I’m welcoming author Barbara Willis here today. We’re chatting about her mystery, romance, paranormal novel Family of Strangers.
Welcome, Barbara. Please tell us al ittle bit about yourself.
I’m a busy mum of three and have always loved books and writing. I woke one day after a vivid and scary dream and really wanted that dream to be the basis of a book; this thought stuck with me for some time before my husband said ‘Do it - take some time away from work and write a book.’ So I did. After years of writing stories and poems, I wrote my first novel and loved every minute of it. Family of Strangers was followed by Sunshine Spirit and, I hope, there will soon be more to follow.
Please tell us about your current release.
Family of Strangers is about a young woman named Eva who finds one day that her closest friend has disappeared; no-one, even her friend’s family, will acknowledge that she ever existed. Eva is frightened and confused with no-one to turn to, until she meets the elderly Lola and her young lodger, Gabe. Neither Lola nor Gabe find Eva’s strange tale shocking or surprising and they lead her on a journey of revelation as she tries to find her lost friend. A whole new world of lost souls is opened up to her, along with mysteries, the giving of gifts and the finding of new friendships and love. Set at the eve of the second world war there is lots of change looming around the world, but for Eva the biggest change is the one she least expects.
What inspired you to write this book?
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to write, be it stories, plays or poems. When the idea for Family of Strangers came to me in a horrible dream, the idea wouldn’t leave me and I knew that at some point the story had to be written. The character of the elderly and eccentric Lola had been in my mind for some time and I wanted her to be an important part of the story and to show that it wasn’t her age that defined her but her whole life; her story. Added to that was a love of the 1930s and 1940s and old fashioned tales that weaved in mystery and love and interesting characters. I really wanted to write a story with an old fashioned voice and charm.
Excerpt from Family of Strangers:
My legs hurt, my lungs hurt.
I was afraid.
I didn’t slow down when I reached the gate, still putting in such an effort towards the house that my hands hit the front door with a loud smack and my palms stung with the impact.
When I reached the house I already knew.
But that didn’t stop me wrenching the front door open as soon as my shaking hands had fumbled the key into the lock and rushing breathlessly into the empty hallway like a woman possessed, tearing through the barren sitting room into the kitchen where there wasn’t a sound or a soul.
No odd cups on the table, no whistling kettle, no shopping basket, no cups of tea, no patchwork bag, no apron on the back of the door. There were none of the glorious chaotic things I loved and that welcomed me and that made me feel at home. All were gone except a few pieces of furniture left swathed in white, dust sheets covering them like a snowy mountain range.
I became conscious of a feeling of having been here before, in the same moment, and realised that I had.
The same heavy, sick feeling was there again low down in my stomach. Leaden but moveable, it was spreading up through my body and I had to swallow a few times to quell the sensation that I might be sick. It was the same as the day I’d seen Annie’s empty room, only different. Today was much much worse.
What exciting story are you working on next?
After the release of my second book, Sunshine Spirit, I started working on a story which starts in 1914. However, after initially saying there wouldn’t be a sequel to Family of Strangers, some ideas again started to form and I have now started working on that too. There are therefore two books currently ‘in the pipeline’. The Family of Strangers sequel picks up a new search and the continuing love story of Eva and Gabe; so many readers asked for the sequel and I’m loathe to give away any spoilers!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When my first book was published, but I still find it hard to say it!
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I took a three-year sabbatical in order to write, but now I’m back at work. Writing therefore now slots around work and family. I don’t write when my children are home, but I do write on my day off; after the morning family routine and school run I sit down, always with a cup of tea to hand and music playing, and write for about 4 hours.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Tea, tea and more tea; I’m not sure I can write without it!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An actress or a writer, preferably both!
Thanks for being here today, Barbara!