Jon Wilkins is a Welsh author who has written Poppy Flowers at the Front, Utrecht Snow and Utrecht Rain. I’ve read and reviewed Poppy Flowers at the Front as part of a recent blog tour. If you’d like to read my review then click here.
At what point did you decide to be an author / publish books?
I taught for 20 years, worked at Waterstones for 10 and coached women’s Basketball for 30 years. When I stopped coaching in 2011, I began to write seriously. It was the old case of never having enough time, but once I had time, I didn’t really stop. I submitted work to competitions and magazines almost straight away and though I only had a bit of success, it was success so that motivated me to carry on writing. I self-published two crime novels set in Utrecht; one was for my MA dissertation.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block because I really can’t stop writing! I don’t know if what I write is any good, but since I started writing seriously I have stacked up over a million words on various projects.
Was there anything you edited out of a book that you later wished you kept in?
The problem that I have when I edit is that I add rather than take away! I don’t know if it is just being smug or the reason why I don’t get published, but what I write seems to me to be the best I can write so doesn’t need much change. Of course since working with mentor, the wonderful Tana Collins I can see the merit of editing, but it is still a struggle.
How do you find the inspiration for new novels and storylines?
I find it quite difficult to plot a story and also difficult to extend an idea into a novel, so most of my novels are very episodic with a lot going on in them with peaks and more peaks rather than the typical arc. My ideas come from research or from everyday conversations overheard or from my wonderful wife who often inspires me with thoughts and ways forward.
If you were to give one tip to someone wanting to get into writing, what would it be?
I think it is a cliché but one that holds up… Write for yourself. If you please yourself when you write, you must be halfway there. If you are then enjoying what you write, you will write more.
If Poppy Flowers at the Front was made into an audiobook, who would you want to read it?
Harriet Walters. I love her voice.
What was your favourite part of Poppy Flowers at the Front?
I think when the two women realised they were in love. It’s not for me to pretend I know everything, but I do understand how my own feelings work and how I was when I fell in love with my wife so I put that into the love story. It’s for anyone, male or female.
How will you balance writing books whilst completing a PhD?
I’ve just started so I’m not sure. I want to rewrite Poppy flowers as I felt it wasn’t quite right and I am working with my mentor on the second in the series, Poppy Blossoms at Nemesis Hall where the two women go to work in a Norfolk School and have a series of japes as they sleuth about the county. For the PhD 80% will be the creative input so that will be my third Poppy novel, Poppy Knows Best. By the time I have finished my PhD I hope to have at least two of them published.
How much historical research did it take to write Poppy Flowers at the Front?
Tons! I love to research. I visited the Flanders Battlefields after getting a travel grant from the Oppenheim-John Downes Memorial Trust. That was moving and uplifting and inspired me . I have visited the Imperial War Museum, the Wellcome Institute and the British Library for bits and bobs and then there is the Interweb! Whoever invented that was a marvel as it has been a godsend there is so much out there. And also Social Media. I have asked questions on Twitter and have been snowed under with responses.
What made you decide to create a lesbian relationship between Poppy and Elodie?
I just thought that there was a need to promote the work of women during the first world War. They were the unseen heroes either at home in factories or at the front taking on roles in both spheres that they had been excluded from for so many years. They were then forgotten when the War ended. Excluded once more from opportunities that they had taken up to help the war effort and shown that they were more than equal to men. As Mao Tse Zung asked if women hold up half the sky why don’t we see them in more places of power? The patriarchy then and now insists on trying to put women into their “place” I reject this totally.
The idea of the ambulance driving VAD came whilst reading a book by Zenna smith and then I got into books featuring Bess Crawford, Maisie Dobbs and Kate Shackleton and they led me to the idea of having a nurse as a main character and then it seemed natural that they would meet and fall in love. As ever the writer sometimes goes down an unexpected road when they write being led by their characters. I never used to believe that until of course it happened to me.
Do you think there is a lack of LGBT+ representation in fictional books (especially historical fiction)?
I can only say yes there is. That’s why it is so good to see the proactive measures of so many publishing houses who are actively asking for members of the LGBT+ community to submit works. Same with Working Class writers and Writers with disability.
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