This little beauty of a book was published last Thursday and the author very kindly found time to answer a few questions. Thanks so much Susan.
Re: The Broken Heart of
1. Have you always been a fan of Les Misérables? and wanted to write about the characters?
I knew the book (an abridged version) and the film – and loved both. But it had never occurred to me to write Eponine’s tale, or anyone one else’s. Then Chicken House approached me with the idea of giving Eponine a voice for the YA market – and I just thought it was a wonderful idea. She was the character that had intrigued me the most, in both the book and the play; to have the chance to tell her tale was a gift. I said yes straight away!
2. What draws you to writing about the past?
This is only the second historical novel that I’ve written but it’s a genre I’m certainly fascinated with. I think what I love most of all is the simple truth that humans do not change. Our circumstances might, and we might gain more knowledge and more skills are we progress – but ultimately, we remain the same. A Roman soldier, 2000 years ago, for example, might not have had a telephone or decent healthcare – but he would still have felt homesick or ashamed or heartbroken; he’d have still got chilblains or had nightmares, or been afraid of growing old. We are all the same. I love this truth: to write historical novels with this in mind feels very intimate – and a privilege, too.
3. You have written a number of novels for adults, why have you switched to writing for teens?
Put simply, because I was given the chance to! It hadn’t occurred to me to try to write for a different readership; it was Chicken House’s offer – and their faith in me, their sense that I was the right author to take on Eponine’s tale – that brought me to do it. And I’m so glad that I did! I have loved every second – and I’m very grateful that Chicken House asked me.
4. When you were a teenager what did you read? Do you still have the same favourite books now? Why or why not? I tended towards the classics, I think. I loved Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I also remember having a summer of devouring all Daphne du Maurier’s novels – and loving Jamaica Inn, in particular! I still love these books; that hasn’t changed. Perhaps what has changed is the fact that I can now read them with adult eyes, and find different nuances than I did at 17. They say that you never read the same book twice and that’s certainly true when returning to a novel after many years.
5. What are your top five tips for aspiring writers of historical fiction
I still feel a bit of a novice, in this genre! And therefore I am not sure how many tips I can give! But there’s one that immediately springs to mind: keep in mind, always, that this is indeed fiction you are writing. I think it’s easy to believe you have to adhere strictly to what actually happened, to only write about what was true. But that’s what non-fiction writers do; we don’t have those same restraints. One’s primary role is to write a good novel: if that means a slight altering of the truth, then it’s allowable. Precisely how far away you go from the historical truth is every writer’s choice; likewise, how much they inform the reader of these changes. But changes are fine! And it’s the novelist’s voice that should take precedence over the historian’s. Other tips … Research, of course! Only once you know the absolute truth of that time, and the people in it, can you make informed choices. As with all forms of writing, I would also suggest not using red pen at any point (subconsciously, we link it with reprimands and mistakes), getting outside every day – and keeping encouraging Post-It notes by the kettle!
A Little in Love is Published by Chicken House and available now.
Thanks so much to Laura for a copy and for Susan for taking part.