10 questions with author Leah Fleming: ‘Believe in yourself and make it happen’

After careers in teaching, catering, running a market stall, stress management courses in the NHS as well as being a mother of four, Leah Fleming (real name Helene Wiggin) found her true calling as a storyteller.

She lives in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales but spends part of the year marinating her next tale from an olive grove on her favourite island of Crete. Despite undergoing challenging chemotherapy currently, Leah (Helene) is still creating stories and worlds with her old dog by her side – and her latest novel A wedding in the olive garden is out now.

Leah Fleming, author
  1. What’s your name and where do you come from?
    My name is Helene Wiggin but I write as Leah Fleming. I was born in Bolton but now live over the border near Settle.
  2. Do you write fact or fiction and in what genre?
    The last two books I’ve written are in the contemporary genre. I am more known as an historical fiction writer. My main characters are strong females and there is an element of romance in all my stories. I choose to make hopeful endings rather than always happy ones as there are many underlying issues in my characters’ lives; issues of attachments, separations and loss.
  3. Are you traditionally or self-published and which route do you consider best?
    I have gone down the traditional publishing route for over 25 years (not always easy in this climate of change in the publishing world)) I have neither the techno skill nor interest in self- publishing. It suits me to have the backing of an agent, editor and publicity staff to deal with practical matters. It’s enough for me to just write.
  4. What’s your work schedule like when you are writing?
    My working schedule is quite varied at the moment as I am going through a course of chemotherapy every three weeks, which can be gruelling at times. I am a natural morning writer, though often find myself with pen and paper creating scenes in the middle of the night!
  5. What advice would you give to budding writers?
    My advice to budding writers is to take time to learn your craft; read, read especially those quality writers you admire, go on courses, meet other writers and take your work seriously even if it may not be published in its original form. Never throw text away just in case it can be transformed as you progress. Know when to let a story go, don’t polish it to death but move onto something fresh. Once you are writing in earnest, you have become a writer, perhaps not a published one yet but trust that will come. Take this passion to write, believe in yourself and make it happen.
  6. Who/what are YOUR favourite authors/books?
    My favourite children’s book was the Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I began to create my own lands at the top of the Faraway tree and a writing life began. I love Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazelet Chronicles. Olivia Manning: The Balkan trilogy. Elizabeth Gouge. Daphne Du Maurier, Elizabeth Buchan, Tracy Chevalier sprinkled with a good dose of crime: Susan Hill. Peter Robinson, Stephen Booth.
  7. Are you a plotter or a pantster? (i.e. do you plan out your work or fly by the seat of your pants?)
    Writing historical stories requires much research, composting time so characters can emerge and finding lots of period detail. I know the sort of journey I’m making but how to get there is like walking through mist with twists and turns in the road to take me off course or not. I guess I am both plotter and pantster as I muddle my way through to a satisfactory conclusion. To know everything in advance would not induce me to finish.
  8. What helps you focus?
    I keep a separate journal for each book I write. It contains, ideas, new thoughts, snippets of dialogue or research. It helps with continuity and staying focused. I do work in an office with the door shut. Only my old dog sits in his basket by my side. My husband works from home so the phone must stay on but once at my desk I am not easily distracted.
  9. How long did it take you to write your book/books?
    As for the time it takes to write a book. I think of it as a sort of pregnancy… about nine months. Three months to research and six months to write ( by hand ) Of course they may be rewrites, edits etc so a year about does it. Though for obvious reasons this will take longer at the moment. My present work in progress began 5 years ago but I had to stop to fulfil contracts in between. I envy those writers who are like gushing springs, I am more a drip, dripper. I guess we are who we are.
  10. Where can we find your books?
    As for finding my books and back list, everything is online or in the libraries in all formats, some have been in supermarket promotions. The latest books are in bookshops and some of my back list can be spied in remainder outlets. Thank you, Nicola for giving me this opportunity to talk about my work. (You are welcome! N)

    You can find out more about Leah and her work at www.leahfleming.co.uk or Like her on Facebook
    Her latest novel, a Wedding in the Olive Garden, is out now.
Leah Fleming’s A wedding in the olive garden

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