I am excited to be hosting today's stop on the Song of the Sea Maid Blog Tour
and to welcome
Welcome back to Jaffareadstoo Rebecca.
You must be so exited at the paperback publication of
Song of the Sea Maid.
Thanks for being our guest today and for answering our questions.
Hodder & Stoughton
Song of the Sea Maid is a story about a female scientist. Have you a particular interest in science and in your research for the novel did you discover anything which surprised you?
Hello Jo! *waves* Hello Jaffa! *tickles under chin* Well, I do have a particular fascination with science. I’ve had that since I was a child, but sadly not a scientific brain to go with it. My brother David does have that kind of mind, and he kindly spent many nights when we were younger trying to explain scientific theories to me, such as chaos theory or quantum physics. And I would understand it for about five minutes before my brain decided it was far too complicated to bother holding onto, and then it was gone! So, I read books about science and scientists and watch TV documentaries about them. I love films like A Beautiful Mind and so forth. Thus, it was inevitable that I would want to write about scientists one day. I had a box labelled ‘Science Novel’ for years, in which I would squirrel away articles from newspapers and the New Scientist magazine, usually about palaeontology, which is probably my favourite part of science. So, when I came to think about my second novel after The Visitors, my science story beckoned. I knew a bit about palaeontology, evolution and Charles Darwin – my mum is a bit of a Darwin expert - but I learned so much by researching this novel. The thing that surprised me most was how many theories akin to evolution were being developed a long time before Darwin was even born. The most surprising one was learning that Leonardo da Vinci came up with theories about fossils way back when, which I didn’t know at all. I found the most marvellous book in a second-hand bookshop called ‘I Searched for Adam’, which was all about theories of early humans from the past. It was perfect for me because I really needed to know what my main character’s contemporaries in the 18th-century would have known and understood by the time she comes to develop her own theories.
The novel is set in the early part of the eighteenth century, why did you choose this particular era?
I had a very particular reason for choosing the 18th-century in the first place and that was because I wanted my character to be developing theories that were similar to Darwin’s but a good few generations before Darwin came on the scene. The premise behind the novel was this: what if a poor, unconnected female in times past came up with an extraordinary scientific theory – would it ever see the light of day? So I felt it would be an even more interesting experiment if this scientist was living in an age where science was in its early days in terms of palaeontology and particularly in an era where myth, religion and science were all coexisting and bumping up against each other i.e. the 18th-century. I chose to set the story from the 1730s to the 1750s because there were some particular historical events I was interested in that I wanted to incorporate into the narrative and they took place in those decades. Also, in my research, I’d come across a lot of stories that took place later in the 18th-century, particularly during the Napoleonic wars and beyond into the Regency period of the 19th century, so I felt the earlier part of the century was the less trodden path and thus might be interesting to readers. I really wanted to escape that idea that the 18th-century was all massive frocks and huge wigs and Let them eat cake. I wanted to show another side of the 18th-century that perhaps was less familiar.
Where do you get your inspiration from – are you inspired by people, places or do you draw purely from your imagination?
I’d say it’s all of those things! You can’t predict it. There are going to be topics that are naturally interesting to me – like science – or settings that particularly appeal to me, for example, places I’ve actually visited, such as Portugal (see Sea Maid!) or where I grew up (e.g. Kent in The Visitors). Other than that, there might be a snippet of something on a radio programme or film or book or something that I see when I’m walking in the park or driving on the school run – something that sparks a train of thought, perhaps a What If type question, or simply a luminous moment – that Virginia Woolf called a ‘moment of being’ and James Joyce called an ‘epiphany’ – where some truth comes to you. So, as you can see, inspiration is a complicated beast and not something you can wholly plan or perhaps even plan at all. Once I have my idea, after that it’s months of reading and research to which my imagination is applied in order to come up with what I hope is an engaging story. Inspiration and perspiration and all that…
|The Berlengas Islands|
Off the coast of Portugal
Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How do you feel about them when the book is finished? Are they what you expected them to be?
Characters are mercurial things. You may believe you create them but they have the strange habit of wandering off and doing as they please. (See ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ by Luigi Pirandello for a brilliant rendition of this). Of course, what’s really happening is that your subconscious is in charge of creation and your conscious mind is trying to organise it, sometimes without success. So, I’ve learnt to listen to that and not try to shoehorn it into something my conscious mind thinks is a good idea. I may have plans for how my character is going to be, their personality, the way they think. But most of this magic happens in the telling i.e. once the voice is off and running, it creates its own nuances that perhaps you hadn’t planned for. This can happen with first or third person narratives, I’ve found – for example, my current work in progress is told in third person limited view i.e. limited to the consciousness of one character. And I’ve still found that pushiness of the main character to assert her own personality has been exactly the same as when I was writing in first person for my first two novels. A writing friend of mine, the actress Juliette Burton, told me the other day that she heard a lovely version of this: that creating a character is like finding Michelangelo’s David in a block of stone i.e. the character already exists and you are chipping away at the stone to reveal it. I thought that was beautiful and very true. With Adeliza (from The Visitors) and Dawnay (Sea Maid), I absolutely felt that they were extant characters who I just needed to get to know. It a very mysterious process! As for how I feel about them when the book is finished, well, so far, I’ve loved them all and miss them dreadfully when the book is done. It’s like a separation that is permanent, once they leave your mind and inhabit the story and when the book is finished it gets up and walks away from you and it’s never wholly yours again. Of course, that’s what you want for it, you want it to go out into the world and be read and thought about. But there’s a sadness there too, that it will never belong to you again like it once did. A bit like being a parent!
Song of the Sea Maid is your second novel, The Visitors being the first – did you feel more pressure writing a second novel?
Well, like quite a few authors I know, The Visitors wasn’t the first novel I’d written. I have a few in metaphorical drawers gathering dust. So Sea Maid wasn’t my second ever novel, but it was my second published novel and yes, that does bring with it its own unique pressures. You have expectations all of a sudden, something that perhaps you didn’t have in the same way before publication. Now, you need to please other people as well as yourself e.g. your agent, your editor and beyond that the readers of your first novel who liked it. If your editor doesn’t like it, specifically if you don’t already have a deal in place with that publisher for that book, you may well have it rejected! After all that work and maybe two years of your life devoted to it. That’s terrifying and happens often. Having one novel published is absolutely no guarantee of getting your next project published too. The book is the thing (unless you are already famous, then it’s easier. But even then, if you write a complete turkey, I imagine your editor would have something to say about it. However, I would just say one word to sum up the folly of this: Morrissey…). This is why authors talk about ‘second novel syndrome’ i.e. can I pull off this magic trick again? It’s very hard because you don’t know how you did it in the first place, so how can you possibly be asked to do it again, when you’re not allowed to reproduce what you did, as you still have to come up with something new, that’s similar enough to the last time to please people who liked that one and yet different enough to avoid accusations of being a one-trick pony! It’s a minefield! The best advice I would give is to shut out all that crap and just write the bloody thing, write it from your heart and sod the rest.
What do you hope readers will take away from your stories?
Oh gosh, that is an interesting question! Well, first and foremost, I want to entertain them! I want them to have a good time when they’re reading my books and escape a little from the everyday world. I want them to be compelled to read on. They don’t have to necessarily adore my characters – although that’s nice! – but to be interested in them and want to follow them on their journeys. A secondary thing, I guess, is that the themes and situations I present my novels will make them think about the status quo and perhaps question it, just a little bit. With Sea Maid, it would be good to think that at least some readers will walk away with the knowledge that there were female scientists throughout history doing amazing work – we just aren’t taught about them. This is why I have come to write such a detailed Author’s Note as the one you will find in the back of this book, which explains the true history behind the story I’m telling. It is annoying when, as an author who has worked really hard to do the research properly, reads a review that says something like, This would never happen; this is impossible; someone in this era would never do this or think this. So, you can’t please everyone. But I hope that some readers at least will go away thinking about such things as why there are hardly any statues of women scientists in the world. Or on a more philosophical level, things like, I wonder what other marvellous mysteries – such as hidden ancient caves – there are out there in the world left to discover… But that’s all icing on the cake. Mostly, I’d be delighted if the reader enjoyed their time with my book and perhaps it stayed in their mind for a while after reading.
Cave Art depicting Mermaid
Can you tell us what you are writing next?
I am three chapters away from finishing the first draft of my third novel for Hodder and Stoughton. The end is in sight! I can tell you it’s set in the Edwardian era, taking place from 1909 to 1919, beginning in my current hometown of Cleethorpes. More details will follow, all in good time…*mysterious*…*actually, not so much mysterious as paranoid...!*
Thanks for brilliant questions and for having me on your blog, Jo.
All about the author
Rebecca Mascull is the author of THE VISITORS and SONG OF THE SEA MAID. She works in education and lives by the sea in the east of England
Song of the Sea Maid is published on the 11 February 2016
Find her on her website
Follow on Twitter @rebeccamascull
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