Today, in the forum I’m tickled to be talking with one of the hardest-working women in fiction. She not only has a catalog of completed works that is to envy, she also has projects percolating and bouncing off her tongue. So, without further delay, I’d like to introduce my friend Prue Batten.
Tim Greaton: It’s really great to have you here on the forum today, Prue. In a few minutes, we’ll delve into a great bookish discussion about your many projects, both available and soon-to-come. Before that, however, I was hoping we could talk a little bit about what you do with those hours when you’re not writing.
Prue Batten: I farm a wool-growing property in the far south of Australia (an island state called Tasmania) with my husband. We grow superfine wool which is sought after by Chinese woolen mills for the world fashion trade. We are just about to double our sheep numbers as lambs begin to pop out right across the farm.
Tim Greaton: You sound passionate about it.
Prue Batten: It’s tough in a drought, cold in winter, hot as Hades in summer and hurts my muscles when I’m working in the sheepyards or fencing, but it’s a remarkable life which I blog about periodically.
Tim Greaton: I often ask writers if there is a particular place from their past that influences their writing. Your family has deep roots in one location, which gives you an unusual answer to that question, doesn’t it?
Prue Batten: My family has a 90-year-old connection with a tiny coastal village in Tasmania where my grandfather established a seachange home for my grandmother who was ill with cancer at the time. As baby-boomers, my cousins and I lived the life of Swallows and Amazons by the sea and we had sea-legs aboard boats before we could crawl. Everything about the village colours my life now and we have our own little place there called House, which is where I write most comfortably. I guess you could say it still influences me!
Tim Greaton: Our President Teddy Roosevelt was known for having warring interests as both an outdoorsman and as an intellectual. I’ve heard you say something similar. Could you share what you mean by that with us?
Prue Batten: My hobbies might not be exactly unusual, but they are poles apart from each other. I am an embroiderer of the style called stumpwork which dates from the seventeenth century. Absolutely love it even though it tests my eyes to their limits. The art-form gave me inspiration for my first book, “The Stumpwork Robe.” It formed Book One of the continuing “Chronicles of Eirie” and was first published in print in 2008 and is about to be re-issued with a new cover and imprint. It is, of course, available as an e-book.
My other hobby is kayaking. I LOVE kayaking on the ocean near House; it’s my ultimate getaway. I have very little fear of the ocean – except for man-eating white pointer sharks, because as climate change warms the water and as the food chain alters, we are seeing more and more around the coastline.
Tim Greaton: I think most of our forum readers would say that today you have painted vivid pictures with many of your answers. This isn’t the first time you’ve heard that compliment, is it?
Prue Batten: No. I do often have readers describe my stories as unique and immensely pictorial. I like to think that‘s evidence that pushing my imagination to tell the most unusual and special story possible has paid off. Whatever the case, it is a supremely nice thing for readers to say.
Tim Greaton: Are most of your works available or do you have you stashed some away that might someday reach the market?
Prue Batten: No, I spring clean regularly (she grins) so no older stories will see the light of day, but I do have a fantasy work-in-progress for The Chronicles and a historical fiction/historical romance work-in-progress for “The Gisborne Saga.” Hopefully ready for the publisher by December.
Tim Greaton: With such a busy life running the farm, you must have a pretty effective “system” for getting your writing projects done?
Prue Batten: My system? Oh great heavens! It’s very odd. I begin the story on the computer with an opening line and a very rough outline in my head. Then I tend to let the story run its own course. I always take the last line written on any day to bed in the evening and write in long hand if the impetus is there. I also create a style guide which is a list of names - characters, setting etc and its correct spelling in alphabetical order. I also write a character profile for every character, from physical appearance to early life and psyche. And I have a whole printed folio of the fantasy world of Eirie with maps. I have a massive folder for each book with research PDF’s and other research information all filed in plastic sleeves. I have tons of bookmarked detail on the computer and I have my own personal library shelves along with books I borrow from our libraries. I write when I can and consider myself fortunate to get three straight hours let alone a whole day, but my head writes all the time.
Tim Greaton: What is your publishing team like?
Prue Batten: I have two wonderful beta readers—a friend in America and another in Turkey. They are very honest, pull no punches and I value their hard opinion more than anyone else’s, apart from my highly trusted, professional editor. Industry professionals handle the cover graphic designs and print formatting.
Tim Greaton: Our time together has been fascinating, Prue, but I’m willing to bet a lot of our readers are anxious to find out more about your latest novel, “Gisborne: Book of Pawns.” Could you tell us about it?
Prue Batten: “Gisborne: Book of Pawns,” ah, let’s see. The blurb might go like this: “Two people drawn by lust and a lost inheritance in 12th Century England, where status means power and survival depends on how the game is played. Guy of Gisborne, a man of dark secrets, accompanies Ysabel of Moncrieff, a woman of prominence, on a journey that rewrites history.”
Tim Greaton: Though I haven’t yet had a chance to read “Gisborne: Book of Pawns,” I’d like to mention that novelist John Hudspith says, “your storytelling is mesmeric and exact, taking the reader on a spellbinding ride of unpredictable twists and turns.” Now that’s a pretty serious compliment, Prue.
Prue Batten: I’m always honored when readers appreciate my work.
Tim Greaton: What led you to tell this particular story?
Prue Batten: It was originally inspired by the BBC’s rendition of “Robin Hood.” I found the character of Gisborne intriguing - a bitter man for whom life had absolutely no meaning, a man with no self-worth. I decided to take Gisborne far from the familiar canon and set him along another life journey entirely, one that may have fallen his way if the cards had been played differently.
Tim Greaton: Will there be sequels or other stories connected to this one?
Prue Batten: Most definitely if I live long enough. There is at least another book in the Gisborne Saga, perhaps another after that. Gisborne: Book of Knights is 25% written. I also have fourth and fifth book planned for The Chronicles of Eirie and in fact the fourth is 70% done. I love both genres, but perhaps fantasy is more relaxing to write than historical fiction as there are very specific strictures within hist.fict that one must be respectful toward.
Tim Greaton: I know you don’t like to compare your work to other authors, but it has happened. Could you give us a few examples?
Prue Batten: No, you’re right. I don’t like to compare but one Amazon UK reader said he finally found a book he enjoyed more than “Game of Thrones,” which he loved. That book was “A Thousand Glass Flowers,” and his kind review rather shook me…in a nice way, of course. And when I was submitting my first two books of the “Chronicles of Eirie” to a peer review site (YWO.com) one reviewer called them “A cross between Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ and John Crowley’s ‘Little Big,’” which I thought was terrific!
Tim Greaton: Which part of your story was the most difficult to write?
Prue Batten: Always the love/sex scenes as I believe in the mantra of “less is more.” At the same time it has to be compelling and acceptable to a wide cross-section of readers.
Tim Greaton: After writing your novel/story, did you wish you could have changed something? Do you think you will address that issue in future sequels?
Prue Batten: Rarely. Although I wondered if I should have changed the title of my fantasy “The Stumpwork Robe” after a woman bought it thinking it was an embroidery book and giving me a one star review for her mistake. I went to secure the link just a moment ago to place here, and it appears it has been removed. I’m glad the mistake was cleared up, and yet it was such a good talking point!
And then some bright sparks have commented on “Gisborne: Book of Pawns” with emphasis on the Pawn (porn). Sigh! Thus making me wonder if I should change that title as well.
Tim Greaton: For what it’s worth, Prue, I think that every author I’ve ever met has second-guessed various aspects of past projects. Now that I’ve dragged you through all the serious stuff, let’s try a couple of fun questions. Let’s say Peter Jackson showed up at your door tomorrow and offered to put one of your stories on the big screen, what kind of a monster would be in the film? And which actor or actress would you have battling it?
Prue Batten: If we are talking my “Chronicles of Eirie” series, there is an array of legendary spirits like the Cabyll Ushtey (a horse that eats people) or the Caointeach who wails as she washes bloody laundry in a stream and thus lets mortals know there will soon be a death. Those are just two, but there are dozens of nasties throughout that series. I’d be thrilled to see Peter’s WETA Workshop work their movie magic on those.
As for actors to play my hero? Oh any divine English actor: Rufus Sewell, Richard Armitage, Damian Lewis and so on. In the historic fiction, Sir Robert Halsham is quite simply a devious and dangerous bastard. Cruel, manipulative … will say no more as it might be seen to be a spoiler. I imagine Damian Lewis as Halsham and Richard Armitage as Gisborne.
Tim Greaton: Okay, everyone loves to answer this one: if you had an unlimited advertising budget, how would you “get the word out” about your latest release?
Prue Batten: In terms of my “Chronicles of Eirie” series, I would take Peter Jackson to the best dinner he has ever eaten. I would ask world famous chef Tetsuya Yakuda to cook Tasmanian food to die for, and I would pay Tets to take Peter on his wonderful boat around the Tasmanian coast. Then, as we sailed and ate, I would say “this is a movie just waiting for your touch.”
In terms of “Gisborne: Book of Pawns,” I would pay as much as Richard Armitage wanted me to pay to his favorite charities if he would just carry the print novel in his arms at every single interview he does!
Tim Greaton: I also often ask authors what they would like to see on their tombstone when they finally go to rest. I know it’s decades and decades away, but what would your answer be?
Prue Batten: Maybe they could print: “Nobody’s Perfect.” But seeing as I want a Viking Funeral or, at the very least, to be cremated and my ashes scattered at sea, I don’t care if there’s no headstone at all!
Tim Greaton: It would be great if you could share your website/blogsite and links to where our audience could directly communicate with you and purchase your stories.
Blog: http://www.mesmered.wordpress.com has pages to take readers to details of published books.
Tim Greaton: Thanks for taking the time with me today, Prue. It’s amazing of you to spend the time, which I know can be a challenge with your busy schedule.
Tim, it was delightful. Thank you for making me think about all these wonderful questions, and thanks to all your readers for taking the time to scan the result!