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An Interview with Dolores Gordon-Smith

UK Bookselling Series

by Claire Main

#98, 9 July 2007

... and so onto interviewing Dolores, but what to wear? A sensible tweed skirt and jacket like Miss Marple? A 1920s' "flapper" style dress with pearls and a cigarette holder? A problem, this, as I don't smoke. Perhaps I should phone Dolores for a clue. I settle for jeans and a T-shirt and worry about how to convey my love of chocolate to Dolores. I arrive at Dolores' towers and ring the doorbell.

BOOKTHINK: Dolores, where are you from?

GORDON-SMITH: A former mill town near Manchester - near the Pennines. It's not exactly a tourist hot-spot, but it's a great place to live, the sort of place where, when you go shopping, you'll always meet someone you know.

BOOKTHINK: Tell us your latest news?

GORDON-SMITH: The second Jack book, Mad About The Boy? has been accepted by Constable and will be out next year. I'm very pleased with the amount of interest shown in A Fete Worse Than Death so far. These are exciting times. It's as wonderful as I thought it would be, and that's saying something.

BOOKTHINK: When and why did you begin writing?

GORDON-SMITH: I loved reading, and I've always written from being a kid because I wanted to make up my own stories. I wrote and produced SF fanzines as a teenager until I was in my twenties and sold a couple of SF short stories to Marvel and World. Then came a gap whilst I had my children - it's very difficult to concentrate on anything creative when you've got a young family, as it's a fulltime job and then some - but I always wanted to go back to writing.

BOOKTHINK: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

GORDON-SMITH: Writers and readers are two halves of the same coin. The first word I can remember reading for myself was "Princess." I was so enthralled I made up loads of stories about Princesses, and it sort of went on from there. I've always considered myself a writer, even if circumstances meant I couldn't write. Like P.G. Wodehouse said, "I don't know what I did before I was five." Just loafed, I suppose.

BOOKTHINK: What inspired you to write your first book?

GORDON-SMITH: I've always been interested in WW1, and when I saw a TV programme about the tunnels under the Somme, I knew this was the inspiration I'd been waiting for. The 1920s were deeply affected by the aftermath of the war - all the crazy gaiety, the dancing and the jazz was a reaction to the struggles of the previous few years - and I'm sucker for stories where the past influences the present. It's very much a 1920s' book though, not a war story in fancy dress. Detective stories in the 1920s were by and large well-written with a good plot and characters you could care about. Fête is a 1920s' detective story, and hopefully it does what it says on the tin!

BOOKTHINK: Who or what has influenced your writing?

GORDON-SMITH: Like many people, I have a library of favourite authors who I'd hate to live without. Chief amongst them are John Buchan, P.G. Wodehouse, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. Then, too, having a family, a wide variety of friends, a succession of jobs and simply living where I do, all feed into the creative process.

BOOKTHINK: How did you come up with the title A Fete Worse than Death?

GORDON-SMITH: I'd originally called the book Poor Little Rich Girl (from a Noel Coward song). I wasn't crazy about it and my agent, Teresa Chris, said it sounded like a saga. She suggested A Fete Worse Than Death, a phrase taken from the text, and I really liked it.

BOOKTHINK: What books have most influenced your life most?

GORDON-SMITH: I've read so many I couldn't say, but The Chronicles of Narnia made me spend my childhood in wardrobes. I was always being ticked off for "rooting." Those books got me into a lot of trouble!

BOOKTHINK: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

GORDON-SMITH: Any of the authors mentioned above. Agatha Christie's plotting is just the tops.

BOOKTHINK: What book are you reading now?

GORDON-SMITH: Beatrice Heuser's Reading Clausewitz. Clausewitz is key to understanding military theory, but it's a difficult book to read. Beatrice Heuser's book makes an absorbing guide.

BOOKTHINK: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

GORDON-SMITH: I liked Val McDermid's The Grave Tattoo very much, but by and large the new authors I read tend to be non-fiction, such as Richard Holmes and Gary Sheffield's books about the First World War. I read Debbie Holt's Annie May's Black Book, which was great fun and, of course, I can't wait to see what happens to Harry when The Deathly Hallows comes out. Snape has to be a good guy and part of Dumbledor's plans.

BOOKTHINK: What are your current projects?

GORDON-SMITH: I'm writing Jack's third adventure. Magic!

BOOKTHINK: Do you have to travel much concerning your books?

GORDON-SMITH: Not really, but when I'm in London I make a point of going to places my characters would have known, such as The Savoy and The Criterion (any excuse!). I had a wonderful time recently poking round the back of The Strand, house-hunting for Jack. I found him a great flat with an excellent local near by! All in the interests of research ... and good beer too. I visited The Western Front - the Somme, Passchendaele and Ypres - recently and was enthralled and moved in equal measure.

BOOKTHINK: Who designed the covers?

GORDON-SMITH: Ken Leeder. He did a terrific job. It looks like a holiday in a book.

BOOKTHINK: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

GORDON-SMITH: After completing it, that's when it got really interesting. Once it was finished, then I could see where it had skidded off the rails. After a suitable pause, I was able to go back to it and re-structure bits, tighten up the plot, get rid of the "flab," and make it the best book I possibly could. I love revising. All the really hard work of making the thing up has been done, and now you can try and make it sing.

BOOKTHINK: Do you have any advice for other writers?

GORDON-SMITH: It depends who they are. I wouldn't presume to offer any advice to published writers, all of whom have been through the mill of getting published. For anyone who is still unpublished, as I was until so recently, I'd say first of all, finish your project, leave it, then revise it where necessary and keep reading and writing! That's the writing part. As far as getting the attention of agents and editors is concerned, go to writing conferences, especially ones that offer one-to-one appointments, listen to what's being said, act on anything that seems relevant and network like mad. And good luck.

BOOKTHINK: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

GORDON-SMITH: Enjoy the book!

Dolores is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the 1920s and has invented a winning formula. All at Book Think wish her well.

A few days later an unexpected package arrives, and inside is a bar of Caley's Marching Chocolate with a note saying, "Something to beat the drum about." On the packaging is a splendid picture of marching band of red-coated guardsmen. Thank goodness Dolores didn't leave me with a fete without chocolate!

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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