Stephanie Haxton Interview
TJ INK caught up with self-published author Stephanie Haxton to discuss her recent novel, love of Cornwall and passion for writing.
A Historical Fiction novel where the facts are stranger than fiction…
Well done on publishing your novel Exposed to All Villainies! Can you tell us a little bit about the story?
Exposed to All Villainies is an historical novel set in the mid seventeenth century. It occurs when Britain was caught up in the tumult of a Civil War raging between King and Parliament. The novel closely weaves fact and fiction, following the experiences of three women between 1640 and 1646. From Bristol to Oxford, Tenby to Truro, the narrative weaves across the west of Britain to Pendennis Castle, the Cornish fortress on the Fal and the last in England to stand for the Royalist cause.
Each individual makes her journey to Pendennis Castle as the King’s cause fails, revealing very different perspectives. Grace Godwynne might wish to turn back time, Hester Phipps to speed its passage. Mary Tremayne only wishes to make Heligan her home. Their tangled fates depend upon their past choices and the choices they still have to make. They do have one thing in common, however… they are women in a man’s world, which leaves them exposed to all villainies.
What is it about both history and fiction that inspires you to write?
I am an historian by training, so accurate research is important to me. I love the exploration process that comes with delving into a particular period, whether that’s recreating a character to bring the history of an historic property to life, or trawling through documents in an archive.
Historical novels inspired me as a child, making history accessible and exciting. An historical novel can take the snippets of forgotten history and bring them to life. Fiction can speculate where the academic can’t.
‘Family life, studying, or work, always came first.’
What obstacles did you encounter when writing the book?
The biggest obstacle was time. There always seemed to be something demanding my attention which made writing a very low priority. I suspect it is a common enough experience even if you aren’t a serial procrastinator anyway! Family life, studying, or work – which often involved a lot of time-consuming research, always came first. Even when a university tutor suggested one of my dissertations was the basis of a novel, writing fiction was still an indulgence. It took years before I was in a position to take myself seriously as an author.
How long did the research process take before you were ready to start writing?
I was asked to write some notes on a re-enactment group for visitors for a show at Pendennis Castle, Falmouth. When I delved into the Civil War history of the place, I became hooked. I kept finding snippets that intrigued me and there was one that simply wouldn’t go away.
Later I found myself running school workshops for English Heritage at Pendennis, so the history of the place never went away. In 2010 I was commissioned to write a play to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Falmouth’s Town Charter. It seemed natural to move on to more writing; to the story I was beginning to realise I needed to tell.
‘It is obvious that the publishing industry IS changing, challenging traditional attitudes.’
Why did you decide to self-publish the novel?
Being a realist I was always pretty sure that there wasn’t going to be a literary agent with a lucrative publishing deal just waiting to hear from a debut novelist like me! The ‘Vanity Publishing route didn’t tempt me, but I still wanted my story out there.
Reading the press it is obvious that the publishing industry IS changing and challenging traditional attitudes. Author advances are rare and smaller, and the reality is that self-publishing leaves the author in control and with a lot more profit. Yes, you will have to market your book but, even if a miracle publishing deal happened, all the big publishing houses expect the author to still do the signings and talks anyway.
Initially, I wasn’t convinced it was viable. Doing a lot of research I remained sceptical. I read ‘ego’ and ‘vanity’ too often! However, someone I respected, Ivan Corbett, who has years of experience in publishing, persuaded me that print-on-demand isn’t the same as ‘vanity publishing’. I found getting answers difficult – not least as to cost. However, Ivan suggested I look into TJ INK’s services, and the rest, as they say, is history. Padstow? Perfect!
How did you go about choosing the right cover design for your book?
I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to a cover but it became evident that I’d need one even for an ebook. I got in touch with Claire Chamberlain, a Falmouth based artist, and basically told her what I didn’t want. To get a clear vision of the cover, I gave her a resume of my story, a few pictures and a hand-drawn map with no copyright issues. Sepia was mentioned as a preference and I and left her to it. I love the end result!
‘I was in control with an expert leading me through the process’
What main things in terms of service were important for you in handling your novel and are you happy with the end result?
For me to be able to speak to a person, even better, meet with the same individual who was going to be handling my novel, was the biggest advantage to working with TJ INK. At any point I could ask questions, no matter how stupid they seemed. I was in control with an expert leading me though the process. The finished item looks the way I imagined it because of the top advice and assistance I gained. Happy with the end result? You bet!
What advice would you give to people who want to write a book?
Take yourself seriously. If you don’t, nobody else will. Then DO it! If you need incentives, stock up on chocolate biscuits, wine, or whatever your personal ‘reward tokens’ might be, but write!
Why should readers buy Exposed to All Villainies?
This is the hardest of all the questions. Dear reader, if you like history, then here is a novel where some of the fact is stranger than the fiction. But beware! History rarely gives happy endings; you need a sequel for that!
If Cornwall inspires you then this novel has the potent spirit of the county written amongst its pages. The book is dedicated to the unknown women of the time. If courage, love, friendship and fortitude, and a timeless tale of three strong women overcoming everything Fate throws at them appeals… Exposed to All Villainies could be for you!
What would be your desert island book?
No question: Dorothy Dunnett’s historical masterpiece, the Lymond Chronicles. To choose one, it would be Checkmate, the last of the series. It’s a work of pure genius and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that this book changed my life.
Find out more about Stephanie Haxton and her novel here