Elizabeth Chats With…Anne Williams
Once again, this month, I’m talking to someone who’s a very important part of the literary scene and, although not an author herself, the words she writes on her award-winning site are eagerly devoured by readers and writers alike. She is a popular member of any author’s blog tour – and a thoroughly nice person as well. I’m delighted to be chatting with book blogger, Anne Williams.
Hello Anne; welcome to my blog. It’s great to be playing host to you for a change, rather than the other way around. Let’s start by going right back to the beginning. What is your earliest memory – and how old were you at the time?
As a child, I was desperately shy, and very nervous – my mother tells me I always hid behind her legs when we met anyone new: I was apparently a nightmare to take to children’s parties, particularly if there were balloons or clowns present. When I was very young, my mum was in and out of hospital quite a lot – when I was three or four, she went into a nursing home to recuperate, and I stayed with my grandparents. It was a few days before Christmas, so you can imagine the separation anxiety. I vividly remember leaving her there, crying uncontrollably as my poor Gran walked me home. A man working on a garage forecourt gave me sixpence to stop me crying, so I could buy the chocolate Father Christmas I told him I really wanted – and I accidentally dropped it down a drain. My grandfather decided to try to make Christmas really special for me, and hired a Father Christmas costume so that he could deliver my presents – the sight of him in my bedroom, carrying his sack, gave me nightmares for years afterwards. But I did get my chocolate Father Christmas…
What was your favourite subject at school – and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?
It will surprise no-one if I say my favourite subject was English – at grammar school I had an inspirational teacher called Mrs Roberts who kindled my passion for poetry and brought every set text to life. She encouraged me to take a degree in English Literature, and I always planned to be a teacher like her, inspiring others to love literature too – but when the world of work finally called, teaching had sadly lost its attraction and instead I spent 38 years as a civil servant. The lesson I hated with a passion was PE – and yes, I wrote many wonderful notes from my mother excusing me from running around in navy blue knickers on the hockey field.
If you could change one thing about yourself and your life so far, what would it be?
In my later working years, I was a project manager, working mainly on marketing and communications – and totally obsessed by work. I travelled a lot, running projects all over the UK, spending a lot of my time in anonymous hotel rooms and corporate presentations: when I was at the office, I’d be at my desk before seven, and rarely home before eight at night. When I took early retirement at 58, I thought I’d miss it desperately – but from the moment I walked out of the door, I’ve never given it another thought. I often wish I’d realised at the time that being a cog in a very large wheel wasn’t the reason for living that I really thought it was.
If you could change one law, what would it be?
I’d like to do something about pension age legislation, and the way it’s adversely affecting women of my age. The 1995 Pensions Act increased women’s State Pension age from 60 to 66 to bring it in line with men. Any woman reaching age 60 before 2010 kept her pension age, women born after April 1950 saw their state pension age gradually rise – but those born after April 1955 have their state pension paid from age 66. I’m lucky in having received a nice “golden handshake” and a good work pension, but the way the change has impacted on so many women of my age has been grossly unfair.
How do you relax?
I’m guessing it might go without saying, but my favourite relaxation is totally losing myself in a book. My perfect afternoon is a sunny afternoon in the garden, lawns cut and flower beds tidied, a comfy chair, the radio on Classic FM, a large sun shade, and a book that transports me into a world of an author’s imagination. I’m equally happy if the weather’s not as great – a comfy chair by the fire, a few perfumed candles, and I’m equally ecstatic. I enjoy concerts and theatre too, sometimes the cinema – but watch very little tv. I love time spent with friends – eating out, listening to an author talk, meeting new people. And I love my holidays – the more exotic the destination, the better.
If you could take part in one television programme, what would it be?
Although I watch very little television, I do love watching quizzes – I really enjoy University Challenge and Only Connect, absurdly pleased when I know answers the contestants don’t. And I record all episodes of The Chase and Pointless, and constantly wonder what makes people who can’t answer the most basic questions want to take part. Being on a tv quiz programme is one of the things on my bucket list…
Where is your favourite place on earth – and why?
I wanted to answer this question because I thought it would give me the opportunity to talk about my travelling, but I’m finding it so difficult to choose. I loved walking the Great Wall of China, my first helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon, watching the sunset from a junk on Halong Bay in Vietnam, the elephants in North Thailand, climbing the terraces at Machu Picchu, the early mornings on the river in Borneo watching the orangutans, crossing the Himalayas, walking on Copacabana beach… and then there are always the views over Snowdonia, or the beauties of the Yorkshire Dales.
The falls at Iguazu, where I spent a couple of days around my sixtieth birthday, have a special place in my heart – breathtakingly beautiful, nature at its most spectacular, raw and powerful, and a totally unforgettable experience (and it was a real joy to relive my visit when I read Deception!). But if I must choose, I think it has to be the view across the Menai Straits from the bedroom window of my childhood…
So why the blogging about books?
I’ve already mentioned my passion for reading – and when you find something you love so much, there’s nothing better than sharing it with others. I’ve always reviewed the books I read – perhaps just to help me understand why I’ve enjoyed them so much – and when book blogging became a “thing”, it just seemed like a natural progression. I never intended it to take over my life to such an extent, and I never imagined for a moment that anyone else would be interested in anything I ever wrote – sharing the love of books with reading friends was all I ever really wanted to do.
I now have almost 8,000 followers, hundreds of people read my every post, and I’ve made more friends in the book-loving world than I ever imagined possible. When someone tells me they’ve bought a book on the strength of one of my reviews or features, I’m so delighted – and even more so when they tell me they’ve enjoyed it as much as I did. And I’m totally thrilled to have been won the Best Pal award in the Annual Bloggers’ Bash awards three years running – I must be doing something right. Life has brought its challenges recently though, so I’ll be taking a bit of a break over the summer, stepping off the treadmill for a while – still reading, still reviewing, but at a rather less frenetic pace, with a little more time to enjoy the wonderful books that are the reason I started doing it in the first place.