Interview With Author Dr. Geraldine Harris Pinch

# Please introduce yourself and your books

Hello. I’m Geraldine Harris Pinch, a British author of fiction and Egyptology books. I was born in Lancashire, adopted as a baby and brought up in a small Worcestershire village. I was a lonely bookish child who never fitted in at school but I loved to write poems and make up stories. After studying Speech and Drama for a few years to build up my confidence, I got into Cambridge University and soon found kindred spirits who encouraged me to write Fantasy fiction. I went on to do research at Oxford University and became an Egyptologist, specializing in Ancient Egyptian religion, myth and magic.

For many years I split my time between writing academic articles and books under my married name of Geraldine Pinch and writing children’s Egyptology books and Fantasy fiction under my maiden name of Geraldine Harris. My best known Fantasy novels are the Seven Citadels series, which are currently being developed into films. I publish regular reviews of Fantasy fiction in my Fantasy Reads blog (https://fantasyreads. ).

I have now retired from teaching Egyptology and live in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire with a mathematician, two Norwegian Forest cats and five apple trees. You can find out more about my Egyptology books and Fantasy novels on my website (https://geraldinepinch.co.uk) but in this interview I want to concentrate on my latest work – a dark comedy about divorce, murder and flower-painting called `The Diary of a Woman Scorned’. This novel is set in Bristol, England in 2018 and I have published it under the name of Geraldine Pinch to distinguish it from my Fantasy fiction.

# What is the real-life story behind your book?

`The Diary of a Woman Scorned’ is the story of middle-aged artist Meg who is devastated when her barrister husband, David, suddenly leaves her for a younger and pregnant woman.  After thirty years in what she thought was a happy marriage, childless Meg struggles to cope with living alone and when she tries to get a job to support herself she learns that her old-fashioned skills are no longer valued in the workplace. Meg finds herself identifying with the defendant in David’s current case: a house husband who is accused of murdering his unfaithful wife. Sick of being an obsolete woman, Meg yearns to do something extraordinary. As her life seems to spin out of control, Meg discovers what kind of person she really is.

Perhaps because `The Diary of a Woman Scorned’ is written in the first person, readers tend to assume that the central character must be based on the author. This isn’t the case, though I found it frighteningly easy to become Meg while I was writing. I do have some things in common with my heroine – such as a love for tulips and cats and a fear of modern technology –  but we are different people and I have never been placed in her situation. The novel is though inspired by real-life experiences, particularly those of a dear friend who was abandoned by her husband on the day of their Silver Wedding Anniversary. This was a shock which took her years to recover from. I was furious on her behalf and it made me think about what I would do if my own marriage ended.

After meeting other women who seemed to have been permanently damaged by painful divorces or betrayed relationships, I began to feel that this was a story which wasn’t often told in modern fiction. Women’s emotional lives are now assumed to be a more suitable topic for `Chick Lit’ than Literary fiction but the rules of Chick Lit dictate that the heroine must overcome her troubles and achieve some kind of happy ending. With the support and encouragement of my abandoned friend, I tried to write a novel which was more true to many older women’s experiences. You don’t have to be female to enjoy this book. Rather to my surprise, a number of divorced men have told me that the story resonated with them.

Two other aspects of `The Diary of a Woman Scorned’ are based on real life – the setting and the art classes which Meg teaches in the course of the novel. Many real places in Bristol feature in the story, including the famous gorge and Brunel’s suspension bridge. I first got to know the vibrant city of Bristol, with its extraordinary range of street art, when my husband worked there for three years and several of my family now live there. I am not a professional artist like Meg, just an amateur who dabbles in water-colours. All the wisdom which Meg imparts to her pupils is borrowed from the wonderful woman who was my first teacher when I took up art around fifteen years ago. Sadly, she died of cancer in the prime of her life and artistic career. The members of Meg’s art classes, who cope with everything that life throws at them, are loosely based on the friends I painted with every week until the Lockdowns.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book?

I did quite a lot of research for this book and attempted to do many (but definitely not all) of the things my heroine does in the novel. Walking around Bristol at various hours of the day and night was one of the best parts of the creative process. I researched English divorce laws at the time I was writing – they keep changing – and talked to people who had needed to find new jobs after a divorce or separation. The most surprising and depressing thing I discovered in the course of my research was how difficult it is for older women who haven’t been in full time employment for some while to get jobs. Very little help is available to them, even for the retraining needed to cope with modern technology, and there is a prevailing lack of respect for age and life experience. The baffling and scary job adverts Meg copes with during the novel were all based on real examples.

Writing any book is a long and slow process for me and my novels go through many drafts. When I sent out chapters from the first draft to agents and publishers, I got a mixed reaction. They all liked or loved the way that the book was written and the heroine’s distinctive voice but they wanted shocked Meg to get over her trauma much more quickly and move on to better things. One agent bluntly said that he simply couldn’t sell a `Woman’s book’ in which the heroine wasn’t a positive role model. This was a low point for me. It seemed that if I wanted to make my novel more commercial I would have to abandon my original vision. Meg faces a similar dilemma in the novel. She believes that creating beauty is an artist’s highest purpose but that makes her very old fashioned. Should she continue with the flower-painting she loves or change her style to something more contemporary and commercial?

After a lot of thought, I decided to stick with artistic integrity and self-publish `The Diary of a Woman Scorned’ as I wanted it to be. My previous twelve books have all been brought out by commercial publishers so this was a big decision for me but in many ways self-publishing has turned out to be for the best. As well as having complete editorial freedom for the first time, I was able to choose my own cover artist and design and write my own publicity material.  I worry about my novel reaching the readership it was intended for but I’m hopeful because many of the books I’ve recently bought and enjoyed are by self-published authors.

# What inspires your creativity?

Like most authors I draw inspiration from a wide range of sources including myths and legends, dreams, overheard snatches of conversation and the life stories of family and friends. My imagination particularly responds to two less usual sources – decorative art and beautiful gardens. The starting point for one story was a Japanese print and for another a piece of Art Nouveau jewellery.  I try to keep feeding my mind with fresh images. This hasn’t been so easy during the Lockdowns, so I’ve taken to looking at a few objects on museum websites every day.

Dutch flower paintings of the 17th century were one of the inspirations for  `The Diary of a Woman Scorned’. In the novel, Meg is obsessed with painting tulips and her garden is crucial to her happiness. I enjoyed creating this garden from memories of gardens that I have known. The flowers and leaves which Meg paints in the course of the novel are based on the plants in my current garden as it changes through the seasons. Some of these plants are beautiful in themselves but more importantly they evoke a particular mood. Taking up art taught me to look for beauty in unexpected places, such as in dying leaves or in the lines on an elderly person’s face, so it was a joy to write about an artist fighting to transmute her emotions and experiences into lasting beauty.

# What are your plans for future books?

The next book I bring out will be very different – it is a novel called `Invisible Frogs’ set in the world of Ancient Egyptian mythology. However, I do intend to write a kind of sequel to `The Diary of a Woman Scorned’. In that novel, Meg has a friend called Nina who seems to live a very successful and well-balanced life. Nina offers Meg a lot of sensible advice, none of which helps in the slightest. This failure is a shock to Nina and makes her rethink her own life and mysterious past. I hope that readers will enjoy discovering efficient Nina’s dark secrets.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I have ridden an ostrich, played with Napoleon’s tortoise (on St Helena) and been inside a great many royal tombs from Tutankhamon’s to Tamerlane’s.