Hello and welcome to my website! You’ll find that most of my books have something to do with history, which is one of my passions. I’m lucky to live in England, where there’s history round every corner. What I really love is to stand in an old empty house and imagine who lived there years ago.
I was born in Nottinghamshire, England, UK and went to local schools between the ages of 4 and 18, then to London to the university, where I took a degree in English Language and Literature. Teacher training came next, then marriage to Bruce Chandler, my husband. Here we are, enjoying a break in the sun.
My first teaching post was in a high school in Brent, North London. When my son Simon was born I gave up teaching and moved back to the Midlands. I now live in Derbyshire, where my sons Matt and Ben were born. Later I took up teaching again, at the secondary school where I was a pupil, then, in a special school for children with severe and profound learning difficulties. Now I work full time as a writer and I’m in the process of publishing my out-of-print stories in an ebook format.
My eldest son, Dr Simon P Chandler, researches post-operative medication for patients recovering from eye surgery. His family has a menagerie of pets! This photograph shows one of four cats, Big G, who has an amazingly dense apricot coloured coat. He’s gorgeous!
My middle son, Matt, is a professional session guitarist, with his own jazz combo, MC 3. He has worked with many artists, both in the UK and abroad, including our own top saxophonist, Tony Kofi,who guested on Matt’s latest album. Matt Chandler My Space
Ben, my youngest son, is a sound designer, musician and talented drummer. Ben has recently launched his own sound design company. You can see the latest example of his work on the Toxic Games website, where the computer game QUBE features Ben’s original sound track. http://syncmusicuk.co.uk/
My Writing Life…
Are words your obsession? They are mine! BOOKS! I love reading and writing them!, There are books all over my house. ’ve been writing since I was little, sneaking into corners to scribble on odd bits of paper. There’s so much to love about it; the vast variety of pens, pencils and notebooks, then that wonderful feeling as you fill the pages.
Every book begins in longhand, as I sit in my comfortable armchair. The room has to be quiet too! I’m much too easily distracted to write in a cafe or library.
It took me a while to be published. I practised and prepared by filling in three pages of a journal every day for a couple of years, before coming up with my first successful short story, published in a magazine. This was followed by several others, one of which was a prize winner. I was on my way!
In 1998, OUP published my first book, Dark Thread, a story set largely in an 18th century cotton spinning mill.
It tells the story of 14 year old Kate, who, when her mother is killed on a busy road, slips away from the painful present into the past, where an old weaver and seer, Pentecost Hibbs, helps her to find her way home again. It was the death of my own mother that prompted me to write about Kate’s feelings, so the book will always be special one for me. I’m so pleased that Five Leaves Press have re-printed Dark Thread this year.
I was recently interviewed by ace book blogger, Elaine Aldred, about Dark Thread and Cromford. Here is part of our conversation:
For those who don’t know Cromford and the mill, would you describe the area?
Cromford is a small village, on the banks of the river Derwent in Derbyshire. It’s full of history, a time capsule, really, with lots of 18th and 19thc stone cottages and other original features. It was developed by Richard Arkwright, a Lancashire entrepreneur, for his workers, when he built a cotton spinning mill there, at the end of the eighteenth-century. He chose Cromford, because of the water supply, used for the water wheels which drove his machinery. The water has a constant temperature of about 20°C, so it rarely freezes, which meant that the water wheels would keep turning all year round.
All along Cromford Hill, the main street of the village, Arkwright built the three storey workers’ cottages that you can still see there, the top storey being used as weaver’s workshops, as well as those lining North Street, a side street off the Hill. He also started to build the church, which was finished after his death, the lock-up and the hotel, as well workshops, forges and a market. Then there are all the sluices, the ponds, the culverts and the water falls: engineering on a huge scale to divert the water. It’s all still there.
Originally the first Mill was six storeys tall and housed 200 workers, with rows of machines, to produce an identical product. It was the first example of mass production. There was ‘boom and bust’ in the cotton industry though, because the whole enterprise only lasted for about 50 years, from the 1770s to the 1820s, then fell into a slow decline.
Although the story is set in Derbyshire, why do you think the book might have a wider audience than local readers?
I don’t think about anything except the story when I’m writing, so I don’t know whether it will appeal to readers or not. I just hope it will! The main thing is to create ‘real’ characters who hook you into the story, so that you have to find out what happens to them. I also love a story that can be read on more than one level. ‘Dark Thread’ is a conventional time-slip story about a modern girl thrown into a world in the past, with all its strangeness. It’s also about love and loss, universal themes, and the grief you feel when you realise that your loss is permanent. It’s Pentecost, the wise woman in the past, who shows the main character, Kate, a way to cope with her heartache.
With all the information you have packed into the book, what techniques did you use to prevent an info dump and prevent it being a boring read for you audience?
When I’ve finally got a reasonable draft of the story, I knock it into shape for the reader. While writing, I don’t share the story with anyone, but of course I hope to share it, eventually, with lots of people, so I work hard to take out the boring bits. In the process, you end up with 9/10ths in your head and 1/10th on the page. The 9/10s is the ‘backstory’, the ‘history’ of the characters and events, that make the story and the characters stronger and totally convincing. To explore the ‘backstory’, I write scenes which I then edit out of the final draft.
It’s also useful to read the story aloud. If your eyes glaze over, you know it’s not working! And you need to cut most adverbs and adjectives. It’s easy to fall in love with the sound of language, but description has to work in support of character and plot.
In historical fiction, I think writers have a responsibility to ‘get it right’, where possible, so, I do a lot of research, on clothing, food, architecture, geography, social customs and conditions, so that nothing strikes a wrong note or provides a distraction from the story. Writers do take shortcuts in fiction, though, and take ‘creative liberties’, with the timing of events, for example, so as not to hold up the story. You can’t use totally authentic dialect, either, without confusing the reader, so it’s a good idea to ‘suggest’ it, with a mixture of old and modern, rather than stick slavishly to what is truly authentic and risk that ‘glaze over.’
You have a background in teaching. Did that influence your writing because the type of historical detail woven into the narrative, would make the book a very useful resource and starting point for a school project.
I try not to think about how a book will be used while I’m writing it. The main thing is to find an interesting character and an exciting plot. It’s lovely to think that schools might find the book useful though.
How much of the book is based on your own experience of this part of Derbyshire?
I live quite near Cromford Mill, so I’ve had plenty of chances to visit the site and talk to the experts who manage it. It’s a place full of echoes of the past, especially the voices of the children who worked there. It makes me think of a prison, where life was harsh and relentless, but that’s a very modern view, I’m sure! Without schools to go to, the child workers were probably pleased to have something to do with their time, and proud to be contributing to the family income. I feel close to working people. My family have all worked in factories, mines or shops. My father’s family could not afford to send him to the grammar school, so he went into service and then into factory work. My mother’s father was a miner, as were my uncles, and I’ve worked in factories myself, so I know something about manual labour and the process of mass production, which Arkwright pioneered.
What type of research did you have to do?
In Cromford, I was able to consult local historians and members of the Arkwright Society, the experts who manage the site. The internet was useful for maps to show water courses and lead mines, and I read books about early industry, the Derwent valley, about Sir Richard Arkwright and the other mill owners and engineers. I also visited Litton Mill, near Tideswell in Derbyshire, a notorious cotton mill. Its terrible conditions were exposed in the diary of Robert Blincoe. Life was hard at Cromford, but it was worse at Litton, and it was testimony such as Blincoe’s that led to changes in the laws governing child employment in the 19thcentury. Part of my research was done with the Wellcome Library, in London, an amazing world resource for medical history. I was trying to find out what people did in the 1770s, to save someone who had almost drowned. The experts were incredibly helpful, and sent me lots of information on 18th century life saving techniques, with diagrams! So, I felt confident in letting Kate try mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Tabby.
To read the rest, visit Elaine’s blog at http://strangealliances.wordpress.com.
Other history-based stories followed Dark Thread. It was a chance visit to the market place in Rouen, where, in 1431, Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake, that inspired me to re-tell her story in Warrior Girl. In 2005, I was awarded an Arts Council Award for this book, which helped me to take a research trip to Joan’s birthplace, the village of Domremy in north-eastern France. It was an extraordinary experience to walk, perhaps, where she walked. Being able to see these things for yourself is very different from researching online or in books. I felt very privileged.
As a native and current resident of the East Midlands, in the heart of the old Danelaw, I had to write about Vikings, so my next historical book was Viking Girl, in which, Beren, left to rule her tribe after her father’s death, seeks freedom and peace across the sea in England. As the tribe struggles to survive with their Saxon neighbours, Beren is assailed by enemies on all sides. Only the Saxon monk, Albi, and her father’s spirit guide, the fox, help her uncover a foul secret and fight a treacherous plot. The Mark of Edain, was inspired by a picture I came across of an elephant in armour, equipped for war. I’d never heard of war elephants before and I was horrified to think that these amazing, gentle and highly intelligent creatures were once used in this way. The story follows the quest of Aoife [Ee-fa] a Druid princess, to return to Britain, after years as a slave in Rome. Along with her brother Madoc, Aiofe escapes from her master, but is soon re-captured and taken before the Emperor for punishment. In the stables under the Circus, Aoife makes friends with an angry elephant and the Emperor, seeing her special gift with his new beast, agrees to take her to Britain, with his invasion force. When the Emperor decides to sacrifice the elephant, whom Aoife knows as Bala, Aiofe realises that she will have only one slim chance to save her, and to save herself from certain death.
In 2012, as well as the new Dark Thread, I’ve had a non-fiction book published. Children’s History of Derbyshire is from Hometown World. It’s an exciting read for 8-12s, with plenty of colourful illustrations and photographs, covering key people and events from Derbyshire’s rich past, from Romans to Brian Clough and the Quad! I take a look at Saxons and Vikings, Normans, Tudors and Stuarts, Georgian and Victorian times,World War II and modern times. The book is crammed! And there’s so much I had to leave out! More details about Children’s History of Derbyshire in Books.
I’m now working on several new projects for 2013, which I’m keeping to myself for the time being, until they’re ready to come out into the world. One is certainly another historical story!
If you want to know more about my books or my writing, or to book me for an event, reading,workshop or talk, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org