Sunday, 24 July 2016

Short Stories and Dual Timelines - with author Kathleen McGurl

Today I'm delighted to welcome as my guest, author Kathleen McGurl:~

I began by asking her:
You've had phenomenal success with your short stories. Can you tell us how that all began?

- I wouldn't quite call it phenonenal but I did sell a few dozen to women's magazines in the UK and Australia, back in the day. When I began writing I experimented with all kinds of writing before settling on women's mag stories. It helped that I was going to a regular writing class run by Della Galton, the Queen of womag! I remember my first sale - to Woman's Weekly. It was so exciting. I bought a handbag with the proceeds.

Short story-writing is a very exact and exacting discipline. You're the author of How-to-write books. What prompted you to do this - were lots of people asking you for advice?
- I had a blog, called Womagwriter, which focused on writing short stories for women's mags (the blog is still going but is now run by Patsy Collins). It had become quite popular and through it I'd developed a non-fiction 'voice'. I had an urge to self-publish something just for the experience, but didn't want to just do a short story anthology. I'd sold quite a few ghost stories, and while reading the magazine Writers' Forum one day I suddenly had the idea to put them together and write a book about how to write ghost stories, using my own as examples. This book, Ghost Stories and How to Write Them, did pretty well so I followed it up with another of the same format, Short Stories and How to Write Them, and then a little book on time management for writers called Give Up Ironing.

I'd like to ask you about your novels: firstly, what made you decide to write full-length novels?
- I'd always wanted to write novels, and to me the short stories were a stepping stone towards them. I'd done some genealogical research and decided to write a novel about one set of ancestors, just to prove to myself I had the staying power to write a full length novel. Part of this book eventually became my novella Mr Cavell's Diamond which I self published, before finding my publisher Carina UK with my next novel The Emerald Comb.

And secondly, what is it that appeals about the dual timeline? How do you find the stories, and then how do you go about researching the historical strands of the books?

- Dual timeline novels have always been my favourite genre to read, so it made sense to have a go at writing them! My first in this format, The Emerald Comb, is about a woman who's obsessed with genealogy, and who digs up rather more than she bargains for when she moves into a house once owned by her ancestors. I love intertwining the historical and present day timelines, and allowing my contemporary characters to gradually uncover the secrets of the past.
The story ideas come from anywhere and everywhere - I love it when an item from the past turns up unexpectedly and triggers a strand of research into it. When Richard III's skeleton was found under that car park in Leicester I was tingling all over - if only I'd come up with that idea before it actually happened!
I tend to set novels in eras I know a little about - mostly the Victorian era which I love. If I need to do some heavy research, as I've had to for my work in progress, I'll buy a decent book or two about the topic to get me started, and use the internet for back up and to check small details.

Can you tell us a little about your latest release, The Daughters of Red Hill Hall?
- Yes, I'd love to! It's a tale of friendship and jealousy. Gemma works at a small town museum, and comes across a pair of duelling pistols with a note attached saying they were the pistols used in the infamous shooting at Red Hill Hall, which involved two sisters, Rebecca and Sarah. As Gemma researches the story her own life begins to mirror that of Rebecca's, and her closest friend Nat becomes dangerously jealous of her...

Are you working on anything at the moment? And if yes, can you tell us anything about it?
- Yes, I always have a novel on the go! My work in progress is mostly set in Ireland, with the historical story covering the horrendous famine of the 1840s. Researching this has been upsetting at times - it was a truly terrible tragedy. I am working hard to provide an uplifting ending to my book despite its backdrop of misery. 

Thanks so much for hosting me here on your blog, I really appreciate it!

Thank you, Kath, for taking the time to pop over for a chat.



  1. Thanks so much for hosting me here today, Annie!

    1. It was lovely to talk to you - thanks for popping by :)