Thorne Moore has always been a writer despite her old headmaster’s urgings to study law, but overnight success eluded her until a few years ago, when Welsh publishing house Honno seized on her first novel
A Time for Silence.
She studied for a degree in history, and later acquired that law degree with the Open University – but don’t tell the former head!
She worked in a library, ran a restaurant and made miniature furniture before becoming a full-time writer.
Raised in Luton, she now lives and writes in a remote farmhouse in rural Pembrokeshire, and until a few years ago she helped run the Narberth Book Fair, one of the most popular literary events in Wales.
Lynne: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Thorne. I’m sure you’d rather be writing than answering questions!Thorne: It really isn’t hard to tickle an author’s vanity. Thank you for the invitation.
Lynne: Writing is a pretty solitary occupation, at least in the creative stage, before editors and publishers get involved. In your case, is it fair to say that the restrictions the pandemic has placed on us all have posed less of a problem than for many people? Or will you be glad and relieved when things finally go back to normal – whatever that turns out to be?
Thorne: I live in an isolated cottage in the country. I’m a carer, I’m self-employed and work from home and I let other people do the bothersome shopping for me. It means that most of the time, I pretty much live in isolation anyway, so I did assume, when the first lockdown happened, that I would hardly even notice. But I did. It put a complete damper on me. I had a serious writing block for about three months. Then something clicked and I was off again, but maybe it was the interesting times that prompted me to change direction so completely, from domestic noir to science fiction with my latest novel Inside Out. If I wasn’t allowed to travel more than a few miles, why not break out with a journey to the other end of the solar system?
I think I, like everyone else, am just longing for it all to be over. I am not desperate for a trip to Ibiza, but I do want to be able to go and visit friends and relatives without dressing up like an alien, and even give them a hug without setting curtains twitching. And on the writing front, it would be handy to have a clearer idea of what life is going to be, before writing about it.
Lynne: Once a writer, always a writer, they say – and you’ve been a writer since you were five years old. But you pursued several other career paths before writing moved centre stage. Was the writing always there in the background?
Thorne: The writing was definitely always there. It was the reason I didn’t pursue a ‘proper’ career in law as my headmaster recommended. I was going to be a writer, not a lawyer. I shudder to think how wealthy I would be now, if I’d taken his advice instead of investing all my dreams in a draughty garret, a quill pen and possibly an ending similar to The Death of Chatterton. All my other ‘careers’ were really just an irritating but financially
necessary interruption to my writing. At least cooking and woodwork were an alternative creative outlet.
Lynne: How did that rather eclectic lifestyle feed into your writing?
Thorne: I did work very briefly for the Crown Prosecution Service (as a clerical worker, not legal eagle), and that might, theoretically, have provided me with material for crime writing, but I’m afraid it just left me screaming with laughter every time Law and Order UK comes on.
Other than that, I suppose a refusal to settle down to a single occupation may have contributed to my refusal to embrace one clear genre when writing. The biggest fodder for my writing was my move to West Wales from Luton, in order to run a restaurant. My mother’s family comes from Pembrokeshire but the real incentive for the move, back in the early 1980s, was the phenomenally low property prices here back then, which meant we could actually afford to buy somewhere. There was a massive difference between life in an isolated rural Welsh-speaking village fifty miles over mountains from the nearest city and suburban life in a home counties town with London half an hour away. Luton was a place of urban sprawl, loud industrial production, loud football and loud racial tensions. My new home was a land where cafés shut for lunch, fashion emporiums advertised ladies’ slacks and local newspapers listed every donor of floral tributes at very well attended chapel funerals. It really handed me material for my first published novels on a plate. A Time For Silence grew largely out of gossip and tales I heard from locals while running my restaurant.
Lynne: Your published novels have encompassed several genres: the domestic noir end of crime writing, historical mysteries, a touch of family saga, and now, with Inside Out, a complete change of direction into rather scary science fiction. Where do you find this wide variety of ideas? What is the impetus that puts each different set of wheels in motion?
Thorne: Whatever I write, I write about characters. I never really considered genres when I started writing, and I suppose I still don’t. Genres are rather artificial labels, although useful for readers and bookshop owners, of course. I started off, in my teens, writing fantasy (I was a great fan of Tolkien), but my fantasy was never very fantastical – no elves or dragons. It was about people, and how they would respond to dramatic upheavals in their lives. I moved on to science fiction, but it was exactly the same: people having to respond to unwelcome events that change their lives. When I finished up writing crime fiction, the same applied. I enjoy reading Agatha Christie type detective novels where there are trails of clues leading to an interesting and unexpected conclusion, but I really just like writing about people having their lives turned upside down by a traumatic event. Events don’t come more traumatic than serious crime, whether it’s murder, rape or kidnapping. What matters to me is how it came about, and what the emotional consequences were, to victims, perpetrators, and survivors. I couldn’t write a book in which a crime is solved, all is explained, everyone has tea and we all move on.
Lynne: The resulting fiction is much the richer for it! When those wheels begin to turn, how do you set about the task? Do you research, plan carefully, take a structured approach? Or are you a seat-of-the-pants writer, putting your fingers on the keys and waiting to see what happens?
Thorne: Definitely seat-of-the-pants. I start off with a setting and an idea of what the book’s about – the theme, which isn’t the same as the plot. It might be guilt, or parent-child relationships, or the difficulty of understanding the past from the viewpoint of the present – which was the theme of A Time For Silence. I know where I want the story to finish up, and I collect my characters. They are quite often two-dimensional stereotypes at the start. I explore their back story, even if it doesn’t get a mention, and I let them grow and I set them off in the direction of the ending. I research where I have to, but mostly I rely on gut instinct and a history degree. The result is usually a compost heap when I’ve finished the first draft, but by then my characters have become totally real to me, and I can see how the whole thing needs to be re-organized (which means rewritten from scratch) around them. I admire people who can see the plot clearly from the start and have every chapter planned out, ready for the words to drop into place, but I am too chaotic for that.
Lynne: Your novels have a highly visual, almost tactile sense of place. Houses, or more recently living spaces, seem to be especially important to you. Do you base your fictional settings on real places that mean something to you?
Thorne: How long have you got? I do like houses. On one level, they symbolize refuge, comfort, security (maybe false), or confinement and suffocation, a perfect setting for a contained drama. On another level, I see them as characters in their own right. Like people, they have lived lives and they are moulded by their experiences, or the experiences of the people who have lived in them. We leave a physical mark. I think anyone buying an old house should resist the urge to strip it entirely and redecorate from scratch. Always leave one wall that has twenty-seven layers of old wallpaper. If we make a physical mark, I am inclined to believe we leave an emotional mark too, imprinted in the bricks or stones – which is a major theme in Shadows, my novel with a touch of the paranormal.
I am fascinated by the way old houses can be modernized and modified but somewhere in them will still be hints of what they once were – the bricked-up window, the soot-stained beams in the loft. My own house looks like a typical late Victorian farm cottage, two-up, two-down with a lean-to scullery at the back, but you can tell, from the arrangement of the windows, the fireplace, the stairs, that it was remodelled from an older humbler cottage, early 19th or maybe even 18th century, with a much lower roof. I was delighted that it was so old. Then I came across a book about old Pembrokeshire houses and found mine mentioned as having been a mediaeval hunting lodge which became a respectable mansion by 1600 but then declined to an insignificant labourer’s cottage by 1800. Wow. Something like fifteen to eighteen generations have lived on this spot, maybe more. The stones, used and reused, have probably witnessed every possible human experience – including death, of course. Probably dozens of deaths. Maybe some of them quietly induced. Makes you think.
Mine is one of dozens of similar cottages in the area, many of them abandoned and dissolving into rubble. There is one down in the woods beyond my garden, which was the inspiration for the cottage of Cwmderwen, the setting for A Time For Silence and The Covenant. When I first saw it, it still had a collapsing upper floor and a rusting pot in the fireplace left by the last residents.
The area is also littered with old mansions, some Victorian, some far older. A few were just crumbling away when I arrived, or were subject to mysterious fires shortly after dry rot was discovered, but most have become hotels or nursing homes or conference centres. They were my model for Llysygarn, which features in Shadows: an old house converted to new uses but nursing old secrets (which are revealed in Long Shadows).
My spaceship, the Heloise, in Inside Out, doesn’t have quite the same pedigree as my houses, but it does offer the same claustrophobic confinement. And nurses a few scars.
Lynne: All your books have been published by small independent publishers. Some authors make a point of avoiding the large, possibly more anonymous publishing houses because they’re afraid of getting lost in the corporate
crowd. Is that how you felt, or was it simply the way the cards fell?
Thorne: It’s the way the cards finally fell, but probably a good choice. It took me a long, long time to get published. I had a vast haul of the usual anodyne rejection letters, but also quite a few very near misses, dating back to the distant past when writers could actually approach publishers directly and when publishing houses hadn’t yet amalgamated into a few impersonal giants. I had several ‘yes-yes-yes… but ultimately no’ experiences, and I had a couple of agents, which didn’t work, so I went back to dealing with publishers directly, and by that time it could only mean small indie presses. I didn’t know what experience to expect at the time, but I think a writer gets far more personal attention and interest from a small press than one of the giants, even if their reach and budgets aren’t as great.
Lynne: It’s been a few years since your first novel was published; can you remember how it felt when you got the call to say it had been accepted?
Thorne: Yes, I can still remember, vividly, the feeling when A Time For Silence was accepted. The search for the perfect pen to sign the contract! It wasn’t elation, exactly. More a sort of numbness. It was what I had been aiming for all my life, and suddenly I was there, and what on earth do I now? I am still not sure of the answer to that.
Lynne: And when you hold the first copy of a new book in your hands, how does that feel? Does it still feel like the book you wrote, or has it taken on a life of its own by then? Do you re-read it?
Thorne: It is a delicious pleasure to open the box and see it as a proper book, not just words on a screen or a pile of paper. I have to pick up a copy and smooth it, sniff it, flick through it and leave it casually around where the
postman can see it. I don’t tend to reread it, partly because, by the time it’s got to that stage, I have written, rewritten, edited, re-edited, copy-edited and proofread so many times that I couldn’t bear to tackle it yet again.
Besides, once it’s published, it’s too late to make any changes, and I’d almost certainly want to, so I’d just be frustrated.I do definitely consider that once my book is published, it becomes at least 50% the property of the readers, who will put in or take out their own images, interpretations or views. That is what publishing is about: making it public property, instead of keeping it to yourself.
Lynne: Who do you think of as your target reader? Is there someone in your mind when you embark on a new book?
Thorne: I don’t picture a target reader at all. I am a reader as well as a writer, so I write the book I would want to read. I write purely for myself. But then I edit for the reader – who is probably a reflection of myself, but more
critical. I think I would feel a bit presumptuous to imagine that I had other people pinned down concisely enough for me to assume their tastes and preferences. They are real, not my invented characters.
When I write, I prefer to be implicit rather than explicit, whether it’s sex, violence or the appearance of characters, so the reader, I think, would be someone happy to apply his or her own imagination rather than be spoon-fed all the glutinous details.
Lynne: And back to the subject of new books – after contemporary crime, a dip into history and a look into the future, what’s next? Is there another novel in progress, or at least beginning to simmer? I’d certainly like to think so, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Thorne: Thank you very much. I have an agent again and I have sent another contemporary crime novel to her, so I hope it finds a home somewhere. It’s rather more wicked than noir, for a change. Meanwhile I am working on a sequel to Inside Out, which is intended, ultimately, to be a trilogy. I actually wrote the last volume – or what will be the last volume when I’ve reworked it entirely – about forty years ago, so it needs to come out of the closet at some point. And yes, there are other ideas simmering. I don’t expect to stop any time soon.
Lynne: Thank you, Thorne, for making time to answer my questions. Good luck with Inside Out, and with whatever comes next.
Thorne: Thank you for giving me the opportunity. It is much appreciated.
Thorne Moore has written seven novels:
(click onthe title to read a review)
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.