I had the great pleasure to review Theresa’s book “The Gypsy’s Son” for the Historical Novelist Society (review attached below) and am delighted she has agreed to this interview on my blog. Welcome Theresa. Please tell us a little about yourself as a writer and as a person.
It’s difficult to sum up why I am a writer. It all starts with characters. Whenever I start a new novel, I take on my character’s problems and begin a journey with him, or her, through the plot. Strangely enough, the storyline is unknown to me when I begin writing; all I have to work with is the problem my character has, which needs sorting out. It’s usually a major, life-changing problem and my books are thought-provoking for that reason; they’re gritty in parts, but also gentle and poetic, immediate and emotional. They are set in the recent past because I feel more at home in that era. I like to write about a situation which marks events in our social history, for example, my first novel follows a coal-miner during the traumatic period of the National Miners’ Strike in 1984. My second has its setting during the crisis in the Cornish Fishing Industry.
Born into an artistic household, I still thrive in a creative busy atmosphere. I was raised in London during the 1950s but my inspiration was truly found in Cornwall. This was where my parents moved to when I was sixteen and I was overcome by the beauty of the landscape. My father, who was an artist, was chasing a dream to join the painters in St. Ives and he went on to exhibit there. The move to a tiny fisherman’s cottage in St. Ives marked for me the start of a love affair with Cornwall which I have had ever since. Now living in the Midlands, I recreate the Cornish atmosphere through my novels. In The Gypsy’s Son, I have tried to capture the innocence of the Romany culture during those post-war years in rural Cornwall. Their basic lifestyle, travelling in horse-drawn caravans and being answerable to no-one, was under threat following the introduction of motor vehicles and the advantages of new technology. Cars and lorries were transforming the face of the quiet rural lanes forever. But change was in store for everyone as the country dealt with the aftermath of World War Two including financial constraints and the need to recover quickly from the loss of so many lives.
On a personal level, I’ve experienced real poverty myself. I know how fragile our material comfortable lives can be, so I find it easy to empathise with my characters when they are experiencing financial and emotional pressure. Life’s like that. I might describe my fiction as “Romantic” on occasions, but I don’t romanticize real life. I’m a realist, but whatever situation people find themselves in, I still believe love can blossom.
Tell us about your writing history. When was the first time you decided to write and when was the first time you did?
I’ve been writing poetry ever since I was a child. I began submitting poems to editors and poetry magazines from the age of thirteen. My success in publication was a long time coming though; in the 1970s I had a short-story accepted and published by Woman’s Own. Years later I had another story published by People’s Friend but it wasn’t until 2006 I was able to write seriously and when I began work on my first novel. This was published by Robert Hale Ltd. In 2012. I now have three published, the first two by Robert Hale, the third I published myself independently. It has been a great learning curve, but self-publishing is a very liberating experience.
Did anyone influence/encourage you to become a writer?
My second husband Graham, who I married in 2006, has been so encouraging and supportive I can’t thank him enough. He is also my chief proof-reader and at times a pretty good publicity agent too.
Years ago when I was at college the English teacher told me he couldn’t bring himself to correct the “mistakes” in my essay! He said he didn’t want to “spoil the flow of its poetic style by covering it in red pen or breaking it down into sentences”. I’ll never forget those words – for me he was very encouraging. I’ve since learned to discipline my writing style though, and keep to the framework of punctuation most people understand!
Which character is your favourite?
I’m still missing Gideon Tremayne, the old Romany gypsy in The Gypsy’s Son. He was such a strong dependable individual. I don’t know if I will ever ‘meet’ a character like him again and I can still hear his voice sometimes. He’s the grandfather everyone needs.
Were the plot and sub-plots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
I never plan my books. The plots unravel themselves and nearly every twist and turn is a surprise to me. This is what makes writing so addictive, I can’t wait to see what happens! I know it sounds incredible but it’s true. The sub-plot characters similarly invent themselves and appear out of the blue often just as they do in real life. The doorbell goes, or someone arrives and changes the whole perspective of the day – at least, it’s like that in our house. Once I’m well into the novel, however, I have to start organizing my characters or they can get out of hand.
Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
Because I tend to live in the past I suppose. My tastes are usually old-fashioned although I keep up-to-date with current issues as much as I can, I identify with the past in an idealistic sense probably. My historical interests are based on everyday life and I don’t venture further than the years of my childhood take me – in other words the 1950s. I wouldn’t attempt to write about a time I’m not familiar with, but I like to revisit old streets and haunts I once knew. It’s a kind of nostalgia trip for me.
What is your life like outside of writing?
I’m very busy all the time. Apart from writing, there are so many things I do: painting, playing the fiddle, reading, gardening, relaxing with my husband, walking our greyhound – but my writing often takes over, leaving the weeds to grow and the dust to gather. It’s a passion which nags away at me; if I don’t have time to write I can feel miserable but I do enjoy social gatherings, lively conversation and creative environments. On the other hand I also seek solitude and the countryside because I need time to think and reflect.
What makes you laugh?
My husband and I laugh a lot about things like ridiculous Health & Safety Regulations, unnecessary ‘red-tape’ and badly thought-out ‘improvements’ which often create more problems than they solve. I enjoy political satire. We often find EU regulations annoying and amusing, and enjoy caricatures of MPs in programmes like “Yes, Minister.”
Who would you like to invite for dinner?
If I could pluck a person from the past I would invite Charles Dickens; that is, if I could drag him away from his work, and entice him to forgo the miles he walks every day! I’d like to hear his stories about the odd characters he encountered and recreated in his novels. Dicken’s talent for describing people goes well beyond what they look like. He manages to describe quaint aspects of a personality in such an original way. I think he’s a genius at describing character and I have learnt so much from him. I’m hoping he will appreciate the simple home cooked food I serve because I don’t do flamboyant recipes.
What song would you pick to go with your book?
It’s funny how strongly music features in my writing. I like classical and pop music. When I was working on The Gypsy’s Son I often had Celtic and folk music playing in the background. I like to have music playing when I’m working, it helps me concentrate and creates the kind of atmosphere I’m after. I often played “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel, a tune I’ve mentioned in the novel, so I think that would have to be the song. When I was writing The Sea Inside His Head, my debut novel which was also reviewed by the Historical Novel Society, I was playing a lot of songs by Robbie Williams. I found his bitter passion, anger and apparent loneliness a great influence and source of inspiration in creating the character Bradley Shepstone. The National Miners’ Strike of 1984 was a brutal time and something of that revolutionary ethos comes over in Robbie’s songs.
Raised in a creative household in London, Theresa moved to St. Ives in Cornwall to join the artistic community before studying Art at college. She followed various career paths – from running her own studio pottery to hairdressing – but always longed to write seriously. Having short stories published in magazines gave her the confidence to venture into writing a novel. Years later, using her experience of living in a mining village in Kent during the 1984 National Miner’s Strike, she wrote The Sea Inside His Head, her debut novel which was published by Robert Hale Ltd. Two more novels followed and her ambition to write full-time was finally realized. Often reverting back to her beloved Cornwall for the setting of her novels, Theresa now lives in the Midlands with her husband Graham and their greyhound. She has three children and five grandchildren, all who live abroad. Having recently published The Gypsy’s Son independently, she is very excited about the future and the contacts she has established though self-publishing and promoting her work.
My links to social media are as follows:
LinkedIn: Theresa Le Flem
Ebook: The Gypsy’s Son: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gypsys-Son-Theresa-Flem-ebook/dp/B010WADW8Y/ref=
Paperback –THE GYPSY’S SON: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Gypsys-Son-Theresa-Flem/dp/1514604930/ref=
Also The Sea Inside His Head available as hardback and ebook:
The Forgiving Sand available as Hardback and ebook:
“The Gypsy’s Son” by Theresa Le Flem is set in Cornwall in the 1950s. The story follows a family separated by an accident involving Finn, an 8 year old boy and the pram that holds his baby sister. While one part of the story follows the boy and his life with the gypsy, Gideon, another strand tells the story of the baby sister being found and adopted.
The strength of this novel lies in the characterization and the description of the deep psychological impact that the accident had on Finn. There are misconceptions and assumptions that influence the characters and their lives.
I would, however, have liked there to be more of a ‘fifties’ feel to the story and descriptive details to illustrate the era, additionally the cover does not do the book justice. The plot was less of a surprise to me than the blurb implied but I did enjoy the story all the same and feel I learned a lot about the Gypsy culture. Overall, this is a great coming of age story and a moving tale.
I reviewed this for the Historical Novel Society, Indie Books Section, who received a paperback copy of the book from the author for review.