You'll have to check out my post on A Bloody Good Read: Where Writers and Readers of Mysteries Talk Shop to find out!!!
What's going on here?
You'll have to check out my post on A Bloody Good Read: Where Writers and Readers of Mysteries Talk Shop to find out!!!
Writing about life on the lam in the 1660s... An Interview with Deborah Swift, author of The Gilded Lily
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to win a free copy of Deborah Swift's atmospheric The Gilded Lily (St. Martin's Griffin, 2012), a historical novel set in Restoration England. She was gracious enough to let me interview her on my blog today.
The official synopsis:
Ella Appleby believes she is destined for better things than slaving as a housemaid and dodging the blows of her drunken father. When her employer dies suddenly, she seizes her chance--taking his valuables and fleeing the countryside with her sister for the golden prospects of London. But London may not be the promised land she expects. Work is hard to find, until Ella takes up with a dashing and dubious gentleman with ties to the London underworld. Meanwhile, her old employer's twin brother is in hot pursuit of the sisters.
Set in a London of atmospheric coffee houses, gilded mansions, and shady pawnshops hidden from rich men's view, Deborah Swift's The Gilded Lily is a dazzling novel of historical adventure.
What inspired you to write The Gilded Lily?
When I originally began The Gilded Lily I was interested in the fact that the ideal of women’s beauty has changed over time. The years when England was suddenly released from the grip of Puritanism seemed an ideal choice to set a novel about beauty and greed. In many ways the 1660s were like the 1960s and at that time there was a great flowering of interest in fashion, the theatre, beautiful women (and men!) and a more laissez-faire lifestyle. The Gilded Lily in the novel is the name of a place where women go to buy perfumes and potions, an enterprise I thought fitted well into this new culture of hedonism.
Why did you set your story in 166o?
I have always been fascinated by the Restoration – I used to design theatre costumes and did a couple of plays from this period and just loved the whole look. It was a very narrow period of celebration between Puritan rule and the outbreak of the Plague and then the Fire of London in 1665 and 1666.
But also London in the 17th century had a much darker face hidden beneath the glamour – it was a much less tolerant society than our own, a magnification of all our vices of bigotry, fear of another’s differences and cruelty to others less fortunate than ourselves. Class structures were more fiercely guarded and it was hard to claw your way upward to a reasonable standard of living.
How did you go about researching your story? Did your work as a set and costume designer for the BBC inform your research?
I usually spend about six months altogether researching before writing. Most of the research is about ordinary every day objects we take for granted – such as the price of a pair of gloves, or how far a hired horse can gallop in a day. (I spent a lot of time figuring out this conundrum too!-SC). My previous job helps in that I already have research methods in place, and a good basic knowledge of most periods from my experience designing plays. I also have some contacts who are experts in their field who I can ask when I'm stuck! I use books, the internet and museums. Sometimes I need to write to people or interview them for the information I need. For this novel I had to research pawn-broking, wig-making and gunpowder manufacture as well as the apothecary’s ingredients for beauty products.
If you had lived in the 1660s, what kind of occupation/station/life could you imagine yourself having? Or put another way, if you wrote yourself into the novel, what kind of character would you be?
Well not gunpowder manufacturing or wig-making, that's for sure! Ella and Sadie try these and they are not my idea of fun! Most working women worked cripplingly long hours for little pay so I think I would prefer to be the rich daughter of a man who could afford to send me to The Gilded Lily for my perfumes and potions. On second thoughts, perhaps not, as most of the skin creams contained white lead, mercury, or other dangerous substances. But I did read that there were lots of bookstalls in St Paul's Church, so perhaps I'd be a bookseller! Or even print up my own anonymous chapbooks or pamphlets.
What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned while writing your novel?
One of the most surprising was that the average age of the population of London at that time was very young. Of course people generally died younger, and 85,000 men had been lost in the Civil Wars, and young men took their places. Some men were sitting in Parliament at only 16 years old. Large gangs of youths - displaced from their homes or who had been soldiers in the armies - roamed the city searching for employment. What a place to put two naive country girls!
How long did it take you to write The Gilded Lily? How many drafts did it take?
It took just over eighteen months, though I had been mulling the idea for longer. I do a rough draft first with only basic research to draft the storyline. Then I research in more depth and the storyline develops and deepens. Sometimes it changes if the research leads me in a different direction. A third draft is about smaller details and characterisation. After that I draft and edit until I think it's ready, which can be about changing whole sections, or about worrying over a single word.
What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
Don't be in too much of a hurry to get the book out there. Editing is vital. In your editing process you can check through each character's scenes for consistency to make sure they are real people. If you are self-publishing make sure you get a professional editor. I'm lucky in that I have a publisher and a great editorial team behind my books. There are many good books being self-published now which could have been GREAT books, given an outside editorial eye. We need great books and great new writers so why settle for anything less?
And what are you working on now?
My next book is called 'A Divided Inheritance'. It is set in Stuart England and Golden Age Spain and tells the story of a lace trader's daughter who has to travel to Seville to save her beloved home and rescue her inheritance from her firebrand cousin. It will be out in October 2013.
It will be hard to wait till October, that's for sure! Thank you, Dee!
Deborah can be reached through her website (www.deborahswift.co.uk), Blog (www.deborahswift.blogspot.com)or through twitter @swiftstory.
I posted this a few days ago, but I realized there's one more important thing to remember!!!
Tonight I am going to do something I haven't done since I was in grad school.
I am going to get a pair of scissors and physically cut up the first two chapters of my current work-in-progress (WIP).
Sure, I know about the cut-and-paste function in Word. Sure, I've heard of outlines. This extreme method of cutting probably seems crazy.
But I have to say, it is easiest way I know to physically see all the redundancies, missing passages, dangling storylines, etc. that can really plague a manuscript.
Plus, it's fun. And somewhat cathartic. Most importantly, it lets the WIP know who's boss.
From experience, though, I've learned a few things...
1. Don't cut more than 20 pages at a time. More that then, then you'll just end up weeping in a corner, looking at the little scraps of paper all over the living room floor. Which leads me to point two.
2. Don't try this on your desk or at the kitchen table. You'll never have enough room to see all the scraps at once. You'll need an entire floor to work on. Which leads me to point three.
3. Choose a floor where the cat won't roll around. Nearly impossible in my house. But I have a solution to this problem. Lay out an empty box next to your scraps. Your cat will stay in the box.
4. Number as you go. Personally, I use elaborate coding schemes, numbering my paragraphs in the order they go. 1A, 1B, insert 2D here, put 1/2 of 17 here, and last half of 13 here. But sometimes I forget my ordering system. So, 4a. Don't forget your coding scheme.
5. Don't forget the tape!!! The best part of this process is taping together your newly structured WIP. You'll feel really invigorated and happy, I promise. But this brings me to point six.
6. Pour yourself a nice glass of wine. No, not to celebrate. That comes later. But rather to ease the inevitable shrieking and tearing of hair that will occur when you realize that you have to sit down at the computer and make all these tedious changes.
7. Promise yourself that next time, really, you will write in a more orderly way. If not, it's on to chapter 3 and step one above.
But I'm curious! Has anyone else done this old school cutting and pasting? Do you find it works? Or am I raving bonking mad?
And now my addendum...
8. Don't double-side when you print! Like I did. Boo!!! Sort of defeats the whole purpose.
As I move along the path from "writer" to "author," I've become aware of something that's simultaneously wonderful and daunting:
PEOPLE ARE READING MY BOOK.
Of course, for the last sixteenth months or so people have been reading A Murder at Rosamund's Gate (due out April 23, 2013). My alpha reader. My beta readers. My agent. My editor, multiple times (thank you Kelley!). Copy editors. Proofreaders. Marketing people. Publicists. But now...
Readers. Reviewers. People who've won advance copies in giveaways. People I don't know, and may never know. Many seem to have enjoyed my book, although a few--well--haven't. In my day job, I spend a lot of time helping faculty find something constructive even in the most negative student comments. And I think I can learn from my readers too.
But because I can't--and probably shouldn't--address reviewers directly, I'd just like to take a moment to say thanks. Thanks to everyone who spent the time reading my book, and for writing a review. Even if my book wasn't for you, I appreciate you spending the time thinking about my book.
And if my book was for you...well, the next Lucy Campion mystery will be out next year!
I came across some interesting advice offered by writer James Scott Bell in the Winter 2013 edition of Writer's Digest:
"Create a Doorway of No Return for your protagonist before the 1/5 mark of your book."
In those first few pages, Bell explains, your protagonist must be moving along a path towards a moment of transition, a threshold that once crossed over, can not be crossed back.
To get to this point, the stakes must be high...
The force must be strong...
The protagonist must...walk...through...that door--either willingly or inevitably--and there's no turning back.
Never mind that it's not really a doorway if you can't cross back and forth. Never mind that it sounds like your protagonist has entered a trap, or a jail for that matter. Like moving from the underworld, the character must not turn back, or his or her journey will not be fulfilled.
This concept actually makes sense to me. This is Katniss volunteering to take her sister's place at the reaping. This is Harry Potter, accepting the invitation to Hogwarts. This is Elizabeth Bennett, walking to Netherfield Park during the rainstorm. The stakes for not entering the doorway can not be borne.
In my current Work-In-Progress, my protagonist (not Lucy! This is my other WIP!) has decided to pursue a life of crime. Why did she make that choice?
While I thought in the first draft I made that clear, I can see now that her path, though brambly, was not leading her to The Doorway of No Return. Which meant that the forces I had acting on her were not compelling enough.
NOW, I have unleashed the hounds, and they are chasing her. And here's how I see it:
My protagonist is racing down that path, stumbling, falling. The doorway is ahead, not gleaming but dark. She doesn't know what's on the other side, but it's the only chance she has...the only chance her little brother has too. She will scramble across that threshold, and once she does, she will become a criminal--with no chance of returning to her former life...
But I'm so curious. As a writer or a reader, do you even pay attention to these early doorways? Do you even notice them as significant?
Just a hundred days left until A Murder at Rosamund's Gate is released on April 23, 2013!!!
Now, I know you might well be thinking: "Um, didn't your book come out, like, a year ago? You've been talking about it for ages."
Nope. The book has just been gestating, percolating, spinning, whirling, stirring for the last eighteen months. What can I say? Publishing is a mysterious business.
A hundred days! A hundred days!
Historically, the Hundred Day mark has been a crucial signifier:
Okay, so the last 100 days before my book gets published is not quite so significant in comparison. And I'm pretty sure that the journey won't be a "do or die" march towards triumph or defeat a la Napoleon or FDR.
But given that I've been waiting my whole life for this moment... JUST A HUNDRED DAYS TO GO is an awfully exciting concept!!!
I'm excited to have historian Sam Thomas join me today to discuss his first novel, The Midwife's Tale, a historical mystery set in mid-seventeenth century York.
Sam and I connected about a year ago, when we realized that (1) we're both trained as early modern English historians; (2) we both have debut novels coming out with Minotaur Books this year; and (3) both our mysteries are set in nearly the same time period. (I'm encouraging Sam to think about doing a cross-over piece, so that his midwife can bring my Lucy Campion into the world. But I digress.)
The Official Description:
It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.
Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.
A midwife at work
The Midwife's Tale is told through the first person perspective of Lady Bridget Hodgson, a 30-year old twice-widowed midwife and real historical figure. How much is known of the true Bridget, and how much of her personality/character did you invent? Did you ever feel constrained writing a fictionalized account of a real person?
That’s a great question! We know a fair bit about Bridget, and I include some of it here. A lot of the basics are true: She was twice widowed, first to a man named Luke Thurgood, then to Phineas Hodgson, who was the son of the Lord Mayor of the York. (And yes, Phineas seems to have been every bit the loser I portray him as.) Bridget also had a deputy named Martha, though I had to invent much more of her background.
It is also pretty clear that she was a very strong woman. She came from an ancient family and wanted people to know it. She also named all of her goddaughters (as well as her own daughter) ‘Bridget’, presumably after herself. Who does that?
I did, however, make some cuts. For my first book I had a heck of a time writing her home life, so I made her childless, though the historical Bridget was survived by two daughters. There are also rumors that she had two sons, both of whom were hanged as highwaymen, which is amazing, but I’m not sure I believe it.
Similarly, is the case at the heart of The Midwife's Tale based on a true case from the archives? How did you go about doing your research?
The case itself is entirely fictional, though a lot of the supporting characters are real.
As for the research it was a lot of digging. I stumbled across Bridget’s will when I was working on another project, and it provided dozens of names for me to chase down: friends, family, and best of all, godchildren, which allowed me to identify a handful of clients.
Once you have names, you can then dig into baptismal registers, tax records, probate documents, legal records, histories of York…it’s endless, really.
I also got very lucky that Bridget was once sued for defamation, which allowed me do dig even further into her social life and the history of her practice.
Besides being a compelling read, your story gets at some of the larger historical themes around gender, politics and religion that shaped this time period. In what ways did you consciously try to illuminate these larger trends? How did you balance the need for historical accuracy with creative license?
I consciously wanted to connect ‘big’ and ‘little’ history. The novel takes place in the midst of a rebellion against the king, so I made the crime at its heart a domestic rebellion in which a wife is accused of murdering her husband. This was a time when people were intensely concerned about maintaining order at the national and domestic levels, and I wanted to see how they would react when that order was challenged. (Oddly – or not – I do much the same thing in my historical work, favoring microhisotry, in which big stories are told through the lives of average individuals.)
In doing your research, what was one of the most interesting things you learned?
I think it was how complicated life as a midwife could be. Not only did they deliver children, they were part of the legal system, investigating crimes ranging from infanticide, to rape, to witchcraft.
It really makes midwives the perfect sleuths!
the codes in the fire poems...
There's been sort of a funny game of tag going among writers recently, called "The Next Big Thing." So crime fiction writer Holly West was kind enough to tag me, which means it's my turn to answer some writerly questions and tag some other writers.
1) What is the working title of your next book?
After A Murder at Rosamund's Gate releases April 23, 2013 (sigh, yes, I'm still awaiting this great moment), my next book featuring Lucy Campion is From the Charred Remains. That's still my working title at the moment, although I will probably change it when the book gets closer to publication (in 2014).
2) Where did the idea come from?
FTCR continues two weeks after A Murder at Rosamund's Gate leaves off; that is, directly after the Great Fire of London in 1666. So many people, including Lucy, were pressed into service to assist in the great clean-up after the Fire. I thought for sure secrets would have to emerge from charred remains. Of course, plucky Lucy has to be the one to encounter an intriguing puzzle....
3) What genre does your book fall under?
FTCR is a mystery, and within that historical fiction and traditional. I'm not quite sure if readers at Danna's awesome cozy mystery blog would call it a cozy or not, but like Anne Perry's books, it has elements of a cozy.
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I don't want to give away my thinking completely (since I prefer readers to imagine characters for themselves) but I wouldn't be adverse to the compelling Michael Kitchen (Foyle's War) portraying my kindly magistrate.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Ack! The dreaded one-sentence synopsis. Torture to the writer! Here goes...
Lucy Campion, a chambermaid turned printer's apprentice, discovers in the aftermath of the Great Fire the body of a murdered man; on his corpse, she finds a poem which she publishes, little realizing that this act would bring her once again into direct confrontation with a murderer.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am represented by the amazing David Hale Smith of Inkwell Management. Both books will be released by Minotaur Books (St. Martin's Press).
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Given that A Murder at Rosamund's Gate took me about ten years to write (seriously!) I'm amazed to say that I wrote FTCR in just a few months.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I've been inspired by both Anne Perry and Rhys Bowen.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I've been inspired to write these stories ever since I was a doctoral student of history. My husband and kids inspire me every day to keep pursuing my dream...
10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
If you like puzzles and codes, this one is for you...
Then check out my most recent post on A Bloody Good Read: Where Writers and Readers of Historical Thrillers Talk Shop
Why are some people able to openly share their thoughts and ideas, without worrying about what others think? Why do others hide their opinions and views, to be shared only with those most closest to them?
While civility and social contract theory may explain this phenomenon in part (no one wants to be a jerk, right?), an interesting construct may explain this more fully: The Willingness to Self-Censor.
According to psychologist Andrew Hayes, some people are more willing to withhold their opinion from those they believe might disagree with that opinion. Rather than sharing their opinions freely, they wait until they are in a comfortable place to speak, where they are free from being critiqued. Or they simply do not reveal their true thoughts at all.
This theory, I believe, has important implications for writers. Some of us (and I put myself in this category), might score high on the Willingness to Self-Censor Scale. While we may feel we are protecting ourselves, we should consider:
1. Not surprisingly, as Hayes explains, self-censors are more likely to be "more apprehensive about communication." Are we writing as well as we could be, if we are constantly censoring ourselves? Maybe we are limiting our voices by not digging deep enough, by not bringing every emotion and opinion to the page, by not freeing ourselves. Maybe the fear that people won't agree with us, or that they won't like what our characters do or say, keeps us from writing at all.
2. Self-censors also "fear negative evaluation to a greater extent" as compared to those less willing to self-censor. So not only does self-censorship negatively impact the ability to write honestly and deeply, but it also impairs the self-censor's ability to withstand critique. So perhaps, writing more honestly will help free us from our fear of other people's criticism.
But what do you think? As a writer--are you writing as openly (less willing to self-censor) as you could be? As a reader--do you appreciate openness and rawness on the part of the writer?