Saturday, 1 April 2017

Diana talks to Dianne Ascroft

Hi Dianne! Lovely to talk with you at last!!
If your latest book The Yankee Years Books 1-3
was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

Ruth Corey, a young Northern Irish woman, and Frank Longo, an Italian-American contractor who has come to Northern Ireland for a building project, are the leading female and male characters in the first 2 stories in the collection. I think Jason Behr, who starred several years ago in the American supernatural drama, Roswell, would be good as Frank. In the Roswell series, he had a calm, collected manner that would suit my character, Frank. I think an unknown actress would suit the role of Ruth. She is a quiet, unassertive character as the story begins and I think that someone who isn’t associated with any other role would play her best. I’m not really a great movie buff so I’ll leave it at that. I introduce two new lead characters in the third story in the collection but I won’t try to find actors for their roles. Maybe readers can help me out with that.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

Most of my writing is historical fiction but I enjoy reading the odd cosy mystery. So I might venture into the crime fiction genre for a book or two. I could even stay in the past and write an historical cosy mystery. As for the plot, I do actually have one in mind…

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I don’t have any rituals as such, though it’s always good to have a big mug of tea beside me, and I do go back for refills. But, I do like to write early in the morning. I’m always the first one up in our house each morning so the house is quiet and I can write without any distractions, other than the cats clamouring for their breakfast (I do feed them before I start). In this atmosphere, it’s easy to gather my thoughts and put them on paper before my mind gets filled with the other tasks that I have to tackle that day.  Besides my day job, I also do admin work for a local writers’ group and I can easily get side-tracked with organising activities for the group if I don’t get the words on paper first.

What is the worst book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

The Book of Paul by Richard Long is one of the few books that I decided I couldn’t continue reading. I can’t actually say it was the worst book I’ve ever read as the author’s use of language, development and understanding of character and ability to create tension in a plot was superb, but what made it unreadable for me was the incredibly graphic violence and one main character’s complete lack conscience. I felt that that the author included too much detail when he portrayed scenes of violence and torture, and I didn’t get a sense from the writing that these acts were deplorable. The scenes were written with a clinical eye for detail but no moral censure or emotional empathy for the victims and this disturbed me. Since I write wartime fiction, I also include some violence in my stories but I choose the details I reveal carefully. I want the reader to focus on the story, not only the violence. Reading The Book of Paul, what stuck in my mind was images of the violence and torture rather than the plot of the story. I’m afraid this type of psychological thriller isn’t for me.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

We live on a farm and I enjoy the outdoors so, after I leave the day job and when I’m not writing, I go for long walks and also spend time with our animals. My dream job would involve working with animals, especially goats. We had a pair of pet goats until recently and they are such amazing, intelligent animals and very individual characters. I could easily move to a remote hillside with just a herd of goats for company. Well, it might be nice if I could still get internet access there though. With a minimal amount of training, I’m sure the goats would be willing to post on Facebook and other social media sites for me. Wouldn’t that be an interesting marketing campaign? I could have my dream job and still have time to write.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?

Definitely tea. White wine. But if you have any herbal tea that has cinnamon in it, I wouldn’t say no to it either. Or hot apple cider (the non-alcoholic variety) wouldn’t go amiss. I love cinnamon!

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

I like Palatino Linotype for the main text in a novel. Font size 10 is about right.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

There isn’t one particular document I would choose but I wouldn’t mind rooting through the files of documents that are still classified pertaining to Northern Ireland during the Second World War. I’m sure they would provide lots of interesting material for future stories.

Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?

I haven’t really had to deal with many irritating historic characters because I’m particularly interested in ‘the little man’, the average person, rather than those higher up the social, political or military hierarchies so most of my characters are fictional. I sometimes bring one of them into contact with historic characters but, since they would not move in the same circles, the meetings are brief encounters for a particular purpose in the story. Even though I set my tales in real places, such as airbases, army camps and country estates that existed in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, most of the characters that inhabit them are fictional. A couple important historic figures appear in a novel that I’m currently working on: U. S. Army General Patton and the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Basil Brooke. They both make brief appearances in the novel and I enjoyed writing those scenes. But there aren’t any historic characters with walk on parts in The Yankee Years Books 1-3.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this ?

I am very reluctant to do this and only do so when absolutely necessary. And then, I would only alter very minor details. I wouldn’t alter the outcome of a battle, for instance, but might make minor alterations to the physical setting to fit action in a story. In one story (Allies After All) in another collection, Pearl Harbor and More, I have made a cave accessible to suit the plot when, in fact, the opening is too small for an adult to enter. But, if there’s a dearth of information regarding a fact or incident, leaving the details open to interpretation, I will then let my imagination have free rein.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

As I’ve mentioned above, although I write historical fiction, I feel that historical accuracy is very important and I always try to put it first. I won’t alter key historical facts to suit my story. I have occasionally altered minor details of a setting to facilitate the plot of a story but not the historical facts. When I was plotting the stories for the collection, I referred to the timeline of World War II to keep the sequence of events during the war firmly in my mind. I also researched what was happening at the time in the locality where I set my stories. Then I chose relevant details from the local and broader picture to incorporate into the stories. In this way, I assure that the stories are true to what was happening when they are set and readers can be confident that they are stepping into a past that I’ve recreated as accurately as possible. I want them to believe that the story could have happened.


Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

I don’t usually hate any of my characters but I do make sure that the ‘bad guys’ eventually get what they deserve. I do get attached to some characters though. I develop favourites and rarely want to let go of them. Readers will notice that the first two stories in The Yankee Years Books 1-3 collection are about the same two main characters. After Ruth and Frank confronted the threat posed by a spy in their midst in the first story, The Shadow Ally, I had to see what happened to them next so I wrote the second story, Acts of Sabotage.  I’ve really got to like Ruth as she has developed and I think she has potential to be a bit of an amateur sleuth so I have further adventures planned for her and Frank in at least one more story that I will start work on soon.


What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

I read a wide variety of fiction, contemporary and historical as well as some mystery and crime fiction. I look for stories that feature vivid, memorable characters and settings that nearly jump off the page combined with gripping plots. Since I write stories set during the Second World War, I also enjoy reading other novels set in the era. They are research and relaxation at the same time.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

I think a caramel latte or cup of hot chocolate (with lots of chocolate!) might go well. But, then, those are two of my favourites. Or maybe readers should indulge in gin cocktails to get a flavour of the era.

Last but not least... favourite historical author?

That’s an easy one. Manda (M.C.) Scott is one of my favourite authors and has been for years. There is just something wonderful about her books. I love her writing. Her ability to breathe life into characters and unveil a complex story that keeps me on the edge of my seat, as well as her skilful use of language, is absolutely wonderful. I love stories, like hers, that come alive in my mind.  ((Note from Diana: I can relate to that. I not only heard her talk at the HNS conference in Oxford, I was fortunate enough to meet her. I LOVE her books. My only problem is that as they are so engrossing, I read them far too fast! ))

Dianne Ascroft biography:

Dianne Ascroft writes historical and contemporary fiction, often with an Irish connection. Her series The Yankee Years is a collection of Short Reads and novels set in World War II Northern Ireland. After the Allied troops arrived in this outlying part of Great Britain, life there would never be the same again. The series strives to bring those heady, fleeting years to life again, in thrilling and romantic tales of the era.

Her other writing includes a ghost tale inspired by the famous Northern Irish legend of the Coonian ghost, An Unbidden Visitor; a short story collection, Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves, and an historical novel, Hitler and Mars Bars.

Dianne lives on a small farm, in Northern Ireland, with her husband and an assortment of strong-willed animals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys walks in the countryside, evenings in front of her open fireplace and folk and traditional music. 

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© Diana Milne July 2016 © Dianne Ascroft March 2017







  1. Thanks for inviting me to visit your blog, Diana. It was a pleasure to chat with you and discover that you are also a fan of Manda Scott's writing. A great thing to have in common.

  2. Love these interviews, Diana, they're always so very interesting :D