19 Oct 2016

The Seasoned Traveller

 Hello my little chickadees 

I discovered recently through Wikipedia that chickadees are a group of North American birds in the tit family. Species found in North America are referred to as chickadees, while other species in the genus are called tits. Their name reputedly comes from the fact that their calls make a distinctive "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" sound. So there you go, that's something else you've learnt. Ok so many of you smart pants out there are going to tell me that you knew that.... tips hat.

Anyhows, today on my blog I have a very seasoned traveller, Sheila Mary Taylor Belshaw aka Sheila Mary Belshaw aka Sheila Mary Taylor the author, who hails from Cape Town, Menorca, and the UK, depending on the time of the year.

So tell us all about yourself Sheila.
Hi Tee, I’m thrilled to be interviewed by you, one of my longest standing writing friends. And being one of many admirers of your lovely books, it is indeed an honour.

Tee Why thank you my friend. You can leave any loose change in the plate at the bottom of the page :-) 

Do you want the book, or the shorter version? Well, I’m sure it will be the shorter version, and I presume you want the unedited version, because reading your very vibrant blog, I gather you don’t like your victims to stand on ceremony, but to tell it how it is, warts and all. So here it is in a nutshell …
Eldest daughter of two of the most wonderfully academic Scottish academics I have ever known - a lecturer in psychology and behaviorial science, and a teacher of English – both published writers, so I’m not surprised, looking back, that I was a rebel. Doing no school work because there were so many more exciting things to do in Cape Town (what an amazing place to grow up in!) – riding, trick-skating in nightclubs, hunting, dancing, swimming, climbing Table Mountain, camping, lady jockey at the races – and then scraping through my exams by only revising the night before so that the academic parents decided I was not academic material and did not send me to university !!! Nor did they let me pursue my dream to be a famous ballet dancer!
My rebellion was to escape to the UK to further my dance career, but instead I met my future life partner –the irresistible Colin Belshaw, a brilliant mining engineer who would give me a privileged life and three wonderful sons.
Writing? Oh yes, it was always in the back of my mind, striving to get out, but because I thought you had to have a degree to be a writer … sadly I was a very late starter.
Editing. Another late start. I developed this skill when I worked closely with Penguin, who published my mother’s three works of fiction thirty years after her death. This led to her winning the South African Posthumous Literary Award, and I consider this four-year labour of love – editing her long-lost unpublished manuscripts – my most important literary achievement. I then went on to edit books for friends, and was later employed by Taylor Street Publishers of San Francisco as their chief editor – a job I absolutely adored. 

Where do you live
This is always a difficult question, especially when you have to fill in forms and state your address and phone number. Colin and I are nomads. We live in the UK, Menorca, and Cape Town. All three homes are home. When I open the front door, I am home, never on holiday, although they say that a change is as good as a holiday! I have not experienced a winter since 1998.

Past hobbies? Calligraphy, believe it or not. And illuminated manuscripts! And taking photos and sticking them into albums! Remember that? But making up stories about the photos so that the album read like a book … I suppose this was the unborn writer in me, bursting to be released …
Photography has now become my main hobby and I would like to go on a course to become a better photographer.
Please note that I do not consider writing to be a hobby, but as my raison d’etre...
I have always loved listening to classical music, especially Beethoven and Mozart, and I do still dance – twice a week at the Fitness League. I have other hobbies, but for instance you would probably consider that sticking off-cuts of my favourite plants into washed-out wine bottles and when you see the roots growing, sticking them into flower pots, to be child’s play …

Pets – furry or human
Cats we can’t have because Col is allergic to them, but when we lived in Zambia (for 33 years) we always had dogs. Poodles took the place of my children when they went to boarding school, and I ended up breeding them and teaching myself to clip them because where we lived, no-one else could do it. As a teenager, my horses were also my pets, and one of them used to follow me into the house, walking through it as though it was perfectly normal for horses to walk around in houses, pushing me along, nuzzling me with his lovely soft nose … Oh, don’t get me started …

What do you do to chill out
I drink two glasses of pink wine every evening. Never more. Never less. Not because that’s the limit, but because my body tells me it is, and gone are the days when I didn’t care if I had a hangover or not. Although sometimes – not very often – I might be tempted! But I’m not. Oh, and because I love it, and because I am always the driver!
But my real chill-out moments are walking on the beach. There’s nothing like it to make the soul soar into the realms of fantasy and freedom – of a feeling that raw nature is what life is all about. The wind in your hair, the clouds, the mountains, the smell of the sea, the roar of the waves, the birds, the dolphins, the grasses swaying gracefully on the dunes … Fish Hoek Beach in Cape Town is the best beach in the whole world. Every day I get up at dawn and drive to the beach, my camera charged and ready to record the most beautiful sunrises ever seen. And not just sunrises, but life and nature and like-minded people who find joy in the wonder of nature. I have travelled a lot and have never found anywhere else on earth that is quite like this.

Day job
My day job was first to love my parents, who looking back were quite extraordinary, and then to love my husband and my children, and all the wonderful people I have known who have contributed to this amazing life that I am lucky enough to still be living as though I am a mere twenty-year-old. 
But that’s not really what you wanted to know, is it, Tee? Day job? Well I’ve had lots, but my day job now is to keep my husband well and happy, under the dire circumstances that we both try very hard to keep our heads above.

Tell me about your books Sheila. When you first started writing. How many completed. Work in progress
When did I first start writing? I wrote a poem when I was about ten. My mother sent it to the Cape Times and it was published. I wrote twenty-page letters to my aunts and cousins in far-away Scotland. When I left home I wrote on those flimsy blue airmail letters to my mother every week until she died.  But as I said earlier, I didn’t always want to be a writer because I was convinced you had to have a degree in English; I wanted to be a dancer …     
It took a near tragedy to start writing in earnest when my beautiful youngest son Andrew was diagnosed with OsteoSarcoma at the age of eighteen and given a 15% chance of survival. “Fly With A Miracle” (now “Count to Ten”) was the result of my feverish scribblings on scraps of paper while sitting at his bedside hour after hour, day after day, month after month, wondering whether he was going to live or die.  

How many manuscripts are completed
Ten, all published. A few more unpublished but still on the back burner. The first five, published by traditional publishers, are long out of print: four romances, The Nightingale Will Sing , Diamonds of the Sun, Savage Paradise, The Shadow of the Flame, published by Thorpe Publishing (only after Mills & Boon rejected them because the plots were too “complicated”!); and Fly With a Miracle by Denor Press, London.

Then when the digital age exploded I took a plunge into the e-book revolution with my first legal crime thriller – Pinpoint, published by Taylor Street, and was a best seller in the top 1,000 on Amazon.com for four months. Taylor Street (no relation to me!) also published Count to Ten (the rewrite of Fly With a Miracle), Dance to a Tangled Web, Golden Sapphire, and Eldorado. And these were all later published by Precious Oil. My latest book – Lari’s Castle was published by Bardel, who have also re-published Pinpoint, Eldorado, and Dance to a Tangled Web, and are planning to re-publish all my other books in the very near future.


Work in progress 
Silent Justice. The first book I have ever struggled to finish. It’s a legal thriller set in Cape Town, and its progress has been severely curtailed by the circumstances of my husband’s serious illness. But I’m pressing on, and I will finish it soon! After that I am going to rewrite those very early published romances, putting back all the spicy bits that at the time had to be removed!

If you could have any animal from time immemorial as a pet for long freezing days and nights, what would you choose and why
Definitely not a rabbit or a rhino or a rat or a reindeer. Nothing from time immemorial. A Poodle, of course, like the lovely apricot Poodles I use to breed long ago. They are almost human and you can talk to them and they talk back to you, and they love you unreservedly.

Do you prefer heat OR cold
I think that has to be heat. We lived in Zambia for many years, as well as Tanzania and Ghana, so I am more used to heat than cold. I remember choosing the European winter for our long leave from these tropical countries, and skiing in Switzerland and Yugoslavia were our favourites. How exhilarating it was to feel the tingle of cold air on our faces!

Fantasy holiday… 
Where would you choose to go if someone else was picking up the tab
Wow! Tee, if you’d asked me this twenty or thirty or forty years ago, I’d have said Las Vegas or the Maldives or Hong Kong. But actually my secret dream is Katmandu. Long ago I read a wonderful book by Han Suyin called The Mountain is Young, set in Katmandu. (She also wrote the best seller “A Many Splendored Thing”, made into a film). I still read it regularly. I fell in love with Katmandu and wanted more than anything else to go there, but it never happened. It’s too late now, but I can still dream, can’t I …

Are you with a traditional publisher or self published
Because I’ve been published by both I suppose the modern word for this is Hybrid … )

Favourite meal (hot and cold)
I’m extremely lucky that my darling husband Col is the main cook these days, even though I once did a Cordon Bleu Cookery course in London because of all the entertaining I had to do in Zambia. He cooks the main meal every night (I do the breakfasts and lunches) and I have to say that I love all his meals, but my favourite has to be roast lamb and all the trimmings! Followed by a Mini Magnum chocolate ice cream!

Favourite drink (hot and cold)
Pink wine, of course! There’s nothing to beat it. Rosé. Rosado. And Pink Champagne. Why? Because it’s delicious, and because white wine gives me gout. And red wine puts me under the table! My favourite hot drink is Rooibos Tea, which is grown in the Western Cape of South Africa, has no caffeine and no tannin and is full of things that are very good for you.

How hard do you find book promotion
Far too hard to do. And I’m useless at it anyway. Which is why none of my books are selling at the moment. I didn’t realise, but I do now, how lucky I was when my first five books were published by traditional publishers who also did the promotion. And also when Tim Roux first published my books, starting with Pinpoint, and somehow he managed to promote them as well, so that I had all the time to write, plus a very nice little income, thank you very much, which sadly came to an end when Taylor Street Publishing was closed, and I also lost my job as their chief editor.

Any tips or hints you’ve found that were successful for you in promotion 
I wish I could answer this one, Tee, but I can’t. My own fault, I know, but I just wasn’t born with the ability to sell things. Some people are, and I envy them. It’s a gift. I probably couldn’t sell a bucket of water in a drought …

Favourite genres to read and write
I’ve never really put the books I love into a “genre”. I love books that explore psychological problems. I love books that feature a character who is flawed, or damaged, or has been wrongly accused of something. And I love books that admit that there are very few problems in life that do not have romance at the core. I did write a few “romances” when I first started writing, but this was only because one of the writer circles I joined said you had to write “romance” because this was the way to fame and fortune! But Mills & Boon turned down all my romances because the plots were too “complicated” … and … well they had things in them that their readers would be shocked at! They were eventually published by Thorpe, but only when I cut out the “complications”! So to answer your question, I always seem to read books by authors who have a deep understanding of human nature, with some mystery and some romance in them too.

And I suppose this is also what I love to write. But I cannot categorize it into a genre. Something triggers a spark. I see a difficult situation. One sentence drums into my subconscious and suddenly it grows tentacles and it’s a paragraph, and then it’s a page, and it keeps growing from this one magical germ, and I don’t know where it’s going to lead, but the more I write, the more it grows and the people in it become real people and they have problems, and then they start writing the book themselves, so every day I wonder what is going to happen next …
Oh, the joy of writing!

You’ve set up your own publishing house using FB writer friends to help run it. What would you name it? Who would you choose to run the different departments? As the owner, how would you ensure the FB staff achieved success

I have to smile at this question, Tee. There is absolutely no way I could set up my own publishing house! And what would I name it? “Last Chance Publishers”?
Okay, you win. So in my dreams I’ve set it up. Who do I choose to run it? Well, nobody would be better than you. And clearly I’m the chief editor, for the same reason! You are also the blog expert. Poppet has to be the cover designer and John Holt on the techie side. Nobody to beat them. And then there’s the very important editorial committee who’ll decide which books we will publish – all of them writers I admire:  Gerry McCullough, Babs Morton, Nigel Lampard, Mel Comley, and lots of others who know who they are, so we can have a party when we’ve finished choosing the books …

Amazon.com Author Page:
Amazon.co.uk Author Page:

Link to Pinpoint YouTube Book Trailer:

Thank you Sheila for agreeing to 'hang around' in my chilly wet cave and I'm happy to see you survived !

 Laters Potaters


John Holt said...

Hi Sheila - a great interview. It is always good to learn more about a good friend. Wish you every success

Jawn's Fish Hoek Rambles said...

Agree with John Holt great interview I was enthralled to the end :-)

Anonymous said...

An excellent interview, Sheila, may it bring the success you deserve. Nx

S Burke said...

Now THAT is what an interview is all about! Bravo to two lovely and talented ladies. xoxo