Friday Night Drinks with… S. M. Pope

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Tonight I am having Friday Night Drinks with the author of a book that I will be reviewing on the blog in a few weeks’ time and I am very much looking forward to getting to know her a little better. My guest tonight is author… S. M. Pope.

ME

Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

A nice, strong gin and tonic. Or a glass of champagne. Or both.

A woman after my own heart! 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?

Probably a cemetery, if you’re up for that.

That is a new one on Friday Night Drinks!. Could it be in New Orleans? They have some amazing cemeteries. 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?

Mary Shelley – she was so amazing. She spent her youth hanging around graveyards, rather like me, and learned to read at her mother’s grave. And then she wrote one of the best horror books of all time when she was only 18. 

Viggo Mortensen – he writes, he acts, he paints, he speaks multiple languages (including Spanish, which I speak). I’ve been to a couple of events of his and he’s fascinating to listen to and rather swoon-worthy!

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’m currently researching my latest novel, which is set – at least in part – in the Arctic. I’m fascinated by polar expeditions of the Victorian era and in particular by the lives of those who were lost in the fatal Franklin expedition of 1845 to discover the Northwest Passage. No one knows truly what happened to them – why they died, why it went so terribly wrong. I first heard about the expedition several years back, when the Canadian government, helped by the Inuit, discovered the wrecks of Terror and Erebus. At the time, I jotted down an idea of a ghost story set on a shipwreck … and then forgot about it until I watched ‘The Terror’ on BBC2 earlier this year, which is based on that ill-fated expedition.

In my story, I’d like to look at the women behind the scenes, such as Jane Franklin – who I’d also rather like to take out with us for drinks. She was cool – an explorer herself, and an independent woman who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

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

My proudest moment was last week when I received author copies of my book The Haunting of Lindy Pennyworth. I’ve always wanted to be a published novelist and have spent many years writing – with some success with my short stories. I wrote my novel originally as a novella for my MA in Children’s Literature six years ago and to see it being published this year feels unreal. My biggest challenge has been believing in myself. I am not very good at that. I still can’t quite believe I am going to be a published author.

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!

I think the biggest thing for me is for people to enjoy my books. I write because I love telling stories and if I can entertain other people that’s huge for me.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Having not done much or been many places because of Covid, anything and anywhere beyond my normal sphere of existing seems exciting! I am planning to visit the Caird Library at the Maritime Museum in London soon to look at some of their documents pertaining to the lost Franklin Expedition and to see the ‘Hairy Book’ (a book recounting a rescue mission’s experiences in the Arctic – the hair is apparently from seal fur). Hair seems to keep cropping up in my stories…

Hair, interesting! 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?

Oh, that’s hard! I’ve been to a lot of lovely places so picking one is terribly difficult. I think I am at my happiest walking by the sea, no matter what the weather, so I would say Saunton Sands, in North Devon, is my favourite place. I could walk all day there, and then return to the gorgeous Saunton Sands Hotel for a long soak in the tub. 

As for my bucket list, I want to go to the Arctic. I am happy to try anywhere there – but have a particular interest in the Canadian Arctic and the Svalbard archipelago. I used to only go to warm places on holiday (living in the UK means I crave the sun when I get my week off each year) but I’ve become enchanted with the Arctic because of my research.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I played bass guitar in a rock group called ‘Men Should Wear Mascara’.

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’?

Ouch, another tricky question! I think I will pick one I read recently, which had a lasting impression on me. It’s called A Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter and it’s a woman’s account of spending a year in Spitsbergen with her husband, who was a researcher and trapper. When she first arrives, she is horrified by how basic everything is and the remote location. The book follows her thoughts – her struggles, her fears, and then her acceptance of and love for this land. Her writing is astoundingly beautiful – very poetic. I recommend this to everyone not only as a book that’s fascinating but a work of art in itself.

polar night

In 1934, the Austrian painter Christiane Ritter travels to the remote Arctic island of Spitsbergen to spend a year with her husband, an explorer and researcher. They are to live in a tiny ramshackle hut on the shores of a lonely fjord, hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement.

At first, Christiane is horrified by the freezing cold, the bleak landscape the lack of equipment and supplies… But as time passes, after encounters with bears and seals, long treks over the ice and months on end of perpetual night, she finds herself falling in love with the Arctic’s harsh, otherworldly beauty, gaining a great sense of inner peace and a new appreciation for the sanctity of life.

This rediscovered classic memoir tells the incredible tale of a woman defying society’s expectations to find freedom and peace in the adventure of a lifetime.

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?

Eat something stodgy and fatty to soak up the alcohol – both as a hangover preventative and a cure. Plus lots of Coca-Cola original, not the nasty sugar-free stuff. I’ve rarely had a hangover though as I am such a lightweight that I fall asleep before I drink too much. I’ve also been known to get hyper on Coca-Cola, rather embarrassingly.

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

A nice walk by the sea (of course), and perhaps some painting. Over Lockdown I started online art lessons and have become fond of watercolours. I can lose myself for hours trying to paint and I find it very relaxing and therapeutic.

Or a massage – I love a good massage!

Thank you so much for your company, it has been a fun and very enlightening evening. I wish you all the best with your debut and look forward to reviewing it soon.

S. M. Pope’s debut novel, The Haunting of Lindy Pennyworth, is out now and you can buy a copy here. Watch out for my review of the book coming around Halloween!

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A psychological horror that will grip you from the first page, and haunt you long after you’ve finished the last.

Nobody believes Lindy when she says she doesn’t pull her hair out on purpose. Nobody believes Lindy when she says she hears voices in the night. Nobody believes Lindy when she says her dead ancestors are haunting her dreams. Nobody believes Lindy …”

S. M. Pope is a writer, editor, teacher and librarian based in Oxford, though she’s also lived in Canada (where she was born) and Spain. The Haunting of Lindy Pennyworth is her debut novel but she has had supernatural / horror short stories published before with Otranto House (Tales of the Supernatural), and one story, ‘La Tricoteuse’, won best ‘tale’ as part of a touring theatre production of A Tale of Two Cities. A more normal (ie not scary) story of hers was shortlisted by Trapeze Books and the single-parent-charity Gingerbread as part of their campaign to find a writer and story to represent single families. She enjoys spending time with her family, singing to her cats (should I admit that?), and laughing.

You can connect further with Sam via her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

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