My Interview with Alison Huntingford

Today, I’m delighted to welcome back Alison Huntingford, a popular Devon author whom I first interviewed early in 2022. I met Alison when I won one of her books in a Facebook competition, and we became friends on social media. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Alison on a couple of occasions at local book fairs.

Good morning, Alison, and welcome back to my blog. I thought perhaps we might start by learning a bit more about you and finding out what you’ve been up to since we last spoke.

Hi Marcia

Since I last chatted with you, there has been a lot going on!  In 2022, I ran the first-ever literary festival in the Ivybridge area, and then followed it up in 2023 with a much bigger event.  Both of them went well, and we are planning a one-day event later this year. I have also finished and published my third full-length historical novel, Dance A Fearful Jig, which I’m very excited about.

The book tells the story of my 5 times Great Aunt, Rachel Alderman. Set in Peterborough in 1807, the novel poses the question: “What would you sacrifice for love? “A lonely, middle-aged housekeeper meets a French paroled prisoner from Napoleon’s army. In times of war, a forbidden friendship can be dangerous.

My research led me to rediscover the long-forgotten prisoner-of-war camp, Norman Cross, and its population of 5000 Napoleonic soldiers. It is a fascinating and unusual story of friendship and love which knows no borders.


Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I write under a pseudonym anyway because my married surname is boring, though, in fact, I use my maiden name, so maybe it doesn’t count. Another reason I used this was to keep my surname going, as I am the last of my family line, and it will die out otherwise.  I like to think my parents (long gone now, sadly) would have approved.

I’ve just viewed your latest book, Dance a Fearful Jig, on Amazon, and it looks intriguing, so I thought I’d share the blurb with our readers:

Peterborough 1807
Rachel Alderman is a lonely, middle-aged housekeeper to a local vicar. Blighted by crippling shyness, illness and the needs of others, her life is going nowhere until a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger determines otherwise.

Charles Le Boucher is a French soldier captured in the ongoing Napoleonic war, currently residing in the nearby POW camp, Norman Cross. Whilst out on parole, attempting to sell his delicately carved model ships in the marketplace, he meets and befriends Rachel.

With their two countries on opposing sides in a bitter war, should they even be talking to one another? Despite family disapproval, can their innocent friendship blossom into love, and if it does, what will become of them?

I’m often asked which of my books I like the best, and I find this quite difficult to answer as I like them all – but then, I am a little biased! Anyway, I’ll put the same question to you: which of your books is your favourite?

My latest book is currently my favourite because I am still so wrapped up in the characters and their story.  I discovered a lot of things I didn’t know when I did the research, and wanted to share it all.

What do you feel are your biggest achievements?

One of my biggest achievements was publishing my debut novel, The Glass Bulldog, and getting nominated for the Water Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.

The Glass Bulldog was inspired by research into my family history.  I grew up in Devon and always felt a connection to it, even though my parents moved from the London area when I was four years old.  When I did my research, I was delighted to find that we had Devon ancestors and that I was descended from a very old Devon family who lived in Exeter called the Finnimores.  As I found out more about one of my ancestors, Tom Finnimore, I realised he had been convicted of stealing six chickens at the age of 16 and sentenced to transportation.  His story inspired the novel, and hence, my writing career began!

I followed this up with another story from family history: A Ha’penny Will Do, based on my grandad’s family.  His mother was an Irish immigrant who struggled with a difficult marriage and poverty throughout her life.  This is the tale of her life and that of her sons, in particular, Fred, who was killed in WW1, and Grandad Joe.

Ah, now, this one, I have read and enjoyed – so much so that I’m going to share my review again!

My Review of A Ha’penny Will Do: I won this book in a Facebook competition and couldn’t wait to start reading it as it sounded right up my street. I knew the book was based on the author’s family history covering the period from 1879 to 1920. However, I wasn’t sure if I would like the way it was presented in the form of the diary of a young Irish girl, Kate McCarthy. I need not have worried, for the story soon drew me in and was a real page-turner. I also found the short excerpts from the diaries convenient if I only had time to read a few pages. Kate’s family leaves Ireland for Liverpool looking for a better life, but then she moves on to London and into domestic service. She falls in love with the charming William Duffield, and yet she has doubts about his uncertain moods. The story is well written and highlights the extreme poverty and hardships that folk endured at this time. Added to Kate’s diary excerpts are those of her son, Joe, and also letters from her eldest son, Fred, during his time serving as a soldier in World War 1. Again, the accounts are movingly written and create a vivid picture of the past.

But I digress! Let’s get back to your achievements, Alison.

My other main achievement I feel has been setting up the South Hams Authors Network which has been very successful. This is an organisation which aims to encourage and support other local authors. We have been meeting once a month since September 2021 and have also now run two literary festivals in the area.  We are non-profit making and our main aim is to share connections and ideas and to help each other. We meet in a pub in Ivybridge, Devon, which is where I live, and many of our events have been around here.  We have done readings, book fairs, talks, etc. The local bookshop and library are very supportive, and we had the backing of the whole community when we ran our festival last year. We have approximately 70 members plus currently 285 followers on Facebook.  About 20 people come to the meetings each time.  If anyone wants to join us, they just need to get in touch by email at southhamsauthors@gmail.com  Membership is free. Our website is: https://www.southhamsauthors.co.uk/home and our Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/alisonhuntingford1/

Which authors inspire you?     

Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. They have such a feel for the poor and downtrodden. If I could write like anyone, I would want it to be one of them. My favourite Thomas Hardy novel is probably Tess of the D’Urbervilles.  Hardy really manages to bring the character of Tess to life and you feel for her. However, I also love what are considered his ‘lesser’ novels, such as The Woodlanders and Under the Greenwood Tree.  He conveys the rural way of life so well. I love Charles Dickens’ descriptions, especially of people.  He has a great sense of humour and is very observant. I also love the way he breaks all the rules on sentences, such as making one, which goes nearly all the way down the page, and yet he still gets away with it!

What advice would you give to a budding author?

Get the support of other writers.  Remember, we are not rivals but colleagues and can all help each other. This is what I have tried to encourage with the South Hams Authors Network.

That is so true, and I am immensely grateful to the many other authors who have helped me along my publishing journey. I always try to pass my knowledge on and help others if I can, and it usually pays dividends.

With regards to publishing, I have used hybrid publishing for my first two novels and found it to be very good.  However, there are a lot of firms out there trying to scam authors.  Make sure you look into the companies carefully if you are considering using one.  I used Austin Macauley and found them to be very good. What I did before I signed was to get in contact with one of the authors they were advertising as having published and find out what their experience was like.  She was able to give an unbiased account.  With hybrid publishing, you pay an amount up front (can be £2000 or more), but they do all the work for you, such as formatting, cover design, ISBNS, proofreading etc.  You also get some copies of the book for free and some marketing materials.  It makes life easier, but it can take a long time (about a year) to get the finished product. 

This time, I have self-published using both Amazon and Ingram Spark.  This was much quicker and cheaper, but I found it very difficult.  I had to enlist the help of a colleague with the design and formatting, as it was beyond me!  The reason I used both Amazon and Ingram Spark was because Amazon has a worldwide platform which the public uses every day, but their cover quality is not so good.  The covers curl up very quickly. So, for buying author copies to go to bookshops and events, I get them from Ingram Spark, which is much better quality.  If you are self-publishing, one thing I would advise is to get your own ISBN and barcode from Nielsens rather than just use Amazon’s own.  Bookshops will often NOT take books with Amazon ISBNs.

Like you, I’m self-published, and although I eventually got my head around the formatting for Amazon, it was difficult to start with. I also use Ingram Spark and purchase my copies from them, as, like you say, I think the quality is better. Also, by putting my books with Ingram Spark, the public can order the books from any bookshop, though only a few small independent businesses stock them. Yes, I agree, I would advise any author to use their own ISBN numbers.

What do you think is the best way to market your books? i.e., what social media platforms do you find the most successful, and how long do you spend promoting your books each day? Do you attend book fairs, give talks, etc?

I’m not very good at social media though I try.  I find the best way of marketing my books is by going out and doing talks and events. Talking to people is what counts. I love meeting people.

The talks I do are usually around 50 minutes, with time for Q and A afterwards.  They are based on the historical background of the book, usually with PowerPoint slides, plus a couple of short readings. I now have my own projector and screen, which have proved to be a very useful investment.  (If you decide to buy a projector yourself, make sure it is one which can project in daylight rather than just darkness).  I have been to literary festivals if they will have me (it’s worth asking about fringe events), libraries, book fairs, WIs and U3As.  These are always good ways of marketing yourself. However, it is really difficult to get contact details for some of these, and also, the WIs tend to book up a year in advance, so if you miss their booking window, you have to wait until the following year.  Occasionally, though, I have managed to fill in at short notice if they have had a cancellation, so it’s always worth a try.

With regards to social media, I mostly use Facebook, but I also try a bit of Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I have found ‘Author Takeovers’ and Meet the Author’ features useful in raising my author profile. If you can find one which is directed at your genre so much the better.  I had a really good one on the Historical Fiction club recently with lots of comments and engagement. These should not cost you anything, but they quickly get booked up.

I have tried advertising on Facebook but have not been very successful.  I am not sure my adverts are good enough and also my targeting.  I have not tried Amazon as I feel it may work out too expensive.

If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?

At present I am busy researching a book on some ancestors of mine who emigrated to Canada, so I guess it would have to be there.  I’m a home lover, though, and would miss England and Devon. The new book starts in Middlesex in the UK but then shifts to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in 1906 when the family emigrated there.  I found out some tragic and fascinating facts about this family (The Huntingfords) and so had to pursue it.  I can’t give away too much, but watch this space! It will take place over about 20 years from 1904 to 1923, and, in particular, will follow young George Huntingford and his family as he grows up, goes to war and falls in love.

Describe your ideal menu – and where would you like to eat it?

I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, so it would have to be a really good vegetarian pasta dish.  I love fresh pasta with lots of grated parmesan on it.  Yummy! My other weakness is chocolate, much to the detriment of my waistline. (No chocolate orange is safe with me!) I would like to eat it in Venice, looking out over the water, maybe even in a gondola! I’ve never been there but have always wanted to visit.

What inspires you to write?

My writing inspiration comes from my family history.  I am an only child of two only children, thus meaning I have no cousins, aunts, uncles or siblings.  I used to feel a distinct lack of family, which is why I started researching my family tree, and this has inspired my stories. When I find a story that reaches out to me, I become obsessed with finding out everything I possibly can, and I try to remain faithful to the truth. I am currently at that stage with my new work, which will be partly set in Canada.

I think a lot of historical fiction novelists get their inspiration from researching their family tree, and this is certainly true of me, too. However, in my case, I’m from a large family, and it was difficult to decide which people were true ancestors and which were not. I came across a lot of interesting stories, though, and they certainly gave me ideas for my books.

Thank you so much for talking to me today, Alison, and I wish you every success with your new book. Readers, if you would like to find out more about Alison and her books and keep in touch with her, you can do so here:

Website: https://alisonhuntingford.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ahuntingford9/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ahuntingford9

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ahuntingford9/



If you would like the latest updates, please sign up to my newsletter