Please tell us a little about yourself
Hi! I was born in Kent and moved to London aged 17. Apart from the times I’ve spent travelling and sometimes living abroad – in the US, Egypt and Sudan - I’ve lived in London all my adult life and am very attached to it.
I’m married to a photographer, Mike Goldwater. We have two sons in their 20s, both also living in London. I like reading, swimming in the women’s pond on Hampstead heath and exploring old parts of the city.
Please tell us about 'Sacred River' and your inspiration for the book
The Sacred River is a novel about three women who leave a fog-bound London for Egypt, trying to escape a prophesied death. It’s set in 1882, at the time of an earlier Arab spring, and the background is of political turmoil in the country. I was interested in exploring whether and how you can be a different person, away from the constrictions and comforts of home. All three women alter radically over the course of the story, in different ways and for different reasons.
I once lived in Egypt for a few months, in Cairo, in a flat just off Tahrir Square. Later I worked as a journalist in many north African countries, and wrote the biography of a Sudanese woman. I’ve always been interested in Arab life, language and culture and enjoyed trying to bring Egypt - the place and people - to life in the novel. I made another trip to Egypt before writing the book, to Luxor to research the Valley of the Queens. I then returned there for a few days earlier this year in order to make a trailer for the novel, that you can see on my website!
Here, I researched at the British Museum, the Petrie Museum, through Victorian books on Egypt borrowed from the London Library and I got help on hieroglyphs from a wonderful Egyptologist who I met on a day’s study course.
What are you currently working on?
I set out to write three Victorian novels. The Painted Bridge was the first, The Sacred River is the second and I am now writing the third. The Blue Room is set in rural England in the 1850s and is the story of a woman sold by her father into a travelling show, in which she appears as a ghost. We sometimes wonder if a person can become a ghost but this story is about whether a ghost can become a person.
I’m also writing features related to The Sacred River and – for the first time for years – some short stories.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
My advice would be that if you want to write – then write. Try not to get discouraged, or let other people’s opinions influence you too much. Keep going and don’t expect first drafts to be as good as later ones can be. Get into the habit of reading your work aloud to yourself; often, you can hear what is bogus or clumsy more easily than you can see it on the page. It goes without saying that reading is the great teacher. I think that different writers have different issues to deal with but persistence can probably tackle many of them. I too am an aspiring writer, despite having published four books. We all want to bring the prose more vividly to life, move deeper into character and story, create a more unique and convincing world, arrive more convincingly at our own idiosyncratic truths. Otherwise why write.
What do you like to do outside of writing?
I like being with friends, seeing my family, pottering in the garden. I really enjoy hearing great writers talk about their process, which is something you can do in London. Recently, I’ve seen Hilary Mantel, Richard Ford, Rose Tremain.. I also quite like doing nothing much – staring out of the window or standing at the sink or walking in the woods near my house. Ideas can float up when you relax like that.
You can find out more about Wendy on her website: http://wendywallace.co.uk/