Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Interview with author Brian Sellars

Reviews of Brian's Billy perks novels at: http://stevek1889.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/sheffield-novels.html

1)      How much research did you do for the Billy Perks books and how much is done from memory of your time in Sheffield?
Most of what I write springs from my own experience, but the facts must still be checked. I think it’s essential to research even into areas one feels familiar with. One reason for this is that, weirdly, it often seems that my characters are remembering things themselves, and I have to check them out. But it’s no chore. I feel researching is one of the perks of being a writer. I read books about the fifties and post war Britain. Maps, guides, old newspapers and Sheffield reference works are essential and of course Wikipedia. PictureSheffield.com, is truly brilliant.
2)      I went to The Rivelin Hotel to ask for a Campari and soda and to look at the Man’s Head Rock. Is it actually called that? You can’t really get to the big rock I presume it to be: it is too overgrown. Were you able to get closer back then?
Regrettably, Man’s Head Rock is now screened by trees. It used to be a striking sight, visible for miles. I think it’s a shame that the landowner has allowed it to become hidden, thereby depriving visitors to Rivelin of a truly dramatic view.  
3)      I couldn’t see any Tudor cottages near Orchard Road (the Star Woman’s cottage). Were they fictional or have they gone: it looks like there have been a lot of changes round there.
PictureSheffied.com has a photograph of the real Star Woman’s cottage. It is reference No: t02391 and is called “Old Cottage on Orchard Road”. The row of three cottages overlooked what was locally called the skittle yard. A block of maisonettes covers the site today.
4)      I guess living somewhere posh and sophisticated like Bath must have its plus points, but do you miss Sheffield? Do you still come back?
I miss Sheffield a great deal, and though I would love to move back there I doubt that family commitments will ever allow it. I make research trips and visit family and friends as often as possible.
5)      Does the distance from Sheffield have its have advantages when it comes to writing fiction? Giving you a different perspective?
Definitely it does. The Sheffield I write about is long gone. When I visit the city today I see much that I barely recognise. Perhaps being away from the Sheffield of today is actually essential for my kind of fiction, because what I see in my mind is the city as it was when I was twelve years old; a brave, struggling city, scarred by war and shortages, and untouched by redevelopment and civic improvement.
6)      Does living near Bath mean you are now a Rugby Union fan or do you still follow the trials of the Sheffield football clubs?
No it’s football for me, but there is a major downside to living away from one’s hometown, the severe dilution of parochialism. As a Walkley lad it used to be only the Owls I worried about. Now it’s the Blades too, as well as Hallam, the Tykes, the Millers, the Vikings, the Spireites, and several other clubs, though not Leeds of course. Fretting about all the northern clubs east of the Pennines is a major emotional burden. I combat this by strutting about wearing a bright red Sheffield FC shirt, hoping the locals will ask me about the world’s oldest football club so that I can brag about it. However, I’m beginning to notice this makes people run away.
7)      Pikelet or Bath bun?
Pikelet, of course. What’s to say?
8)      I love the characters, particularly Billy and the brilliant Yvonne. Do they draw on inspiration from anyone you know?
All my characters, even the ones in my 7th century historical fiction are to some extent based on real people. I don’t know any other way to do it. I don’t fear being found out, because I guess few of us would recognise ourselves anyway. In a few cases however, I wish those concerned would see themselves – Yvonne Sparkes for example. I loved her when I was a kiddywink. I often wonder if the real Yvonne has read my book and seen herself.
9)      Do you have a special place where you do your writing or can you write anywhere?
I write in my office. I’ve never felt posh enough to call it my study. I write almost every day and can work for hours on end, missing meals and breaks without a care. I love writing. It really is like time travel for me.

10)  I am excited to hear you have a new book (or is it an old book?) you are working on: Wolves of Woden. Can you tell us a bit about it?
When I learned that the place name Dore in Sheffield comes from door or gate, because of its strategic importance on the border between powerful Anglo Saxon kingdoms, I wanted to write about it. Sheffield doesn’t make much of that part of its history, even though it could be said that the very first king of all England was declared at Egberts Stone in Dore; not in Canterbury or Winchester or Westminster or York, but in Sheffield.  WOLVES OF WODEN will be a fictionalised account of events at Dore during the birth of Anglo Saxon England. It is a sort of prequel to The Whispering Bell.

11)  I likened Tuppenny Hat Detective to Emil and the Detectives. Is that something you read as a child?
No, I didn’t read as a child. I was a very slow reader. My mother struggled to teach me when I started to fall behind at school. I began writing my first book before I had read a book. It was called The Stone Circle, and was inspired by a spooky, solitary trip I made to The Nine Ladies stone circle on Stanton Moor near Matlock. I wrote about twenty pages, straight off, and loved doing it. I don’t remember what happened to them.

12) I find it hard to believe agents rejected Tuppenny Hat Detective. A lot of Amazon reviewers are clearly grateful you went ahead anyway. Is that one of the most satisfying things about writing for you: knowing you’ve cheered so many people up?
Nothing beats knowing that people are reading my stories. Tuppenny Hat Detective has been downloaded in its thousands, something I still can’t believe. I read every review it gets and answer every email I receive from readers. People are often so generous. It just blows me away.


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