Tonight I am delighted to welcome to the virtual blog bar for Friday Night Drinks, author…Sheila Turner Johnston.
Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening, Sheila, it is lovely to have you on the blog. First things first, what are you drinking?
Hi Julie, thank you for inviting me this evening! I’ll have a pure apple juice with ice please, with a tonic water mixer on the side. If the bar is out of that, make it a tonic water and bitter lemon.
If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?
It’s hard to narrow this down, but we could have dinner in the Europa Hotel and then take in a show next door at Belfast’s historic Grand Opera House.
Sounds fabulous, Belfast is top of my bucket list for my next city break. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?
Only two? Oh dear! Well, I’m interested in ancient and medieval history and the Tudors, so I’d like to have a chance to talk to Cicero, the Roman senator and orator. He lived in and influenced pivotal times when the Roman Republic became an Empire. I’m sure he would have a lot to say about Brexit and the EU! There are so many women to choose from also but it would be fascinating to meet Emmeline Pankhurst. Her views on the current feminist movement, in contrast to the struggle she had in the early twentieth century, would be very interesting.
We haven’t had either of them on Friday Night Drinks before, so great choices. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?
Right now I’m involved with publicity for my novel Maker of Footprints. It’s a contemporary novel exploring relationships that get complicated when personal boundaries are challenged. One book blogger described it as a love story that is lifted into something more. I like that! Where do I want it to go? Into the best seller lists of course! Apart from that, I am doing final revisions on my next novel and hope it will be out before the end of this year or early next year. Fingers crossed!
What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?
I’ve been writing for a long time, and during my student years my main method of creative expression was poetry. I had the scary and wonderful experience – especially with hindsight – of reading my poetry at a meeting of the English Society at Queen’s University with none other that Seamus Heaney in the audience! I remember him sitting in an armchair, eying me thoughtfully and puffing on his pipe – which was allowed then. He was one of my lecturers as well.
My biggest challenge is defeating procrastination. I am very easily distracted and have too many interests to find it easy to focus. Everything ever written about how writers invent displacement activities applies to me with bells on!
Seamus Heaney, I am so jealous! What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!
The ‘one big thing’ changes as time and events move on. For example, my elder son asked me some years ago if there was something I would really like to do and hadn’t yet done. I said I’d like to write a novel. He said “Ok, then write one.” So I did! The next thing I really wanted to do was write another one – and I did! So I suppose what I’d like to achieve is a regular output of good novels that people enjoy. If I had to push the boat out, I’d love to see one of my novels made into a movie! In case any film producers are listening to us this evening, Maker of Footprints is just perfect for the big screen – all the scenes are there ready to go! Well, you did say “be ambitious”!
Book-to-movie is the most common ambition amongst authors on this feature, it has to be said! What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?
I’m excited to see my next novel published and nervous about what people will think of it. It tackles a difficult subject and involves a controversial relationship. I loved writing it. I also have novel number three started. It’s giving me a few headaches at the moment and all the displacement activities are having a party!
I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?
Unlike you, I’m afraid I’m not a great traveller. I get travel sick, agonizingly sore ears on aeroplanes etc. However, three years ago I screwed up my courage and went to Italy on an special interest archaeology holiday. Amongst many fascinating places, we visited Pompeii and Herculaneum, places I had always wanted to see. I’m so glad I did that. Apart from that, I find the UK and Ireland endlessly interesting and hope to visit more places closer to home, especially sites of historic interest.
I love Ireland. My partner, who is from Dublin, is taking me on a road trip along the south and west coasts next month – it was my birthday present – I cannot wait. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.
Scraping the barrel a bit to answer this question! I suppose I could tell you that my mother was from Belfast in Northern Ireland and my father was from Cork, far down south in the Republic. So I can say that my brother and I are very early examples of cross-border co-operation!
You should be in charge of Brexit! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?
Goodness, that’s a tough one. The one that seems to float to the top of my mind is one you’ve probably already read, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. That book should be required reading for everyone, especially GCSE and A level history students. It evokes the mud-soaked horror of war, not from the elevated perspective of generals and governments, or even history textbooks, but through the eyes of the men who were really there, in the mud and the foxholes and the tunnels. From an Ulster and Irish point of view, Faulks’ description of the Battle of the Somme is particularly vivid and memorable. It’s as close as I imagine anyone could get – or want to get – to actually being there.
1910. Amiens, Northern France. Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman, arrives in the French city to stay with the Azaire family. He falls in love with unhappily married Isabelle and the two enter a tempestuous love affair. But, with the world on the brink of war, the relationship falters. With his love for Isabelle forever engraved on his heart, Stephen volunteers to fight on the Western Front and enters the unimaginable dark world beneath the trenches of No Man’s Land. From award-winning writer Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong is an exceptionally moving and unforgettable portrait of the ruthlessness of war and the indestructability of love.
So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?
I’ve never had a hangover! The obvious failsafe way to avoid one is not to drink too much in the first place, but that is probably not what you mean! I do get really bad headaches sometimes and I reach for the ibuprofen and then just lie down and moan a lot till it goes away.
After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?
Besides reading?! A lovely walk along some of our fabulous north Down coastline, time with my family, church on Sunday morning, a meal in a nice restaurant and maybe a film on TV. A packet of giant chocolate buttons would be in there somewhere too!
Sheila, it has been an absolute delight to chat with you, thank you so much for joining me and I wish you lots of luck with your writing.
Sheila’s debut novel, Maker of Footprints, is out now as an ebook and paperback and you can get a copy here.
Meeting him was easy. It was knowing him that burned bone.
Paul Shepherd is dangerous. He crashes into Jenna’s life like an asteroid into an ocean. Willful and exhausting, he stirs feelings that make her confront all that has kept her safe – and bored.
Relentless and determined, he needs Jenna with a desperation she does not understand. Jenna discovers that, although she can try to hide from Paul, there is nowhere to hide from herself.
But he is married…
What do you do when you discover you are not the person you thought you were?
This is one of those rare books that touch the soul – a story of irrevocable change, tragedy and indestructable love.
Sheila Turner Johnston was born in west Cork, Ireland and spent her childhood in different counties the length and breadth of the country, as the family moved wherever her father’s job took him. She attended Queen’s University, Belfast, and apart from managing to graduate against all her expectations, one of her best experiences was reading her poetry to an audience that included Seamus Heaney.
Sheila has won prizes for both fiction and non-fiction, and has written many articles for both local and national publications. She and her husband Norman founded the publishing stable Colourpoint Creative Ltd, which is now owned and managed by their two sons.
Maker of Footprints is her first published novel.
Please join me back here next week when I will be having drinks with author, fellow RNA member, blogger and Bookouture Publicity Manager, Kim Nash.