Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on British Author Celia Rees. Up until now, she’s written mainly YA, with over twenty books published in the UK and worldwide. This is her first Adult novel.
I asked her where people can find her work (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!):
My YA titles: Witch Child, Sorceress, Pirates! Sovay and The Wish House were published in the US by Candlewick Press and Bloomsbury US. I’m not sure they are still available in bookstores but they should be available on Amazon and in libraries.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I have a website: www.celiarees.com . I’m on Twitter, @CeliaRees , Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/theofficialceliareesfanpage , Instagram celiarees1 , Pinterest https://www.pinterest.co.uk/celiarees
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from [newest release/spotlighted release]?
I write mostly historical fiction. Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook is no exception. It is set in Germany immediately after the Second World War. I like to explore periods in history that interest me but what I really love is exploring the lives of those living at the time through my characters, particularly girls and women. The title gives the clue as to what readers can expect: history, cookery with a liberal spicing of espionage.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I spend a long time researching, both before and during the writing. I went back into my own family history and spent time in the Imperial War Museum in London reading the letters and papers of women who had similar experiences to my aunt who went to Germany after the Second World War. I always researched locations. Part of the novel is set in London, so my daughter accompanied me on various research expeditions. We went on a Spy Walk and nearly got arrested looking for a dead letter box behind Brompton Oratory. My most poignant moment was visiting Kensal Green Cemetery to lay lilies on the grave of Christine Granville aka Krystyna Skarbeck, the SOE agent who was my model for Dori, a character in the novel.
Food is really important in the book, so are recipes and cookery books. I travelled to Europe, following Edith, my main character, to Germany. I also went to Italy, following the journeys made in the book. Everywhere I went, I collected menus, made notes on food, collected recipes from those I met along the way and acquired cookery books for reference – specific to place and period.
What was the inspiration for Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook ? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
My initial idea came from a cookery book that I found among my mother’s effects. It was old, the cloth cover stained with old spillages. Interleaved between the pages were recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines going back to the Second World War. There were also handwritten recipes. I recognized my mother’s writing, my aunt’s and what must have been my grandmother’s. I found no letters so these recipes were the only surviving written connection between them. I knew that was something I wanted to write about but didn’t know how. I kept the book but shelved the idea. Years later, I was in the Imperial War Museum in London, looking at an exhibition about espionage in Germany after the Second World War. The thought came: ‘What if Aunty Nancy was a spy?’ Recipes would be the perfect vehicle for sending messages, especially among women… Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook was born.
This book took me seven years to write, went through nearly as many drafts and a change of agent but I wouldn’t give up on it. I owed it to my aunt.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
I love all my characters, even the bad ones, or I couldn’t write about them.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I’m interested in history. I like to explore possible pasts, make the people come alive. I hope my readers do, too.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Don’t give up!
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
New England was central to Witch Child, my first historical novel and to its sequel, Sorceress.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I am working on a sequel to Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook. It doesn’t have a title yet but it tells the story of Dori, one the characters in the book.
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
I swim, walk, do yoga and practice meditation. I like to cook, read books, watch films and box sets on TV. I like to travel and visit art galleries and museums. You never know where the next idea will come from!
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
I can’t listen to music, or anything, when I’m writing but each book has a playlist of songs or music that for some reason I found inspirational. With historical novel, playing traditional songs, music of the time, gets me into the period and character.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
I have a grey tabby and white kitten called Lyra who ‘helps’ by climbing all over me and marching across the keyboard. So far, she hasn’t equalled my daughter’s cat, Luna, who batted the mouse into a bowl of water.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re writing or editing a piece of work?
I need several mugs coffee in the morning and several mugs of tea in the afternoon.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
It’s all challenging, just different challenges. You just have to keep going and be prepared to ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again’, as the song says.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your writing career?
Not to listen to other people and trust myself.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
Writing is a lonely business and I’d urge writers to join an organization where they will meet others like themselves. In the UK we have the Society of Authors, who help, advise and organize national and local meetings. We also have the much more informal Scattered Authors Society https://scatteredauthors.org – A network of children’s writers who share the highs and lows of publishing, along with quite a lot of cake.
Celia, Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer so many of our questions!