Welcome to my blog, Mary! I saw your pictures at the
Cowes library a week or so ago and also saw you featured
on the Isle of Wight ! So exciting. I
read your short story collection, Catching the Light, and then read the excerpt within from your novel Free to be Tegan, and was hooked. County
I usually post my interview next, but I don’t want to give too much away at this stage to give you a chance to enlighten us on why you think this book is such a roaring success (with 44 FIVE star reviews in the UK to date)
So, firstly let me share your book blurb for FREE TO BE TEGAN so that readers can find out a about your book.
Tegan, aged twenty seven, is cast out of the cult, rejected by her family and the only life she has known. She is vulnerable and naïve but she also has courage and the will to survive. She travels to
previously unknown relations in the wild Cambrian
This is the uplifting story of her journey to find herself and flourish in a world she has been taught to fear and abhor.
Guilt and shadows from her past haunt her in flashbacks, panic attacks and a fear of the dark. However she also finds a world full of colour, love and happiness she has never known before. The wild beauty of the hills, the people she meets and the secrets slowly revealed by the cottage all provide an intriguing backdrop to Tegan’s drama.
The novel is set in spring, a story of hope, new growth, of the discovery of self and the joy of living.
“This debut novel is a triumph.”
“Loved the book …. I was gripped and couldn't put it down.”
“It was very thought provoking and emotional with lots of plot twists to keep you on your toes. I highly recommend this book.
How does this story relate to your ‘real’ life? What inspired you to write it?
The story of “Free to Be Tegan” is partly based on my own experience. I was brought up in a strict religious sect called the Plymouth Brethren. I received regular graphic teaching about hell and punishment and was threatened with being ‘left behind’ by my family and friends at the end times if I did not follow the strict teachings of the sect. These teachings were very disturbing and, I believe, psychologically damaging.
I have read a lot about other people who have been through similar and far worse experiences in high demand groups, cult and sects. I wanted to write a novel that reflected some aspects of my experiences and those I learned about in my research particularly looking at the effects of psychological abuse. Although the subject matter is serious I wanted the novel to be a positive book about healing and finding love. Hence the book is set in the springtime and in the stunning Cambrian Mountains in
Wow… I wondered if it was based on your true experience. Makes it all the more amazing to read.
Tegan is childlike in the way she views life, even though she is 27 years old. She has no idea what she wants from life or how to live in the modern world. Was it hard to decide how old she should be? Do you think if she had been 18 or say 40 the story would have changed much?
From the outset the age of 27 fitted with where I wanted Tegan to be in her life’s journey. She is someone who has come through adolescence and would be expected to have started to have some understanding of who she is and what she wants. The sect has denied her that but she is more than ready for that stage in her life.
If she had been much older, certainly in the sect she had been raised in, she would have had a husband and children. That would have been a very different story and maybe one to save for a latter novel!
There are many characters in this book who are harsh and cold-hearted. For example, Tegan’s parents and her community friends. Do you think this is common amongst sects? In an ideal world, they are supposedly happier with their non-materialist way of life.
Although some characters appear harsh I think most are vulnerable, hurt people. I tried to show this in the hospital scene towards the end with Sarah, Tegan’s mother. The sad thing about people who have lived in sects and cults is the effect of the mind control on their way of looking at themselves and the world. Eventually they will believe that only their way is right, that the world is evil and misguided. However they also can suffer form very low self esteem and a very poor sense of self.
I think the character in the book who is the most manipulative is Daniel, the cult leader. Study into the characteristics of cult leaders shows their need to control, to be followed and obeyed unconditionally. There is one scene in the story where Tegan confronts Daniel and for the first time she sees through him and loses her fear of him. We see him momentarily panic. That for me was one of the pivotal moments of the book.
Many background characters added depth to this novel. Which was your favourite and why?
My favourite background character was probably Angharad. She was great fun to write. I felt she gave the story an injection of glamour and a chance to look at Tegan from a completely different point of view.
I totally agree. This was a hilarious character! The classical “Alpha” female.
I personally loved her relationship with Cerys. I thought it worked well to have someone that was sympathetic to her plight, but not pushy. How carefully did you plan her character?
I am so glad you picked up on this, I loved the character of Cerys and worked very hard on her. By the end I felt I knew her as well as Tegan and found her as hard to let go. She is one of those essentially good, kind people we are all fortunate to meet and who are so easy to underestimate. For someone like Tegan who has been taught that the world and the people in it are evil it was really important to meet a kind, person who gives love and friendship unconditionally.
This is a very clean, but not religious read. Do you think traditional religions are important in this day and age? Some people think the world would be better off without the conflicts caused in the name of religion.
In most of the leading world religions there are teachings about care and compassion. Many good things are done by the followers, working with the underprivileged and poor. I also think some people find a sense of community and belonging, as well as the comfort of prayer and ritual that can be enormously supportive.
Having said that, there can be a dark side to religion, where fanatics and extremists inflict terrible suffering on others and whose aim seems to be to spread fear and hatred.
In ‘Free to be Tegan’ I tried to show the two sides of the coin. There is manipulative, controlling Daniel in the cult, but also Bethany, the vicar in the village, a loving, balanced person who shows Tegan a positive and caring side to someone of faith.
Even though this is a clean read, there was a romance running alongside the main plot! That satisfies the need some of us have for a HEA ending! Did you write for readers or was this the ending that you wanted?
It was very important for Tegan to be faced with the challenges of how to cope with romantic relationships in the modern world. She makes some bad choices and it is a steep learning curve. Without wanting to spoil the end, it was important to me that Tegan learned to love herself and that she wasn’t ‘rescued’ by a romantic attachment, but rather ultimately chose who she wanted to be with and how she wanted to live.
You book was on a Kindle Countdown Promotion. How did you go about advertising it? Are you loyal to Amazon?
‘Free to Be Tegan’ is, at present, exclusively with Amazon. The countdown promotions are a very useful way of promoting your book. I am fortunate to have had fantastic support from family and friends as well as having had wonderful support from some people on Facebook and Twitter.
I admire your success. Even with the support of family & friends a lot of authors struggle to get anywhere near the charts.
Where do you go from here? Are you planning more books about Tegan?
I am not planning any more books about Tegan at the moment. I feel her story was complete in the book. However the theme of women finding themselves and learning to love themselves is one I keep coming back to. It is at the heart of some of the short stories in ‘Catching the Light’ and again in the novel I am presently working on.
What is the most important thing you have learnt since you published your book?
One of the most exciting things I have discovered since publishing is the whole community of readers and writers that exists. I have made the most wonderful friendships and cannot imagine now not being in this world.
It is very hard to pick on a book but, if I had to, I think it would be ‘The Rector’s Wife’ by Joanna Trollope.
I love the characters in the story who are so rounded and complex, particularly Anna, the central character. She has been everything a priest's wife should be, but then her husband fails to gain promotion to Archdeacon, and is thrown into crisis. Anna rebels, and tastes independence for the first time since she left university.
I think it is a really good book, in fact writing about it has made me want to go and read it again!
Where we can find out about you and buy your books?
“Free to Be Tegan” is available on Amazon on Kindle and in paperback form.
“Catching the Light” is on Amazon on Kindle and in paperback. It is also on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Ipad and Kobo. The eBook is currently FREE to download!
My review follows. Do you think my review is fair?
I appreciate the time and thought that went into your review, Vanessa. It was interesting for me to read about your experiences and reactions to Tegan’s story. I feel it was a very fair review and I hope it will encourage other people to read the book and share their feelings about it.
Thank you again for letting us find out more about you. I sincerely wish you all the best.
“I have to admit that I was totally hooked by this book after reading the preview in the free eBook collection by the same author.
Overall, it was an enjoyable read, but it did slow down in pace in the latter part of the book. It did have a great ending and I was glad that Tegan found her way.
I was brought up as a Roman Catholic and as a teen I was lured into attended prayer groups & retreats. Therefore, I understood some of the "brainwashing" techniques that can be adopted. Although, I never saw anything like is described in this book.
The idea of being brought up in a "cult" of this nature is frightening. But, its amazing how easily you can be made to think that everything you do is evil and how quickly you can start to judge people.
Thankfully, I left when I realised that I had nothing to apologise for! But, I have to admit that the sense of community and "love" you experience is something I have struggled to find again. Support groups and prayer groups can be a positive experience for many overcoming abuse. It’s a shame some people choose to exploit the weak and lead them into these communities.
I recommend this book as great value for money in a time when eBook prices for known authors seem to be sky rocketing. On a slightly negative note, I did find quite a few grammatical errors that started to annoy me on the latter part of the book. Excusing those, a fantastic read.”