Meet the novelist: Pam Howes on technology, talking to herself, and too much coffee

Part of our series meeting novelists and finding out about their writing habits…

Time to meet novelist Pam Howes, who has made her name writing an astonishing range of historical fiction sagas, set in the north of England. As well as that, she’s also dabbling with short stories, poetry, and tales of a fictional rock’n’roll band…

How would you describe yourself?

I’m a mum of three, grandma of seven, great-grandma of two, mum to one pug named Lennon, and partner to one musician. That’s the domestic things sorted. I guess you could say I’m getting on a bit in years, but I refuse to ever slow down and accept that.

I’m always busy with the music side of our life. As roadie to my partner at his gigs, I arrange musical reunion nights with old friends and book bands. I love getting together with a crowd and going to live shows, especially to see Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney. I just love people and being with them, as being an author is quite solitary at times.

Where do you prefer to write?

I prefer to write at home and I have a very nice office where I do all my emails and catch up on social media. However, later in the day, I tend to make myself comfortable on the bed with the laptop on my knee and Lennon at my feet. This is probably because I consume a lot of coffee during the day and am wide awake when most people are asleep. My mind is in overdrive, and I find writing flows as scenes develop in my overactive brain.

I occasionally pop into a café, just to eavesdrop more than anything. It’s surprising how many ideas and character traits come from listening to people having a good gossip.

Do you write notes in longhand or do you go straight to the keyboard?

Straight to the keyboard these days, but in days of yore, when I started to write my first novel in the late nineties, I wrote it all on notepads, then I typed it on a word processor. This was a long time before I had my first computer, and I had no idea how to type, so it was trial, and error and the thing only printed out one page at a time. Can you imagine how long it all took? But I persevered and worked on the printed pages, teaching myself to edit and went back into the document to input those edits. I think a lot of trees lost their lives during this process. There was no big screen to check things on, just a narrow strip where you could see two lines of your written words. It was very hard work to say the least.

Read more: Meet the novelist – Julia Crouch

If you didn’t write historical fiction, what would you explore instead?

Definitely crime. I dabble a bit, but sagas are supposed to be nice, within reason, so I can’t have anyone too nasty, although I’ve had the odd murderer and drunken villain to spice things up a bit. I love creating that type of character and would absolutely love to do a crime series.

What’s the strangest thing you do to inspire yourself when you’re running on empty?

If I’m flagging, I’ll go for a drive somewhere nice and talk to myself. Having two characters conversing and bringing a scene to life in my head works well. I often wondered, before the onset of hands-free phones, what people sitting in the car next to me at traffic lights thought when they saw a mad woman talking and shouting to herself while waiting for the lights to change. Now you see people talking seemingly to themselves all the time!

How do you beat the distractions when you need to crack on with your writing?

I really don’t have many distractions as all my family are grown and have long flown the nest, and my partner is always busy and rarely gets under my feet while I’m working. He makes great coffee when he’s around. I ignore the phone if I’m in the zone. So consequently, if I’m on a writing day, which is most days, the work comes first and everything else must wait. I feel for fellow authors who have kids to see to and school runs to do. I couldn’t have done this job when my kids were younger.

How many of your characters are based on real people?

Quite a lot of them are based on real people, especially the music-based stories. I have several friends in the music business, and they make great characters. Even though most of them are getting on a bit, they’re still a very lively bunch. Some characters I’ve had to invent, but in the saga stories, the women are easy to write as I just base them on my late mum, nana and aunties.

Do your friends and enemies recognise themselves in your books?

Oh yes, quite often. I pinch their names too, which they love. I’ve not bumped off any enemies yet but I have a plan, so watch this space…

Image shows pug dog sitting on a sofa

Lennon, part of the team

Do you eat and drink while you’re writing?

Just coffee when I take a quick break and I share a daily blueberry muffin with Lennon because we’re a team.

What about playing music when you work? Or do you prefer peace and quiet?

I usually have music on in the background on the jukebox. I can’t stand absolute silence.

Are there any strict rules you set for plots or characters?

Not really. I usually have a rough idea of the timeline span in each series. The main thing I like to do is if the first book in a series is set in WWII is to finish the series by moving the final book onwards to the fifties or sixties, so I can throw in some good music and memories from those decades. I almost always manage to squeeze a mention of The Beatles and that famous meeting of John and Paul in July 1957. You’d be surprised how many different stories I’ve managed to work that one into.

Will the internet and people’s shortened attention spans ever mean the end of the novel?

I don’t think so. There will always be readers. And people who can’t see anything on telly that they like tend to turn to a good book. I have to say for myself, I love audio books and that could be an alternative for many who may want to get on with something else while they are being read a story. It wasn’t something I was into for a long time, until I had to listen to the samples of my own books to choose the narrator. I found I loved listening to them bringing my characters to life, all the accents they must input, and they do it so well. I’ve since listened to loads of books I’d already read and I just love it.

What do you wish you’d known before you started writing books?

I never for one minute thought I would ever become so hooked on writing. The only thing I possibly regret is not doing a typing course at school or night school, but it was the last type of job I ever wanted as a teenager, so couldn’t be bothered. Knowing what I know now, it would have speeded up the process at the beginning. It’s worth a thought, although everyone uses a keyboard of one sort or another these days, so I can’t see a novice writer having those problems at all.

What would you advise eager new writers?

Never give up. Just keep at it, because one day someone will look at your work and maybe be interested in signing you up. But the most important thing is to make sure you get your work edited to a good and readable standard before you even think about submitting it. Or it’ll end up with being pushed to one side after all your hard work. It really is worth the effort and small cost to do that.

  • To find out more about Pam Howes and to buy her books:
  • National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) takes place every November. It began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days.

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About Sam Harrington-Lowe
Sam is Silver's founder and editor-in-chief. She's largely responsible for organising all the things, but still finds time to do the odd bit of writing. Not enough though. Send help.

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