The world of books today is very different from the glitz and glamour of the late 1980s, when publishers on both sides of the Atlantic were famed for throwing big bucks at big books. Sex, shopping & success were the prevailing themes, so it was a huge surprise – to me at least – when my first published novel, Louisa Elliott, became a bestseller. Historical fiction set in late Victorian York, about love – and a passionate affair – involving people like you and me. In paperback it reached No.3 in the UK book lists, and sold around a million copies worldwide.
Based on a true story, the book’s appeal lies in the strength of its characters, the reality of their world and the challenges they face. Timeless themes are at the heart of it, posing the question, What do you do if you fall in love with the wrong man? And if you follow your heart, how do you deal with the consequences?
The sequel, Liam’s Story, was inspired by a WW1 diary (see The Diary blog) written by a young soldier serving with the Australians in France in 1916. Uncovering family secrets, the novel looks back – and slips back – to a previous generation, exploring questions of morality and the tragedies of love and war. But, as the modern inheritors of Louisa Elliott’s legacy discover, love can be stronger than death…
Fascinated by the past, and by the parallels between then and now, as a young reader I revelled in the world of the imagination. I trained as an artist, so the way I see the world makes its way into my writing – and influences my research. Before I can be creative, I must first know what the facts are. To me, historical facts are the skeleton on which to build the flesh of fiction. If the bones are strong enough, the story will stand.
As a child, frequent journeys to York inspired a sense of history and adventure, while ships and the sea came into my life a little later. Marriage to a sea-captain has meant long periods at home alone, but also provided the perfect opportunity for writing. And having travelled the world with my husband and children in the early days, I’ve since been able to draw upon the experience for my novels.
The sea formed a background to my novel, Moon Rising, set in 1880s Whitby. In Liam’s Story and The Master’s Tale – based on the life of Captain Smith of the Titanic – the sea and seafarers are an integral part of tale.
Regarding historical events, I find small details can change my perspective. From one little diary and a set of census returns grew two big novels. A newspaper report set me on the trail of Bram Stoker in Whitby – while entries in an old Southampton Log Book dismissed the film versions of Captain Smith forever.
I still approach a new book as though it’s going to be my last – and after the glitz and glamour of the early days, I’m now part of the multi-tasking, indie-publishing scene of today.
The beauty of my back-list is that the stories are timeless – hence my decision to reissue them. You may not ever have been to sea, but you will identify with the pressures experienced by Captain Smith, and his modern-day equivalent in Liam’s Story. You may not have indulged in an illicit affair, but you will recognise the temptations facing Louisa Elliott. And you may also have noticed how history repeats itself…
I’m now working on a new novel set in Yorkshire, a long way from the sea…