Over the summer I had a series of talks with authors. The series is starting again on 31 August with a talk with Robyn Young, an author of historical fiction.
Before then, I’m posting extracts from my earlier talks. I’vealready posted from the ones with David Gaughran and Ty Johnston and will follow this with extracts from Angus Donald, James Wilde, Gordon Doherty and, to make the round half dozen, an extract from an interview which I gave earlier about my own fiction.
First, here’s an extract from my talk with SJA Turney
Martin: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was there a specific event that made you decide?
Simon: I used to write short stories as a teenager, and even poetry for a time. That waned, though, as I went to university and then left, finding myself in an unforgivingly dull and grey job market. I worked as many things over the next decade, never truly settling into anything. My writing began partially as an experiment, to see if I still had anything of the bug, and partially through the sheer ennui and boredom I suffered in my excruciating job at the time. It was only as I finished writing Marius’ Mules in my spare time that I realised just how much I enjoyed it and how much I wanted to keep doing it
Martin: You write historical fiction. Why this genre in particular?
Simon: I write historical fiction, though I have also delved into the world of ‘historical fantasy’ with my Tales of the Empire series. In all cases, though, the Roman theme is prevalent in some form or other. I have had an unquenchable fascination with the world of Rome since the age of six, when my grandfather (the wisest person I ever knew) took me to Hadrian’s Wall and I stood on the wall of Housesteads fort, staring off into a blizzard. Since then I have travelled to every Roman site I can reach at any given opportunity, and read extensively into the history of that fascinating world.
Next, a couple of answers from Lynn Shepherd
Martin: What made you choose to write your modern take on classic novels? Did you have any worries about tackling characters who would be greatly loved by readers?
Lynn: The initial idea for turning Jane Austen into a murder mystery just popped into my head unbidden in the summer of 2008. I had no idea or intention at that stage of doing the same thing again. But once Murder at Mansfield Park was published I started to wonder whether I was onto quite an interesting and unusual idea. After all, there are many murder mysteries set in the Victorian period (some of them very good), but no-one’s done quite the same thing as I’ve done in Tom-All-Alone’s (which is published in the US as The Solitary House). In other words, creating a new story that runs parallel with another book – in this case Bleak House. And yes, there’s always a risk if you work with a classic that people love, but I think most people who’ve read my novels can see that I love those classics just as much as they do, and have written my own books in that spirit.
Martin: How do you research your novels? Do you research before you start to write or do you do it on an ongoing process?
Lynn: There was much more research for Tom-All-Alone’s/The Solitary House than for Murder at Mansfield Park. For the Austen, most of the work went into getting the language right; for the Dickens, it was a much bigger task, because I had to bring Victorian London back to life. That meant a lot of reading. Though in principle I always do the minimum of research before I start writing and fill in the gaps afterwards, because otherwise you can fall into the trap of having the research dictate the story, rather than the other way round. I hate it when I read books and stumble over huge lumps of only partially digested research which the writer’s obviously spent days looking for, and is going to get in there one way or another!
You can find the complete talks by clicking on the links below.