Today I’m absolutely delighted to welcome back the lovely Ann Bennett.
Please introduce yourself to my readers, Ann.
I’ve been writing on and off for over twenty-five years, and had written numerous short stories and three full-length novels, none of which had seen the light of day, before I discovered the peer review site YouWriteOn in 2011. The experience of receiving feedback from writers on the site helped me finish The Pomelo Tree, which had reached the top of the YWO charts, and eventually became Bamboo Heart. This book was published by Monsoon Books in 2014. I went on to write Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road. The trilogy is about the second world war in SE Asia, experienced from three different viewpoints. It was inspired by researching the experiences of my father who was a prisoner on the Thai-Burma railway. Bamboo Island is out on kindle now and will be published in the UK by Monsoon in paperback in March 2016. Bamboo Road is likely to be out a year or so after that.
Is there anything you would like readers to know about you.
So, are you a morning person, or a midnight candle burner?
Probably neither. I like my sleep at both ends of the day, but if I had to choose I’d work into the night as I have a horror of early starts (unless it means the start of a long journey to somewhere exotic).
If your life were a movie would it be considered an action film, comedy, drama, romance, fantasy or a combination?
Probably a comedy (or a disaster movie – depending on your mind-set). I have a huge family and am the youngest of six daughters. My parents were both quite eccentric and there was always something happening when I was a child that was either life threatening or hilarious. We had an old caravan and an ancient Morris Oxford to pull it. Dad, having learnt to drive armoured vehicles in the army, never managed to grasp that the Morris Oxford wasn’t suited to pulling a caravan up steep mountain passes, through fords or along beaches with the tide coming in. I lost count of the number times we got stuck and Dad had to uncouple the caravan, find a farmer to tow it out of whatever scrape he’d got it into, while we girls followed behind carrying all the contents (gas cylinder, bedding, loo bucket etc.). He also had a bubble car and would collect us from the school bus in it (much to our embarrassment). Once the vicar asked for a lift and we all squashed in; Dad driving, my sister and the vicar crammed on the front seat and me crouching on the back shelf. Half way up the A5, as the bubble car struggled up the hill past Towcester racecourse, the vicar’s bowler hat blew off out of the ‘sun roof’ and got squashed under a lorry. Things like that were common place.
Hahaha! That’s hilarious, Ann. Let’s talk about your books now. Which of your own characters was your particular favourite?
I love Tom n Bamboo Heart. It was really difficult to write from the point of view of a man, but it was the only way I could get the reader to experience the Fall of Singapore, the horrors of the Thai-Burma railway and the Japanese hell-ships first hand. I’m not sure I got it exactly right, only someone who was there could tell me that. I tried to see those events from the perspective of an ordinary man, not some sort of super-hero, who would have had normal human fears and failings to overcome.
He’s a wonderful character. So, when you are writing, how do you handle writer’s block?
I just keep going. I force myself to do a little bit every day. When I have writer’s block, I might only manage a few sentences, but I read somewhere that if you want to achieve something, you need to apply your mind to it regularly. That seems to be more effective (for me at least) than working in bursts for a few days then leaving it for months to go cold.
That’s great advice. Do you write long hand first, or does it go straight onto the computer?
My ideal is to write it out long hand first, then hone it by typing it up. For a long time, it felt like cheating if I didn’t do that. Increasingly, though, I find I’m able to go straight to the computer (though I would always have a plan written out in longhand beforehand).
Are you a “sit down and play it by ear” kind of writer, or do you need a structured guideline, or maybe a little of both?
A bit of both really. I do try to plan as much as I can, and will always have a full plan of the book before I start to write, but ideas come to me as I write, so I often change my plan as I go along.
So do I. Is location important in your books?
I have spent a lot of time in that part of the world over the years, mainly Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. I’m fascinated by the culture and this history of the region – I’m even learning Thai which is quite a challenge.
Writing about the region is a way of going there in my imagination if I can’t be there all the time. I hope people who read the books think that too!
Absolutely. What are you working on now?
I’ve got two projects on the go at the moment. Firstly, I’m editing and finalising the third book in my WW2 SE Asia Trilogy, Bamboo Road. It is the story of a Thai woman, Sirinya, a member of the Thai resistance who makes huge sacrifices and risks her life to help the allied prisoners of war building the railway. It is a story of war, love and hope. Like the other books, it was inspired by true events, but the characters are fictional. When I did my research for Bamboo Heart I was struck by how many Thai people took great risks during the Japanese occupation and how little that has been recognised here in the West, particularly in fiction.
Monsoon have already mocked up a cover for the book:
The other book is in its very early stages. Its working title is ‘The Foundling’s Daughter’ and it is the story of three women separated by decades, whose lives are all affected in different ways by mysterious events at an orphanage in the 1930s. This one is set partly in England, but it also has an Asian angle (of course). One of the three characters is the wife of a British officer in the Indian Army in the days of the Raj.
Sounds fascinating. Tell us about your new release, Bamboo Island.
Bamboo Island is the second book in my SE Asia WW2 Trilogy, was released in SE Asia in October and is now available worldwide on Amazon Kindle.
Here’s the blurb:
Malaya 1962: Juliet Crosby, a plantation owner’s wife, has lived a reclusive life on her rubber plantation since the Second World War robbed her of everyone she loved. The sudden appearance of a young woman from Indonesia disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories. Together they embark on a journey to uncover secrets buried for more than twenty years. Juliet is forced to recollect her pre-war marriage, her experiences during the Second World War – hiding from the Japanese in Singapore before being captured, imprisoned with other internees in Changi Prison – and the loss of those she once held dear.
How can we find you? Do you have a web page, Facebook page or any buy links?
Facebook Page for Bamboo Heart
Facebook Page for Bamboo Island
Bamboo Island on amazon.co.uk
Bamboo Island on amazon.com
Bamboo Heart on amazon.co.uk
Bamboo Heart on amazon.com
Fab. It was lovely chatting with you Ann, and all the best with your books!
Thank you for having me, Siobhan. 🙂