Sunday 12 March 2023

The Story Behind the Story with British Author Mary Lay.


Let’s welcome Mary to the Scribbler.

It’s always a treat to have a guest from “across the pond.”

When you visit her website, you will read this:

“Welcome to the era of Art Deco, Jazz bands and flapper dresses!”

Sounds good to me.



I grew up in rural Berkshire, then spent over 15 years in Devon and Cornwall before settling for now in the Cotswolds. I taught myself to read and write when I was 4 because I was convinced I would be allowed to go to school if I could do those things. I’ve been writing ever since, though not always stories. I’ve also had a variety of other jobs including a support assistant for an autistic boy, a giftware model maker, proofreader, and digital learning manager. I’m a Royal Horticultural Society trained garden designer, and also have qualifications in agile product development.

Much of my life has had similarities to the Miss Read stories, and they are definitely my go-to comfort novels.



Working Title: I am in the final proof stages of my third novel, Birds of the Storm.



Synopsis: It is the third in the series; we are following Caroline as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery through 1920s England. Caroline Munhead has spent two years catching up with her old school friends and taking her first tentative steps as a young woman. Now in 1927 she spreads her wings a little further and finds herself in north Somerset in a rented cottage. A new group of friends and a new set of challenges bring Caroline to an unexpected proposal. Will she make Somerset her forever home? Will a message from beyond the grave prove true?




The Story behind the Story: This all started during lockdown in 2019. I would go out for our permitted 30 minutes of exercise and walk the streets of Cheltenham, looking at the buildings and wondering who first lived and worked there. Readers might not know, but Cheltenham is a Regency town, but with housing from different eras radiating out from the centre, and with lots of tree-lined streets and parks. I started to research some of the areas online and as I continued my walks, some of the characters came into focus for me.

I had read some of Elizabeth von Arnim’s novels but couldn’t find anything else in a similar vein. So, I decided to write my own. I wanted something easy to read, a gentle story of ‘normal’ people. I often think of these stories as a historical soap opera. There are occasional big events, but more often than not we are just spectators watching someone else’s life unfold.

Once I started, the first story, Catching Up, flew out of my fingers. Writing at evenings and weekends, it was done in just over 2 months. I couldn’t stop! The characters kept talking to me and I drove on with the second novel, The Price of Coal. That too was completed in 3 months. I took a short break and then continued with the instalment that is due for publication in March 2023, Birds of the Storm. There are two more complete novels, the ideas for number six, and also a companion book of short stories, because some of the minor characters have been rather cross that they didn’t play bigger parts and want to tell their stories too!

The narrative is driven by real events. That’s my starting point when I am thinking about the story first: what actually happened in that year and what effect might it have had on my characters? The event might become a backdrop, or it might influence the story – I’m never entirely sure when I start to write, and it’s not unusual for me to stray completely away from my original plot line as I discover some other true story that I can borrow from.

I pitched to a number of agents and publishers. I received three separate offers of hybrid contracts, but the more I learned about traditional publishing and how I could lose creative control of my work, I decided that I would self-publish. I work with a professional designer, Chandler Design Associates in Norfolk, and John there immediately understood the concept I had for the covers.

I’m under no illusions that I will be able to retire on my book sales alone! I see these novels as an achievement that I never imagined I would have, and a welcome supplement to my retirement plans. Of course, if someone is interested in turning them into a television series I would be interested, but I write mainly because the characters simply will not be quiet.



A question before you go, Mary:

Can you tell us about the perfect setting you have, or desire, for your writing? Music or quiet? Coffee or tequila?  Neat or notes everywhere?


I actually wrote almost all of the five novels so far while sitting on my sofa. I have a very small flat, and no room for a desk – certainly no spare room to use as an office or library. In an ideal world I would have a small house somewhere in a cold country; Scotland, Canada, Scandinavia, somewhere like that. I find the quietness of snow captivating. A room with a desk that looked out onto a garden or countryside covered with snow, a log fire, a comfortable armchair and foot stool, plenty of reference books on the shelves and a small radio. I listen to classical music when I write, or nothing at all. I adore the Russian composers, particularly Shostakovich.

If someone could bring me a fresh pot of tea every hour or so, that would be appreciated. Either a good Assam, or a blend called Russian Caravan. There would be plenty of room for the tea pot as I don’t tend to write notes, though I am known to have piles of things – mostly knitting, books and piles of letters that I need to respond to.



Thank you for being our guest this week, Mary. Wishing you continued success with your writing.



And a Grand Canyon thank you to all you visitors and readers?


What are you reading?

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