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Friday, 24 June 2011

Dealers in Victoriana: Or: A Victorianist Special: Q & A With Great Victorian Authors of Today:



As a special treat, and to commemorate the forthcoming one year anniversary of this blog, I have pestered five of the best ‘peddlars of Victoriana’ that I could find, all of whom have work sitting on the shelves of my bookcase at home, into answering some questions. I have enjoyed quizzing these authors and experts, despite the fact that my efforts will not have the likes of Paxman and Marr fearing for their careers. 
Kicking things off:

Author of two Victorian novels and blogger, Faye L. Booth:

What first interested you about the Victorian period in particular?

In a sense it's hard to say (it's not always easy to analyse one's reasons for 'clicking' with a particular topic), but I think that at least part of it is down to the massive leaps forward - technologically, educationally and socially - the Victorians made when you compare them to earlier times: think of the likes of Charles Darwin, Joseph Lister, John Stuart Mill etc. However, I have a theory that as a society becomes more technically advanced, it's as if they sometimes become a little frightened of the speed at which they're moving, and so they subconsciously put the brakes on in other areas, often by becoming - outwardly, at least - more socially conservative: compare the Victorians to the 18th and early 19th centuries preceding them, which often seem to our eyes to have been more permissive. That being said, I think the Victorians' apparent stuffiness is often taken at face value these days, and perhaps excessively so - this is the era which invented the camera and then promptly set about taking pornographic shots and photographing corpses for the family album, after all! On a purely superficial level, too, I think the Victorian era was more aesthetically pleasing than any time before or since.

Can you describe in a sentence how it feels to see your work on the shelf in places like Waterstones, Borders etc?

Mind-boggling - it still doesn't feel quite 'real’ when I see one of my own books sitting there with all the others!

How many novels or books did you write / half write / come up with a title and an opening paragraph and then give up on, before you came up with your first published piece of work? 
Actually, Cover the Mirrors was the first novel I ever wrote, and went on to be the first one I published. I have since written a book which, upon completion, I decided I wasn't happy with and consigned it to the metaphorical bottom drawer, but that was a couple of years ago. The third novel I completed is sitting on the back burner for the time being, too.

Do you still have them?

Oh, they're on my hard drive somewhere! I doubt that the one I gave up on will ever see the light of day, but the third book I finished may or may not appear in some form at some point in the future, depending on whether I and/or my agent decide it's a good idea!

Are they the same genre as the work we know you for?

Yes.

Would you ever write a book in a different genre?

I can't see it happening at this stage - I do write the occasional contemporary short, but all my full-length novel ideas thus far have been historical. That being said, if I did get an idea for a non-historical novel, I would naturally pursue it.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

That's hard to say, because I believe that being a writer is an integral feature of one's personality - just look at how many people write when they get home from their day job, because it's something they're compelled to do. So to imagine what I'd do if I didn't have that strange urge to make stuff up and write it down requires me to try to project upon myself a different personality, which makes it difficult to know where I'd be and what I'd want to be doing. As for what I'd be doing now if I wasn't making any money at all from writing; well, I recently qualified as a proofreader and copy-editor, so I expect I'd be doing that as a main occupation.

When you knew you wanted to become a writer, who inspired you, and who are your literary heroes that you wanted to emulate?

Again, it's hard to say, because for as long as I can remember I've liked to make up stories, so my inspirations then would have been quite different to now! These days, I like to read work by 19th century authors, of course (particularly Poe, Wilde and Hardy); and as far as living writers go I enjoy Michel Faber, Ian McEwan, Lionel Shriver, Maggie O'Farrell...lots of different people, really. I wouldn't say that I aim to emulate them as such - you can be a second-class version of someone else or a first-class version of yourself, as the saying goes - but equally I think that you do learn something from every piece you enjoy; then you can put your own spin on it.

What is your favourite modern novel set in the nineteenth century, and why?

Oh, I'm in awe of The Crimson Petal and the White - so much so I couldn't bring myself to watch the recent BBC adaptation in case it joined the swollen ranks of disappointing screen versions of amazing books! That's probably unfair of me - it might actually be good - but I love that book so much, the thought of a bad adaptation made me nervous. I could go on all day about why I love it - a cast of memorable, flawed characters, none of whom fall into the prosaic 'hero/villain' trap; a pungently vivid depiction of Victorian London; it's genuinely funny at times (Bodley and Ashwell!) and extremely unsettling at others (Agnes' decline and William's conflicted emotions on the subject, the gradual unpacking of Sugar's history) - I love it more each time I re-read it.

Are there any other era’s in history other than Victorian that you’re keen on?

I'm interested in the Edwardian era, too, and the period leading up to WW1. (In fact, the current WIP spans those times...) I enjoy reading about a variety of other periods, too, although not necessarily writing about them at this stage, the odd short story aside.

If you could take the credit for authoring any Victorian novel, which would it be?

I couldn't do that - I know how incandescent I'd be if someone passed off my work as their own! That being said, I love the characterisation in Jude the Obscure. Little Time is a lot like me as a child (which is a bit worrying, really!).
If you could go back in time to the Victorian era for just one day, what specific event, person or place would you back and see?

To be honest, I'd probably spend the day doing basic research - prices of things and so on - as that would serve me well for a good time to come; although obviously with each book there are usually one or two events that would be helpful to witness. However, because the WIP is early 20th century, I can't count anything for that under the Victorian umbrella! As for which events I would want to witness for that book, all will (hopefully!) be revealed in due course!

How much input do you have in the design of the covers for your books?

The same as any author, I think - contractually it's not our final decision and the publishers don't have to consult us, but I have been shown my covers and asked for my thoughts on them. In the first draft of the UK edition of Trades of the Flesh, for instance, the model had red hair - the sort of red hair that doesn't occur in nature - and I asked if it might be tweaked to a more natural colour as obviously they didn't have Directions or Manic Panic in the 1880s, so it was changed to brown (the hair colour of the book's protagonist, Lydia). I like to be involved, but I wouldn't presume to have too much input into covers - I know very little about cover design, and the design department don't tell me how to do my job!

What can we expect from you in the near future?

I have a book being touted around by my agent at present - it's set in the 1860s and is a much longer and more complicated book than I've written previously, so I like to think that it's a significant progression for me! It's certainly my 'favourite child', anyway, and as soon as I have more news on that score I will naturally share it on my blog. And of course there's the WIP - I recently started work on that, and it's shaping up to be another long book, so I'm not sure yet when it will be finished.

For anyone unfamiliar with your work, what have you written and how would you describe it?

Oooh...dark Victoriana with conflicted characters! Cover the Mirrors (my first book) is about a fraudulent 'medium', and Trades of the Flesh (my second) is about a prostitute turned porn model turned anatomist's assistant. Annoyingly, I consider the book that best represents what I'm about and what I'm trying to do to be the one that's on submissions at the moment, so obviously I can't tell you to read that just yet, but if any lovely people want to read Mirrors and/or Trades too while they're waiting, I'd be very happy about that!

I take it these publications are available in all good bookshops and online at a very fair price?

But of course!

Faye Blogs at
fayelbooth.blogspot.com


*****


Author of recently released Victorian gothic novel ‘The Somnambulist’ Essie Fox:

What first interested you about the Victorian period in particular?

I think the fact that photography was invented and therefore this is the first historical era from which we can actually see the true representations of people – rather than works of art. It brings them to life. It makes us realise how like us they were. Some Victorian photographs look incredibly ‘modern’ and vivid – as if they were taken only yesterday – for instance that of Robert Cornelius. Google him. He might be a young man on the street today!

Can you describe in a sentence how it feels to see your work on the shelf in places like Waterstones, Borders etc?

A little bit frightening, to be honest. What if no-one buys them? But of course, I’m also immensely proud (if that’s not too much of a sin) and to be honest, I don’t think it’s actually sunk in that they are really there.

How many novels or books did you write / half write / come up with a title and an opening paragraph and then give up on, before you came up with your first published piece of work?

I didn’t give up on anything. I wrote another novel called The Diamond which actually led me to find an agent and came very close to being bought. But sadly, in the end, it only found a publisher in Russia. It’s a shame as I am still excited by that story.

Do you still have them?

Oh yes! The file keeps twinkling at me from my PC’s desktop.

Are they the same genre as the work we know you for?

It is another Victorian gothic novel – so yes. But, it does have more ‘magical’ elements of fantasy too – which makes it rather more cross genre.

Would you ever write a book in a different genre?

I would like to write a contemporary comedy.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I would probably go back to being an illustrator - which was the career I had for many years before I plucked up the courage to try and write.

When you knew you wanted to become a writer, who inspired you, and who are your literary heroes that you wanted to emulate?

I think I always wanted to be a writer but just couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Even as a little girl I was always ‘dreaming’ up stories and conducting imaginary conversation in my head. I have so many inspirations, but I suppose the first was Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies – a book that I find quite pompous now, but as a little girl, with that book being the first I took out of the local library, I found it absolutely captivating – particularly the illustrations.

What is your favourite modern novel set in the nineteenth century, and why?

I have a few – but I think Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx is absolutely superb – a must for any fan of modern Victorian pastiche . It kept me up for several nights running.
I also like Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, and Affinity. And I am very fond of Michael Cox’s The Meaning of Night – not forgetting Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White.

Are there any other era’s in history other than Victorian that you’re keen on?

I am beginning to get interested in the 1920’s

If you could take the credit for authoring any Victorian novel, which would it be?

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

If you could go back in time to the Victorian era for just one day, what specific event, person or place would you back and see?

I would love to go to the opening day of The Great Exhibition of 1851.

How much input do you have in the design of the covers for your books?

Ideas are welcomed but, at the end of the day, it’s really the choice of the publishers and their marketing team.
 
What can we expect from you in the near future?

I’m working on a new Victorian novel which will be based on an artist who is obsessed with painting mermaids – much inspired by the work of John William Waterhouse.

For anyone unfamiliar with your work, what have you written and how would you describe it?

My novel, The Somnambulist, is a Victorian gothic mystery with themes of loss, deception and betrayal.
  
I take it the above mentioned work is available in all good bookshops and online at a very fair price.

I hope it will be considered fair! But yes, it’s available through Amazon: here
It’s online and at most branches of: Waterstones

And through other online book retailers as well as my publishers, Orion Books.

Catch Essie’s blog in her guise as the Virtual Victorian at The Virtual Victorian


*****


Doyenne of Victorian London, author of numerous Victorian crime novels, and proprieter of VictorianLondon.org Lee Jackson

What first interested you about the Victorian period in particular?

A combination of things: Victorian architecture in London; Peter Ackroyd's Dickens biography; reading London Labour and the London Poor after visiting the Museum of London,

Can you describe in a sentence how it feels to see your work on the shelf in places like Waterstones, Borders etc?

There was an initial excitement; but I found it more exciting when I (once) saw my name on one of those little nicely printed 'name tag' things they put on shelves, to highlight where you'll find particular people in the alphabet. Totally random, but it felt strangely special. 

How many novels or books did you write / half write / come up with a title and an opening paragraph and then give up on, before you came up with your first published piece of work?

My first book was the first thing I wrote. Since then, however, I have given up on several novels. 

Do you still have them?

Some I still possess; I have one half-finished novel at the moment, which I'm not sure if I will ever finish. I tend to think that if you aren't ploughing on, that's enough reason to leave it. You need to have that ongoing enthusiasm.

Are they the same genre as the work we know you for?

My current very unfinished novel is a Victorian book with fantasy elements. I've also a science fiction novel (well, a third of one) somewhere on the hard drive.

Would you ever write a book in a different genre?

I would and have tried. And so far, I seem to have failed.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Web nerd or librarian. I am still the former, a couple of days a week, although it's not quite my official title at work.

When you knew you wanted to become a writer, who inspired you, and who are your literary heroes that you wanted to emulate?

I never knew I wanted to become a writer. In fact, I'm still ambivalent about being a 'writer'. Do I keep writing until I drop? Do I write if I don't get published? It's an odd sort of 'profession'.

What is your favourite modern novel set in the nineteenth century, and why?

I would say 'Affinity', Sarah Water's second book. It is genuinely haunting.

Are there any other era’s in history other than Victorian that you’re keen on?

I enjoyed Ancient Greece / the Athenian Empire when I did Ancient History as a student, but I can't claim I've kept that interest up.

If you could take the credit for authoring any Victorian novel, which would it be?

I'm a big fan of George Gissing and Wilkie Collins. I'd settle for Wilkie Collins's 'Armadale'.

If you could go back in time to the Victorian era for just one day, what specific event, person or place would you back and see?

It would have to be the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, on a busy day, packed with tourists.

How much input do you have in the design of the covers for your books?

Generally not much. Snowbooks, who have published my latest 'The Diary of a Murder', were very collaborative on the cover, which was great.

What can we expect from you in the near future?

Probably not fiction, although I am trying to get a comic-book off the ground. Most likely some history; probaby self-published via Kindle. There's a growing market for it, I think.

For anyone unfamiliar with your work, what have you written and how would you describe it?

Seven Victorian crime novels, most recently 'The Diary of a Murder'.

I take it these publications are available in all good bookshops and online at a very fair price?

Some of my books are in most bookshops; that's the best I can promise. 'The Diary of a Murder' is certainly available via Amazon Amazon; also 'Daily Life in Victorian London', my bestselling Kindle anthology of all things Victorian London (which has a very fair price indeed). Is available here.

Anyone yet to cross the threshold of Lee’s victorianlondon.org must do so immediately, and also pay a visit to the addendum blog, The Cats Meat Shop


*****


Author of the Lady Julia Grey series, Deanna Raybourn:

What first interested you about the Victorian period in particular?

The duplicity of it. I am intrigued by the fact that there was this veneer of propriety and perfect manners, but it often masked a reality that was quite different. Restoration and Regency folk were forthright in their pleasures, but Victorians liked to hide theirs, and that secretiveness is much more interesting. I’m also fascinated by how drastically the world changed in that relatively short period of time. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to adapt from horses and candles to the first motorcars and electricity.

Can you describe in a sentence how it feels to see your work on the shelf in places like Waterstones, Borders etc?

It’s still a strange out-of-body experience. I look at the books on the shelf and it doesn’t quite register that they’re mine, that I wrote them, that people actually pay money for them and take them home and read them.

How many novels or books did you write / half write / come up with a title and an opening paragraph and then give up on, before you came up with your first published piece of work?

I wrote for fourteen years before I got my first publishing contract, so there’s quite a bit of unpublished work still hanging around—probably seven novels and partial manuscripts of two more, with loads of notebooks full of ideas for others. I haven’t seen them in years.

Do you still have them?

Whenever I finish a book, published or not, the manuscript and all the research material gets boxed up and shoved in the attic. I never go back and reread anything, so the unpublished material has languished for quite a long time. Hopefully some friendly mice will get better use out of them than I have. They would make lovely nests.

Are they the same genre as the work we know you for?

They’re a bit all over the map. I have a Gothic, a few Regencies, even a contemporary that dabbled in magical realism. If you squinted, you could probably make out the beginnings of the books I write now, but you would have to look pretty hard.

Would you ever write a book in a different genre?

My published books are cross genre; they are historical fiction with a bit of mystery and romance, and that suits me very well. I don’t imagine I would stray too far from that territory, but the proportions might change and certainly the historical periods will.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Dead. I have been making up stories since before I could hold a pencil, and I will probably be telling one on my deathbed. There is no ‘me’ without invention.

When you knew you wanted to become a writer, who inspired you, and who are your literary heroes that you wanted to emulate?

There are authors I adore, such as Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier, but very few I’d like to actually emulate. The trouble is that so few managed to combine a successful career with a happy marriage and children. I think Agatha Christie finally got there, but she was the exception rather than the rule. Reading biographies of female authors, I keep finding a pattern of unhappy marriages or alcoholism or financial insolvency. When I find one that chronicles a pleasant home life with a tidy bit of success, I’ll stop reading and she will be my role model.

What is your favourite modern novel set in the nineteenth century, and why?

I think the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters is delightful, and I was raised on a steady diet of Victoria Holt, so I tend to favor the lighter touch rather than some serious, weighty novel that lacks humor.

Are there any other era’s in history other than Victorian that you’re keen on?

Several! I always think the Regency must have been great fun, as well as the 1920s. I also love books set in England between the wars. I’m not as keen on anything before 1800 or so except for the Restoration and bits of particular Tudor and Plantagenet reigns. Those periods are more about the personalities involved—I should have loved to have met Charles II or Anne Boleyn or Katherine Swynford simply to understand the aura of glamour they carried.

If you could take the credit for authoring any Victorian novel, which would it be?

Either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. They are both really fabulous frauds. Charlotte Brontë uses one of the most blatant coincidences in modern literature, and Emily Brontë gives us a hero who hangs his wife’s dog, and yet we are so carried away that we believe the coincidence without a qualm and we idolize Heathcliff as one of the greatest heroes ever written. Brilliant.

If you could go back in time to the Victorian era for just one day, what specific event, person or place would you back and see?

I ought to choose one of the Ripper murders just to answer some obvious and lingering questions, but I’m far too squeamish. Let’s say May 1, 1851—the opening of the Great Exhibition. Royalty, technology, culture, everything that made up the age all gathered in one place.

How much input do you have in the design of the covers for your books?

None. For the American covers, I will submit a fact sheet of information from the book—setting, characters, etc. The art department will then mock up a cover and as a courtesy I am sent a copy before it is put into production. On occasion, I’ve been able to see the cover and write in a scene where my main character is actually wearing the ensemble they have photographed her in--or the art department will take the outfit directly from the text--so it’s a nice bit of continuity for the reader. I only see the foreign covers long after production when I am sent my author copies.

What can we expect from you in the near future?

I am taking a break from the Lady Julia Grey series for just a bit. I am venturing outside the comfortable boundaries of the Victorian age for the first time with a new project, so I am tremendously excited and a wee bit nervous as well. I do have the sixth Lady Julia book plotted out and ready to go when my publisher is ready to dive back in.

For anyone unfamiliar with your work, what have you written and how would you describe it?

I write the Lady Julia Grey books--a Victorian mystery series with a dash of romance. It is fun, twisty, and always a little unexpected.

I take it these publications are available in all good bookshops and online at a very fair price?

But of course! I also blog five days a week at deannaraybourn.com and can be friended on Facebook and found on Twitter doing Twitterly things.


*****


Victorian era expert, historian, and author of fine Victorian non-fiction, Judith Flanders: 

What first interested you about the Victorian period in particular?

I actually came to it backwards -- I found my subject (four Victorian women) first, then realized I was much more interested in the period than I was in them.

Can you describe in a sentence how it feels to see your work on the shelf in places like Waterstones, Borders etc?

Two conflicting feelings battle it out: 1) I feel a fraud, my books are not good enough to be bought with anyone's hard-earned cash; and 2) I think, 'What? They're only stocking one copy?' So, it's like the old Jewish joke about the lady who complains about the quality of the food, and the fact that it comes in such small portions -- I think they're not worth buying, and am outraged if the shop fails to stock them.

How many novels or books did you write / half write / come up with a title and an opening paragraph and then give up on, before you came up with your first published piece of work?

None, I'm afraid. I sold my first book on a proposal, then just wrote it.

Would you ever write a book in a different genre?

I tried to write a comic whodunit once. I thought it was very funny. No one agreed with me.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I was a publisher for a long time, so I guess that's your answer.

When you knew you wanted to become a writer, who inspired you, and who are your literary heroes that you wanted to emulate?

I never knew I wanted to be a writer until I'd already become one. But my literary hero is Hilary Mantel, even though I have no hope of ever writing a hundredth bit as well.

What is your favourite modern novel set in the nineteenth century, and why?

Hmmm, I'm not sure I have one. I'll wait to see what everybody else answers and say, 'Why didn't I think of that?'

Are there any other eras in history other than Victorian that you’re keen on?

Plenty that I love reading about -- but I'm happy to stick with the Victorians for my own work.

If you could take the credit for authoring any Victorian novel, which would it be?

Great Expectations.

If you could go back in time to the Victorian era for just one day, what specific event, person or place would you back and see?

I would like to see the streets, to find out what they really sounded/looked/smelt like. And maybe visit Evans's supper rooms (dressed as a man) to see if the songs were really as rude as the books I've just found suggest. (I was shocked -- SHOCKED, I tell you.)

How much input do you have in the design of the covers for your books?

It's like a government 'listening exercise': they let you talk, then they do what they want.

What can we expect from you in the near future?

A book on the streets of London, 'The Victorian House' Outdoors, if you will. Coming to all good bookstores near you in autumn 2012.

For anyone unfamiliar with your work, what have you written and how would you describe it?

I've written one biography and three books of social history, in which I try and discover not what the Great Men (and a few Women) were doing, but what everyday life was like in the 19th century.

I take it these publications are available in all good bookshops and online at a very fair price?


I certainly hope so!

Follow Judith on her blog at judithflanders.co.uk


*****


Thanks so much to the very kind authors above for taking time out to answer these questions, and adding a touch of expertise to ‘The Victorianist’ at last!

I welcome answers to the above questions from anyone reading, I should be interested to hear what everyone would do if they could go back to the nineteenth century for one day…



1 comment:

  1. So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Greece but i want to say thing to u Ancient Greece not that only ... you can see in Ancient Greece The fourth century and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,

    ReplyDelete