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The Worm Hole Podcast Milestone Episode 01: Elizabeth Fremantle, Amanda Geard, Gill Paul, Maggie Brookes

Celebrating 100 episodes of this podcast, Charlie is joined by Gill Paul, Elizabeth Fremantle, Amanda Geard, and Maggie Brookes for a general bookish chat. We get all philosophical about genre, discuss film adaptations (Elizabeth’s Firebrand is out), whose books we wish we could have written, and best fan encounters.

General references:
Firebrand – the UK release date is 14th June
A Royal Affair
House Of The Dragon
Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit
Amanda’s interview with me on The Moon Gate, episode 84
Elizabeth’s appearance on BBC Front Row
The Irish Times’ article on Amanda’s house (includes a photo of the room we discuss)
Father Ted
The Historical Novel Society 2024 Conference

Books mentioned by name or extensively:
Amanda Geard: The Midnight House
Amanda Geard: The Moon Gate
Diana Gabaldon: Voyager
Dodie Smith: I Capture The Castle
Elizabeth Fremantle: Queen’s Gambit
Elizabeth Fremantle: Disobedient
Elizabeth Fremantle: The Sinners (working title)
Gill Paul: The Secret Wife
Gill Paul: Another Woman’s Husband
Gill Paul: The Manhattan Girls
Gill Paul: A Beautiful Rival
Gill Paul: Scandalous Women
Jenny Ashcroft: Echoes Of Love
Kerry Fisher: The Secret Child
Maggie Brookes: The Prisoner’s Wife
Maggie Brookes: Acts Of Love And War
Maggie O’Farrell: I Am, I Am, I Am
Paula McLain: The Paris Wife
Walter Tevis: The Queen’s Gambit

Buy the books: UK || USA

Release details: Recorded 15th January 2024; published 17th June 2024

Where to find Elizabeth online: Website || Twitter || Facebook || Instagram

Where to find Amanda online: Website || Twitter || Facebook || Instagram

Where to find Gill online: Website || Twitter || Facebook || Instagram || TikTok

Where to find Maggie online: Website || Twitter || Facebook || Instagram

Where to find Charlie online: Twitter || Instagram || TikTok


02:36 What is historical fiction – what does it do, what it is for?
06:09 If you wrote in another genre, what would it be?
08:29 If your book was to be made into a film or TV show, who would you want cast in it?
13:03 Can you describe your latest book without talking about the plot at all?
15:47 If you could have written someone else’s book, whose would you choose?
18:38 What’s the weirdest thing anyone’s said about one of your books?
22:43 What’s the best reader or fan encounter you’ve had?
26:11 Have you ever been mistaken for another author?
28:55 What is the best interview you’ve had excluding this podcast?
32:53 What is the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
37:27 Can you remember any particularly interesting fact that you discovered in research that you couldn’t include in your book?
42:48 What bookish event are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?
45:52 What is everyone’s next book? (Except Gill – she mentioned hers earlier.)


Please note that this transcript has been edited for legibility and is not a 100% accurate representation of the audio. Filler words and many false sentence starts have been removed, and words have been added in square brackets for clarity.

Charlie: Surprise! Hello and welcome to The Worm Hole Podcast. This is the first of a few milestone episodes which I will be posting over the next month or so to celebrate episode 100. These will be different to the usual episodes – we’re talking casually and there’s more than one author; you can consider this a party. So, I’m your host Charlie Place and today I am joined by four authors who write about the past. I think we’ll get them to introduce themselves so you can get an idea for their voices straight away.

Elizabeth: Hi, I’m Elizabeth Fremantle – my friends call me Liz. And I have written a number of historical novels, a series set in the Tudor period, one of which is coming out this year as a film called Firebrand. The novel is called Queen’s Gambit – change of title for quite obvious reasons, if you watch Netflix. My most recent novel is about the baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, and it’s called Disobedient.

Amanda: Hi, Charlie. Happy centenary!

Charlie: Thank you.

Amanda: I’m Amanda Geard, and I write multi-timeline novels with a historical strand in them; my first novel was called The Midnight House. My latest novel is called The Moon Gate, and it’s set in Tasmania, where I was born, and London, where I lived in a houseboat very quirkily for a while. And County Kerry in Ireland is the third place, and that’s where I live now.

Maggie: Hello, I’m Maggie Brookes and my two historical fiction novels are called The Prisoner’s Wife, set in the Second World War, and Acts Of Love And War, set in the Spanish Civil War. So I’ve also covered a number of countries in my writing!

Gill: Hi. Congratulations on 100 episodes, Charlie. My name is Gill Paul. I’m the author of 14 historical novels so far and mostly set in the early 20th century, mostly about women that I feel have been under-represented or misrepresented by historians. And my latest, A Beautiful Rival, is about the feud between Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein, who absolutely hated each other.

Charlie: Awesome, thank you. Before we begin, may I ask you listeners, please do rate and/or review this podcast, if you can, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Podcast Addict. Thank you, and let’s get to these questions. So this is a kind of philosophical question, let’s see. I would like to ask, what is historical fiction? As in, what does it do? What’s it for? Anyone got an answer first? Gill?

Gill: What I can say, the difference between historical non-fiction and historical fiction is that non-fiction will tell you what happened, where it happened, who was involved, possibly why it happened. But with historical fiction, we’re trying to step into the shoes of the people that were there and tell you what it felt like to be them in that place, at that time with those sets of circumstances that they were coping with. And that’s what’s always fascinated me about it; to come into my office in the morning, sit down and pretend to be somebody else from that period, and try and imagine what they felt like. Maybe in the same way that an actor tries to feel what somebody’s like when they’re stepping into their shoes on stage or in film. So they’re quite, quite different things, I think.

Charlie: Maggie.

Maggie: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. It’s not just stepping into their shoes, but sometimes imagining what their clothes feel like, you know, does that pinch? Does that fit? Tiny details. And I think really what we’re doing is filling the gaps in the historical record. I think Hilary Mantel said something like, ‘history is left when time has gone through a sieve and there’s just a few bits left’. Well, plugging those gaps, we’re filling that all in. Filling it in with imagination, trying to picture it, smell it, think what it would have been like to be there at the time. And that’s the fun of it.

Charlie: Liz.

Elizabeth: I think for me, I’m always interested in… particularly women, like Gill, actually, we have kind of a similar aim in our work, though we focus on very different periods. I always consider my novels are contemporary novels, they just happen to be set in the past. So I’m really interested in looking for individuals who represent something that is a contemporary concern. So in Disobedient, I’m looking at men’s ill treatment of women, and actually that is a theme that surprise, surprise, often arises in my novels [laughs] because women have been treated appallingly in the hands of men for millennia. And so I’m trying to speak to a contemporary audience. So that novel, Disobedient particularly, is talking to a #MeToo generation. And it’s allowing to look at the present through a prism of the past, I think is what I’m trying to say.

Charlie: I’m glad I asked this question. I wondered if it was a bit too vague and open, but you guys have come up with some really interesting answers. Amanda.

Amanda: Yeah, I’ll just add in that for me, I write partially historical fiction because I love reading it. I love that feeling that you’re learning, but without being taught. Every time I close the last page of any historical fiction book, I usually head off to Google and start doing my own research. And I think that’s probably why I’ve written a couple of these multiple timeline novels where someone in the present goes back and researches events from the past, probably because I’m always doing that myself within reading. Yeah, it’s just such a fantastic genre for people to grow. But whilst being entertained and feeling, as Gill said, feeling the past.

Charlie: I could keep going on with conversation about all these, but I’m going to have to draw it back because we’re doing a different episode. So if you wrote another genre, what would it be? Gill.

Gill: I mean, I think anything I wrote, I would want it to be set in the past somehow; but I’m creeping slightly more modern in my latest two novels, I’ve got one coming out this summer and then another one that I’m working on at the moment. And I’m creeping up towards the 1960s and even 70s, which I think is still counted as historical, it certainly feels very different from today, when you don’t have mobile phones and Internet, it changes everything. But if I was to write another genre completely, I’d like to do maybe historical crime, I know Liz has covered this area, but if you can find the right real life crime that you can go back and investigate, that would be fun.

Charlie: I seem to remember reading something like 1970s. That decade is the cut off for historical fiction. So, yeah, [Gill laughs] I think it would still be there. Amanda.

Amanda: Charlie, I was just going to say, I saw on Twitter, someone asking at some point, [laughs] was the 1990s counted as historical fiction? And it made me feel really quite old [Amanda and Gill laugh].

Elizabeth: I think if it’s not in living memory for the individual who’s writing [Amanda: yeah], it certainly would seem historical to them.

Maggie: Perhaps it also depends how long it takes in this interminable process of a book coming out, and that it might be historical by the time it appears [all laugh]. But I think my other genre, to answer your question – I have written poetry for a long time. I have six published poetry collections, so I do have that genre. But while I’m waiting for my next historical novel to appear, someone at my book group was asking me what I’d been reading, and I told her about these fantastic books I’d been reading, and she said, ‘oh, that’s all too miserable, I want to read something joyful!’ And I thought, ‘gosh, I’d like to write something joyful.’ So I’ve just been dabbling with something joyful and uplifting and having a terrific amount of fun, although it may never see the light of day!

Charlie: Okay, so we’ll see if there’s another war in there, what you’ve done with that, or if there isn’t okay. All right.

Maggie: No more war [Charlie laughs]. No more war. But another strong woman. Yes. Can’t resist that.

Charlie: So if your book was to be turned into a film or a TV show, who would you want cast in it? And I’ll say, particularly for Liz’s benefit, you can choose any of your books.

Elizabeth: Well should I answer this first [laughs]?

Charlie: Go for it, Liz.

Elizabeth: My book has been made into a film. It was under option for ten years before they made the film. And people would always ask me, who’s your dream cast? And I never really had a definitive person when I was writing the book who would be my dream cast. But I had seen a terrific Danish film called A Royal Affair, way back. That’s about ten years ago, and it starred a very young Alicia Vikander. And I always thought, ‘oh, if she could play one of my protagonists, how amazing would that be?’ It’s happened. She is playing Catherine Parr in the film of my novel Queen’s Gambit. So that is an extraordinary dream come true. And she’s opposite Jude Law, who plays a really terrifying, fat and monstrous Henry VIII, which is cast against type, and he’s very good! But in my most recent novel, Disobedient, I really see the young actor who read the audiobook, who is called Emma D’Arcy, and they play Queen Rhaenyra in House Of The Dragon. And when I was writing, I had Emma in mind, and so – well, we’ll see!

Charlie: That’s some blooming good luck. That’s amazing. Yeah. Gill?

Gill: Well, I’m delighted to say that A Beautiful Rival has been optioned but following on Liz’s example, I know it might never happen, probably won’t, but it could be ten years, whatever. It follows Elizabeth and Helena through different ages, from their thirties through to their sixties so that is going to give some problems to casting directors. But one of my favourite actresses is Julianne Moore, and she’s a redhead like Elizabeth Arden, so I think she’d make a fantastic Elizabeth Arden. I do feel that obviously for Helena, it’s got to be somebody very dramatic looking and dark haired, possibly Penelope Cruz, possibly Salma Hayek. And actually, this is the thing that you learn is that it’s entirely up to them. You just hand your book over and they can do whatever they want with it. The first meeting I had with my producer – the producer that has optioned my novel – she was just sounding out how much trouble I was going to be, really. She said, ‘what would you think about this if you saw a script and it had changed your beginning or your end’. And I’m like, ‘no, seriously, just do what you like’. Because it’s a completely different art form, the film or a TV series from a book. So it’s their world. I’m not the expert.

Charlie: That’s true. And I mean you say about ages, ABBA, have recently been de-aged, haven’t they? [Gill: True.] Effectively, for their concert. So you’ll be all right. Maggie?

Maggie: I’ve never been able to really picture an actor or an actress because the picture that I have of my characters in my head is so clear. But The Prisoner’s Wife was optioned, and although it didn’t come to anything, it was optioned by the very, very beautiful Sam Heughan from Outlander. And I did have the opportunity to go and have dinner with him, which was probably one of the highlights of my publishing life [laughs]!

Charlie: I’m actually in the third book of Outlander at the moment, so that sounds pretty damn cool to me. Yeah. [Maggie laughs.] Amanda, do you have any ideas with yours?

Amanda: Well, I guess I’m the outlier here because I haven’t had any options taken yet. But I did want to say there’s any Hollywood directors out there listening, [Elizabeth laughs] phone lines are open! [Laughs.] Yeah, so I’m a bit like Maggie in that my characters are very much in my head. And I might Google sort of ‘blonde woman with curls from 1942’ and see what pops up and then print something out and stick it at the side of the computer. So, yeah, they’re very much inside me, internal. But I was thinking my modern protagonists are all… there’s Ellie and then there’s Libby, and there’s actually Maggie in the modern one. They’ve all got that slight bumbling to them. And I did think Jennifer Lawrence would be great for all of them. Change her hair colour for each one just to capture that slight bumbling feel that I like my modern characters to have.

Charlie: Yeah, she could certainly play all of them. And we had, what was it? Lindsay Lohan, many years ago did a couple of people. So, yeah, why not more?

Amanda: Yes [Charlie and Amanda laugh].

Charlie: So can you describe your latest book without talking about the plot at?

Amanda: No, no [Amanda and Charlie laugh, while Maggie says ‘gosh, what a question! Oh my goodness!]

Elizabeth: Okay, I’m going to have a go.

Charlie: Go on then, Liz.

Elizabeth: So Disobedient is set in Rome in 1611, and the focus is on a young 17-year-old, extremely talented painter, growing up in a family of boys and men – her mother is dead – her father and her three brothers. And she’s got more talent than all of them. And she knows it. And it creates all sorts of problems leading to things that I can’t describe without telling you the plot [laughs].

Charlie: I like that. I can see your brain there going through and working out what to say as you’re saying it. That’s brilliant [laughs]. Gill?

Gill: Okay, I’ll go for it. Two women who invented the modern beauty industry and have built their brand into global empires, and then finally they go head to head. That’s not the plot, is it? That’s just the beginning? [Elizabeth says, ‘no’, while Gill, Amanda, and Maggie laugh.]

Charlie: Yeah, yeah. A very simple premise.

Maggie: I’m going to give it a try. This is Acts Of Love And War in which the title gives you a very broad, generic outline! But this is a story about the way that women can be incredibly courageous, and do things they never thought they could do, undertake tasks that are self-sacrificing, but do it with humour and immense kindness. And partly they can do that because of their friends, because of the people that they make friends with who support them in what they do and allow them to find their own way in the world. There you are, you don’t know anything about it now, do you? [All laugh.]

Charlie: Amanda?

Amanda: So I would say The Moon Gate takes this object, this moon gate that you might find in gardens, in big houses or small, that’s often built of timber or stone, and it’s a circular gateway. And the idea of it is when you walk through, you’re reborn. So throughout The Moon Gate, in the 1940s Tasmania, 1970s Tasmania and London, and in 2005 London and Ireland, all these characters walk through moon gates of their own making and are reborn.

Charlie: I like that one. I like that a lot. Yeah. Okay, if you could have written someone else’s book, which book would you choose? Gill.

Gill: Disobedient [all laugh.] It’s amazing.

Elizabeth: Oh, my god, what a compliment!

Gill: Definitely.

Elizabeth: Oh, wow, Gill. I’m blown away by that, actually.

Maggie: Well, I’m just going to make you even more blown away, because I was thinking Disobedient as well!

Elizabeth: Oh, my God. I’m embarrassed [all laugh].

Maggie: But if we have to come up with another one, it’s one that was suggested to me by Gill, which is The Paris Wife, which is a pretty amazing book. But also, I have to say, Gill Paul’s books are all so difficult to choose between. But as she knows, The Manhattan Girls slightly pips it for me. So perhaps I would choose that as my other book.

Charlie: Liz.

Elizabeth: Yeah, the Algonquin Round Table. Very, very interesting set of people there. I think for me, I would go a bit off-piste with this. There’s a memoir by Maggie O’Farrell called I Am, I Am, I Am. And it’s a book, that, one, it’s got a very original way of telling her story. It’s almost like a series of standalone short stories that produce a narrative. And it’s intensely personal to her. And it sounds very macabre, but it’s not – it’s about all the almost near death experiences she’s had during her life. So these kind of moments and we’ve all had them, we just haven’t thought about them to the extent that she has. And there’s something so extraordinarily intimate; and she’s a beautiful writer. I’m a real fan of her writing. But this, I would love to try and write a memoir as good as that, my goodness!

Charlie: I would certainly read a memoir, definitely. And I like that you didn’t choose the easy option and say Gill or Maggie’s books. That’s good [Charlie and Elizabeth laugh]. Amanda?

Amanda: Well I’d probably have to say I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith [Elizabeth takes a quick, happily surprised, breath] because Cassandra’s… I mean, she’s probably one of the best narrators I’ve ever read, obviously from that famous first line with her feet in the kitchen sink. And she’s quirky, but she’s also relatable, like it’s the perfect coming of age novel in a beautiful setting. I love old houses, in this case, sort of tumbled down castles. I probably read it every year or so and I always laugh and cry and sort of gaze lovingly at the writing. So definitely that would be on my list.

Maggie: I think that’s a great hint to go back and reread it. I’m going to find it this afternoon!

Amanda: Worth it.

Charlie: We got a party here. I didn’t realise we’d started a readalong, but that sounds good [Amanda laughs]. So what is the weirdest thing anyone’s ever said about one of your books? Liz.

Elizabeth: The weirdest thing anyone said to me is… this was at my brother’s wedding and one of his friends said ‘well I know you’re successful now because I downloaded all your books on a pirate site’. And he thought I was supposed to be happy about that [Elizabeth and Gill laugh].

Charlie: Gill.

Gill: My niece, who’s young teens said to me, ‘are you actually famous then?’ she said, ‘like do people come up to you in the street and say, ‘are you Gill Paul?’ And I just thought that was a really good definition of fame and it’s never happened to me [laughs], so I’m definitely not.

Charlie: Fair enough. Maggie and Amanda?

Amanda: Actually it’s made me think of a recent bad review where a man said, ‘I don’t think this book is for the male of these species’. I had just like that morning received a long email from a Tasmanian. He’d read the book and he’d gone back to Banjo Patterson’s poetry, which features heavily, and all of the war history, and talked about his grandfather’s experiences. And I just thought, what a shame that we’re always battling that? Sorry to be so serious. But I just read one of Jenny Ashcroft’s latest books, Echoes Of Love, and before that I’d read Sebastian Fawkes, and honestly, they really felt the same, but you hold them up against one another and they looked very different because one writer was female and one was male. So that was really disappointing to read, but doesn’t bother me because I’ve heard from so many men. But it’s such a shame when a lot of historical fiction that has feeling and follows characters through really interesting times gets shelved in that way. You know, ‘not for the male of the species’. I think that’s just a terrible shame.

Gill: I agree. I think this fashion of having women in historical costume on the front cover is passing and categorising us in that way with the pretty face and the dress and slightly turned to one side or with their back to you. It’s just become such a trope in women’s historical fiction. But I think we’re getting beyond that. I hope so, anyway.

Amanda: I think so. I think it definitely feels that way, from a lot of men that I’ve heard from anyway, which is fantastic. It’s great to see some of the covers coming to life a bit more, capturing a bit more of the history, rather than just the dress. Not that the dress might not be important, but it’s great to capture more on a cover than just that.

Maggie: Picking up this cover question, I think I’m very pleased to see that A Beautiful Rival, I don’t think has a figure turned slightly away from you on the cover to one side. And Disobedient didn’t, did it? Except you put a little figure up at the top.

Elizabeth: Yeah, there is a little woman in it, but it’s kind of architectural and really bright colours. I was really thrilled with that cover because I felt it was breaking the mould a bit. Of course, as authors, we have nothing to do with our covers and what they look like. We are allowed to have input, but they have the last say, so you get what you’re given, really.

Maggie: Sometimes they don’t like our input at all, do they? [Laughs.]

Elizabeth: This is true [laughs].

Maggie: Going back to your question about, I don’t know what the weirdest thing anyone said to me, but I remember there being one day with The Prisoner’s Wife where I had an email, first of all, from a woman who said she’d just read it. And she’d left school at fifteen and previously hadn’t known anything about the Second World War, and now she was reading everything that she possibly could. And I thought that was wonderful. And the same day – I don’t now look at the bad reviews on Amazon – but the same day, I got a one star review on Amazon which said, ‘only read one chapter, says it all’. But it was all misspelt [Maggie, Elizabeth, and Amanda laugh]. I thought, well, actually, your spelling says it all!

Charlie: I liked where that went, that was interesting. What’s the best reader or fan encounter you’ve had?

Elizabeth: Oh, wow, well, I can come in here because I had, just, two days ago, I received an unbelievable letter from a reader who – I mean, I won’t go into it because it’s very personal – but she said that reading Disobedient made her able to feel that she could come to terms with a terrible, terrible thing that happened to her in her past. And I was so touched by that. And also, I wrote the book because I wanted people to read it and feel the same kind of catharsis I had when I was writing it. And to hear that… it was an actual letter in an envelope, which is quite unusual as well [laughs]. Yeah, I am very, very moved by that. And she did describe what had happened to her, and it was something truly horrific, and she’d been trying to write about it as well. So that was quite something.

Gill: That’s amazing, Liz, what a great letter to receive. I had one about a novel of mine called The Secret Wife, and this came from a man in Hungary. They’d had a huge rift in their family because he’d got together, in later life when his kids were grown up, with his first love, he’d gone and he’d left the family to go off with her. And his children didn’t speak to him for years. And then finally his daughter reached out a kind of olive branch, and he said to huh her, can I give you this book to read? And he gave her The Secret Wife, my novel, which covers a similar theme. And she said that she understood why he’d done what he did after reading the novel, and they got back together. I thought, that’s great; I don’t know if I want to become an apologist for men that leave their wives and families [Elizabeth laughs] to go off with their first love again [Amanda laughs], but I’m glad it worked out in their case [laughs].

Maggie: Well, I think one of my favourites is the one I had already mentioned about the woman for whom it had been an opening into a world that she didn’t know anything about. But there’s also the huge relief that you can have. Someone wrote to me about Acts Of Love And War and said that he was a Spanish Civil War specialist. And I thought, ‘oh, my gosh! What’s he going to have found?’ Because I wrote it in lockdown, I couldn’t go to Spain. All of my research was book research and online; and it was an enormous relief to me when he said that it was the best book about the Spanish Civil War he’d ever read written by a non-Spaniard. So that was a massive relief [laughs].

Amanda: They were all really lovely stories. Mine’s sort of very close to home. So I live in a little village in south-west Ireland, and everyone knows everyone and, well, everything about you [laughs]. But anyway, there was a knock on the door one day, and there was a woman there with a copy of The Moon Gate. And she said, ‘I live just over the mountain there. And I couldn’t believe this book was written over the hill. So I walked over it to come and get it signed’. It was really lovely [laughs].

Elizabeth: That’s gorgeous.

Maggie: That’s lovely.

Elizabeth: Lovely story. All lovely stories, aren’t they?

Amanda: Lovely.

Charlie: It’s nice to get them as well, and they’ll be there for people to listen to, which is the idea. So this is something that I think Gill almost touched on – and I don’t know, you guys might have something to answer this, I thought I’d give it a go. Have you ever been mistaken for another author. [Elizabeth laughs.] Liz?

Elizabeth: Yeah! On social media! [Charlie laughs.] So my first novel is called Queen’s Gambit, and someone called Walter Tevis wrote a novel called The Queen’s Gambit; I think it was published in 1987, or 1984 even. It was sometime before. So on social media, I sometimes get people, particularly after the Netflix series of the Queen’s Gambit with Anya Taylor-Joy about the chess playing woman, I get people like, ‘really? Oh, my God. Wow. You wrote The Queen’s Gambit!’ And I always say, ‘no, not that Queen’s Gambit [laughs]. You think I’m more famous than I am [laughs].

Charlie: Yeah, that might change in June [Charlie and Amanda laugh.] Maggie.

Maggie: I haven’t ever been mistaken for another author, but many, many years ago, I used to be a BBC documentary producer, and I remember going into work one day and everybody going, ‘oh, congratulations! Wonderful play that you had on television last night!’ And I had to say, ‘no, that’s another Maggie Brookes’, who I have never managed to actually track down and find since. Strange.

Charlie: Gill.

Gill: When I wrote The Secret Wife, an author called Kerry Fisher had a book out called The Secret Child, I think. And we kept getting each other’s Amazon reviews so she’d get one saying, ‘really great insight into the Romanov royal family’, and I’d get ones for hers as well. So, yeah, that went on for a while. But in real life, I get people coming up to me saying, wondering if I was in Bucks Fizz [Elizabeth laughs]. Seemingly I look like one of those singers from Bucks Fizz! Don’t know how to take that!

Maggie: Well, I think that’s lovely because the only thing that people ever say to me is, ‘oh, you really remind me of my auntie’ [all laugh].

Charlie: Amanda?

Amanda: I have not [laughs] been mistaken for another author. Haven’t really been mistaken for anyone. But actually, when we moved here to Kerry, because there’s always the gossip train, and we’d moved from Norway, and we’re both geologists, and everyone would come up and they’d be like, ‘oh, yep, Norwegians who are Physicists’ or there’d be this whole story. We’d learn about who we were, where we’d come from and what we’d done. And it was always Chinese whispers. So we used to love hearing what people thought. That still happens a little bit.

Charlie: Australian, Norwegian, Irish. Geologist, then. Yeah [laughs].

Amanda: Yeah [laughs].

Maggie: Novelist.

Amanda: Yes!

Charlie: Okay, so what is the best interview or event you’ve ever had, excluding this podcast?

Amanda: I would say my podcast with you, Charlie, on The Moon Gate, actually; I wrote and said that Mum had listened to it and said, it’s the best podcast she’d [listened to]. I mean, you were great. The questions were so… that was such a deep dive. And I’ve heard from lots of Tasmanians, particularly, because it was great talking to you about that history because I couldn’t get enough of it into the novel. It was great to deep dive a little more into that.

Charlie: Well, thank you. That is lovely to hear. Gill.

Gill: I was lucky enough to go on breakfast television in Canada talking about my novel, Another Woman’s Husband. And it just happened because I’d recently commentated on the wedding of Harry and Meghan at Windsor Castle for the BBC World service. And then I happened to be in Canada and I had this book out, it was about Wallace Simpson and the abdication crisis back then – slight similarities between them and Harry and Meghan, which I won’t go into here – but I was invited onto this breakfast TV show and it just became hilarious talking about what it would be like to be royal in the modern day and not being able to do your own supermarket shopping. And it was a pair of commentators whose names, unfortunately, I can’t remember now, but a guy and a woman. And it just turned into this madcap debate about whether we would enjoy being royal or not. And I just kept having to pinch myself, I’m actually on television! [Laughs.] I don’t do this all the time, by the way, but it was very exciting.

Elizabeth: Well, I’ve never been on TV, but a big high point for me recently was being on Front Row, Radio 4 Front Row. I was interviewed by Samira Ahmed, and that was terrific. It was a bit of a pinch me as well. Yeah. It was an ambition of mine to be on that show, and so it felt very, very good. And she was delightful.

Maggie: I think, actually, Gill’s got a story that can top this one. But I did have a very bizarre interview once when The Prisoner’s Wife had just come out in its Dutch version, and I was invited onto the online Antwerp Book Festival and had this very strange interview with this chap whose first language, was obviously not English, and he clearly hadn’t read the book [laughs]. And so it was going all over the place in sort of strange… I had to keep saying, ‘well, no, it wasn’t quite like that’. But I think you’ve had an even more bizarre experience than that, Gill, haven’t you, recently?

Gill: I was recently on Spanish national radio talking about The Manhattan Girls, but the presenter was asking me the question in English and I couldn’t quite hear. It was a bad line, but we were live, so I just had to try and guess what she was saying, answer it, and then it was being translated back into Spanish at the same time. And I got to the end of it and I thought, ‘oh, no, I didn’t say anything interesting at all’. You want to be sparky and fun, but it’s just too hard when you’re being translated simultaneously on live radio, it really is!

Elizabeth: Really stressful. Wow.

Gill: It was, it was.

Charlie: I’m going to add to Amanda’s answer, because Amanda, I think… oh, gosh, was it a couple of months ago now? Time moves very quickly – you had a lovely article in, I want to say, The Irish Times, that might be wrong, about the house that you renovated as well. So I’d like to point people to that if they can get the information. I think it was online, wasn’t it? So yeah.

Amanda: Yep.

Maggie: Well, we’ve got an advantage over your listeners, Charlie, that we can see Amanda on Zoom and we can see a bit of her house in the background [laughs]. Great colour!

Amanda: Thank you. Yes, this is my favourite colour, it’s called Heathcliff. It’s made by an Irish brand [editor’s note: Colourtrend], and I’ve put it in quite a lot of rooms. And my husband has said, ‘that’s enough Heathcliff’ [all laugh].

Maggie: You’ve got to have pink in the last room, have you?

Amanda: [Laughs] yeah. So I’ve managed to hold onto it but it is in the sitting room as well. It’s very nice.

Charlie: Next podcast episode will be a tour of Amanda’s house. You’re all invited back! [All laugh.]

Maggie: Oh, yes!

Charlie: So, what is the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Elizabeth: I used to belong to this writers group before I was published, and we’d all get together once a week and read our work to each other and everything. And there was a guy there who was much more successful than everybody else. He’d been a screenwriter and had things made and stuff. And he said, ‘what did he do? He wrote 1000 words a day.’ Best advice I’ve ever had. Because it’s that regular routine. And that was really, really the tipping point for me; after I started applying that was when I wrote the book that got published, etcetera. The rest is history, as they say. Yeah, write 1000 words a day – manageable, and you build up a good body of writing quite quickly.

Gill: I think I would say… I mean, there are so many different practical tips for getting great words down onto paper and shaping plots and so forth, but there’s something about being an author that you need to keep yourself very grounded. And one of the ways that I try to do that is never compare yourself to other authors, because every single author has a different journey. And we all put the good bits up on social media, you know, ‘yay. I’ve just got this deal,’ or whatever, but you have to just hang on to your own experience and your own writing, and just with each book, write the best book that you can possibly do without looking round and looking over your shoulder and wondering what other people are doing.

Maggie: I think that’s tremendously good advice. Yeah, it’s too damaging to compare yourself and shouldn’t be done. I mean, I think as a creative writing tutor, which I was for many years, I think I used to say to people, you’ve basically got to do what a sports person has to do to be good or a musician. You’ve got to look at the way that other people do it and analyse how they do it well. And then you’ve just got to practise and practise and practise! But I think the best piece of advice, perhaps, I ever saw, was the writer, whose name I’ve forgotten, who wrote the series Father Ted. And he said, ‘the writer’s best friend is the drawer. If you’ve written something and then you put it in the drawer and let it rest or go back to it a little bit later, then you can see what needs to be done with it’. Because obviously the 1000 words a day is what gets you there, but then you’ve got to go back and polish it and make it good.

Amanda: Frantically writing down all these [laughs] bits of advice, keep me going. I totally agree with Liz there, about the 100 words a day or to keep going, going, going to the end. And that’s what I did with the first book, I didn’t look back over my shoulder. And I started doing that a little bit and I noticed that things slowed down. There was blank pages and blinking curses and mayhem. So I definitely think that that is such a great tip for anyone out there, whatever stage you’re at. Recently, I started doing something else which I’ve been telling everyone about because it’s been so useful, and hopefully it might be useful for some listeners, is that I just started an Excel document, called Compost, and the idea was to put an idea into that every day, and I kind of haven’t, but I will add a line or two every so often. And I just looked this morning and there’s 100 lines or so of ideas. And it brings me back to the question about what genre would you write in if you didn’t do historical fiction. And they are every genre and every idea, and there might just be a little snippet from a character or a scene or a whole idea, one sentence pitch for a novel. I hope it would be quite useful, as I go forward. And it’s really nice to jot them down because the sort of thing where you wake up in the middle of the night and you think of something great and then you forget to put it down the next day and then it’s gone, you’re like, ‘I had that idea. It was going to be stratospheric.’ So you know you’ve got them, that you can go back to and look at. So I’d really recommend an ideas compost.

Maggie: I think if you ever get a bit hard up, Amanda, you could probably auction those ideas [Amanda laughs]. I think there’d be a big market for them.

Amanda: Yes, I will definitely remember that, Maggie, put that on my list of ideas, actually, yep!

Charlie: They’re all amazing answers, I like those. I think it was Amanda who said something that was the start of an answer for this question, I’m going to stop rambling and say the question. Can you remember any particularly interesting fact or just something that interested you, that you discovered in your research for any of your books that couldn’t be included in your book? Gill.

Gill: So in A Beautiful Rival, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden are both extraordinary, multifaceted, incredibly strong women. Not necessarily always very nice or kind to other people, but there’s a story about Helena when she was 94-years-old, and this is beyond the scope of my novel, but thieves broke into her Manhattan penthouse apartment, tied up her staff, and came into the bedroom where she was in bed. And she’d managed, when she heard the ruckus, to slip the key to her safe down her cleavage, which is probably the best place when there’s three young men rampaging your flat. And they threatened her, they tied her up, tried to force her to hand over the safe key, and she said, ‘I’m an old woman. You can kill me, but I’m not going to let you rob me’. And so finally, they only got away with a couple of $100, and immediately, Helena called the police and then called a press conference to tell the world about it. And she was 94 years old. And I just thought, that’s a magnificent story. I was very sad I couldn’t include that!

Elizabeth: What a woman. I suppose something I discovered way back when I was researching for Queen’s Gambit, researching Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine Parr. Henry VIII did not have syphilis. People seem to still think that, and really, nearly all the historians have refuted that by now. There’s absolutely not a jot of evidence that he had syphilis. And all his medical records were meticulously kept and put down. And there were common treatments for syphilis at the time, mercury being one of them, and he was never treated with that. So the likelihood that he had syphilis is extremely small.

Charlie: Goodness. Okay, that’s something I’ve learned.

Maggie: I had decided to end Acts Of Love And War at the point where my heroine, who has been a volunteer aid worker, saving the lives of thousands of children, at the point where she leaves Spain. But at the end of the Spanish Civil War, as Franco took over the country, there were millions of refugees, probably a million refugees, who crossed the border into France, illegally in some places, legally in others. And the reading that I did – where you go off on a bit of a tangent and you have to pull yourself back – about the horrific way that the French authorities treated them. They separated the men and the women. They put the men into camps. This was January and February 1939, and they put them into camps on the beaches, just surrounded by barbed wire with no huts or blankets or food. And I was trying to think how I could put in this really appalling way that the French government treated the Spanish, and I couldn’t think of a way to do it, so that’s what got left out.

Charlie: Amanda?

Amanda: Yeah, Charlie, I think we’ve talked about before that I’m a chronic over-writer [laughs], so lots gets cut out. An awful lot gets cut out. A couple of hundred thousand words or something crazy. So there’s always things that vanish. But actually, to answer this question, I’m going to mention the book I’m writing now, which is set in Norway, and I’d planned it all set in Narvik, from the Battle Of Narvik, two or three years after that. And I was doing a lot of research, going to the Narvik War Museum and looking around there and little expeditions, and it was just a lot that I couldn’t quite put all the pieces together. And actually, when we lived in Norway, it was near water and some islands off the coast. I suddenly had this thought that occupied Norway is fascinating all over. There doesn’t need to be a big battle. So I changed the setting to the islands, obviously a fictional island, but very similar, and that kind of unlocked the book, and so the writing began. So sometimes I think for writers listening, you can take all that knowledge that you’ve learned and all that research and maybe apply it to another slightly different setting, for example, to get you on your way.

Maggie: That’s fascinating. The overwriting question is also interesting. I know when I was first taken on by my agent and she said, ‘yes, I love this book, The Prisoner’s Wife, and I’m going to take it, but could you go away and cut 30,000 words out of it?’ I went, [in a voice of disbelief] ‘30,000 words?’ [Laughs.] So you’ve obviously had to cut more than that, Amanda.

Amanda: Yes [laughs], I don’t think I’ll even say, but yes, it was, say for The Moon Gate, there was a lot of words cut, quite a few drafts in. Once the third timeline had been woven in it was probably a couple of hundred thousand words. And I got it down to, it’s about 120,000 words. So it’s still a sizable-ish novel. I love to weave the books with threads. and threads, and threads, and you end up with this big blanket, and you’re like, you really only needed a scarf [Elizabeth laughs, then Gill laughs, which starts Amanda laughing too]. So I think that’s sort of what happened there. But I love the way that when you take all those words out, the footprint still remains. You probably found the same with when you cut a lot, there’s just that little lovely little bit of richness that stayed there without being overwhelming, I hope.

Charlie: Okay, what bookish event or personal book related event – that’s not English, but hopefully you get what I mean – are you looking forward to within the next couple of years?

Gill: In September, the Historical Novel Society are having a conference in Devon at Dartington Hall, which I’m on a panel, speaking about books being made into films, that process, and I’m really looking forward to that. And I do recommend the Historical Novel Society conferences – you meet a lot of new people, and Dartington Hall’s gorgeous.

Elizabeth: I’m going to be there too, actually.

Gill: Are you? Yay!

Maggie: Well, if you two are going, I’m going to come anyway, whether you like it or not!

Gill: Brilliant. Brilliant.

Elizabeth: So, for me, June. I’m looking forward to June, and you’re probably listening to this. In June – 21st of June, is the release of Firebrand, which is the film of Queen’s Gambit in the cinemas. That’s the American release. The British release will be around that time. So I’ll be going to the premiere which is going to be so exciting! [Gill cheers.] Yeah. And there’s a tie in edition of Queen’s Gambit that’s a new edit. I’ve kind of tidied it up a bit, and it’s going to be called Firebrand, with a new cover and a new look. I’m really excited about all of that.

Gill: I’m really excited about seeing the Firebrand film. That’d be amazing. I should have mentioned there, by the way, Charlie, that I do have a new novel out on the 29th August, and it’s called Scandalous Women. It’s about Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susann, and the incredibly poor treatment of women writing popular fiction in the 1960s, misogynist publishers, etcetera. So I’m really looking forward to that coming out. I hope that will be fun.

Elizabeth: That’s fantastic.

Maggie: Can’t wait to read it, Gill, and what I’d like to know, Liz, is have you got a frock yet for the premiere?

Elizabeth: No. [Laughs] no! I’m not really a dressy-uppy person, I’m all about comfort. But I’m going to have to do a little bit of… I don’t know. I have no idea. I’m going to have to work that one out [laughs].

Amanda: Liz, did you see any of the filming?

Elizabeth: I did, I went on set, yeah, a couple of times, which was just terrific, really, really fun. They really involved me throughout the process,which was lovely. I gather that doesn’t always happen. But the producer invited me to dinner with the director, and we really got on well, so, you know, it was lovely. I felt very privileged that they involved me to the extent they did.

Charlie: I’ve seen it – well, I don’t know, maybe it will change – but I saw on Wikipedia, it’s going to be on Amazon Prime or something.

Elizabeth: It will be eventually on Amazon Prime, yeah.

Charlie: Ahh. I was crossing my fingers that it might be, like, there as well as the cinema, because I thought, if I can sit in my house and watch it instead of being at the cinema and going, ‘everyone shush. This is Liz Fremantle film, shush!’ [Elizabeth and Charlie laugh.]

Elizabeth: No, well, it’ll be after the cinema release, presumably. I think that’s generally what they do. I don’t really know anything about the scheduling. I just know they gave me that date for the American release.

Charlie: Cinema is then. So I think, yeah, Gill, what you said about your next novel that’s coming out, everybody else?

Maggie: Have no news at the moment, but I’m hoping to have before June!

Charlie: Yeah, I’m working on something called The Sinners, which is another… well, you never really know with the title, because it may be that the title is suddenly deemed unsuitable for the particular market at the particular time. But that’s another set in Italy, in Rome. In a remote place outside of Rome. And it’s another story about a real life woman, as is my go to, I think that’s scheduled for twenty twenty… Where are we now? 2024, 2025, probably spring, early summer. But I’ve got to deliver it first [laughs]. Yeah, I need to get my thousand words down today.

Charlie: Amanda, how is your Norwegian novel going in this context?

Amanda: It is going. It’s growing [laughs]. It’s quite big already. It’s scheduled for publication in 2025. So this year is a big writing year for me. I sort of have to level up and get that done and down on paper. It’s been a fascinating novel to research; I’m working on the modern day at the moment and it’s lovely once you’ve got the framework of the story behind you and the modern day protagonists that are uncovering things that you sort of know, but sometimes they surprise you. So I’m finally in the flow; it’s taken a while to get there.

Charlie: Fantastic. In which case, then, everybody – and Maggie, we’re going to have to keep a lookout for your next work – thank you all for being here today and for your support of my podcast. As you must know by now, I think all of your books are fantastic. And I’m really, really ‘humbled’, I think would be the word, that you all agreed to say ‘yes’ and came on here today. Thank you very much, it’s been amazing. And I need to say thank you listeners for your support and your downloads too, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode.

[Recorded later] Please do share this episode with anyone you think would be interested in it. The Worm Hole Podcast milestone episode 1 was recorded on the 15th of January and published on the 17th of June 2024. Music and production by Charlie Place.

Photo credit: Gill Paul, JP Masclet, Amanda Geard, Lyn Gregory

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