked about the cover (you can read about how the cover came together here) and said that the top picture was taken from ‘To the End’ by Babak Fatholahi (the original of which you can see here) and the bottom was a masked conjurer which was inspired by Gaston Leroux’s La Fantome de l’Opera (Phantom of the Opera, which started as a serialisation as many novels did in the late nineteenth / early twentieth century). Within the novel is a reference to ‘rosy hours at Mazandaran’.
This inspired Marion to investigate the author, the life he lead and Mazandaran itself (an administrative area of Iran). Marion was delighted to not only learn that it was a real place but one of her many trips overseas, she actually flew over it, albeit overnight so she didn’t get to see anything.
The Rosy Hours at Mazandaran starts in Sari, Northern Iran, which used to be the capital of Iran before it officially moved to Tehran. Marion then gave us a whistle-stop tour Leroux’s history and talked about the story of the Phantom, Eric. Learning more about the, Naser al-Din Shan Qajar, Iranian shah’s life, wives, dominant mother (Malek Jahan Khaom) and quirks was really interesting (especially seeing photos of how the shah’s wives beauty routine… and yes, our lady on the right is one of his wives!). One of the members of the writers group commented about the moustaches and no one could understand why (and how) the women would grow them.
Threatening the shah was Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi, nicknamed The Bab who was appalled at the shah’s opulent lifestyle while his people struggled with day-to-day living. The Bab grew a following (Babism, the Bahai Faith) and the shah didn’t like what was happening so had him executed which then escalated, leading to the deaths of 20,000 Babis.
Marion then read an extract from her novel, set around the Irani New Year, which takes place around the spring equinox.
When asked, Marion talked about how she got published and how pleased she is with her ‘fair trade’ publishers, Ghostwood Books. One thing Marion said that I didn’t know was that the Amazon charts are based on hour-by-hour (or thereabouts) sales rather than weekly, monthly etc. I said it was probably why there were so many authors who claimed to be bestsellers (perhaps in their genre). Marion then mentioned how pleased she was with the audiobook version of Those Rosy Hours and said that it had helped her pronounce some of the trickier words!
As with many authors, Marion said that the best fiction isn’t real but could be real so the reader can research the real events if they wish. She said how hard it was being a non-Iranian non-Muslim author so had to do a lot of research as to how women lived in that era. At this point of the presentation, Marion shows us slides of the different types of women’s attire from the burka to an Aladdin-style seven veils-type dancer. Marion, as part of her research, reads academia and surfs the internet to ensure accuracy but says there will always be experts out there keen to pick holes in any errors there might be.
Marion was then asked if she plans her novels. Like me (and many other authors), she said that she doesn’t plan but gets an idea and runs with it. If she gets stuck, she moves on to later passages and returns later. I do the same, putting ‘more here’ and move on.
I asked Marion whether she has received any feedback from Iranian readers and she said she hasn’t yet. So, if you’re from Iran, do buy her book (Amazon links below) and leave a review. When asked ‘what next?’, Marion said she is writing inspired by the Children of Lir, an Irish tragedy. Marion tells me that she was reading about King Lear in the research and that Lir / Lear is a linguistic thing. She said, “Lear and Lir are the same name, but Lir’s used as a possessive. So Lear walked down the street / Lir’s children. It would be awfully confusing, and Gregory’s translation uses Lir – so I do. There’s also Irish chocolates called Lir.” Interesting. Thanks, Marion.
After early November fireworks festivities, Marion’s next stop is Kendal library (I love brown Kendal mint cake, Marion!) before returning to African in the new year. Marion then talked about how she was involved in the publication of a Rwandan Sign Language dictionary (see bio below for further details) and after thanks from the writing group’s Deputy Chair, Mike Richards, we had a welcome tea break (with scrummy biscuits) before setting on our way home.
And now a little more about Marion…