Marion Grace Woolley: Five Things I Learned Writing Those Rosy Hours At Mazandaran
It begins with a rumour, an exciting whisper — anything to break the tedium of the harem for Afsar, the Shah’s eldest daughter.
A trader knows of a wondrous circus. Traveling with it is a man with a face so vile it would make a hangman faint, but a voice as sweet as an angel’s kiss. He is a master of illusion and stealth. A masked performer, known only as Vachon.
On her birthday, the Shah gifts Afsar the circus. She is captivated by Vachon, and they are swiftly bound together by a heady web of fascination, jealousy, and murder.
Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran gives life to the Little Sultana from Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, and takes us on forbidden adventures through a time that has been written out of history books.
You Know When You Come of Age
All writers start somewhere. No one ever arrived on the page fully fledged. In yea olden days, that process was fairly private. People wrote in the secrecy of their own homes, fingers stained with ink, shoulders hunched about their ears, until they had something worth submitting.
Nowadays, we’re not so bashful. If it’s not worth submitting, you can always blog it, self-publish or even vanity-press it. Our mistakes are there for all to see.
It wasn’t until 2008 that I seriously tried to write my first novel – just to prove I could. Everything after that has been practise. I’ve explored different genres, from horror to chick lit. I’ve fumbled my prose and played with pastiche.
With Rosy Hours, I feel as though I’ve come of age. There is a maturity to it that was missing in previous attempts. I’m not ashamed of what I wrote before, but this is on another level. I have found something that is mine.
A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way
I published three other novels before Rosy Hours. For me, getting published has never been particularly difficult. Selling books, on the other hand, requires Sisyphean effort. My previous publishers were high on enthusiasm but low on marketing mulla.
Add to that a spell of crippling self-doubt in which I wrote a manuscript that will never see the light of day (my writing was getting worse, not better!), and you have the recipe for a quitter. I almost packed everything in. One hundred thousand words is a long slog when no one’s going to read what you write.
Ghostwoods Books really turned me around. One minute everything was crap, no point, why bother. The next the sun was shining, there’s a grin on my face, the world is a beautiful place. What a difference a year makes.
They reminded me that it isn’t all about sales. It’s about being proud of your creation. Knowing that you’ve given it the very best you can. Knowing that what you’ve written has been loved.
I’ve got my mojo back.
Moustaches are Sexy on Women
Rosy Hours is set in 1850s Northern Iran. The Shah at the time was busy selling off the country’s assets to expand his harem. One of the things I learned during my research is that beauty is extremely subjective. When I thought harem, I thought wispy Persian beauties draped in silk, dancing the seven veils.
When the Shah of Iran thought harem, he thought unibrows and coffee-stain moustaches.
It’s Really Emotional Hearing Your Characters Speak
One of the reasons I’m so excited about this book, is that it’s being turned into an audiobook.
It’s been a fascinating experience. Author and Hugo Award nominee Emma Newman has provided the voice. I’ll never forget receiving the sample chapter. Opening it up and hearing my words read back to me for the first time, the voices inside my head speaking to me in somebody else’s voice. It gave me goosebumps.
A few years of drama school and working in development have taught me that to create is fine, to collaborate, divine. I get a real buzz when art sparks art. When something I’ve written inspires someone else’s creation. After all, I was inspired by Leroux. Each piece of audio, or fan art, gives a sort of validation to the characters I’ve created. It attests that they have lived, and that their lives extend beyond what I imagined for them.
When It’s Good, It’s Easy
There’s this transcendental space, just above your head, where thoughts cease and good stuff happens. It’s like when you’re flying in dreams. You’re not thinking about flying, you’re just doing it. It’s the same with writing, there’s a zone. When you’re in it, everything is easy. The story just happens.
Rosy Hours is both the most complex novel I’ve written, and also one of the easiest. I look back at it now and I’m honestly surprised. Sometimes it doesn’t feel as though I wrote it. Sometimes I wonder where I got certain phrases from. Mostly, I don’t remember writing it.
You can’t force that zone, but when you’re sure that you have a great story to tell, the pieces sometimes just fall into place.
The story writes itself.
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Marion Grace Woolley is the British author of four novels (historical, dark fantasy and LGBT) and a collection of short stories. She’s currently living in Kigali, Rwanda where — when she’s not writing — she’s an international development consultant. She’s just been appointed country head of a human rights organization, is up to her eyeballs in CVs, and is moving house on Thursday. She is fluent in British Sign Language, and plays the tin whistle.