Twilight Times Feature
with Celia A. Leaman
Interviewer: L. Quillen
1. Does your creativity express itself in ways other than writing?
Yes, it always has. For instance, I play the piano (very badly) by ear, I used to sew a lot and make all my clothes, drapes etc. When I kept a small flock of sheep I learned how to spin wool and used to knit hats and sweaters. I paint in oils, and some of my art has been captured in the book, The Winnowed Woman.
2. Do you feel you were creative, even as a child?
Yes, I always was, and because of it I was a bit of an enigma in my family. Then I discovered I was adopted, and after meeting my biological mother and talking about the family I realized just how much had been passed on in the genes. This awareness has inspired two novels PastPresent I and II, to be released by Awestruck in 2003 and 2004, which are sequels of Mary's Child my first novel (2000).
3. Could you share with the story behind the story? In other words, how did your writing lead you to your first novel?
It's quite an amazing story really, and I'm going to repeat something I once told to Cindy Penn, after she reviewed Mary's Child. It may give you goose bumps.
Living on the edge of Dartmoor, I was always aware of the speculation surrounding the workhouse girl called Mary Jay who was apprenticed out to a farm on Dartmoor, then took her life after being 'crossed in love.' She was buried in a grave outside the parish boundaries, not far from where I lived. After emigrating to Canada in the 1980's I began a novel about a young girl called Kitty who lived at a farm called Forde. However, I lost focus on it when my husband became ill, and I had to put it aside.
A few years later, when my life had gone through some changes and I was in the process of digging out some old writing projects, I visited England, and while I was there a friend gave me an article on Mary Jay. I was startled to read that some had called her Kitty, and it was thought that she'd lived at a farm called Forde!
The coincidences more than intrigued me, and I was drawn to visit her grave. It lies in a quiet spot near Hound Tor, and that day, apart from a wild rabbit, I was quite alone. There was a posy of wild flowers on her grave, and I recalled the legend that says there always are, yet no one knows who puts them there. Thinking about the sadness of that poor girl's plight brought me close to tears. Of course, her undoing might have been her own fault, but somehow I didn't think so. When I returned to Canada I felt compelled to write about her. I gathered together what I'd written so far, and Mary's Child emerged.
About two years later, my perception of Mary Jay was affirmed in a strange way. I discovered that an author called Lois Deacon, who had actually lived in the same village as myself, had written a book about her many years ago. Deacon is apparently well respected for her numerous books on Thomas Hardy. (Cindy had no idea of this when she reviewed Mary's Child and compared it to one of Hardy's.) Deacon's novel--now out of print--is very different to mine, but I was gratified to find that she saw Mary as I did: a gentle, humble girl who suffered through no fault of her own.
In some ways I can really relate to Kitty's life, as I grew up with a secret for all of my young life. One difference is that my adopted father never resented my existence; he loved me very much. I didn't realize though, until I recently edited the book for the POD [print on demand] version to be released next year, just how much of my childhood I captured. I'm so glad I wrote it when I did, because after living in Canada for over twenty years the memories of that time would now be hard to recapture.
4. How did you prepare for the creation of your first novel? How much research was necessary?
I have just completed three works actually, a short novel, Unraveled; a collection of short stories, No More Regrets and Other Stories; and a chapbook of literary essays, The Winnowed Woman, all released by Twilight Times Books.
Unraveled was formerly published by Wordbeams, and when it came off-line I re-wrote the original file. Now it has received a fantastic new cover and is back, sparkling and new, ready to give people a laugh, I hope. The ideas for that book came from my experience of living on a Gulf Island, although I can assure you, none of the characters really exist. It's just that the island way of life seems so far removed from 'regular Canada' - those islands are almost like little satellite countries all of their own - it's so easy to imagine these weird and eccentric people living on my fictional island of Gale. (Not to say that weird and eccentric people don't exist on the islands; a few would never forgive me for leading you to believe they're anywhere near normal.)
The short stories in No More Regrets were written over a few years, and only when I collected them together did I realize that many were sort of cathartic; it wasn't intentional. But they are a varied sample - ranging from romance to one that has been compared to Poe's work. My husband doesn't like it; he says it's melancholy. I was so delighted at his reaction; it was meant to be.
The content of the Winnowed Woman emerged from journal entries and poetry written during my separation and spiritual emergence, put away in a file marked 'for later'. Later came this year when I found some notes I had intended for a humorous book, called Helps for the Winnowed Woman, on how to survive divorce. But do you know, the humor wouldn't come, even after all this time. Although I have chuckled to friends about certain aspects of my divorce, it really wasn't a very funny time, and I felt it was more important to write about it seriously, rather than make light of it. It has been hard for me to put myself on the line like this, because of the vulnerability factor. However, with Lida Quillen's encouragement, I have beat down the beast of doubt, because I hope this little chapbook might offer hope and comfort to other women who are going through a similar situation.
It was terribly difficult to revisit that time; I was sometimes tearful and yes, if I'm honest, a little resentful, because financially a middle-age woman really suffers after a divorce, unless of course she is of a different nature, or affluent. Also, there are parts of me that died forever during that experience, and I miss the once carefree attitude I used to enjoy. It seems that with such an experience comes a certain sadness, a part of you that never rises again.
Of course, and I must add this because it's important, every one of us has our own arena or stage on which to act, and what might have been hard for me might seem pathetic to someone else who has had/has a much harder life. I understand that there are different degrees of hardship, and I can only write about my own experiences.
5. What kind of reaction do people have to your writing?
They seem to like it, which is very gratifying, as any author knows. Many of us seem to have such fragile egos, and no wonder. Every time we put something 'out there' it's like waving your baby off on his, or her, first day of school. You just pray that everyone will be kind and not beat them up.
6. Do you find anything difficult in the writing process, and if so what?
I'm a real fusspot about my work and I like something to be perfect when I submit it. This means I spend literally hours editing and going over a piece until I am absolutely sure that what I've written is what I really mean to say. One of my greatest needs is to be able to touch my reader with sincerity.
7. Do you currently have any writing projects?
I've just finished the second novel in the Gale Island series, A Cunning Wife and a Clever Lawyer. The next will be The Rich and The Effluent, inspired by my experiences of living aboard a floating home in a marina. Currently though I am working on the first of the two books promised to Awe-struck Books, already mentioned. In my 'to do' drawer I have more books, and a whole bunch of ideas for short stories I haven't yet had a chance to write. There is another book waiting to be completed, based on the Dartmoor legend of the Bowerman. It might end up as two volumes, as it's already many thousands of words and I've only written the first part. It's based in Cromwell times in England, in the 1600's, so it's mixed up with witchcraft, suspicion, hate/love and betrayal - all very juicy stuff. I'm looking forward to getting my teeth into that one I can tell you.
8. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Only that I would like to thank you for the opportunity to chat a while. It's a way to get in touch with those who don't know me very well.
Also, I'd like to thank all the Independent Publishers for existing. Without them, some of us who have had a burning ambition for much of our lives and are just beginning, wouldn't stand an earthly in the traditional publishing world.
Sometime ago there was a very arrogant editor in BC Book World who asked why older people hadn't started to write sooner if they had something worthwhile to say. Infuriated, I wrote back (and it was published too!) to say that some of us might have had lives to live, families to take care of and wolves to keep from the door, and were only just able to start. It infuriated me to read how little respect and understanding he showed. But this, I fear, seems to be a problem in our society, doesn't it: they only want you while you're young.
I don't suppose the epublishers are even aware of it, but they're setting a great example; appreciating writers for their talent and ability to tell a story, no matter their age/creed/color etc. That is why epublishing is futuristic, and must survive. I truly believe that the publishing industry will change for the better because of it. Not only that, many strong friendships will be forged during this new era, and many bonds made between like souls.
God bless you and may we all live long and prosper.
Celia Leaman, whose web page is entitled www.devonshirebabe.com feels she is truly a child of Dartmoor, and the moors are a perfect setting for her imaginative, mystical and romantic stories. Her first book, Mary's Child (available from Awe-Struck.net) is written around the Dartmoor legend of Jay's Grave, and she's working on two more books in the Dartmoor Series.
After she emigrated to Canada in 1980 she had short stories published in national and international magazines in the UK, Canada and the United States. She wrote and co-directed an English farce that was performed on Galiano Island, BC, where she lived for several years.
Her lifestyle seems to change every few years, and currently, she teaches information sessions on ebooks, copy-edits and reviews, is her own web-mistress, and when she isn't working at the local libraries, continues to write. If she has time for hobbies, she likes to garden, paint in oils and take meditative walks.