Sophie Neville this summer
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I graduated from the University of Durham with a degree in anthropology and went straight into the mayhem of the BBC. I worked on a number of drama serials, filming on location in London, Paris and Corfu, and produced INSET programmes for Schools Television before setting up documentaries for the Natural History Unit and ‘Blue Peter’ in Southern Africa. I was based on a game reserve where we ran horse safaris. Disaster struck when I broke my pelvis but I used my time on crutches to turn professional as a wildlife artist. My sketches proved useful to illustrate my first books. I now live on the south coast of England where I use my spare time to raise funds for charitable projects in South Africa.
How did you get started writing?
I began by writing for television. It was a matter of putting my own programmes together and working with BBC Books to bring out accompanying literature. I seemed to be forever submitting blurbs for the Radio Times. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that I started writing books. I self-published ‘Funnily Enough’, that won an international book award, and ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’, made up of the letters I sent home from Africa about riding horses through the wilderness.
Can you tell readers about your latest book?
The publishers Classic TV Press asked if they could bring out a paperback version of ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’, a memoir I’d launched as an ebook under a similar title. As a child I played Titty Walker in the classic movie of Arthur Ransome’s book, shot on location in the Lake District in 1973. I used the daily account I kept as a 12 year-old to guide the narrative, adding anecdotes as to how disaster was averted. It has appeal for anyone who grew up in the ‘seventies or enjoys light-hearted biographies.
What else have you written recently?
I am just finishing a novel based on a true story from WWII entitled ‘Makorongo’s War’. I’ve recently written Forwards to ‘An A-Z: Cumbria and the Lake District on Film’ for Hayloft Publishing and ‘Swallowdale’ by Arthur Ransome for Albatros Media in the Czech Republic. I’m currently working on a Forward to ‘Swallows, Amazons and Coots’ by Julian Lovelock soon to be published by Lutterworth Press. Revelation Films asked me to write material for the DVD Extras of ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’ and since ‘Funnily Enough’ was serialised in a magazine I’ve had feature articles in Cotswold Life, Country Life, Classic Sailor and Word in Action.
Have you got a favourite genre to read? If so why?
I get totally engrossed in the memoirs I use for research but my book club keep me reading popular literary fiction.
Which writer or writers has had the most influence on your own writing?
Since I write true-life stories, I would say Monica Dickens, Helene Hanff and CS Lewis. I was hugely influenced in my youth by Gerald Durrell and James Herriot, both of whom I met when I was working in television and was impacted by how well their memoirs translated to the screen.
Where is your favourite place to write?
A thatched cottage deep in the African bush, where I can escape everyday life. I use two rooms at home on the south coast of England – one for admin and one for books.
Pen or keyboard?
Laptop, I’m afraid. It’s not good for the posture. The original material for my last three books was handwritten but had to be typed up. My prehistoric computer sadly died when I was writing my first book in South Africa and I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. Miraculously, a brand new PC was donated to the local primary school. The teachers had no idea how to use it, so I introduced them to Microsoft Word in exchange for being able to work on my book while they were busy in the classroom. I sat at a low desk on one of those tiny red plastic school chairs until I had 100,000 words and the headmistress gained computer literacy.
How would you describe your writing regime?
The ideal would be to escape to South Africa for a couple of months to get my first draft on paper so I can assimilate research material or type all day long. I would then work on the structure and keeping adding material every afternoon back at home. I find my mornings are occupied with marketing. Since I was appointed President of The Arthur Ransome Society, which is the second biggest literary society in the UK, I spend quite a few weekends giving talks.
For more photos taken this year please click here for Sophie’s blog, Funnily Enough