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An Interview with Stephanie Percival, author of All the Trees in the Wood


Stephanie always intended to write a novel but it wasn’t until 2004 when she was shortlisted for the BBC End of Story Competition that she believed it might be possible. That was the motivation to develop The Memory of Wood, which she self-published in 2011.

The Kim’s Game, longlisted in the Cinnamon Press Debut Novel Award, was published in 2017 and a novella, the matter, followed in 2019.

Her novel, All the Trees in the Wood, was shortlisted in the Agora Work in Progress Prize, 2020.

Stephanie enjoys writing in different styles and genres and has been short- and longlisted and won several writing competitions.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

My writing journey began when I was shortlisted for a national competition, BBC End of Story. That was twenty years ago! The premise was completing a short story, started by a well-known author. It was still in the days before e-mailed entries and I remember the satisfaction of posting the manuscript in the red post office box. I was pleased that I’d finally got round to writing something, and thought no more of it when it landed with a thud inside the box.

Then I got a phone call, saying I’d been shortlisted, and inviting me to London for filming. Prior to this a camera crew videoed me at my home, which was exciting and nerve-wracking. Everyone was very positive and I was given a boost that I could actually write.

This feeling was quickly dampened at the filming in London. We were still in the days of X-Factor-style reality shows. So, the six shortlisted writers sat on stools in a studio, (ducks lined up), and we watched as four judges on film proceeded to tear our short stories apart.

Returning home, I decided that either I could give up writing, or I could take it as a challenge and make it the start. I chose the latter and signed up for a writing course and joined a creative writing group. I’ve been lucky enough to come across people, writing groups and retreats just at the right time for me. These include Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press, Amanda Saint of Retreat West and a local writing group, Creative Writers @ Museum in Northampton. Over the years and with the help of the creative people I have met, I have enjoyed seeing my writing develop and improve.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I worked in the health service for many years, and this has definitely influenced my writing. My second novel, The Kim’s Game, is a story of loss. The protagonist has a foot amputated; this is a physical absence among other non-physical losses. Early in my career, I met a patient with an amputated leg, even at that time when I wasn’t writing, I had an idea that this would make for a good character in a book.

My novella, the matter, also borrows from a patient history. This time a child with a terrible incurable disease. This made me consider the possibility of genetic modification, what would be the outcome if a child was cured of this terrible disease by gene therapy. (This book was started when human gene therapy was in its infancy.) The book asks questions about the ethics of human gene modification.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The title All the Trees in the Wood came first really. I’d regularly walk through local parkland, looking at all the beautiful trees, some young, some old. Observing the bark and leaves, the interesting shapes, ‘eyes’ and ‘limbs,’ I knew I wanted to write a story involving trees as characters. I have noticed that trees feature a lot in my writing.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I loved getting a draft copy of my book, seeing that the cover worked. Not only did the cover image reflect the story in the book, the book had a lovely weight to it; solid and real in my hands. The fact that my idea and hard work had come together to be something I could be proud of, made me smile for days.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

I would LOVE my book to have a soundtrack. And it deserves one too!

My protagonist Anna’s parents have a folk band. In this group, the antagonist, a mysterious woman, Lorelei appears. She has a beautiful voice and joins the band. Anna’s mother writes a series of songs, with a theme of trees and includes a track ‘All the Trees in the Wood.’ When writing the character of Lorelei, I envisioned an image and musical style combining both Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks (both artists I admire). Lorelei ends up leaving the folk band and becoming a pop star. ‘Dryad’ becomes the best-selling record album of 1977. This is central to the book’s storyline.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I am my perfect reader! I love a psychological mystery and this has an added edge of the paranormal. The phrase “If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” is attributed to Toni Morrison and I have definitely followed that advice.

I’d love my reader to find something new, come across something they haven’t experienced before and find a theme that makes them think.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

As any writer knows. It takes a very long time from the first idea to the writing of a first draft, and then the process of finding a publisher or going down the self-publishing route. So, it has the feel of finishing a marathon, exhausted by the process physically but spiritually uplifted by the completion of all that hard work.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

Currently, I’m putting together an anthology of my flash fiction and short stories. Most of the stories have won or been short or longlisted for competitions. I do like a writing competition, which after all is where my writing journey began! So, I’m continuing to write for and enter a variety of competitions. I have also been recording some of my short stories and they are available to listen to on a Spotify podcast (Steph’s Storyville). During NaNoWriMo 2021 I wrote 50,000 words of a draft novel. Another idea for a novel has been bubbling away and I have done some preparation and written several chapters. Whether either of these two projects will be completed I don’t know as I am enjoying writing short fiction at present.

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