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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, author Wanda Whiteley talks about her career, and what inspired her new historical fiction book, The Goldhanger Dog.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed Wanda Whiteley about her life and career, her creative writing process, and what inspired the characters in her new book, The Goldhanger Dog.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Wanda Whiteley on The Table Read
Wanda Whiteley

I’m an ex-Harper Collins publishing director who set up a critiquing service for writers: After 30 years of helping other people get their books published, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel, and see what pain they willingly chose to go through!

When did you first WANT to write a book?

When I was pretty small. My dad used to bring home reams of computer print-outs from work so I had endless paper to work on.

When did you take a step to start writing?

When I was a publisher, wanting to commission a memoir of a street kid in the 1950s, I ended up offering myself as a ghost on the project. I liked being a jobbing writer, working from hours of taped interviews. Ten years on, I was still ghosting and helping other authors with their projects. But then lockdown happened and a mad idea took hold. What if I put my paid work on hold and tried my hand at fiction?

I had an idea for a book, a historical fantasy incorporating the character of a turnspit dog, and I thought: Just get on with it. I’d spent all those years helping other writers improve their craft, so why not put my money where my mouth is and have a go myself?

How long did it take you to complete your book from the first idea to release?

Around three years. I completed my first draft in about 8 or 9 months.

What made you want to write The Goldhanger Dog?

I came across an account of Mary Tudor’s botched escape via the Blackwater Estuary, a tale full of spies, disguises, and a sea captain desperate to catch the tide, and it captured my interest. I was raised on smuggling adventure stories – Jamaica Inn, Moonfleet etc. – and the Blackwater is the perfect backdrop for an adventure novel, with its hidden marshy inlets and creeks as well as the haunting mists and birdcalls. Osea island and its causeway is a perfect dramatic spot, with the tide coming in faster than a man can run and quicksand to trap the unwary.

What were your biggest challenges with writing The Goldhanger Dog?

The very particular challenge for writers of historical fiction is not to let the historical backdrop take over. It’s so easy to stuff in all the gems you’ve researched, but not always the right thing to do. Your main characters – in this case a girl with a strange bond with animals and the turnspit dog she rescues – need to take centre stage. They are a pair of misfits who are persecuted by the locals, who have to seek sanctuary with Princess Mary Tudor at a scary tumultuous time when the succession is uncertain, but whose conflicts and trials should be able to engage a reader in whatever era they may be set.

Who or what inspired you when creating your protagonist?

Turnspit the dog is very much inspired by my rather thin-skinned cross little dog, Hazel. Dela, who rescues Turnspit, is based on a few strong-charactered female friends I have the pleasure of knowing.

Who or what inspired you when creating your antagonist?

The Goldhanger Dog by Wanda Whiteley on The Table Read
The Goldhanger Dog

My sixteenth-century antagonist, a local landowner called Sir John Tallon, was inspired by a nasty piece of work, Sir John Darcy, who is buried at St Osyth’s Priory. Darcy cut off the nose of the Earl of Oxford’s mistress for his own sport.

What is the inciting incident of The Goldhanger Dog?

Dela helps a spy bring a message to Princess Mary, and once her part in this is discovered, it becomes too dangerous for her to go back to her village, Goldhanger.

What is the main conflict of The Goldhanger Dog?

Emotionally, the main conflict lies in Dela’s reluctance to accept or embrace her gift. Historically, it is in the struggle to help Mary gain her rightful throne.

Did you plot The Goldhanger Dog in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

Good question. It was planned. I couldn’t have held my head up as writing instructor otherwise! It was agony planning, and replanning, when you just want to get stuck in, but it saves oodles of energy and time in the long run. I think one of the best things about my book is how tightly plotted it is.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Goldhanger Dog need?

I’m lucky because some of my friends are professional editors. One of them, Katy Carrington, was such a good ‘what if’ nitpicker. She revolutionised my final draft. But my husband helped me the most in all the early drafts. He writes too (so he owed me!)

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Just get on with it, take a few classes if any are available locally (which will help with all the technical stuff like ‘point of view’ and ‘show don’t tell’). It’s a thoroughly rewarding, immersive occupation. My mother-in-law wrote her first novel at the age of 84, and she’s now onto her third. It’s never too late.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I’m researching Katherine Parr and her time at Chelsea Place. I think this is a possible, but I’m going to take my time. I have a book two, featuring Dela and Turnspit, already planned which takes place around the time of the Wyatt Rebellion, but that will depend on whether book one takes off.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Definitely. Although I usually counsel my clients – ‘Don’t give up your day job. Writing books doesn’t earn you a living,’ – it’s still something very rewarding to do.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

The Goldhanger Dog by Wanda Whiteley is published by Lammas Publishing on 26th May 2022.

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