I know you are interested in a wide range of historical literature, particularly Victorian Gothic. So it was probably a certainty that your first novel would be set in your favourite historical period too. Tell us something about the inspiration behind An Artist’s Muse and why you like reading and writing about that particular era? Which are your favourite books in that genre, and do you think your writing style has been influenced by any particular writers?
It is definitely no secret that the Gothic is my main influence and my favourite genre to write! Before I even had an ounce of plot, or a single character for An Artist’s Muse, I knew, at the age of eighteen, that I wanted to write my own Gothic novel – most of my favourite books, at that point, were Gothic novels, and I have often heard the wise advice that you should write the book you want to read! I also knew that if I were to tap into an already very popular and well-written genre, I needed something new. I decided on a new Gothic monster. Of course, many tropes of Gothic literature are influenced by much earlier folklore, legends and traditions, and so I looked into ancient history to find my own monster. I settled on Ancient Greece, as Greek mythology was always a favourite study of mine, and to explain that any further might give away a crucial twist in the plot of the book … so I’ll go forwards in time again, to the Victorian era!
The Victorian era as a setting for my book just seemed comfortable and familiar, again being the time period of many of my favourite books – such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dracula, Wuthering Heights, The Turn of the Screw, Jane Eyre and Lady Audley’s Secret. The parts that were unfamiliar, the parts that needed historical research, well that was just a fun extra-curricular assignment for me! Being an English undergraduate, historical research was an ordinary part of my day.
It goes without saying that my book was heavily influenced by my favourite literature from the era I based my story in. But I was also aware of being a modern writer, writing in a historical style. I’m sure, however consciously or subconsciously, my writing contains a whole host of influences from all the inspirational books I have read, from many different eras and places, which is why I hope my book contains something new – even for those who feel the Victorian Gothic has already had its time and belongs in the past. Writers such as Susanna Clarke have proven that historical literature can still be relevant, and thoroughly entertaining!
You’ve described your writing experience as immersive, and say you enjoy completely losing yourself “in a world you’ve created, until characters become almost like family or life-long friends.” Does this mean characters such as Clara live on in your head long after you have moved on to other projects?
Definitely. I can’t let Clara go – I’m still writing about her now! When characters are a part of your consciousness for ten years, as you construct their story, how can they not stay with you? I’ve known these characters longer than some of my “real-life” friends! The way An Artist’s Muse ended felt like a resolution, but like an old friend who you lose contact with, I wanted to check back in on Clara, find out where her life had led her. And once I’d thought about it … I had to start writing it.
Which fictional world would you like to live in or travel to?
Almost any gorgeous rural location I visit, I predictably utter the phrase, “It’s like The Shire here!” Tolkien tapped into something so fundamentally comforting with the creation of the hobbits’ homeland, and if I could live in that little pocket of Middle Earth, blissfully unconscious of the struggles and hardships of the outside world, I would happily spend my days resting under a tree, or rambling in the surrounding countryside.
As well as being a teacher, which as we all know can be a life-consuming vocation, you have a number of varied interests: singing, playing the piano, painting, burlesque dance and attending Steampunk events. I can’t believe you have time to write as well! Do you find it difficult to carve out that time, or are you quite disciplined?
Discipline is something I constantly strive for! There are so many hobbies and interests I enjoy, that it is difficult to give all of them an equal amount of time, and also hard to prioritise them, when my work-life balance is so sacred. It is even more difficult to devote enough time to writing, which can be mentally quite demanding, as well as requiring a certain set of conditions, in my experience, to be successful. I have also found the pandemic counter-productive for writing, which I am sure isn’t everyone’s experience! Despite having more time at home, I couldn’t get into the right mental headspace for writing. I’m hoping this will change, particularly as I have many writing projects which need my attention.
Tell us a little about where you prefer to write and your ideal writing set-up. For example, a lot of authors say they need complete silence when they are working, but I understand that you find music focuses your mind? What kind of music do you like to listen to when you are writing?
I tend to have intense periods of motivation and inspiration, alongside periods of inactivity and frustration. My best writing happens when I am relaxed, and when I feel I have no time constraints. Particular pieces of music, such as those which evoke a desired mood or frame of mind, can bring on the mental state I need for the words to flow. I tend to find that classical music and orchestral music are the best motivators – vocals can interrupt my thoughts too much. My favourite pieces are usually film soundtracks, such as the soundtracks from The Village, Amélie and Pan’s Labyrinth. But it depends on the mood I want to create in my writing, and what type of music suits that mood, in my mind.
Your publishers, Victorina Press, believe very strongly in the principles of bibliodiversity. What does this mean to you personally and was it a factor in your decision to submit your work to them?
Diversity in literature is something that all readers should be able to access – to not be limited to someone else’s decision on what ‘popular’ means, or which books are allowed the opportunity to be on the best-seller list, or in the high street bookshop windows, or the popular online retailers. I know from my own experiences as a reader that you are only as well-read as the literature you are exposed to, and I know that although I like to think I have read a broad range of books from different eras, cultures and places, I am not as ‘diversely-read’ as I could be, and that needs to change. More and more, bibliodiversity has come to mean, for me, ‘books that are not in the mainstream’, and I greatly admire the work that publishers such as Victorina Press are doing, in pushing forward the voices of writers that otherwise may not be heard. I just hope that the publishers themselves will be appreciated and noticed more – I know they are up against many obstacles of their own, in helping their authors to be seen, when it seems that only those books with the most expensive promotion, or with the most ‘likes’ and ratings, get the chance to be appreciated.
What is next for you as a writer? I believe you are working on a sequel to An Artist’s Muse and a Georgian Gothic novel centred around folklore and witchcraft? Can we hope to see either of these in print any time soon?
I guiltily alluded earlier to the fact that the pandemic has halted my writing significantly … these two works in progress are still underway, but not to the extent that I would like!
I am just over a third of the way into the first draft of my Georgian Gothic novel, and have begun the first few chapters of the sequel to An Artist’s Muse. My Georgian novel has the outline of a full plot, and so I have a fairly secure idea of where it is leading! The sequel to An Artist’s Muse is still taking shape – to an extent, I am being led by my characters for this one, which isn’t my usual way of writing! But as I have already mentioned, knowing the characters so well, I’m quite happy to let them steer the course, this time.
I have some other projects underway as well – a story based on my travels abroad, and an idea for a children’s book, which I am also hoping to illustrate.
Yet again, I have more ideas than time!