Today, I’m delighted to welcome Sue Barnard to my blog, talking about historical fiction, and her writing process.
So, Sue, what first attracted you to the eras you’ve written about?
In the case of The Ghostly Father (which is set mostly in medieval Italy) it wasn’t so much the era as the story itself, but more about that later. Nice Girls Don’t is set in 1982, so it isn’t too far in the past, but it’s an era which I remember very well from my youth. The story also contains flashbacks to World War 2 and World War 1.
I didn’t really set out to write historical fiction as such – it happened more or less by accident.
The Ghostly Father was written in response to the prompt Write The Book You Want To Read. I’ve always loved the story of Romeo and Juliet but hated the way it ended, and the book I’ve always wanted to read is the version in which the star-cross’d lovers don’t fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide. Since (as far as I know) that book didn’t exist, I had to write it myself! The fact that the original story is set in the past was just incidental!
Nice Girls Don’t began life as a project in an online workshop on the subject of writing romantic fiction. To be on the safe side I thought I ought to stick to writing about what I knew, and I have very distinct memories of the 1980s – and in particular the prevailing attitudes and ideas of that time. Two of the episodes in Nice Girls Don’t (Mr Sykes’ story about his grandparents, and what happened to Emily’s grandfather) are based on real events. But in particular, I wanted to show today’s young people how things have changed, hopefully for the better, over the course of just a single generation.
Tell me a bit about your research process – are you able to stay focused, or do you find yourself distracted by new, interesting snippets or stories?
A bit of both, really. To research places I consult maps and guide books, and I look at clips on YouTube, but for real authenticity I don’t think there’s any substitute for visiting places in person. For most of my research Google is my friend, and if I need to look up a specific point I find that task fairly straightforward. But there’s always the risk that I’ll get caught up in reading other things relating to that same point – and before I know it, almost an hour has gone by! But I like to think that no research is ever wasted!
Now, if you could visit any historical event or period (as a witness only, no changing things!), which would it be, and why?
I’ve always loved Mozart’s music. I’d love to be there at the first performance of The Marriage of Figaro.
And how about ‘rewriting’ the history books? If you could change any single event, which would it be, and what would be your preferred outcome?
I’ve often thought that Henry VIII has an awful lot to answer for. So I think I would either keep his elder brother Arthur alive (in which case he, rather than Henry, would have become King), or allow his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, to produce at least one healthy male heir. Just think of all the heartache and bloodshed which could have been avoided…
I agree entirely, and Katherine of Aragon is the wife I’ve always felt most sorry for, losing her first husband, and being so ill-treated by both Henry Tudors.
Finally… You’re allowed a whole afternoon to yourself with anyone from history. Who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
Mozart again, I think. I’ve visited various places associated with him, both in Salzburg and in Vienna, and I felt a real shiver down the spine when I thought of him walking through those very same rooms. When I saw his own violin, and thought about all the music which might have been played on it, it took my breath away.
We’d talk about music, and writing, and travel. We’d drink wine and eat cake, and I’d ask him to play one of his pieces, just for me. Who knows, he might even compose a Sonata for Susan…
Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Jen!
Thank you Sue!
You can find Sue’s blog here, or follow her on Twitter.
Sue was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. After graduating from Durham University, where she studied French and Italian, Sue got married then had a variety of office jobs before becoming a full-time parent. If she had her way, the phrase “non-working mother” would be banned from the English language.
Since then she has had a series of part-time jobs, including some work as a freelance copywriter. In parallel with this she took several courses in Creative Writing. Her writing achievements include winning the Writing Magazine New Subscribers Poetry Competition for 2013.
Sue has a mind which is sufficiently warped as to be capable of compiling questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.
In addition to working as an editor for Crooked Cat Publishing, Sue is a published poet and the author of three novels: The Ghostly Father, Nice Girls Don’t and The Unkindest Cut of All.
She is also very interested in Family History. Her own background is stranger than fiction; she’d write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.