Wednesday 4 March 2015

Author Interview ~ Linda Holeman

I am delighted to welcome to the blog

Best Selling Author

Picture courtesy of the author

Linda Holeman is the author of The Devil on Her Tongue and The Lost Souls of Angelkov, as well as the internationally bestselling historical novels The Linnet Bird, The Moonlit Cage, In a Far Country and The Saffron Gate, and eight other works of fiction and short fiction.  Her books have been translated into seventeen languages.  A world traveller, she grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and currently lives in Toronto. 

Traverse Press

Linda welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for taking the time to talk to us about 

The Lost Souls of Angelkov.

What gave you the idea for writing The Lost Souls of Angelkov?

- The genesis of the novel comes from a few snippets of my own Russian family history. My grandmother and her family were peasants, living outside of Odessa - which was part of Russia in the early 20th century. At ten years old, she was on the dirt road outside her home with her five-year old brother. Men on horseback thundered by and scooped up her little brother, riding off with him. He was never seen again, and my grandmother couldn’t remember any details of searching for him or understanding why he was taken. As I worked on my story I wondered if the men – my grandmother had described them as Tatars or Cossacks - were stealing boys to add to their numbers to create a larger band of boy soldiers. My grandmother told me that story a number of times when I was very young, and I was thrilled and horrified by it, and it stayed with me always. As a writer, it was just too rich a part of my own family history to ignore. And so I used that one fact – a kidnapped boy – and created a story of a stolen child of an aristocratic Russian family, set amidst the chaos and ruin brought about by the 1861 serf emancipation.

Are you a plotter, or a start-writing-and-see-where-it-takes-you sort of writer?

- I’m a combination of the two. I always have a vague plotline and ideas for main characters to start with, but can never actually do a chapter-by-chapter plan, as my research constantly takes me in different directions. In Lost Souls, I knew the book would open with a child being stolen and at the end he would be recovered. I knew I wanted the story to take part during the serf emancipation, and that my protagonist was once wealthy and entitled, and her fight to find her child and the loss of the world she once knew would be her arc. Apart from that I basically just kept the faith as I sat down to write each day, and built on what the characters said and did, and what I uncovered in my on-going research to keep moving forward.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing the story? How did you overcome it?

- As I find with the writing of any historic novel, making sure there is factual research to anchor the fictional story can prove difficult, especially in certain periods of history. I found that while there are many, many books on interesting political eras in Russia, I couldn’t find anything fictional written specifically about the actual events taking place during the Serf Emancipation of 1861. This particular time — moving from the centuries-old order of master and serf to the new order of freedom — was rich and full of intrigue. The political and societal changes affected not just the serfs, but the aristocracy and wealthy landowners who depended on the serfs to help run their land and lives. While researching the years surrounding 1861 in great depth, I also discovered a mention of serf orchestras. This was highly exciting to me because I hadn’t heard of them before, and knew I’d have to use that…but again, finding enough information to be able to write about serf orchestras knowledgably and convincingly was a huge challenge. On a much smaller note, getting all the Russian names right – every Russian has at least four variations on given and family names– kept me on my toes. Again, the only way to overcome this difficulty is with endless, endless research and rechecking.

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 Lost Souls of Angelkov to life?

- With historical fiction, I find it takes me as long — or perhaps longer — to do the research as it takes me to write the novel. The research never ends; there seems to be something to confirm right until the manuscript goes to print. First, I find as much information as I can about the country and the era I’ve chosen for my novel, although the information keeps coming continually through the entire writing. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a lot written about a certain period in a certain part of the world, as I mention above. But I like the challenge of digging up out-of-print books and finding tiny but interesting particulars unexpectedly. I read non-fiction for the facts and fiction more for issues such as social context. I try to time it so that partway into the writing of the novel I do my travel research. It works for me to experience the country at this stage, because by then I’ve explored a great deal through my reading. This means I already have certain knowledge of what to expect, and I also know what I’m hoping or need to uncover for my own story. The plot and characters are established, although still fluid, because I’ve come to understand that the travel will create changes. Much of what I’ve written is confirmed, but there are always surprises, and it’s these surprises that can take the novel in another direction. For example, when working on The Lost Souls of Angelkov, I wasn’t planning to have any of my characters Siberian. But as I travelled through that part of the world, I was so taken by Siberia’s austere beauty and the distinctness of its people that I knew, as my train rumbled along, that it would be Grisha’s homeland. So I wrote a whole new weave into the novel after returning home.

Do you write the type of books you like to read and which authors have influenced you?

- It’s pretty impossible to write well in a genre unless you know it in great depth from your own reading of it, so the answer is yes, I’ve always liked to read historic fiction. I particularly like – in both reading and in my own writing - uncovering historic events and circumstances which aren’t well known. This is what happened when I was writing The Lost Souls of Angelkov: the time of the emancipation with its confusion and anarchy and changing roles kept getting more complex the deeper I went.

As to which authors have influenced me…there are so, so many, and in different genres throughout my lifetime of intense reading. But off the top of my head, the historic novels which have stayed with me for the last few years, and which I got completely lost in, were The Dress Lodger, by Sheri Holman, The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber, The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, and The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What’s next?

- Sorry…the work-in-progress is too new for me to start talking about – or it might lose its magic!!

You can find Linda on her website
Twitter @LindaHoleman

The Lost Souls of Angelkov is available as an ebook from:

My thanks to Linda for sharing her work with me and for taking the time to answer my questions and for allowing such a fascinating insight into the writing of 
The Lost Souls of Angelkov.

And to Traverse Press for my ecopy of this book.


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