Sharon Maas is a Guyanese-born novelist, who was educated in England, lived in India, and subsequently in Germany and in Sussex, UK. Her latest book, The Secret Life of Winnie Cox is out now.
Tell us about your latest book.
The Secret Life of Winnie Cox is historical Women’s Fiction, set in 1910 British Guiana. It tells the story of the eponymous Winnie, sixteen years young, who is lives a spoiled and pampered life on a sugar plantation along with her younger sister Yoyo. The girls are sheltered from the harsh reality of plantation life, and so it comes as a terrible shock when they discover the atrocious living conditions of the East Indian labourers. To add to her distress, Winnie misses her mother terribly; suffering from depression, Ruth has returned to her native Austria, leaving the girls behind. No wonder, then, that when Winnie meets the charming, if humble, post-boy George, she falls head over heels in love. And no wonder she is determined not to lose him, defying all the taboos and restrictions of her era to meet him and even pursue him. Mild-tempered, good-natured Winnie discovered her inner courage, and becomes a rebel with her cause. But when matters come to a crisis on the plantation she must make a choice – one that could rip apart her entire world. Facing that choice, Winnie grows from a girl into a woman of substance.
Where do you find inspiration for your books?
The main character is based loosely on my own grandmother, also named Winnie. When I described the story on a forum some time ago, an American member scoffed and scolded me, saying interracial marriages would have been out of the question at the time. I was pleased to retort calmly: but this happened. My grandmother did it. This is NOT America!
In fact, it was a marvelous photograph of my grandmother’s wedding that first gave me the idea to write a story based on her. (I can show you it if you like!)
Later on, an aunt told me a few more details: how her father had tried to separate Winnie and George, how he sent her to Barbados – and how she proposed to him via a telegram! I managed to weave these details into the story as I wrote.
As I have a day job, and as I am one of those persons who needs to write early in the morning, I have no choice but to rise at 4:30 am, write for two hours, and then go off to work! When writing a new book I write every day at this time. I have found it’s not only the time when words flow – there is also no danger of being disturbed by the doorbell or the telephone. I have grown to love this time.
Then I go to work, come home around 3 pm, relax for an hour, visit my husband who is in a care home, and attend to other matters. There’s no more writing, but there might be some research, and of course social media to deal with!
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Hard to say – but I think it must be A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, which is actually about a girl, and marriage, and domestic life in India. I am fascinated by India, and this doorstopper of a book (1500 pages!) drew me into its world and kept me there for ages.
What female writer has inspired you?
So many of them! It starts with Enid Blyton, who showed me the magic that could be found in books. Then there was Mary O’Hara, who with My Friend Flicka showed me that books could break your heart and reduce you to floods of tears. I can still quote the lines from that book that moved me so much, though I read it over 50 years ago! Later, in school, it was Charlotte Bronte (Loved Jane Eyre – hated Wuthering Heights!).
Several more contemporary writers followed, but more recently, it’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi. And I’m delighted that she has just been voted the best Baileys Prize winner of the last ten years – well deserved! I’d love to write like that.
What books have you been recommending recently?
Speaking of Chimamanda – I’ve been recommending her Half of a Yellow Sun – the book that won the Baileys — all over the place recently. Her Purple Hibiscus is also excellent.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I dive in, with no blueprint. I just write, and the story comes. I get the first draft down in a few months, and then I rinse and repeat, as often as it takes. Usually about three drafts on my own, then of course, before publication, my editor will ask for a revision or two. It’s all par for the course: I love revising.
Very long, very complicated. Lots of ups and downs; blood, sweat and tears; disappointments; hopes kindled and dashed; all lasting over 15 years. I actually wrote four novels and three memoirs without the security of a publisher, and they are all still on my hard drive, waiting their turn to see the light of day. The main thing is that I developed patience, and nothing can shake me now. It was all good, in the end; I matured as a writer, and now I can just sit back, write, and take things as they come. I define success as simply knowing I’ve done my best, and the story is as good as I can make it.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Dig deep: stories are inside you, waiting to come out.
What are you working on at the moment?
The Secret Life of Winnie Cox is the first of a trilogy. I’m now working on the second book of the trilogy. It’s called The White Lady of All Boys’ Town.
Thanks, Sharon – we can't wait to read it.
The Secret Life of Winnie Cox is currently on sale for £1.99