"It is always a pleasure to introduce a first rate historical fiction writer on the site. All the more so if her work happens to be set in Wales. In this interview AmeriCymru spoke to Jean Mead author of The Widow Makers , Strife - The Widow Makers and Freya 800AD about her work, future plans and passion for sailing. Be sure to check out Jean's website for details of her past publications and future speaking engagements.
Jean has also contributed an original short story for publication on the site. Joe Standish - Boyhood 1823 is a prequel to 'The Widow Makers' and revolves around incidents from the boyhood of one of its main characters."
AmeriCymru: What attracted you to writing?
Jean: My interest in writing historical fiction was formed at school where English and history were the only subjects I actually enjoyed.
The history teacher was brilliant, she would tell tales of the past and the ring of clashing swords, the cries of battle, the sobs of the soon to be beheaded held me enthralled.
The English teacher was appalling, and to save her the bother of a lesson, she would tell us to write a story. The other girls would groan, but for me this was heaven. Whilst writing I could forget I was actually in the classroom.
Perhaps it’s the bad teachers that shape a child’s destiny! The pupil must exercise imagination to escape the dreariness of the classroom.
AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little more about the Widow Makers.
Jean: On a perfect autumnal day, sunlit with the bite of the first frost in the air, quite by accident I came across Dorothea quarry an astoundingly beautiful and haunting place. Stepping over the rusty wire of a wrecked Blondin, the idea of The Widow Makers came to me.
The research required to write a historical trilogy, the story based in the quarry lands of North Wales, didn’t occur to me until I attempted to write the first paragraph. But so in love with the place, I enjoyed learning about the history of the quarry.
The quarry in the trilogy is the Garddryn but many incidents that happen in the story actually occurred in Dorothea.
The Widow Makers 1842-1862 was published 2005 and republished 2012 and is a paperback and Kindle e-book.
The Welsh Books Council awarded a Literary Grant for the publication of The Widow Makers:Strife 1862-1874. The book was published in paperback in Wales 2012. There is one hardback copy which was made especially for the launch of the book. This is now in pride of place on the mantelshelf at home. Strife will also become a Kindle e-book very soon.
The Widow Makers:Road’s End 1874-1884 is almost complete and will be published 2013.
The characters and locations are the same in all three books but each edition can be read independent of the others.
It is difficult to imagine a time when the characters will not be the centre of my day and the people I dream about at night. If they decide to stay, they no longer just inhabit my office but have free run of the house, I may have to continue the story.
AmeriCymru: What inspired you to choose a Viking heroine?
Most Viking era books are male dominated with battle, skirmishes and gore. Others are mystical and fantastical.
My purpose was to portray a woman living more than a thousand years ago at the beginning of the Viking raids on Britain. To write about life as it really was at that time. How women coped when their husbands sailed across the Norse Sea to wreak havoc of the Picts of Northern Britain. With settlements deserted of able men the women were vulnerable from attack, and in the story, Knut, a man of the mountains crosses the threshold of Freya’s longhouse with devastating consequences. Researching the longhouses, longships, the way people lived at this time has taken me to Viking sites, and museums, which has been fascinating. Though the dried-out remains of a Viking warrior does tend to prick the hairs at the back of my neck.
AmeriCymru: You have also written a great many short stories for magazines over the years. Can you tell us a little more about this aspect of your work?
Jean: Writing short stories is a bit of a hobby and I enjoy contemporary situations and characters. In short fictions I tend to write about the humorous side of life. Over the last few months Yours Magazine have published my stories. The editor is kind enough to do a little write-up about the author and the books, which helps readers get to know me and my day job.
AmeriCymru: You have generously contributed a short story for publication on AmeriCymru, could you introduce it for us?
Jean: Joe Standish - Boyhood is a short story about Joe, the main character in The Widow Makers historical trilogy. Writing about him for so long I naturally got to know every little quirk of his character. The short story I have contributed to Americymru is how I imagine Joe may have been in boyhood, long before the infamous Galloway pit, the immense Garddryn Quarry, and his desire to see a union for quarrymen, shaped him.
AmeriCymru: Your profile notes that you enjoy sailing, any sailing stories you'd like to share with us?
Jean: I met my husband through sailing. At that the time I was the Honorary Secretary of The Royal Welsh Yacht Club in Caernarfon, Tony was a visiting yachtsman. We married ten years ago. Our boat is Ruby, a Gibsea 372. The yacht got her name from the fictional quarry in The Widow Makers.
We sail locally with our club, the North Wales Cruising Club, this generally entails racing. Puffin Island, the Menai Strait, and the Great Orme of Llandudno are the usual sailing patch.
Independent of the club we enjoy sailing to the Isle of Man, Scotland and Ireland. As my family now live in Brittany, sailing across the channel has a double appeal, the family give us a great welcome and weather is better. Wales is a bit legendary for rainfall and gales. There are loads of sailing yarns I could share with you but most are x-rated.
AmeriCymru: Where can readers go online to purchase your books?
Jean: The books are available on Kindle and paperback.
Freya 800 AD and The Widow Makers are available in paperback or as Kindle e-books on Amazon. The Widow Makers:Strife which is available in paperback will also be available as an e-book very soon.
AmeriCymru: What's next for Jean Mead?
Jean: Next book to be published is No Goodbye a contemporary thriller. The Widow Makers:Roads End will follow. Next writing project is another Viking era book. I shall be asking the members of Americymru to help me come up with a good title.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?
Jean: I would like to thank Ceri Shaw for making my books available through Amazon/Americymru. If someone purchases a Kindle e-book or paperback I really hope you enjoy it. I am always available to answer questions from readers.
It really pleases me that the members of Americymru have such an interest in Wales and what is going on here. Diolch.
Interview by Ceri Shaw