Interview with author Penny Legg

Today, I would like to welcome Penny Legg to sylv.net

What made you decide to write books?

When I was eleven I wrote my first book – a spy story based on friends in my class at school. It was awful, but it gave me the bug to keep writing. When I was older I became a journalist and really had no thought of writing books until I was head hunted by a scout for The History Press, which publisher wanted some local history books written. The scout thought I would be perfect for what the company wanted and it was to prove a happy partnership. I wrote ten history books for The History Press in total, including being able to branch out and write two military histories, both of which raise funds for military charities.

What was the inspiration for your books?

I was asked to write ‘Folklore in Hampshire’. While I was writing this, I was asked if I knew a photographer who could take the photographs for and write a local history of Southampton, UK. I knew a photographer very well – me! This led to two other photography-heavy local histories: on Eastleigh, the railway town, and on Winchester, Kind Alfred’s capital city. While I was still working on the folklore book, I realised that the second chapter was getting bigger and bigger! This was about ghosts and things that go bump in the night. I had so much material that I was able to write about it for a dedicated book on the subject, ‘Haunted Southampton’. This has proved to be a very popular title.

The military histories came about as a result of accompanying my Royal Naval veteran husband to various association reunions and listening to the old comrades trading stories. I realised that some of them were too good to miss and so the first book, ‘Under the Queen’s Colours’ was born. This raises funds for three service charities. When that was published, I was asked if I would write the sequel, ‘Military Wives, From the First World War to Afghanistan’ looking at the lives of military wives in the century since the First World War. This book, too, raises funds for a service charity.

Now I write about the Second World War. Crime is always interesting. Why did the crime rate go up fifty-seven percent during the war years? I found finding out endlessly fascinating.

How do you get your ideas for writing?

I am a journalist. There are stories all around us. We just have to be able to see them and their potential. I also love talking to people. Everyone has a story and if you ask the right question, you will hear the story. Fab!

If you have a publisher, what has it been like working with them?

Working with Sabrestorm Publishing has been wonderful! ‘Crime in the Second World War – Spivs, Scoundrels, Rogues and Worse’ took me nearly four years to write and the publisher was endlessly patient. My words have been made into a work of art by fantastic layout and design, super images and bright pages. The first copy was delivered to me wrapped in tissue paper, as something to be treasured, and I appreciate that. The cover title is in gold leaf and that is a first for me, too! Working with a smaller publisher has been a revelation and I like the time I can spend working with the company to make my book the best it can be. Sabrestorm are also very proactive on the marketing front and they like to have representation at their authors’ book launches and events. This makes me, as an author, feel valued. It’s a beautiful friendship!

What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?

My mother fell ill soon after I started working on the book and then died suddenly. While I was trying to sort my mother’s estate, my father died. I could not write for a long time.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain number of words each day?

I strive, but I don’t always attain! Like many authors, I am a one-man band. I don’t earn fancy sums from my work and so I do what I can to write new work, promote current and maintain my back catalogue. In between, I give talks, coach beginner writers and undertake other professional commissions to make ends meet. Life is never boring but would be impossible if I had to strive for a set number of words each day.

Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks, etc)?

I have an untidy office at home. I share it with Angel, the rescue cat, who mainly wants me for the unending supply of Dreamies she knows I keep in the bottom drawer in my desk! She is a good manager and, if I have done particularly well during a day, she will reward me by walking across my keyboard and enhancing my work with a neat row of sevens. She is also a very good timekeeper and will keep nagging me when I have been at my desk too long. I dislike having music on when I work unless I am listening to it for an article.

What plans do you have in your writing future?

I am currently working on the second book for Sabrestorm, on child evacuees during WW2. In September, I am going back to university to study an MA in Publishing at Kingston. This will be a challenge and it will be interesting to see where this takes me. Between now and then, I am going to be buzzing around the country promoting my crime book. The launch is at Waterstones West Quay, Southampton, on Saturday 29th April and this will be followed by a local launch in Waterlooville on 6th May.

My website diary gives full details about these and other events.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Writing books can be extremely hard work but can be a lot of fun, too. Don’t let anyone tell you though that it is not a proper job. It is.

What is the hardest part of being an author?

Selling your book. There are thousands of books on the market. Making yours stand out amidst the rest is hard work.

Can you describe the feeling when you saw your published book for the first time?

I can do better than that! Please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dP4246-r0o

What advice would you give to those struggling to write their book?

Don’t give up, keep writing and don’t start editing until you have finished the book. It is better to have what is in your head out on the page or computer screen so that it can be honed than to give up. No matter how bad you think the book is, it can only be made better if it is written in the first place.

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