It is with great pleasure I introduce historical fiction author
|photograph courtesy of the author|
Published today in paperback
12 March 2015
What can you tell us about The Edge of Dark that won't give too much of the story away?
Be careful what you wish for …
Jane’s longing for a child takes her from the dark secrets of Holmwood House in York to the sign of the golden lily in London’s Mincing Lane, but the price she pays for her wish to come true is a terrible one.
Over four centuries later, Roz remembers nothing of the fire that killed her family, or of the brother who started it. A beautiful Tudor necklace found in the newly restored Holmwood House triggers disturbing memories of the past at last, but the past Roz begins to remember is not her own …
You set the book in York and London, how important is location to your story?
I like books with a strong sense of place, so location is always key for me. I live in York, and wrote a thesis on the streets of Tudor York, so the past feels very familiar to me here. Whenever I walk along the streets today, I think about what they would have been like in the 16th century, and about the people who lived there then. The Edge of Dark is set partly in London too, but when I went to the City and explored the streets Jane would have known, I found, like Roz, that the sense of the past was not nearly as vivid. So I just had to imagine harder!
|Micklegate in York|
Your writing is very atmospheric – how do you ‘set the scene’ in your novels and how much research did you need to do in order to bring The Edge of Dark to life?
I think one of the appeals of historical fiction is the tension between everything that is familiar about the past – human emotions and relationships – and everything that is strange. The reader needs to feel that characters are part of real world of touch and taste and sound and colour, and that they’re not just existing against a vaguely historical backdrop. So I use primary sources wherever possible to try and give texture to the fictional world I’m creating. If I’m describing a meal, I’ll look up an Elizabethan recipe, for instance, and I spend a lot of time poring over pictures of Tudor clothes, and thinking about how soft or scratchy or heavy they might have been. The Edge of Dark is the first novel I’ve set partly in London: I went to Aldgate and walked down Fenchurch Street until I found Mincing Lane as it is today – and very disappointing it was, too!
Generally, though, I stop and research as I need to. I’ve got a good selection of books and articles here, and of course the internet is invaluable. For instance, when it came to naming Jane’s little dog, I realised I didn’t really know about Elizabethan attitudes to pets, and that set me off on a whole research trail ... I love researching, and it’s hard sometimes to keep myself on track!
Time slip novels must be tricky to write - how did you control the narrative, or did the narrative ever control you?
With a time slip you’re effectively writing two stories at the same time, which can indeed make plotting a very complicated business. I always mean to have a board and plan the story out carefully in advance, but whenever I try, I get in a terrible muddle. So I tend to start off by writing a Shitty First Draft (other writers have even more graphic names for this draft!) This is little more than a stream of consciousness and it doesn’t really matter what I write as long as something is appearing on the screen. Even though I usually throw it away without rereading it, the SFD somehow allows ideas to ferment and when I go back to the beginning and start another draft, I’ve got a sense of who my characters are and what drives them.
This draft is the hardest to write, but it’s also the most interesting in some ways, as this is when the story can suddenly take off in a direction I haven’t anticipated. For instance, when I first started thinking about the story, I had no idea of the role that Helen would play. The chilly welcome she gives to Roz was totally unexpected. I saw the words on the screen and thought: Oh, so that’s who you are! After that, I let Helen do what she wanted …
Have you been inspired by any particular era, author or book?
Sharon Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour didn’t just inspire me, it changed my life! Until I read it, I had no interest in writing or in history. When I graduated with a degree in French, all I wanted to do was to travel. I’d been working in Indonesia and was on my way back from a stint on an outback cattle station in Australia when I casually picked up The Sunne in Splendour in a bookshop in Adelaide. As you probably know, The Sunne in Splendour is a fictionalised account of the life of Richard III, and I was immediately sucked into the fifteenth century. When I closed the book, I decided that what I wanted to do next was a PhD in medieval history. (Madness, I know!) Then, of course, I had to think of a way to fund a return to university. I know, I thought, I’ll write a Mills & Boon. That’ll be easy. It wasn’t, of course, but I did eventually manage to make my living writing romance as Jessica Hart, and now have 60 books – and that PhD! – to show for it. I wrote my thesis about public space using local court records from Tudor York, and have been inspired ever since by the everyday concerns of the people who lived in the city then.
Can you tell us if you have another novel planned?
I’m just waiting (nervously!) to hear from my editor about my fourth ‘time slip’, which I hope will be out in hardback later this year. As yet untitled, it’s set in a Tudor house on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors. Kate wakes up in hospital with no memory of her life or the events that led up to her terrible fall. The doctors reassure her that her memory will return, and it does - but the memories that come back are not her own. They belong instead to Isabel, who lived and died in the house over 400 years before …
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If you could go back in time, when – and where – would you choose to visit?
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