I was born in Surrey, UK in 1952 and came to Australia with my family in 1958. My parents were ten pound poms. Just before this, we almost went to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. I grew up in Melbourne before living on Phillip Island (down the road from Melbourne and famous for its fairy penguins), Townsville, Canberra and, since 1984, Brisbane.
I have qualifications in economics, management and writing. I spent 25 years in the public service (federal and state) and 12.5 years in the real world in two stints. I now write books, research my family history, and follow the economic and political situation here in Australia.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
It was probably when I was about six. Rather than sitting on the floor with the other kids and listening to the teacher tell a story, I preferred to sit at my desk and write, often copying out the reader or writing a few sentences about the holidays or something.
Between the ages of about 11 and 14, I started about four novels but didn’t finish any of them. I said to Mum that I wanted to be an author, but she said that I would need a proper job. I got into accountancy, same as Dad, and lasted four years. But I was lucky in that most of my jobs over the decades involved quite a bit of writing.
What is your latest book and where do we find it?
It’s a historical novel called A Weaver’s Web, set in the Manchester area of the UK in the early 19th century. It follows the lives of the Wakefield family as they battle poverty, wealth and each other.
Henry Wakefield is a handloom weaver. He hates the new factories and won’t let his family work in them. He clashes with wife Sarah, a factory agent, a local priest and reformers, and son Albert runs away. Their rented cottage is to be pulled down to make way for a new factory. They move to Manchester but are even worse off, living in a cellar in a terrace and have another little mouth to feed.
Henry’s love of money overrides his hatred of factories and he starts one of his own, but it is beset with problems. The Wakefields eventually become quite wealthy, but Henry holds the purse strings and this has a devastating effect on the family. In the end, family members have had enough and seek revenge.
A Weaver’s Web is available at Amazon UK, US, Australia and other countries, as well as Google Play, Kobo Books and Apple iTunes, thanks to my publisher, Australian eBook Publisher.
When did you decide to take the indie path to publication?
After I finished writing the novel, I sent it to quite a large number of literary agents and also a few publishers. I got some positive comments back, including from an agent who nearly took it, but most said something like they’re not passionate (a favourite word of agents) enough about it, or it doesn’t suit their list, or they take on virtually no new authors.
When an agent compared my book to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which is in several lists of top 10 novels of the 20th century and still couldn’t take it, I figured it was time to check out the indie option.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
I kind of write on a full-time basis now, though I also look at family history and other things, and of course help with the housework. I also compete in a tenpin bowling league once a week and try and walk 50 minutes a day.
I wrote on a part-time basis until 2012 when I became one of 14,000 victims of a purge of the Queensland public service by a new state government. I drew one of the short straws in that lottery. Ironically, I was called back in to edit the new government’s Commission of Audit report into the government’s programs and finances.
What do you do if you get a negative review?
I haven’t got one yet. I did get a three rating from someone at Goodreads (but no review). The other ratings have been mainly five star and a few four star ratings. I think it’s best not to follow up any negative reviews; if I ever did, it would be done privately rather than on Facebook or a forum. Fiction is very subjective and what appeals to one person might not cut it with another person.
I got a few negative comments from literary agents, such as too much dialogue, it’s all been done before (historical fiction set in 19th century UK) and no protagonist (obviously Henry). This last agent said I needed to learn storytelling and recommended I enrol in a basic creative writing course. I pointed out that I topped a postgraduate creative writing course from 30 students in the 1990s. But I guess it emphasises the subjectivity of fiction.
What do you do to get the word out about your novel?
I don’t think there are any magic or easy answers for an independent author/publisher to make a success of their book. I think you need to get yourself and your book out there on the web in as many different places as possible.
I’ve got some reviews via Amazon and also via a number of people who do reviews on their blog as well as posting them at the likes of Amazon and Goodreads. The Indie View, for example, has a large number of reviewers, including their review policies, preferred genres and so on, and I am still working my way through this list.
I am a member of Goodreads where I find the self-serve ads help get some attention to the book. I’m in Shelfari and Librarything. I also started a blog and have a Facebook account. Last week, I wrote to about a dozen of the main newspapers in the UK, the setting for A Weaver’s Web, and am hoping to get a few reviews in these papers. Also, there are a number of sites where you can add your book details, although most tend to be for books with free periods.
What are you going to write next?
Some time back, I started a non-fiction book on the history of daylight saving time around the world. Sounds dry but it is one of the most controversial subjects of our time and there are plenty of bizarre stories. I also have some notes and ideas on a fiction book set about 80 years into the future.
My next release as an ebook will be a non-fiction book I wrote some time ago, Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett: Convict and Castaway. It is about an Australian convict who is best known for his adventures in the Brisbane area with two fellow cedar fetchers before the founding of Brisbane. They set out in an open boat from Sydney to fetch cedar from an area 50 miles south but a storm blew them out to sea. They suffered incredible hardships and were finally beached over 500 miles to the north. But they thought they were south of Sydney and headed north.
Do you feel humour is important in historical fiction and why?
Yes, I do. Historical fiction can be rather dry and can give the impression that life was always serious or a misery or whatever. But I think people made their own amusement and that there were always light-hearted and funny moments.
I have tried to bring this sort of thing out in A Weaver’s Web, not deliberately setting out to be funny, but letting a situation unfold naturally. Often the characters can be funny and quaint without meaning to, and at the time it wouldn’t necessarily have been funny but it is now in hindsight. An example is where character Henry Wakefield, as part of his efforts to convince his family they shouldn’t move to the city, tells wife Sarah that city people get diseases like smallpox, are injected with a small dose of it and their head turns into a cow’s head.
What are your favourite authors and books?
My overall favourite author would be Charles Dickens. Most writing at the time was about kings and queens and the well off. Dickens wrote about the ordinary people and did a lot to reveal their dreadful plight. His characterisation and description are excellent and I have probably been influenced by his style in my own writing.
My favourite books are perhaps Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. I have read both books twice.
Do you have any words of advice for unpublished writers?
Write because you like or love doing it rather than any dream of becoming rich and famous. Write your very best and go through your manuscript 5 or 10 times, rewriting, editing and proofreading.
Don’t be put off by negative reviews or comments on your writing. Take the comments on board, or if no two people have a similar negative comment, realise that fiction is very subjective and you may not need to make too many changes. I made very few changes to A Weaver’s Web before I finally published it as an ebook.
With fiction, I would pursue with literary agents initially, and agents or traditionally publishers for non-fiction. If you have no luck after trying a couple of dozen of them, consider publishing an ebook. You might find that what agents are indifferent about, readers really like.
Handloom weaver Henry Wakefield, his wife Sarah and their five children live in abject poverty in northern England in the early 19th century. He hates the new factories and won’t let his family work in them. He clashes with Sarah, a factory agent, a local priest and reformers, and son Albert runs away. They move to Manchester and are even worse off, living in a cellar in a terrace and have another little mouth to feed.Henry’s passion for money overrides his hatred of factories and he starts one of his own, but it is beset with problems. The Wakefields, or rather Henry eventually becomes quite wealthy, and this has a devastating effect on the family. Albert is caught stealing and is transported to New South Wales. Her baby’s death, Albert’s unknown fate and society parties become too much for Sarah, who hears voices and is taken to the lunatic asylum. Son Benjamin falls in love with an orphan girl and they have a baby. Henry is furious.
Family members have had enough. Sarah, who got out of the asylum, and Albert, who returned to England unbeknown to Henry, plan a fiery night at Henry’s factory. But he keeps his money there and goes inside to retrieve it. Albert tries to rescue him.
UK literary agent The Susijn Agency compared it to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, “but with the poor family finding its wealth. The location of Manchester during the industrial revolution dictates the action excellently and I can see why readers could not put it down.” See Preface for more comments by agencies and readers.
About the Author: Chris Pearce was born in Surrey, UK in 1952, and grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He worked as a public servant (federal and state) for 25 years and in the real world for 12.5 years. His inspiration for writing “A Weaver’s Web” was a postgraduate creative writing course he topped from 30 students in the mid 1990s. After targeting many literary agents, including one who compared his manuscript to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, he decided to publish it as an ebook. He also has a non-fiction book (print only), “Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett: Convict and Castaway”, which he plans to rework and publish as an ebook later in 2014.