Please welcome author Rosemary Hillyard to my site. She released her debut novel, A Time to Be, in July. Check out a short excerpt of her historical romance after this author interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in south London, the second of six children, when London was a very different place to the city it is today. I have travelled a lot, visiting 24 countries when I was a journalist, and have lived in Surrey, Wales and the Midlands. Today I live in a small village in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, with a partner who was born here. I am not sure where I would call home now: I think it might be a place inside me…
What or who inspired you to start writing?
I was seven when I first announced to my family that I was going to be a writer. At school I was put up on a chair to make up stories to keep the other children quiet, and I wrote stories for magazines which won prizes – exciting for a little girl! I discovered that I was a descendant of Charles Dickens, which whetted my appetite further. My father was a great reader and collected the full set of Dickens’ books, which were passed on to me.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I suppose I did as a child, but I soon learned that it would be a precarious way to earn a living, and I was encouraged to look for a “proper job”. I joined a local newspaper as a trainee journalist and was soon too busy to think about writing for pleasure. It has taken me 60 years to publish my first book!
How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?
I haven’t consciously written about me or my experiences, but I am sure that everything we experience as we go through life affects our personalities and outlook. I cannot abide dull routine, for example, and Elizabeth, the book’s central character, craves excitement, too!
Please tell us about your current release. What inspired you to write this book?
My father died from cancer an hour after his 58th birthday. His death affected me greatly. It made me realise that life can be short and I was one of the next generation in line. I started writing about his illness as therapy, and then the plot for “A Time To Be” began making itself felt.
How did you come up with the title?
A passage from Ecclesiastes kept nagging at me – a passage which Pete Seeger used as the basis for a song: there is a season for everything. “A time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance”. As my writing progressed I played through these phrases in my head, moving from one choice to another as I learned to work through and accept my father’s death. “A Time To Be” symbolised acceptance and a state of being for my story’s characters.
What kind of research did you do for this book? Did you base any of your characters on real people?
As I wanted to include real characters – politicians and suffragettes – in my story, I needed to be sure that their personalities, appearances and real events were accurate to the last detail. So I spent many hours checking and cross-referencing so that fact and fiction fused seamlessly together.
What was the most difficult thing/scene to write in this story?
The lovemaking chapter. I knew there needed to be one to make the storyline realistic, but I didn’t want it to be smutty or tacky. I wasn’t aiming for another “Fifty Shades of Grey”! Neither did I want it to be coy or so euphemistic that it would make the reader cringe. So it took quite a few drafts to produce a chapter which I hope achieves its aim without upsetting anyone.
If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?
If I could travel back in time, I would like to meet Charles Dickens and discuss how he put his stories together. We both wrote for newspapers. He believed in doing what he could to help his fellow man, and I am donating royalties from my books to charities, so we should have something in common. Perhaps I could make that meeting possible in a sequel to “A Time To Be”?!
A modern writer I would like to meet is Jodi Picoult, who writes very readable books with tough storylines which make me think.
Tell us a random fact about you that we never would have guessed.
I sang “Verdi’s Requiem” for Princess Alexandra in the Royal Albert Hall – with several hundred others, I hasten to add!
Excerpt – Chapter 3
‘Are you sure it’s wise to go out so soon?’ John watched his wife anxiously as she buttoned her coat and tidied her hair in front of the hall mirror.
‘John, dear, I need some fresh air and so does Elizabeth. I’ve had lots of rest in the last three weeks, and the doctors wouldn’t have let us come home if they hadn’t been sure we were both fine. Please stop worrying. I won’t stay out long, but I want to take Elizabeth to the church to offer a prayer of thanks for her safe delivery.’
John hugged Maria and planted a kiss on her forehead.
‘Okay, you win. I know it’s no use arguing with you when you’ve made up your mind. But keep on the move, won’t you? Although it’s brighter today, there’s still quite a cold wind, and I’d hate either of my girls to catch a chill!’
Maria pushed the pram proudly along the street towards St Benedict’s. It wasn’t the nearest church to their home – that was the modern, yellow-brick St John the Baptist round the corner – but Maria preferred the more traditional services at St Benedict’s, even though it meant a walk of half a mile or so. The people there were so friendly, too, and she was looking forward to taking Elizabeth with her. The vicar welcomed children, no matter how young, and she was sure he would be delighted to arrange the baby’s baptism.
Today, she’d be even more glad to reach the church. John had been right – the wind was cold – and she walked briskly, barely glancing at the front gardens of the houses she passed, not stopping as she usually did to admire a fine shrub or border.
As she turned thankfully under the lychgate at the entrance to the churchyard, and started pushing the pram along the stone-flagged path between the gravestones, she caught a snatch of organ music and realised that she wouldn’t have the church to herself.
Still, if it was old Mr Johnson practising for next Sunday’s services, he wouldn’t mind at all if she wandered round the church, running her fingers over the beautiful carved wooden choirstalls and reading the marble tablets set high in the walls. She liked to sit quietly in her favourite pew, imagining what the people commemorated in those tablets looked like and the kind of lives they led. What must it have been like to have lived in those long-ago days?
But, as she pushed open the heavy dark oak door and manoeuvred the pram, with some difficulty, down the broad stone step just inside, she realised that Mr Johnson wasn’t practising: a funeral service was in progress. An oak coffin topped with a wreath of evergreens and white chrysanthemums lay on a stand before the altar, and in the front two pews stood a small, sombrely-dressed group of people, singing the final verse of ‘Abide with me’.
Maria hesitated, feeling like an intruder. But it was too cold to wait outside, and she didn’t want to walk home without offering her thanks to God for the baby, so she parked the pram at the back of the church and slipped into the last pew as the vicar climbed the steps of the pulpit to begin his address.
‘Let us give thanks for the life of Edward Oscar Dinsdale…’
Maria started. Where had she heard that name before?
‘…A very brave man, a man who risked his life in trying to save others…’ the vicar was continuing. And suddenly Maria remembered where she had seen that name; on the white marble tablet next to the special memorial window in the side chapel. A whole family of Dinsdales was listed on that marble, all killed in a terrible fire at the beginning of the century.
She bowed her head in respect as the coffin passed her, then glanced up to be faced with the most startlingly vivid pair of violet-blue eyes she had ever seen. Their owner wasn’t a young woman – about 70, Maria judged – but she was still upright, slender and elegant in a neat grey suit and tiny black hat with a discreet feather curled along one side, topping a small heart-shaped face with silver hair brushed smoothly underneath.
The woman smiled at her and Maria, realising that she had been staring, flushed as she smiled back apologetically.
She waited until the group of mourners had left the church, then knelt to offer her prayer of thanks for the safe delivery of Elizabeth.
After a few minutes, she rose, checked to see that the baby was still sleeping soundly, then made her way to the side chapel. She was right – there, on the white marble tablet next to the memorial window, were listed the members of the Dinsdale family who had lost their lives in a fire which had destroyed their home in June 1908.
As John Carter anxiously awaits the arrival of his first-born, in another ward of the hospital old Edward Dinsdale’s life is slipping away. Fate brings these two families and lives together when John’s wife, Maria, takes new-born Elizabeth to church to thank God for her safe arrival.
As Elizabeth grows, she has an inexplicable pull towards a bygone era and loves everything from the clothes to their lifestyle. So when she takes a bang on the head and time travels back to 1908, she feels as though she has come home.
She stumbles into the world of Edward Dinsdale and is taken under his wing at the beautiful Highwood Hall. Relationships and friendships grow quickly, and it seems that Elizabeth is quite content living in a time when life was much simpler. But her husband, Ben, is waiting for her.
Will Elizabeth ever return to her husband and family? What secrets will she uncover while amongst the Dinsdale family?
Filled with excitement, tragedy, love and loss, A Time to Be is historical / romantic fiction at its best and a must-read for all ages. Set partly in the era of the suffragettes and partly in the modern day, this is an atmospheric and cinematic read full of thought-provoking twists and turns that capture both eras perfectly.
About the Author
Rosemary Hillyard’s earliest memories are of wanting to be a writer. As Charles Dickens was an ancestor, perhaps the desire was in her genes!
She won a few prizes for stories as a child, but adults told Rosemary she needed to earn a living and should keep story writing as a hobby. So she trained as a journalist on her local paper in south London and stuck to factual writing for 25 years. She qualified as an industrial editor, producing staff publications for major companies such as Barclays Bank, Avis, MetalBox, Coca-Cola Schweppes and the Royal Institute of Marketing.
In her 40s she trained as a financial adviser, and ran a successful business as an independent mortgage consultant for ten years.
Her father’s death from cancer at only 58 was the catalyst which started Rosemary writing again imaginatively. ‘Suddenly I was aware how short life can be. The death of a parent also makes you realise you are next in line.’
The germ of an idea for historical, romantic fiction with a twist in the tale started to take shape. And at last ‘A Time To Be’ is seeing the light of day.
You can contact Rosemary through her e-mail.