Friday Night Drinks with… Rebecca Stonehill

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I am delighted to welcome my latest guest to the blog for Friday Night Drinks and I’m really looking forward to relaxing and chatting about writing and books over drinks with author… Rebecca Stonehill.

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Rebecca. welcome to A Little Book Problem and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m drinking an IPA craft beer with a small bowl of Bombay mix to accompany it. This mix has such a Friday-night feeling for me, welcoming in the weekend!

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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?

I’m a huge fan of live events, whether it’s live music, theatre or slam poetry as nothing beats actually being in a room with performers. So I’d see what’s on in my local area, find a great event, grab a drink from the bar and settle in for the evening.

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?

Cerys Matthews, former singer of Catatonia and host of brilliant Sunday morning Radio 6 show. I’ve been listening to this show for so many years that Cerys feels like a friend. She has a brilliant sense of humour and a fabulously eclectic, wide-ranging taste in music, guests, poetry and recipes.

The Dalai Lama. I can quite safely say he wouldn’t be drinking! But that’s not a problem. Again, he has such a great sense of humour, it’s so playful and cheeky. Despite all the hardships he has endured during the course of his lifetime, I find his attitude, complete lack of judgement and joyfulness so inspiring.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’ve finished writing my fourth historical fiction novel, The River Days of Rosie Crow, and it’s currently out on submission whilst I seek agent representation. Although I’ve had three novels published before, I didn’t need an agent for my original publisher. We amicably parted company after my second book as, although they helped me to get started as an author, I think it’s really important that the vision for books, design, distribution etc aligns. So I’m back to the beginning in some ways! But I really believe in this fourth book I’ve written and I’m very determined, so I know I’ll get there.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

The publication of my first novel, The Poet’s Wife, has been my proudest moment. Between starting to write and the book’s publication was a whopping ten years! It took so long because I had three children during that time and there was a lot of stopping and starting. It also went through several drafts and, like every writer, I had to get to grips with the realities of rejection.

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My biggest challenge was the steep learning curve of self-publishing my third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale. It really was a full-time job, finding the right editors, formatters, designers, working out all the software and trying to get my head around marketing. I got there in the end, but it really was not a straight-forward journey. People sometimes say, oh it’s so easy to self-publish, you just upload it to KDP on Amazon. Fine, if you are prepared to go for minimum effort and take one of Amazon’s ready-made covers. But to make your book really professional, it needs way more input than that.

I think it is a brave thing to do, self-publish, and deserves more credit than it gets, especially when the authors take as much trouble with it as you clearly have. What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

To have my books in a bookshop. I’m a simple soul really! I cannot think of anything I would find more gratifying to walk into my local bookshop and see one of my books sitting there. I think I actually might faint with excitement.

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

A two-week holiday to Wales with my family in August. As we’ve all been so cooped up for so long, this really does feel beyond exciting. We are staying in two different Air B n B’s, one in rural central Wales and the other on the south coast and I just can’t wait to have different views, different walks and different experiences. I think we all need that so much.

Oh, holidays, how we have missed you! 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?

One of my favourite places is Granada in the south of Spain. I lived there for two years in my early twenties and set my first novel there, The Poet’s Wife. I love the way the old part of the city spills down the hillside and how the ancient Moorish palace is framed by mountains. It really is very picturesque. On the other end of the city scale, I adore wild and remote places and have always been attracted by the vastness of the Canadian wilderness, though I’ve never been there. One day, I’d love to take a road trip around Canada, also going to Prince Edward Island where my favourite childhood book, Anne of Green Gables, is set.

That is one of my bucket list trips too. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’ve had a significant issue with chronic insomnia for fifteen years, without fail the greatest challenge of my life. I’m currently writing a memoir about it.

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’?

That is such a hard question! I’m going to go for a book I read this year that I absolutely adored and think everybody should read – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. It follows the lives of twelve mostly black and British women across time and space. Slowly, we come to see how their lives interconnect and I loved the boldness and energy of this fabulous, unique book.

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This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .

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 have to be honest and say I’m really not a big drinker these days! When I was younger I used to pride myself on the fact that no matter how much I’d had to drink, I’d never get a hangover (?), but these days it doesn’t take much for me to feel completely hideous in the morning. That’s age for you! So, the failsafe plan is to stop when it’s sensible (or try) and drink plenty of water before I go to bed and a slice of lemon in hot water for the morning.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I love spending as much time as possible outside, whatever time of year it is. So a walk with my family would definitely be on the agenda. There are so many wonderful places to walk in Norfolk where I live, whether it’s at the coast, through woodland, heath, broads or marshes. I will probably spend some time on our allotment as well as taking time to prepare delicious food and – of course – lots of reading.

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Rebecca, thank you so much for chatting with me this evening, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Rebecca was inspired to write her third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale, as a result of her mother’s travels in the 1960’s. As a child, she used to adore looking at her photographs of her time spent abroad, particularly the period she spent living with a community of young travellers in some caves in Matala, Crete! Whilst not at all biographical, this story in inspired by Matala’s stunning setting. You can buy a copy of the book here.

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1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Rebecca Stonehill is the author of The Poet’s Wife, The Girl and the Sunbird and The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale.

She is from London but currently lives in Nairobi in an old wooden cottage with her husband and three children. She dreamed of being an author from a very young age when she used to spy on people Harriet-the-Spy-style from under beds and up trees, scribbling down notes about them for use in future stories.

She loves reading, travelling, yoga, photography and spending time with her family and has so many stories jumbling around in her head that sometimes she feels overwhelmed by not being able to get them all out in time!

You can find out more about Rebecca and her writing via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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