Friday, 3 February 2017

Natasha Sheldon - Big Plans Afoot for a Versatile Writer of History and Fiction


1. Hello Natasha, I know you have written some brilliant print and e-books about the terrible Pompeii tragedy. It's a fascinating glimpse into history to see people exactly as they were when they died. What I'd like to know is what brought you to the point of focusing on this particular momentous event?

Natasha: "The eruption of vesuvius in 79AD was the event that ignited my interest in ancient history. I'd always wanted to be a writer and at the age of 7 had decided to be an archaeologist (a fact which my poor nan used as the reason for my morbid curiosity with graveyards!) But at the age of 10, my teacher read to us and encouraged us to read-the letters of Pliny the younger which so evocatively capture the sheer magnitude of the event. It caught my imagination. Pliny's description so vividly-and humanly- brought the sheer terror of the eruption alive. And for me, that's what history is about-human experience, not just kings and queens and disjointed dates and events."

2. Perhaps you'd also like to say how you came to start writing history. Have you done it from childhood? 

Natasha: "I wrote stories when I was a child. I didn't really come to writing history until after I completed my Masters. I'd had an excellent reception to some of my university pieces (I remember in particular my essay on Horace's witches particularly caught my tutor's eye). But until that point, I didn't think it was something I could do-except for fun. There was an element of self doubt I suppose."

3. How important do you think history is as a subject at school?  I ask because I am sometimes surprised at how little people know about the history of their country. I feel sometimes that Brexit would not be an issue now if people fully understood Hitler's rise to power and the reasons for it. Any thoughts on that? 

Natasha: "Vital.  History is such a useful discipline on so many levels. It teaches you to analyse evidence, look beyond the obvious to the hidden motivations in people's actions. But more important than that, it teaches us where we come from. Imagine if all you knew about yourself was your name and a few basic facts but you had no memory of your childhood, adolescence- any of the things that form you. That to me, is what a lack of historical knowledge gives us on a larger scale."

4. It seems you are now splitting yourself between fiction and history. What sort of fiction are you writing and what are your objectives in that area?

Natasha: "With regard to fiction, I am going back to the sort of fiction I have always written and enjoyed reading, which is fantasy/speculative fiction. There will be a historical element too! I love to play around with the archetypes of myths and legends. I have several ideas for novels but my first project to publish is a novella called "The Owl's Story" which will be published with two of my short stories as companions in the same volume."

5. Do you find it hard to switch from one to the other? Or maybe it's inspiring to have a break.

Natasha: "For the last few years, I have concentrated on non-fiction. But I have so many plots and characters in my head, I have to get them down now! Even if I haven't been writing my stories, I've been musing them over and making notes and this has been a very pleasant break from more pragmatic projects. My aim is to do half an hour of fiction writing a day to give me a break from intense historical work. We will see how that works out!"

6. Are you using your historical knowledge in your fiction, for instance, writing historical romances or something like that?

Natasha: "I am indeed. I have a few Roman supernatural stories I am playing with and the plot for at least two Roman based romances. This is a major departure for me, but if the story needs to be told, well, I'll do my best. A lot of people are sniffy about writing romance but I'm not. Its a hard genre to write well!"

7. What's your proudest moment in your writing career.

Natasha: "I think when my first Pompeii book was published. It was wonderful seeing something I put so much of myself into in print."

8. Do you share your knowledge with others, like in teaching or running a group?

Natasha: "Again, this is an area I am looking into as I have big plans for this year."

9. You're quite spiritual, aren't you? Do you bring this part of yourself to bear on your work?
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Natasha: "Oh yes! very much so. My fiction has a spiritual element and I am fascinated by ancient 'religion' My two dissertations looked at the juxtaposition between magic and religion in Roman society. I plan to translate this work from academic writing very soon, and expand and rework it into a book."

10, Do you have any words of wisdom or any experiences you would like to sharing with upcoming young writers?

Natasha: "Its a little trite but very true: believe in yourself. Because if you believe in yourself, you will do it. If someone tells you writing isn't a full time career and that is what you want, go for it wholeheartedly. But at the same time, it won't be easy. You need to learn your craft and except that that learning journey won't end. But then, that's all part of the fun."



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