This time I am bidding a warm welcome from ‘Meet The Authors’, to Robert Bartram, author of the beautiful book, ‘Dance The Moon Down’.
When I explained to Robert that I am not a great fan of the traditional Q&A style interview, he gave the idea of publishing a unique guest post some thought and came up with with this, a short story all in itself, which is sure to interest, intrigue and inspire; readers, reviewers and aspiring authors alike.
You can read my review of ‘Dance The Moon Down’, here…
Over to you Robert …
My Debut Novel Is – ‘DANCE THE MOON DOWN’
In 1910, no one believed there would ever be a war with Germany. Safe in her affluent middle-class life, the rumours held no significance for Victoria either. It was her father’s decision to enroll her at university that began to change all that. There she befriendes the rebellious and outspoken Beryl Whittaker, an emergent suffragette, but it is her love for Gerald Avery, a talented young poet from a neighbouring university that sets the seal on her future.
After a clandestine romance, they marry in January 1914, but with the outbreak of the First World War, Gerald volunteers and within months has gone missing in France. Convinced that he is still alive, Victoria’s initial attempts to discover what has become of him, implicate her in a murderous assault on Lord Kitchener resulting in her being interrogated as a spy, and later tempted to adultery.
Now virtually destitute, Victoria is reduced to finding work as a common labourer on a run down farm, where she discovers a world of unimaginable ignorance and poverty. It is only her conviction that Gerald will some day return that sustains her through the dark days of hardship and privation as her life becomes a battle of faith against adversity.
Hello! My Name Is – ROBERT BARTRAM
I was born in Edmonton, London in 1951, and spent several of my formative years living in Cornwall where I began to develop a life long love of nature and the rural way of life. I began writing in my early teens and much of my short romantic fiction was subsequently published in various periodicals, including “Red Letter”, “Secrets” and “People’s Friend”.
Never one to let the necessity of earning a living get in the way of my writing, I have continued to write for the best part of my life whilst holding down a succession of jobs including; health food shop manager, typewriter mechanic and taxidermist – Yes, you read that correctly.
My passion for the history of the early twentieth century is second only to my love of writing and it was whilst researching this period that I came across the diaries and letters of some women who had lived through the trauma of the First World War. What I read in them inspired me to write my debut novel, Dance The Moon Down and the rest, as they say, is history.
I am single and live and write in Hertfordshire.
My Favourite literary quote? … That’s easy. It comes from Oscar Wilde.
“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again”
I can really relate to that. Editing your own work is pure hell, as I think Oscar knew.
THE GHOST IN THE TYPEWRITER
(An Author’s Journey)
I think it’s fair to say that once you’ve been bitten by the writing bug, you’re infected for life. Occasionally the fever subsides, the symptoms abate, briefly, but it’s always there, ready to flare up at any given moment.
I have always viewed my writing experience as a journey through the wilderness. A glorious desolation, latticed with rutted tracks, stony paths and false turns, punctuated by gaping potholes and hidden swamps always ready to bog you down. It’s a wild and beautiful landscape populated by tribes of alluring sirens who call constantly, to distract you, to lure you from the path and where at one and the same time “real life” constantly edges in, like storm clouds obliterating the horizon.
In those early days I occasionally met other travellers who claimed to be writers, but it usually transpired that they’d attempted nothing more taxing than a poem or a children’s story, nothing in fact that required any more effort than a two page letter. Privately I despised them for their lack of commitment, although I must admit, that since then I have penned some poetry. As for children’s stories, it’s a fine genre, but in those days I felt it didn’t possess the same potential as an adult novel. You have to remember that this was some decades before J.K.Rowling sat down and wrote – what was it again? Ah yes, a children’s story. There were also the liars. People I met who professed to have published articles, short stories and essays. However, if I wanted to read them, I’d have to go to Australia or the dark side of the moon, anywhere in fact that would prevent me from checking the validity of their claim.
At about the same time “the question” arose. The question that was to haunt me for years. It went like this…
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Really. Have you published anything?”
Yes, I know, I needn’t have mentioned it in the first place, or I could have said I collected stamps, but the point is I was a writer and I was proud of what I did. It went on like this for some time, until I decided it was all in the presentation. I had to answer in a different way. I didn’t want to join the ranks of the liars by suggesting my writings were published in some remote outpost of empire. Whatever happened, I couldn’t lie.
Things came a head one evening when I walked into my local for a pint and found the landlord’s daughter helping out behind the bar. We struck up a conversation. She was pretty and I was aiming to impress, when that wretched question manifested itself. “What do you do?” I had to think on my feet. Remember, I couldn’t lie. I threw out my arms in a sweeping gesture and said. “I am an unknown writer.” “Oh, how romantic,” she gasped. I think that counts as a fairly successful exorcism.
Fast forward a few years and I’m still skulking in the wilderness, searching under stones for any kind of literary success. It was at this time that I contacted Marie Griffiths. She had been an agent specializing in short romantic fiction for women’s magazines and although retired she nevertheless took an interest in my work, suggesting I try my hand at this genre.
I very soon discovered that there are a great many disciplines involved in writing a short story, the most irksome of which is length. In those days it was limited to five thousand words. It sounds like a lot, but by the time boy has met girl the count is running like quicksilver. Talk about getting a quart into a pint pot.
Happily, with Marie’s patient coaching and after many failures, I finally came up with a story she thought she could sell. It was entitled “Rusty” and was about a self sufficiency expert (a popular theme in those days) and the attempts of his beautiful assistant to get him to notice her, all told from the prospective of his dog, a red setter called Rusty. It was at this point that Marie advised me to adopt a female pseudonym, in her words “to reduce resistance” as I was a man entering into an exclusively female province. I’m reminded of Victoria, the heroine of my novel “Dance the Moon Down”, a woman alone in a male dominated society, although no one suggested she become a literary transvestite just to get published. I did as Marie advised and “Secrets” magazine subsequently bought the story. That’s when I first became aware of the editor’s right to alter the material. When the story appeared the title had been changed to “The Nearness Of You”, which I didn’t like, and Rusty had been transformed into an Afghan hound, which I felt was a little effeminate for a farm dog. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to put into words just how I felt when I saw my writing published for the very first time. It was intoxicating to think that possibly thousands of people all over the country were reading my story, although probably not in my hometown as I’d already bought all the copies I could find to give to friends and relations.
I enjoyed my time with Marie and learned a lot from it, but I still hankered to write novels under my own name, as well as the small matter of reclaiming my gender.
The years piled on, the wilderness didn’t seem to be getting any smaller and the stony path was ever long. However, some things had changed. I had now developed my own writing style and an abiding passion for the history of the early twentieth century.
Unaware that it would become the catalyst of my novel, I was leafing through a copy of “The Nation” for June 1914, when I came across an article by John Galsworthy, the author of the “Forsyte Saga” entitled “Studies in extravagance-the latest thing”. Basically it was a critique of the younger generation of whom he wrote “had been born to dance the moon down to ragtime”. The irony of his statement was so profound that I couldn’t fail to notice the possibilities.
Initially the fundamental obstacle I faced was to write something different about the First World War. A huge amount had already been published about the men, and even the animals, which had fought on the front line, but I soon discovered that virtually nothing had been done about the women who had been left behind. Granted, there were a few novels about nurses and factory girls, but very little about the mothers, wives, sisters and sweethearts who had been left to struggle alone on the home front
Eventually I uncovered a wealth of information, including the letters and diaries of some women who had lived through the trauma of the Great War. What I read in them was so moving and so utterly poignant that I felt theirs was a story that demanded to be told. Thus my heroine and central character Victoria was born.
Fourteen months later I had completed the first draught of “Dance the Moon Down” in longhand. The next step was to dust off my trusty Imperial 50 (in my opinion, the best typewriter ever built) and a veteran of many manuscripts, and set out to buy some new ribbons. I was about to discover exactly just how long I’d been travelling in the wilderness.
Of course I was aware of the computer age, but I think I viewed it as something that was happening to other people. The look on the shop assistant’s face should have aroused my suspicions. You’d have thought I’d asked for a dinosaur egg. In hindsight, I probably had. I mentioned the incident to a friend and they told me “No one uses typewriters anymore.” I was astounded by this blasphemy. When did that happen? As I had nothing else at my disposal at that time but a typewriter, I was forced to continue my search until I found a company that still sold ribbons. Then I set to work.
Have you ever tried typing a three hundred page manuscript with only two fingers? Mind you, I was used to it, and usually managed to produce a page every twenty minutes, that is of course, as long as I remembered to put the carbon paper in the right way around. Nevertheless, after six weeks I’d completed the task and viewed with satisfaction the thick block of crisp white paper, speckled with black print that was my manuscript. It had weight to it. I could hold it in my hands. It was substantial. Be that as it may, by now, even I was forced to admit that no agent or publisher would entertain it in its present form. Finally I would have to leave the wilderness, if only temporarily, cast off my hermits rags, stop eating berries and insects, enter the “real world” and employ a professional skilled in the art of word documents stored on a memory stick. Thus my beautiful manuscript was transformed into something not much bigger than a pencil sharpener.
Writing a novel is child’s play compared to promoting it, especially in today’s celebrity obsessed publishing industry, which seems to have adopted the view that it doesn’t matter so much what you write as what you do, and the more extreme the better. A position never more clearly illustrated for me than by one particular editor I phoned for advice on promotion. From what she told me the likelihood of success seemed so remote that I asked wryly “What if I went next door and slaughtered the entire family?” I had intended to continue “and then do the same on the other side?” but she immediately interrupted with “They’d tear your arm off for your book”. I wonder if the jury would accept a plea of Promotional Hype. Perhaps not, but at least my book sales would soar.
Along similar lines is the author themselves. Tell your readers what is interesting about you, comes the advice. Now there’s a challenge. As a man who’s always believed that when an author writes a book, it’s the book people want not the author, this posed a problem. I’m blessed if I could think of anything. I can usually spot what’s interesting in others, but you try deciding what’s interesting about you! Go on, I dare you. Despite all the obstacles I encountered, I still managed to promote my novel with reasonable success, whilst remaining only marginally interesting, and without having to resort to murder. Although at times I was tempted.
I often asked what kind of a story I think “Dance the Moon Down” is. For the sake of classification, it’s an historical drama. Although judging from the many positive reviews it has lately enjoyed its different things to different people. It’s a romance with virtually only one participant. It’s a non war -war story. It’s an adventure without weapons. Personally, I think it is a story of courage and faith in a time of great trial, when the strongest souls shine the brightest. I think it’s something we can all relate to, and that, in essence, is what “Dance the Moon Down” is all about.
Does this mean I can leave the wilderness, turn my back on that glorious desolation? Am I about to discover a personal Nirvana at the end of that stony road? To be honest, I’m not sure I want to. As in life, the achievement is all in the journey, not the destination. Some things have changed though. There’s that “question” for instance.
“What do you do?”
“Really. Have you had anything published?”
“Yes, a novel called “Dance the Moon Down.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s an historical drama.”
You know, I really must find another way of phrasing that, but remember, I can’t lie.
Thanks for stopping by Robert. It has been great hosting you, here at Fiction Books and thank you for entering into the spirit of the blogging community. Reading Dance The Moon Down, was a very moving experience for me and I sincerely wish you every success with both the book and your future writing career.