An Interview With Wendy K. Harris, Author of The Sorrow of Sisters

Posted: September 22, 2006 in Author Interview

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” I don’t spend all my time wandering the beaches and gazing out to sea – although that was my vision when I moved to the Isle of Wight in 2003. Sometimes I wonder how I ended up here. It wasn’t part of the grand plan which was, in fact, to have no plan at all. ”

How has the experience of publishing The Sorrow Of Sisters surprised you?

I think I have been most surprised by the strength of my own emotions. Getting published was almost unintentional. I was prompted by fellow writers and my daughter, and I thought I might as well give it a go. I’d read so many accounts of writers papering walls with their rejection slips that I had no real expectations. Tentatively, I sent a few chapters to a literary advisory service and received positive feedback and the names of three agents to try. The second one signed me up and that’s when the possibility of being published arose and the thrill of it hit me like a sledgehammer. I don’t think I’ve been quite the same since!

What about the experience has stood out from your other writing endeavours?

The exhilaration of holding the first bound copy in my hands – even though it was the German edition and I couldn’t read it! The other aspect is the vulnerability. For me, writing a novel is a bit like gestating a baby – it’s a private and intimate experience and then suddenly it’s out there for the world to pick up, consider and form an opinion. Fortunately the feedback has been wonderful. But what if everybody hated it? I think I would have to go into exile.

What projects are you working on currently?

I am working on a ‘treatment’ for The Sorrow Of Sisters. This is like a synopsis but written as the first stage of a film script. I have just received an offer from my German publisher for the second ‘Undercliff Novel’ the title of which is Blue Slipper Bay, and I am also twenty thousand words into the third – Winds That Blow Lonely.

Do you practice any writing rituals?

I need to have a clear, quiet mind before I start writing. I achieve this by dealing with any pressing external chores first so they don’t nag at me. Then I go into my writing room with a sense of the sacred. I light incense or a candle, maybe play a chant, and sit quietly for a while. I know that my best creativity lies beneath the turmoil of my ego. I can’t always reach it but I give it a chance. Writing a journal also helps clear the junk from the path. When I am ready I just start – maybe with pencil and pad or sometimes straight onto laptop. And I can go at it for hours!

What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

Precious Bane by Mary Webb – the chosen book for my local reading group. It was first published in 1924 and is set in rural Shropshire. I usually go for contemporary fiction but this old-fashioned tale stunned me with its beauty and poignancy. It is the story of a young woman with a hare-lip, the superstition that surrounded her at the time, and her extraordinary affinity with the natural world which nurtured her generous soul.

Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately about?

People aside – The Undercliff of the Isle of Wight, where I live. It abounds with history and wildlife and stories – told, untold and imagined. It is a rugged but fragile area where humans try to control land and sea, which of course have their own agenda. And then there’s my eternal quest for the invisible dimension of life which upholds and makes sense of the visible.

Do you have a favourite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?

Be Still And Know – not in an intellectual or religious way but in a ‘time to stand and stare’ way. Thoughts have a tendency to preoccupy my mind with the future and the past. Taking a deep breath and feeling deeply into this moment brings me back to an awareness of the actual experience of living.

If you were marooned on an island, stuck in an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have with you?

This is a very difficult question for an avid, eclectic reader who seldom reads the same book twice! It would have to be big and complex to maybe last a long time. Classically, I’d choose Dickens – Bleak House. Spiritually –
A Course In Miracles or Eckhart Tolle – The Power Of Now. Contemporary fiction would be Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible. But if I must choose only one – and given that I feel all life is a quest for fulfilment in some shape or form – I would go for Tolkein – The Lord of The Rings – especially since seeing the wonderful films and the New Zealand landscape which I love.

What memories do you have from your childhood, about your experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your love of books and reading?

Wonderful! My local library was an old monastery in the middle of what became a public park. I can still hear the creak of the gnarled oak doors and smell the musty books. The silence was tangible and the gloom intense. And all those shelves were stacked with promises of magical experiences. I had little cardboard tickets and, oh, the joy when I was old enough to graduate from the junior to adult sections and enter through the grown-up door! Definitely the start of my addiction.

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