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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, Mya Roberts talks about the inspiration behind her new historical fiction book, Song Of The Sea, about the American War of Independence.
Written by JJ Barnes
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I interviewed Mya Roberts about her life and career, her new historical fiction book, Song Of The Sea, and the inspiration behind her characters.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I’m Mya Roberts. I live on the Channel Island of Guernsey.
My early education wasn’t as inspiring as it might have been. In fact, I left school when I was still a child (though, like most sixteen year olds, I didn’t know that at the time).
My personal highlights were: working in a library (I really loved being surrounded by all those books), working in the city of London (which felt like a very fashionable thing to do), working with a children’s theatre group (I’ve always loved the theatre), having two amazing children, gaining my Licentiate Diploma with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (well I never, not so thick after all), teaching drama in schools (such a rewarding time), gaining a university place and (eventually) a degree (brain still there, and still functioning), working as a social worker and counsellor, moving to Guernsey in the Channel Islands, marrying a wonderful man and a wonderful Island.
Writing was an ever-present magnet to be resisted no longer.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
This was a gradual process. After some successes with short stories, plays and poetry, that first novel began to chafe.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I loved writing at school and I wrote bits and pieces. For some time, a story based loosely on my own life experiences had been nagging at me. It grew in my mind until I got my first computer – a Windows 95 (remember those?). That’s when this embryonic story evolved – but rather badly. My head was full of ideas but my technique was … untutored. This novel remains in a dusty drawer within my present computer.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Song of the Sea took me over ten years, from its initial spark, via the TLC of Cranthorpe Millner, up to this present day, where it now has a life of its own. I believe that the author Jean Rhys took 20 years to write her award winning Wide Sargasso Sea, so I’m not uniquely tardy.
What made you want to write Song Of The Sea?
My husband Ian and I were touring south-eastern Canada, and chanced upon Isle Madame in Nova Scotia. There, in an attractive harbour called Arichat, we found twin cannons pointing offshore to a small island, and a plaque that read: “Jersey traders, who were French-speaking British citizens, settled on Jerseyman Island off Arichat in the late 18th century. The island was later attacked by American privateer John Paul Jones, forcing the inhabitants to move to Isle Madame.”
As an author and Channel Islander a spark of interest soon became a flare and I was hooked. I remained excited by the potential of this adventure.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Song Of The Sea?
Ignorance of time and place. On the other hand, this ignorance inspired me to return to the area two years later to complete my investigation and soak up the atmosphere. I discovered the joys of research and the kindness of strangers. In Canada I was issued with a research pass for access to the archives. At last I felt like and was treated like a REAL writer. It was magical, and felt a bit like playing at being a grown-up. At another time, whilst researching in Jersey and with sticky hands bedecked in white gloves, I actually held and read and took notes from the original and genuine 1776 diary of Charles Robin, one of my major characters.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Elise is my secret self. My alter-ego. She is brave, intuitive, adventurous and not afraid to flout convention. She is a woman both within and beyond her time.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The period in history (1775 to 1825) was my main antagonist. It was harsh and cruel, especially for a woman, and the environment and climate were unforgiving.
What is the inciting incident of Song Of The Sea?
The beginning of the American War of Independence was the inciting incident, and this remained a Sword of Damocles throughout the story.
What is the main conflict of Song Of The Sea?
There was ongoing conflict between the present pioneers in my book and those who came before them and those who want to supplant them. There is conflict with the elements and between love and duty.
Did you plot Song Of The Sea in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
Each of the eight locations needed to be researched in advance. After that, the ability to move from one location to the next, and the motivation to do so, was very much part of the seat-of-the-pants writing.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Song Of The Sea need?
Once the story was written I spent many hours – no years – editing, re-redrafting, editing again, cutting, adding, correcting and re-researching.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Join a Writers’ Group if you can. Members of Sarnia Writers were my main support, sounding board and critics. Also, enter competitions.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’ve started toying around with a Psychological Mystery in a modern setting. A new direction for me.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I’m immensely proud to see Song of the Sea in print and in the shops and I love the cover, which I think does honour to my book. I’m also delighted to read the positive feedback I’ve had. Writing gives me so much joy and a deep sense of achievement. Success is an amazing validation of my work.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Song of the Sea is available from all good bookshops, plus Amazon in paperback and e-book.
Visit me on WWW.MyaRoberts.com.
Facebook – mya.roberts.guernsey
Twitter – @myawritesright
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