Pam Rhodes is known around the world as the presenter of BBC Television’s Songs of Praise and her popular Hearts and Hymns programme on Premier Christian Radio. She describes herself as an ‘anorak’ in her fascination for hymns old and new, and her books on hymn-writers, like Love So Amazing, Then Sings My Soul and Hear My Song are essentials in many a church vestry! A natural storyteller with 25 varied books under her belt, Pam is perhaps best known for her novels packed with down-to-earth characters and situations that inspire and entertain. ‘Springtime At Hope Hall’ is the first book in her ‘Hope Hall’ series.
- To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
I’ve been the presenter of the BBC Television series ‘Songs of Praise’ for more than thirty years, with a wonderful opportunity over the years to interview hundreds of people with challenging or inspiring stories to share. Back in 1995, a publisher asked me to write a factual book about behind the scenes on ‘Songs of Praise’ – but I didn’t feel I had the right to share those stories when I was mostly no longer in touch with the interviewees. So I tried my hand at writing a fictional account of the making of a ‘Songs of Praise’ programme instead, in which I could feature elements of the most moving stories, but change the characters, location and exact situation of their experience so that it was unrecognisable. That book, ‘With Hearts and Hymns and Voices’ is still selling well today, all these years later – and from that moment on, I was hooked on writing novels.
- You have led quite a varied career over the years, has this inspired your writing and your new book ‘Springtime at Hope Hall’?
‘Songs of Praise’ has provided me with an unmatchable tapestry of human experience and emotion from which I am able to draw. I think I’m a bit sponge-like whenever I hear a moving or challenging real-life story, so that when I’m writing, I can draw on those memories to create completely new fictional characters.
- If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
I like all sorts of reading, mostly nothing like the books I write myself. I love the books written some years ago by Fiona Castle, the widow of the entertainer Roy Castle. She has written several comforting and yet challenging books full of quotations as well as her own thoughts, and I often delve into them with great pleasure. Then, I love a good mystery – so Joy Ellis, the detective story writer is one of my favourites – and because I like a good romance too, I also enjoy the gentle, down-to-earth storytelling of Jill Mansell.
- What’s your favourite book of all time?
I have always loved ‘The Shoes of the Fisherman’by Morris West. I read it first many years ago, and it really touched me. When I fancy the best possible reading experience – you know, a book with a storyline that has me bawling my eyes out – it’s that book I reach for!
- Why did you decide to write female fiction?
I wasn’t aware that I’d ever made that decision! I don’t write for any one kind of reader, and I hope my books aren’t only entertaining for women. I mostly write stories based in communities – in churches sometimes, or in the case of this recent trilogy, a large Victorian community hall used by people of all age groups and interests – and I hope the books that appear as a result of that come from all sorts of age groups and interests too.
- Who’s your literary hero/heroine?
I’m not sure I can answer that in terms of the books I enjoy reading, because I simply love meeting and getting to know the central character of each and every story. Sometimes the character I like most actually plays a minor role – but is simply extraordinary as all ordinary people are. They are the characters I like best of all.
- What’s been your favourite part of the writing process?
Simply sitting down at the computer and starting! I never allow myself an empty screen. Even if I have no clear idea where the storyline is heading, I just get started – and somehow all the other characters and storylines join me on the way!
- What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
It would be hard to beat that wonderful opening line from Daphne du Maurier’s classic story of ‘Rebecca’ –‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” In a few short words, we recognize the heroine’s voice, where she is and the dreamlike atmosphere of that tragic story of love and loss.
- If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
I’d bring a ‘Songs of Praise’ hymn book, because I’d be very happy not just remembering the melodies, but recognising the beauty of the words, especially those from writers down the centuries whose life stories are inspirational in themselves. I’d bring an old copy of Ripley’s ‘Believe It Or Not’. When I was a youngster, that was the book we were tucked up with if ever we were ill. I loved those unbelievably odd stories, and the pictures alongside each example have stuck in my mind too. I’d love to look through that old book again in more detail now. And I think I’d have to bring a Bible – because there is so much of it that I’ve never read. I’d like to have the time to read it with a greater sense of chronology, and of the characters and situations of the writers themselves.
- What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
I think they should concentrate on the sheer joy of writing. Go to a writing course, if you feel that would help – but don’t let some suggested technique stop you just starting to write down what you want to say first, and then just letting your own imagination fill the page for you. It doesn’t matter if no one but you ever reads it, or if it is eventually published and read by thousands. The main thing is to enjoy the act of writing, which is as compelling as reading – and, I think, much more fulfilling.
- When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
My glasses. I can’t see a thing without them.
- And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website.
I am just about to bring out another trilogy, ‘Hope Hall’, all about a wonderful old Memorial Hall that could be very much like the community hall down the road from wherever you live. It’s open from morning till night for all age groups and interests – so that young and old, locals and visitors, meet up inside its walls.’Hope Hall’ is full of great characters, some of whom span the three books, whilst some of them feature in cameo storylines about the various group activities going on at the hall. All of life is there – emotional, challenging and downright fun!
You can buy ‘Springtime At Hope Hall’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.