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Dianne Ascroft Mini Biography:
I’m a Canadian writer, living in Britain. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Growing up there I loved the hustle and bustle of city life and was very involved in several historical societies and music organisations. I earned a B.A. in History at the University of Windsor, Canada in 1984. When I turned 30 I decided to try something different. So, later that year, I moved to Britain; I’ve lived in Scotland and Northern Ireland since moving here in 1990.
Although writing isn’t my primary occupation, I love it and spend as much time as possible indulging my passion. I’ve been freelance writing since 2002. Most of my writing focuses on history, arts/music and human interest stories. My articles have been printed in Canadian and Irish newspapers and magazines including the Toronto Star, Mississauga News, Derry Journal, Banbridge Leader and Ireland’s Own magazine.
I’ve contributed material to an Irish local history book, The Brookeborough Story: Aghalun in Aghavea and the Fermanagh Authors Association’s second collection A Fermanagh Miscellany 2. Hitler and Mars Bars is my first novel.
Since I left Toronto I’ve been continuously downsizing. I moved from Toronto, a city with a population of 3 million people to Belfast, a city of half a million to a small town in Ayrshire, Scotland, with a population of 18,000. Now I live in the country, on a small farm, with my husband and several pets.
Curiosity about the past has inspired my love of history and genealogy as well as spurring me to write historical fiction. Music is also an important part of my life. I especially enjoy folk, Celtic, Americana and bluegrass. I play the bagpipes and am learning to play guitar. Quilting, hiking and traveling number among my hobbies.
I’m a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Fermanagh Authors Association.
Author Interview with Dianne Ascroft:
It’s rare today to find an author who does nothing but write for a living. Do you have a ‘real’ job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you’ve had in your life?
Dianne Ascroft: Like most writers, my favorite pastime has never been my primary occupation. I’ve always held a day job and written in my spare time. For several years now I’ve been employed on temporary clerical contracts - at a local newspaper and then at a local government office.
In Canada, after I graduated from university, my jobs focused on the information management field - a library clerk in a corporate library and an archives clerk in the public sector.
When I moved to Britain, in 1990, I landed every booklover’s dream job – an assistant in a bookshop. I’ve also worked as a call centre operator for BT, Britain’s largest telephone company, reporting and testing telephone line faults; a care assistant at a nursing home and an Avon representative.
What compelled you to write your first book?
Dianne Ascroft: Hitler and Mars Bars is my first novel. Before I began the book, I thought about writing fiction but I procrastinated for ages. I didn’t begin until I found a story that I wanted to tell. It was hearing the tale of a German man’s unusual childhood that finally compelled me to put pen to paper. This man had been part of the Red Cross initiative, Operation Shamrock, which helped German children recuperate from the terrible conditions in Germany after World War II. He was brought to Ireland and fostered by an Irish family. His life story opened up a new aspect of German and Irish history for me – one that has been overlooked in history books. I was very curious about this piece of history, delved into it and then had to write about what I’d discovered.
Tell us a little about your book. What is its title and briefly let us know what it’s about.
Dianne Ascroft: Hitler and Mars Bars is the story of a German boy growing up in war-torn Germany and post war rural Ireland. Set against the backdrop of Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross project which helped German children after World War II, my novel explores a previously hidden slice of Irish and German history.
Erich, growing up in Germany’s embattled Ruhr area during World War II, knows only war and deprivation. His mother disappears after a heavy bombing raid, leaving him responsible for his younger brother, Hans. After the war the Red Cross initiative, Operation Shamrock, transports the boys to Ireland, along with hundreds of other children, to recuperate from the devastating conditions in their homeland. During the next few years Erich moves around Ireland through a string of foster families. He experiences the best and worst of Irish life, enduring indifference and brutality and sometimes finding love and acceptance. Plucky and resilient, Erich confronts every challenge he meets and never loses hope. The novel follows Erich’s life until he leaves school at fourteen.
Have you ever won any writing awards? If so, what?
Dianne Ascroft: Hitler and Mars Bars was the overall winner in Ireland’s Own magazine and Trafford Publishing’s Book Deal Contest in 2004. I submitted the synopsis and one sample chapter. I was delighted when I won as the prize was a free publishing package.
My short story, The Contest, was shortlisted and read on air for Belfast Downtown Radio’s Annual Short Story contest in 1998.
How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?
Dianne Ascroft: Amazement and disbelief are the first words that come to mind. After spending such a long time working on it, I could scarcely believe it really was finished. There was also a tinge of sadness too as my mother died a couple months before I completed the final edit so she never saw the finished book.
Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?
Dianne Ascroft: I don’t think I can pin it down to just one author! I enjoy contemporary and historical fiction. I think the characters have to move me – that’s what inspires me to read a book. Writers who capture the humanity of their characters definitely have the greatest impact on me. Some of these authors and books include Maeve Binchy’s Light A Penny Candle, Adriana Trigiani’s Big Stone Gap, Jodi Picoult’s Plain Truth and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. These authors create believable characters who I would like to meet in real life.
Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now. If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?
Dianne Ascroft: As I was growing up I never imagined I would live anywhere else – or anywhere so different from where I was. I lived in a quiet suburb, close to a huge wooded park, when I was growing up in Toronto, one of Canada’s major cities. So I had peace and tranquillity as well as all the advantages of city life right outside my door.
I moved to Britain in 1990 and I’ve been downsizing ever since. I lived in small cities and towns until five years ago we moved to a farm about 100 miles from Belfast, the nearest major city. The farm is wonderful. I have a view of fields and rolling hills from my front window and keep pets that wouldn’t be allowed in a city garden.
I love where I live but I also enjoy a city’s liveliness and its almost endless choice of activities. So my ideal location would be in the country within easy reach of a large city.
Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like?
Dianne Ascroft: My ‘office’ is the spare bedroom. The computer is set up on the desk in one corner of the room and there is an old sofa against the opposite wall – I write at the computer and stretch out on the sofa to edit a paper copy. I type faster than I can handwrite (and much more legibly…) so it’s easier to get my ideas onto the computer screen than to handwrite. I play classic rock and folk ballads, turned down low on a cd player. I can’t concentrate if the music is above a murmur; I would just hum along. The window is beside the sofa and there’s a lovely view of rolling hills and fields. Hares, pheasants and foxes sometimes wander past. It’s just as well that I can’t see the view from my chair at the computer, without leaning over and craning my neck, or I would never be able to concentrate. I save the view for the moments when I get up, stretch and take a break. There’s a photo of my working space on my website at www.geocities.com/dianne_ascroft/excerpts.
Tell our readers what genre your book is and what popular author you think your writing style in this book is most like.
Dianne Ascroft: Hitler and Mars Bars is an historical fiction. I think my style is similar to John Boyne’s in The Boy In The Striped Pajamas. Although his style, unlike mine, is stripped bare of any embellishment, I think my style is still a simple one that conveys a child’s perception of events.
How long did it take you to write your book? When you started writing, did you think it would take that long?
Dianne Ascroft: I spent 3 years working on it. Researching the period occupied the first year then I began writing and editing. I finished the first draft in a few months but then I spent quite a while honing it until I was satisfied. That combined process took longer than I expected. Initially I thought I would have completed the book in just over a year. But writing while juggling the rest of my life slowed me down a bit.
Is there any one particular book that when you read it, you thought to yourself, “Man, I wish I’d written that one!”?
Dianne Ascroft: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s an enthralling story with so much detail. I totally lost myself in it. Tolkien brings his mythical characters to life and I found myself caring what happened to them.
Many authors have said that naming their characters is a difficult process, almost like choosing a name for their own child. How did you select the names of some of your lead characters in your book?
Dianne Ascroft: Since my novel is an historical fiction the names had to be suitable for the era. I chose names from a list of common German boys’ names in the 1940s for my main character, Erich, and his brother, Hans. Lists of Irish first names, for the same period, provided names for the rest of the characters. I scanned the lists and chose names I liked - or ones I didn’t like for villainous characters.
Is there any lesson or moral you hope your story might reveal to those who read it?
Dianne Ascroft: I didn’t set out to convey a lesson or moral but I think the book is inspiring. Erich’s triumphs offer the reader reassurance that no matter what hardships we endure the human spirit can overcome them without losing our hopes and dreams.
Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending?
Dianne Ascroft: The only personal appearances I have currently planned are at the Donegal Book Fair in Donegal, Ireland on November 30 and at the Fermanagh Authors Association Book Sale in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland in December (date to be confirmed). Details will be listed on my website at www.geocities.com/dianne_ascroft.
Readers can follow my Virtual Book Tour until December 24. Full tour details are on my blog, Ascroft, eh?, at www.dianneascroft.wordpress.com.
Tell us a bit more about you and your book. Anything else you'd like your readers to know?
Everything readers might like to know about Hitler and Mars Bars- news, excerpts, reviews – is on my website at www.geocities.com/dianne_ascroft. They can also stop by my blog, Ascroft, eh? at www.dianneascroft.wordpress.com to learn more about me and my thoughts on writing (and anything else that occurs to me!).
Readers will also find me on MySpace, Bebo and Goodreads.com.