By Leah Fleming
As Leah Fleming, I have been writing both historical and contemporary fiction for 25 years from an old farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales and an olive grove on Crete. My stories have been translated into many languages which is always exciting.
I suppose my quirky traits are a passion for the past which is reflected in my subject matter. From the sinking of the Titanic, the Jewish Holocaust in the battle for Crete in 1941, the plight of Northern Suffragettes, the migration of British Quaker Community to Pennsylvania and a garden plot over a thousand years and the women who owned it.
I have a passion also for World War 2 and for those black and white wartime films of the 40s and 50s. I watch anything to do with the RAF, Desert rats, SOE secret services. No one book is ever the same as the last but lately I have concentrated on a contemporary community on an imaginary Greek island close to Crete.
I love all shades of purple clothes and accessories and aim to be “Purple Granny”. I write amongst clutter. Empty spaces do nothing for me. My garden is a riot of colour and weeds. I have lived with a serious cancer diagnosis for over ten years but I don’t give it much leg room but respect the fatiguing effects of my chemo medication.
Some writers gush forth their works, I am more a drip dripper. I grow my novels slowly over about 9 months. I find the limestone landscape and moors around me a great inspiration and have set stories there like the building of the famous Settle Carlisle railway and the hardship of the navvy families that sparked my first novel writing adventure.
Beginning writers often make huge mistakes and I was no exception. There is a tendency to want to put all your carefully researched details into the story but it often shows up as padding and detracting from the narrative drive. I also had to learn about letting the characters act out their emotions not me describing them. I have a tendency to rush big emotional scenes rather than close in like a film camera to milk the moment..
I am often surprised how a subject just pops up out of nowhere to get me reaching for a pen and notebook to catch it while it falls. I am a pen and paper girl. I love a huge notebook and special pens to write out the story first. Only then does it get put on the screen. I speak it out and it is a good form of editing. I find the beginning of a novel exciting but somewhere in the middle the energy flags like a saggy mattress but somehow it climbs out and the rolling down the hill of the last few chapters makes it all worthwhile. I do have a vague idea where I am heading but then the characters wander off on their own journey and I have to follow blindly hoping they will show me the way home. I am not afraid to ditch a project if I find the subject disheartening leading me up a blind alley.
You write from your heart, not your head. If the publisher wants a certain idea. The idea for the Titanic novel, THE CAPTAIN’S DAUGHTER did not at once enthral me but it became one of my most successful books and won an international prize. You live all the emotions in the story as if acting out each twist and turn. Scenes can be upsetting and emotional at times, hard to leave behind.
As for reviews, I try not to read them. The negative ones get in the way of confidence. Better to count the five stars and leave it at that. There will be always folks who do not get your story and find it hard to engage as I sometimes do myself when reading.
So that’s me, folks, soon off to Crete to write my sequel to the OLIVE GARDEN CHOIR. Wish me luck.