Author Ann Turnbull
PUBLISHED: 19:05 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:35 20 February 2013
Ann Turnbull tells Jack Holt how she has found inspiration for her books in the most unlikely Shropshire places... from bat colonies to lunar landscapes
Ann Turnbull tells Jack Holt how she has found inspiration for her books in the most unlikely Shropshire places from bat colonies to lunar landscapes
She writes in a notebook between conversations. She does it everywhere on trains, while waiting for a bus, in the garden and at parties. Thoughts and ideas need to be held captive not run free in the insecurity of memory. Such is the life of a prolific story writer...
Her tally of 30 published titles increased last September with the release of Alice in Love and War. There's another on the way this year. More will follow. She is Ann Turnbull. Ann lives with her husband, Tim, at Madeley and they've been in Shropshire for 33 years. Although Ann has been able to use a typewriter since the age of 14, she always writes in longhand. "I find it more comfortable to think and write," she says. To be accurate, Ann writes in her own mix of longhand, shorthand and abbreviations. She then (rather speedily) types it up.
I'm giving clues to her former professions. Ann says: "I started off as a shorthand typist and became a secretary later. In 1960, I began working for the NUT but it was a bit boring. I then worked for a firm of solicitors in Fleet Street and was always busy. I moved to Reading and worked for a solicitor doing conveyancing and that was interesting too." Ann recalls that her previously dormant writing gene began to surface from the age of about 10. She began by writing on scrap paper and old envelopes as she recalls paper was scarce. A present of a typewriter as a teenager and winning a place at a writers' summer school spurred her on.
"I wrote a novel about ancient Egypt when I was 15," she says. "I sent it to a publisher who returned it with some useful comments. I re-wrote it. In fact, I later re-wrote it a few times. I used to write in shorthand notebooks when I was commuting to work on the Tube." Ann moved from secretarial work to train as a teacher but decided it was not the career for her. She had read children's novels as part of her course and decided to write one herself. Ann's first published book hit the bookshelves in 1974. She says: "It was called The Frightened Forest and it was published when I was nearly pregnant! The publication of my second book, The Wolf King, coincided with the birth of our son."
Both of these books were published in America as well as the UK. However, becoming a mother brought a halt to Ann's writing and it would be nearly five years before she started again. And then it was not until 1987 that her next book was published Summer of the Cats. Ann has remained faithful to the children's/young adult fiction genre and says the main character in each book is always her. "I always imagine myself in the lead role, even if that's a boy. The other characters come from real life but are not based on anyone in particular. Their characters evolve as I write and according to particular situations. I believe they exist and I even think of them as real people."
Many of Ann's books are set in the past sometimes around the time of the Second World War or much earlier. Forged in the Fire, published in 2006, is set in 1665 with much of the action in London. She has written a number of books involving Quakers so this has been another area of research. "Fortunately, Shropshire has many Quaker connections," she says. "In No Shame, No Fear I had a character who works for a printer Quakers were always printing leaflets. I started researching early printing at Blists Hill and then went to the printing museum in London, where they were very helpful."
Shropshire often features in Ann's books and she based a house in No Shame, No Fear on one she found in Shrewsbury which she called Hemsbury in the book.
The Lost Spaceship, a science fiction story, is also based on an area of Shropshire improbable as this may sound. Ann says: "We moved to Hollinswood, near Telford town centre, in 1976. The town park was under construction and was a huge area of mud churned up by diggers, with just a few paths snaking across it. "In the summer of 1977, I had a two year-old son and a new baby. My son was fascinated by the diggers and we used to go for walks along these paths, pushing the baby in her pram, and watching as new mounds and lakes were created. I didnt have time to write then, but I kept notebooks and described this weird landscape.
"It gave me an idea for a science fiction story that, years later, became The Lost Spaceship. The boy in the story has a brother who drives one of the diggers and a spaceship lands near the Stirchley chimney." Coalbrookdale, around the old railway line and site of the station, is the setting for Summer of the Cats. Ann says: "I did a lot of walking around and exploring, imagining being a feral cat in search of a new home."
Following a research visit to a colony of long-eared bats near Pontesbury, Ann replaced the pipistrelles she had initially written into Trouble with Bats. Ann's three books, Pigeon Summer, No Friend of Mine and Room for a Stranger, came about because she wanted to involve local history. "Pigeon Summer is set in a mining community in 1930 when the mines are facing closure," she says. "My imaginary town, Culverton, is based quite closely on Madeley.
Most of Ann's recent books have been published by Walker Books and she has used the same agent at David Highams since the 1990s. She has also recently had two books published by Usborne. Josie Under Fire and Mary Ann and Miss Mozart are part of its Historical House series. The Wolf King was first published in 1975, but a new edition was published last year by Back-to Front. Ann has a small stock of several of her out-of-print titles and is an authorised Amazon bookseller. She advertises them as collectable, signed by the author.
Her new project, Seeking Eden will be her third Quaker novel. The story begins in 1683 and is based in Pennsylvania. Ann says: "It's a tale of love and the struggle for justice." Her latest work Alice in Love and War begins in 1644 during the Civil War and is another book for young adults. Alice Newcombe meets a soldier called Robin and goes with him on the baggage train when his regiment moves on. The road ahead is long and hard will there be happiness at its end?
To find out, buy Alice in Love and War, ISBN: 978-1-4063-0244-8. A full list of Ann's published books can be found on her website www.annturnbull.com