My visiting author, this week, is historical novelist, Deborah Swift, who lives in North Lancashire in a historic village near the sea.
Deborah used to be a set and costume designer for theatre and TV, and so she loves writing fiction set in the pre-industrial era when women wore enormously complicated costumes, and everything was lovingly made by hand.
I’ve considered writing historical novels, myself, but am too impatient to get on with the story to do the leg-work on the research. Anyway, over to Deborah.
What is your favourite historical character?
I am a great admirer of other writers whose work has survived to today. Great inspirations would include Shakepeare, though I realise this is a bit of a cliché, and Pepys, whose diary gives us such a brilliant view not only of his times, but of how his mind worked, his relationships with his family and servants. I love things like Pepys blaming his wife for leaving her wrap in the carriage when she had earlier asked him to look after it for her. It just shows that although times might change, human beings are often just the same! I’ve just written an article on Queen Elizabeth I who I think paved the way for society to recognise women as intelligent, able, and just as politically astute as a man – so she would definitely be on my list of favourites.
What are the best and worst aspects of writing historical fiction?
The research is both the most intriguing and the hardest. I strive for historical accuracy, but also want to tell an engaging story. Without historical accuracy the book would have a very unstable foundation. Of course I might make errors, but they are unintentional. Some readers wish to be educated as well as entertained, and a faithful rendering of the period is what they expect and what I strive for.
What inspires you to write stories from the past?
I’ve always loved history, and I’m inspired by real events often using those as a starting point to work from. From there I ‘imagine outwards,’ like building clay onto an armature. The event that began my interest for my most recent book – A Divided Inheritance, was the Gunpowder Plot, which gave me the setting of Jacobean England, but I also researched Seville in Spain’s Golden Age. I was inspired by the crafts of lace-making and sword-forging, processes which were immensely time-consuming and skilled. This is one of the things that fascinates me about the past, the sheer amount of labour that went into making things we take for granted now. I also enjoy giving voice to women who are so often ignored in non-fiction narratives of the past. In my most recent book strait-laced Elspet Leviston expects she will take over her father’s business, but her father has other ideas. He brings home her cousin, a man she has never set eyes on before and who she dislikes on sight, and begins to hand the reins of the business to him. The appearance of this stranger sets in motion a chain of events that will lead Elspet to the bustling port of Seville, to the great mystical Sword School of La Destreza, and to a battle to save herself and her new-found Spanish friends. It was a thrilling book to work on and very enjoyable to write.
Tell me about your writing life.
I write in the mornings if possible, before I get chance to talk myself out of it! I write on the computer, but also have a lot of very scruffy notebooks with mad jottings scrawled on them in biro such as “make Grace more evil by chapter 4,” “don’t forget to add more backstory to the drowning,” “what did a bucket cost in 1660”…. etc etc
I read voraciously, anything and everything. I’ve just read two spy novels, and currently on the go are ‘Snobs’ by Julian Fellowes and ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent. Favourite storytellers include Jodi Picoult, C J Sansom, Rosie Thomas and Linda Holeman. Hell for me would be to be stranded on a desert island with no books and no reading glasses! Actually, I suppose I might get more writing done that way…
Many thanks to Rosie for hosting me, you can chat with me on twitter @swiftstory, which is how I got chatting to Rosie, or find me on my website www.deborahswift.com
7 thoughts on “Visiting Author – Deborah Swift”
Interesting post. I often wonder if after a while, historical novelists get such a feel for the past that they wish they lived in another time. If that’s so, do you Deborah have a feel for an era in which you wanted to live? Thanks.
How fantastic to combine experience of costume design with historical fiction. Many congratulations Deborah.
A very interesting post, Deborah. I appreciate your comment about ‘giving voice to women who are so often ignored.’ Your books have gorgeous covers too.
I agree Rosie, the 1950’s era would have been great! I’m a bit of a ‘Grease’ fan myself. Except I wouldn’t want to be seen in those spray-on Olivia Newton-John pants! I think the 20’s would have been great, I’d definitely look better in a flapper dress. Love the idea of that – the era of silent movies and the new excitement of flight. Thanks Nina and Jen for your compliments.
Thanks for commenting Hope – I have always had a bit of a yearning for the Victorian era, though I haven’t yet written a novel set in that time.I am a great fan of the Arts and Crafts movement, so if I had my choice I’d live in a house designed by William Morris, or Mackintosh, and have hand-crafted furniture and live a bit of a bohemian life-style. How about you?
If I can just add my five pen’orth, I haven’t really studied any era in detail but I think it would have been fun to live in America during the 1950s, when people were so positive after the war. The fashions were great, I love the big skirts, the huge cars and the idea of going to drive-in movies. It was a time when young people really began developing an identity of their own. I want to live the Grease dream!
I love the 1920s. Being a flapper would have been fun. I love Art Deco stuff too. I think living through the Industrial Revolution would have been interesting as well. But you would probably need to be a successful man to get the most out of it.