Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Interview with debut novelist Rica Newbery

New novelist Rica Newbery joins me today to chat about her historical fiction, Reluctant Courage.

Welcome, Rica. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a retired psychiatrist living in Bristol with my husband and elkhound. My two children keep in close touch and I now have the added privilege of a two-year old grandchild. I keep busy with a combination of voluntary work, baby-sitting, dog walking, listening to podcasts, and writing. I am obsessed with the news and have a horrified fascination with the current American president.

Please tell us about your current release.
It is 1942 in Oslo, two years into the German occupation of World War II. Maria and her three daughters are used to coping with the hardships of war, but when Maria’s husband leaves her for another woman and a German officer is billeted to their home, their troubles are only just beginning. Maria and her daughters must stop fighting with each other and find a way to survive through grief, dread and fear.

What inspired you to write this book?
My mother. She was eight years old when the Nazis marched into Oslo, her home town. I have been brought up with many stories from her childhood, some funny and some very sad. She was an artist and a very powerful and magnetic character. Like most of us she had her flaws and I wanted to understand her childhood and understand her in more depth. I also wanted to feel closer to my Norwegian roots. I did a great deal of research for this book, including visits to the Resistance Museum in Oslo and Falstad Museum in Ekne, near Levanger in the North of Norway. The courage of the Norwegian people recorded here was an inspiration. To me, even surviving in these circumstances is a feat of courage and I wanted to show this ‘everyday heroism’ in my book, but also make my characters real, and of course flawed.

You can read an excerpt from Reluctant Courage here.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am researching my next novel at present. The main character is a young woman, Amanda Blake, who has a psychiatric illness, and the story takes her through ever more traumatic levels of treatment in an old asylum in Bristol. It is set in 1957, an interesting time in psychiatry. The other main characters are her parents who dominate her, but have their own problems, an old-school psychiatrist who is basically well intentioned, a young progressive psychiatrist who is after his own ends, a Jamaican nurse, Amanda’s main ally, and a tormented young man, a fellow patient who forms an attachment to her. This was a time of severe racial tensions, teddy boys, and the earliest glimmerings of teenage rebellion.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have always written poetry. When I was at university I used to do illustrations and cartoons. After being totally immersed in working as a psychiatrist for the NHS and bringing up two children, I finally came up for air when I retired. I enlisted for a Creative Writing course with the Open University and knew then that I was going to write a novel based on my mother’s life.

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 tend to write in bursts. If I am in a good spell, I will write for several hours a day, but if my day is cluttered with appointments and commitments I do not write at all. I take myself off occasionally for a week’s isolation in a rented flat near the sea, with my dog, to enable me to concentrate fully. I confess that I am fairly erratic and have phases when I come to a difficult bit in my writing and struggle to get back into it. Procrastination is the enemy!

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Okay. Starting all my lines of speech with ‘Okay’ or ‘Alright’ or even ‘Okay, okay,’ or ‘Alright, alright’. I then have to go through deleting them all. This is obviously how I speak.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A psychiatrist, since the age of ten! Before that I wanted to be an actress.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Only that I hope anyone who reads my book enjoys it, and feels the same admiration for the survivors of the war that I do.

Thanks for joining me today!

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