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Author Interview - R J Lloyd
R J Lloyd is the great-great-grandson of Enoch Price. A former senior police officer and detective, he has used his investigative skills to fashion this dramatised account of his ancestor’s extraordinary life. Fifteen years of genealogical research and interviews support the various factual strands of his debut novel. Here he tells us more about what led to its publication.
Tell us about your book
Burning Secret - It’s a true story. Well, almost, at least in my imagination. Burning Secret blurs the lines between fact and fiction as it reconstructs the real life of Harry Mason and is a story that many of us can relate to in our own families. It begins with Enoch Price, my great-great-grandfather, being born into the poverty of the Bristol slums of 1844, but he was determined not to follow his father to a brutal and early death. An ambitious youth, Enoch becomes a bare-knuckle fighter amongst London’s underworld. But when misfortune befalls him and, facing ruin and imprisonment, he abandons his wife and daughters and flees to Florida. It’s here that Enoch becomes Harry Mason. An opportunist by nature, Harry embarks on a series of risky escapades, playing an important role in the development and history of Jacksonville, and building an extraordinary new life of wealth and power. Enjoying popular success, Harry is elected to the city council and, in 1903, to the Florida State House of Representatives with the prospect of becoming State Governor. However, success brings neither happiness nor contentment. Seeking redemption for his many misdeeds, Harry plans to return home - but life is rarely that simple, especially as Harry harbours a secret that burns deep inside him.
In a nutshell, tell us what your readers should know about you
After retiring as a senior police officer, I turned my detective skills to genealogy, tracing my family history to the 16th century. However, after 15 years of extensive research, I couldn’t track down my great-great-grandfather, Enoch Price, whose wife, Eliza, had, in living memory, helped raise my mother. It was my cousin Gillian who, after several more dead-ends, called one day to say that she had found him through a fluke encounter. Susan Sperry from California, who had recently retired, decided to explore the box of documents given to her thirty years before by her mother, which she had never opened. In the box, she found some references to her great-grandfather, Harry Mason, a wealthy hotel owner from Florida who had died in 1919. It soon transpired that Susan’s great-grandfather, Harry Mason, was, in fact, Enoch Price. From this single thread, the extraordinary story of Harry Mason began to unravel, leading me to visit the States to meet my American cousins, and it was Susan Sperry and Kimberly Mason, direct descendants, who persuaded me to write the book.
What topic or subject have you found most challenging to write about?
I found the main character’s most inner thoughts and tormented emotions in Burning Secret were the most challenging. Describing the objective world of sights and sounds poses challenges, but conveying the emotions and heartache concealed deep inside, where often there are no overt behaviours, is made doubly worse by the writer’s advice of ‘show don’t tell.’
What would you like to achieve with the publication of your book?
At the very least, I’d like to inspire others to wonder about their family history. Tracing ancestors has never been more popular or accessible, and what if these lost relatives turn out to be far more intriguing or extraordinary than one might have ever guessed – fact stranger than fiction?
What do you most enjoy about writing?
My first passion is gardening. There is so much pleasure when the blooms are in full blush during the warmth of a summer’s afternoon, and the vegetables swell and flourish. But this pleasure doesn’t come without pain and disappointments, and not everything you plant will grow or be good enough to reach the judges’ show table. And perhaps writing is similar. Writing is not always enjoyable. Sometimes it can be frustrating, tedious and difficult when the ideas won’t fly, or the words won’t join into sentences. But like gardening, it’s creative. You create your version of the world, sharing your views and opinions with others and, like any conversation or standing on the box at Speaker’s Corner, not everyone will like what you have to say – but at least you’ve said it. No two gardens are the same, which is true of authors and books, but the pride and joy of creating is.
How have you found your journey to publication?
Burning Secret arose from a conversation in 2012 with my two American cousins, Susan and Kimberley, who encouraged me to tell the extraordinary story of our shared ancestor, Harry Mason. It’s a massive disappointment that neither are with us today to witness its publication. And, as you’ll see, I’ve dedicated the book to their memory. After many attempts at navigating the labyrinth of the query system, I realised that literary agents and publishers didn’t see me as a commercial prospect. At 70 years of age, I couldn’t waste time going down the traditional route. It wasn’t a career as an author I wanted; it was to fulfil a promise I’d made to Susan and Kim. So, after reading an inspirational article by the best-selling self-published author, Paige Weaver (Promise Me Darkness) and discovering that in 2017, over one million books were published in the United States, and two-thirds of them were self-published, the way forward was clear – and Matador, an imprint of Troubador, was the obvious choice. I liked the open and responsive team at Matador, who put me at the centre of decision-making and worked hard to meet their authors’ expectations to produce a book indistinguishable from a traditional publisher.
What do you think makes a good story?
This is the million-dollar question. There are plenty of creative writing courses that list the essentials of a good story. Some say there are three key elements, while others list ten; structure, character, plot, tension, and so on. I tend to go with the W. Somerset Maugham school of thought, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” But more seriously, a story that grabs and holds my interest must be authentic, relevant, and real to my experiences and imagination. Most of which depends on the storytelling and the flow of the language. I’m impatient, so a plot must race along to keep me turning the pages, and I want a main character that I can keep rooting for, even if they’re a bit iffy. And I like a book that keeps me thinking long after I’ve come to its end. Burning Secret is available now from the Troubador bookshop and as an ebook from all major retailers.