Time to chat with Millie!
What is your latest book?
The last book I published was Wyvern of Wessex, the third book in my historical fiction series, Sons of Kings. It was published over a year ago and I’m feeling quite guilty at not having the fourth and final book in the series finished by now. Unfortunately, health issues in the family (including my own) have slowed me down, but I hope to have Book 4, King of the Anglo Saxons, published early in 2020.
The four books tell the story of King Alfred of Wessex – known as Alfred the Great in later centuries. Shadow of the Raven, Book 1 in the series, starts soon after Alfred’s birth and most of the events take place while he is still a child. This allowed me to focus more on my second protagonist, the fictional eleven-year-old son of real-life King Beorhtwulf of Mercia. Eadwulf’s story unfolds very differently to Alfred’s following his capture by raiding Danes and his future years as a thrall (slave) in the Danish lands.
In Book 2, Pit of Vipers, the focus is more on Alfred, although Eadwulf’s story also progresses significantly.
Wyvern of Wessex highlights difficult times for both characters and takes them through the storm to a period of relative peace. Initially, I intended to end the series at this point, but half way through Book 3, I decided to take the story to the end of Alfred’s life in order to show the full extent of his achievements. So, what I had intended to be a trilogy, simply became a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy!).
What challenges have you found in writing a series?
The biggest problem I’ve found with this particular series stems from the fact that I have two protagonists – one real-life, the other fictional. In telling Alfred’s story I need to make sure I keep to the historical timeline. Changing the dates of historical events is a definite no-no. Consequently, I also need to ensure that events in Eadwulf’s life ‘fit in’ with that timeline, especially as the two characters are linked by relationships within their families.
Other than that, there are the usual problems of keeping details consistent throughout the four books, even simple things like the ages and appearances of characters, and even their names. It wouldn’t do to have brown-eyed woman from one book suddenly becoming blue-eyed in the next. The changing appearance of characters and places over the years is something else I need to consider, especially as the series covers a period of fifty years.
Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?
Millie Thom is a pen name, chosen because they are the names of my parents, Millie and Thomas who, sadly, passed away some years before I had the chance to start writing. My own name is actually Patricia, which I chose not to use as my author name simply because my married surname is just too boring! Naturally, my husband disagrees.
How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?
The answer to that is probably a bit of both. I’ve always loved history – any time period, any location – so, in a way, choosing to write historical fiction was a natural progression. Even many of my flash fiction pieces in A Dash of Flash have historical settings. The genre chose me because it was one of the subjects I taught throughout my teaching career, so I simply became more and more immersed in it over the years.
Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?
Yes, I’m definitely a scene-by-scene author. I need to keep the chronology of the book intact so writing scenes from various parts of the book wouldn’t work for me. I tend to plan out events to be covered with their dates and so forth, and set out to work through them. However, it’s never as simple as that. Sometimes, characters lead me in unexpected directions as I write. If I’d written scenes from later in the book, I’m pretty sure I’d spend a lot of time modifying them due to ‘things’ that just seemed to have happened as I’d sunk into each scene.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
Despite all the advice about getting the story out in the first draft, I have to say that I do edit as I go along and tend to re-read the last section I wrote every time I start writing. I wouldn’t be happy thinking I might have left obvious errors in the text or glaring grammatical errors. As well as helping me to spot any typos – which I make a lot of –re-reading helps to get the story refocused in my head so I’m ready to move on.
How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?
When writing historical fiction, authors are often confined to names in general usage at that time period. It would be ridiculous to call a young woman in Tudor England, Kylie, or Mercedes, for instance. As my series is set in the Anglo-Saxon period, many of my characters’ names are very different to those we recognise today. Many people of noble birth have names that begin with the prefix, ‘Aethel’, which simply means noble. Alfred’s father, for example, is called Aethelwulf, meaning Noble Wolf. Alfred’s four brothers and sister also have names beginning with Aethel – Aethelbald, for instance.
Names like these are certainly not easy on the eye or the tongue, and I’ve had a few reviewers say they found the names confusing. Unfortunately, as they are real, historical names, I can’t change them, but I do intend to add a pronunciation guide to all four books once the final one is ready for publication.
So many things influence the choice of character names, another being geographical location. In a novel set in India, we would expect at least some traditional Indian names. In contemporary novels, I’m sure many names are chosen to suit the personalities of the characters although, perhaps, giving a character a name totally at odds with his/her character could have an interesting effect.
How much time do you spend doing research for your books?
I’ve spent many months – probably years! – doing research for my series. When I first started to write about King Alfred, I knew little about him, other than the general idea that he stopped the Vikings from taking his kingdom and that he burnt a peasant woman’s cakes! Anglo Saxon and Viking history was rarely taught in schools years ago. We tended to leap from the Roman Empire to the Norman Conquest and leave the parts labelled the ‘Dark Ages’ between them alone. I happily delved into research, and had some fabulous ‘research holidays’ in the process. Apart from museums and sites in the U.K., we also went to Denmark doing the same, and had a wonderful trip to Andalusia in southern Spain as part of my research for Wyvern of Wessex.
I record and photograph anything I think might be of use, including details of buildings, landscapes and associated wildlife and vegetation. When I write, I’m careful to describe how these would have looked in the 9th century. To talk about horse chestnut trees or rabbits at that time, for instance, would be dreadful. It’s also important not to flood the book with irrelevant description that does not move the story along.
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
I don’t see the need for anyone else to read my books until they’re finished and have been edited, both by me and the professional editor I use. I often discuss scenes I’ve just written with friends and family and that helps me to think them through again myself. I’d hate anyone to read a really rubbishy piece of writing! Perhaps I’m just over-sensitive in this respect. But, hey, we’re all different, aren’t we?
Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?
Yes, I also write flash fiction. I started writing it on my blog in 2015 and soon became addicted to it. I accumulated quite a lot of stories and in 2016, I published A Dash of Flash, an eclectic mix of eighty-five flash fiction pieces ranging from one hundred to a thousand words, although most are around two hundred words. Many are on my blog, but I wrote over twenty just for the book and roughly two-thirds are accompanied by colourful images from Shutterstock or Pixabay. I haven’t written any this past year, but I intend to return to it when my current WIP is published.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
I think the cover of a book needs to be eye-catching and give an idea of the genre, time period and an overall ‘feel’ of what the book is about. From what I’ve seen of people browsing around bookstores, most of them do (initially at least) judge a book by its cover! I wouldn’t know where to start with designing a cover image and have used a professional designer for the four books I’ve written so far. In general, I’m pleased with what he’s produced, although I was initially a little unsure about Eadwulf’s face on the cover of Shadow of the Raven (Book 1). The hair is the right colour but I can’t quite take to that nose… Lol
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
Reviews mean so much to most authors, including me, primarily as a means of letting us know what people think of our work. Nice, positive reviews can really spur us on with future projects, but it’s also important to treat negative ones as being helpful rather than damning. If a few reviewers find fault with a particular character or aspect of the story, perhaps we should look more closely at the issue in question and consider whether they could be right. Having said that, it’s important not to take individual criticisms to heart and just accept that not everyone is going to love our book!
Reviews are also a way of helping prospective readers to decide whether the book would appeal to them. After all, most of us are influenced by other people’s opinions. Unfortunately, many readers don’t bother to review at all, which is a shame. It doesn’t take long to write a short review, and just a sentence or two can be enough if time is an issue. However, I’ve seen some quite offensive reviews on Amazon, such as, Don’t bother with this one, it’s rubbish, and A five-year old could have written a better story. Comments like that aren’t helpful to either authors of possible readers and I can only wonder why some people feel the need to be so unpleasant.
What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?
I’d love to write a murder mystery but it would still have to have an historical setting – and that isn’t just because I’m a history lover. I read a lot of contemporary crime novels and love them, but writing one would be a different matter. I have to confess I know zilch about police procedure, forensics or pathology, or even legal issues and court cases. So, a murder (or four, as in Midsomer Murders!) set in the past, would suit me much better. It would still involve a lot of research but it wouldn’t be as hard as delving into 21st century scientific methods of solving crimes.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
We’ve been living midway between Newark and Lincoln in Nottinghamshire, UK, since our six children were young, and as all but one are still living in this area, I can’t see us moving away in the near future. I have to say, it’s ideally situated for travelling to most areas of the UK by either road or rail, and we have plenty of airports relatively close by. Lincoln’s a lovely old city, and holds a fabulous Christmas Market every year.
I often have yearnings to live in the Highlands of Scotland. The mountains and lochs are simply magnificent and instil a sense of calm in me. I suppose we’ll just have to be content with taking regular holidays up there.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
I have lots of comfort foods and most of them are very calorific. Ice cream is a summer favourite, but I also love (and bake) cakes of all types. I adore Cadbury’s chocolate, but try not to eat it too often, but I give in rather a lot to salted snacks like crisps (US chips) and nuts, especially cashews. My least favourite food is shellfish of any type! Yuk.
What makes you angry?
Any form of cruelty, whether to other people or animals, makes me livid – cruelty to children particularly so.
What music soothes your soul?
Celtic music is my favourite at the end of a long and tiring day. Its hauntingly beautiful melodies and vocals conjure up visions of ancient mountains and forests, with tinkling streams winding between them. Perfect harmony and calm.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I’m very short – little over five foot nowadays. I console myself in knowing that Queen Victoria was even shorter than me, and she proved to be a real Mighty Mouse! Unfortunately, Victoria and I differ in the fact that she had lots of money and I haven’t.
CONNECT WITH MILLIE