Historical Fiction Week: Author Q&A with Sharon Maas

The Next Guest in my Historical Fiction Week is Sharon Maas, Bookouture author of The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q and The Secret Life of Winnie Cox and next month she will release The Sugar Planter's Daughter. Today she joins me to talk about her books, her writing and researching process and her love for Historical Fiction. And you can win a copy of her latest, check out the giveaway at the end: 

1) Hello Sharon and welcome to Alba in Bookland. First of all could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Writing has always been my “thing”. I was an extremely shy child who avoided speaking whenever I could... but I loved reading, curling up in a corner with a magical story of adventure, losing myself tot that fictional world. A chronic introvert. I stared writing my own little stories when I was about 8, but never dreamed I could one day write something that other people might like to read. I grew up awkward, self-conscious, insecure, tongue- tied, and sometimes miserable about my lack of social success, yet with a sense of adventure which helped me to take the lid off of that poor self-image. But it wasn't until my late 40 s that I actually believed, no, knew, that I could pull stories out of myself and write them down and get them published and loved by others. My first novel was published by HarperCollins in 1999 and the rest is history, as they say. I'm still awkward in social situations, hopeless at small talk and chit-chat, hesitant to speak my mind. Fiction is my best attempt out at self-expression. If you want to know me, read my novels! It’s all there; I'm in the characters, in their lives. That’s where I best reveal myself. The “me” you might meet in real life ... well, I'm very boring. I'm that person most people ignore, as inept as ever in conversation, the wallflower at parties to this day! But it doesn’t bother me the way it did in my youth. In fact, I’m more confident than ever; it’s just that I don’t put myself forward, and that’s perfectly OK. I’m still an introvert, but I no longer see it as a disadvantage.

2) You will soon release a new book, The Sugar Planter's Daughter, the story of a woman torn between her family and the man she loves, set in Guyana in 1920. What sparkled this idea?
The story was sparked by a photograph, that of my grandmother’s wedding, which must have been around 1908... that, and later on, other delightful vintage photos of her family. She had eight boys, no girls, which is an interesting set-up I borrowed for the story. Also, she was a white woman who married a black man... and I could only imagine what a scandal that must have been at the time. So I imagined it into a story. Obviously it's not about her... her life would have been very different to my Winnie (and yes. her name was Winnie too, and her husband was George, just like in the book!) So I created this character who faced a whole litany of problems, with situations borrowed from my grandmother’s life. It’s a story about marriage, motherhood, womanhood, betrayal, bad things happening to good people. I'd describe it as bittersweet; it made me cry while writing, and if my readers cry too ill have done the job!

3) You were born in Guyana, where some of your novels are set, and have lived in several countries and lived quite an eventful life since then. How do your own personal experiences influence your writing?
My life experiences are the warp and woof of my writing. They provide the nourishment, so to speak, the roots out of which my novels have grown. The book “Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande played a big part in my finding the courage to write seriously and its a quote from her that gave me the confidence to even begin. Stories, Brande says, are formed in the unconscious mind, which must “flow freely and richly, bringing at demand all the treasures of memory, all the emotions, scenes, incidents, intimations of character and relationship" which is stored away beyond our awareness. She says that we can learn to tap that rich store, and that book helped me to learn how to do that.

That's how I feel: that everything I’ve ever experienced is subconsciously put together deep inside of me, and writing is a matter of accessing that area of myself. 

4) Your novels are set in different times and places. How do you research your settings? 
My main settings are Guyana, or rather, the colony British Guiana as it was called when I was growing up there, and India. I have a deep and lasting love for India and when I go there - which is almost every year - I simply merge myself into the life I find there, lose my old self and take on a whole different persona. I write mostly from my own observations , and what I don't know, I research, I talk to people, read books, look up obscure details, and so on. Obviously research is much easier today than it was when I first started writing, I honestly don't know how I managed without Google! Sometimes I reach out and find an expert who can help me; for instance, when writing my last book, the Secret Life of Winnie cox, I needed information about telegraphy and Morse; I found an expert on the Internet, contacted him, and he answered my questions. When I write my very first published novel, I somehow found a historian who worked at the British Library and she answered my questions, and I even met her at the library once, and she showed me how to look things up. I still have my old British Library card, but I never had to use it again.

5) Which one did you find the most difficult to recreate in your novels?
It’s not so much places that I find difficult, it's times. Researching the past can be very tricky, as I don't want to make mistakes but nobody was actually there and some of the information I need can be obscure, so often no-one really knows, For instance: how long would it take to get from a to b in 1914 British Guiana? But the good news is, is that since nobody was actually there nobody is going to say I'm wrong. I do try to be as accurate as possible but sometimes if the information is simply no there I take the creative license to make an informed guess.

6) Which authors have inspired or influenced your writing?
As a child my favorite authors were A A Milne, Enid Blyton, Mary O’Hara. Later n, at school, I had to read the classics, and though I found some of them boring I adored Jane Eyre. Every term at school we took on one of Shakespeare plays and to this day I can recite some of the speeches I was forced to learn by heart. I think this learning by heart is a magnificent way to absorb the sense of rhythm and beauty into the psyche; it seems that it's not encouraged so much in today's schools and that's a pity.

Contemporary authors who made me see what kid of books I'd like to write are Rohinton Mistry and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 

7) What made you start writing historical fiction? 
I like reading it! I love going back into the past and reliving it through reading fiction, so when it came to writing it seemed a given. In my own life, the best times were back in the fifties, sixties, seventies. Not exactly history, but those years bring back a nostalgia which feeds into the stories I create.

8) Do you think that in historical fiction, the time period and setting is as important as the story itself?
Absolutely. The background – time as well as place – are absolutely essential to the stories I tell. I couldn’t simply lift the stories out of their time and setting and place them, say, in 21st century UK. Well, I suppose I could, and some writers do adapt older novels to the present, but there is a certain atmosphere in older times that simply dissolves when you transplant it to the present. A certain sense of leisure, of timelessness, which is simply non-existent in today’s society. I doubt that I will ever write anything set later than the seventies – at the most, I might create a story thread set today, but always as a framework for a much earlier story, as I did in The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q. That book is about a modern-day girl who discovers her grandmother’s story, and grows through it. I think we have a lot to learn from those who went before us, their attitudes to life and love, and I hope that this comes through in my novels.

9) Could you recommend us a novel that has stayed with you? 
Books by the two writers I mentioned above: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

10) And finally, are you working on a new project? 
Of course! I have a long line-up of projects. Next year I retire and I can’t wait to have the time to write them all down, or revise those already written!

You can find out more about Sharon Maas and her books on:
Webpage: http://www.sharonmaas.com/

About the book:

Title: The Sugar Planter's Daughter
Author: Sharon Maas
Published: July 22nd 2016 by Bookouture
Blurb: 1912, British Guiana, South America: Winnie Cox is about to marry George Quint, the love of her life. Born into a life of luxury and privilege on her father’s sugar plantation, Winnie has turned against her family by choosing to be with George – a poor black postman from the slums. 

Winnie may be living in poverty, but she’s got what sister Johanna doesn’t have: a loving husband and a beautiful family. And despite Johanna running her family’s sugar plantation, Winnie will always be their mother’s favourite daughter, a bitter pill for Johanna to swallow. 

Then Winnie’s son falls ill and she must travel to Venezuela desperate for a cure. With her sister away, Johanna finds herself increasingly drawn to George. But he only has eyes for Winnie. Johanna, stung by the rejection and the fragile state of her own marriage, is out for revenge – no matter how devastating the consequences.


Thanks to Bookouture, I've got an ebook bundle to giveaway to one lucky winner. The Giveaway is International and the winner will be contacted via email and will have 48h to claim their prize: 

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4 comentaris

  1. If I had to pick a favorite historical novel, I'd say Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds. I love her rich evocation of place and the interplay between the generations. And the forbidden love, of course! More than any other author, McCullough inspired me to write my own historical family saga. (P.S. I am the same person as Elizabeth Bell, @elizabellauthor)

    1. I hadn't heart of this one but it sounds really intriguing, I love an epic family saga! And it's great that it inspired you to write too! Alba :)

  2. My all time favorite historical fiction is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Please do read it, if you can find a copy. You'll love it!

    1. Oh I read it many years ago and I loved it but I hardly remember it anymore. I really should read it again, it was a fascinating story! Thanks for the recommendation Ria! Alba :)