I am so excited about today’s guest that I hardly know how to act. Be cool, y’all, and cover for me. Susanna Kearsley has agreed to be our December guest for an interview and giveaway!
I first found Susanna’s books through Lauren Willig’s “If You Like” posts. I kept seeing repeated recommendations for Marianna, which I believe Lauren says is her favorite. I started with The Rose Garden and I absolutely fell in love. Since then, I’ve read nearly everything she’s published, including her novel Every Secret Thing that is published under the name Emma Cole (quite possibly my favorite, actually!) and a few of her books that are trickier to find in the States, like Named of the Dragon. Why have I done this? Because her stories are absolutely phenomenal. I have never read an author that could match Susanna for writing a story that I feel completely, totally immersed in. From her sense of place in her novels to her pacing and her wonderful, lovely characters, her books are an absolute joy from start to finish. I did mention I was excited that she’s here, right? Before I am run away with my feelings, let’s give Susanna a chance to tell us a bit about herself and her writing.
Susanna, when you walk into a book store, where do you go first?
I don’t have a set pattern. I’m very easily drawn by pretty covers, but the section I wander to first will usually depend on what book I’m working on at the time, because that will dictate what I’m currently fascinated by. When I was writing A Desperate Fortune, for example, I always went first to the travel section, looking for books that might contain or reference old travel narratives from the 18th century Grand Tour days. When I was writing Mariana, back in the early 1990s, I started every bookstore visit in the New Age and Spirituality section, looking for firsthand accounts of reincarnation and past lives. So it changes. But in both new and used bookstores—especially used ones—I always end up in the history shelves, browsing not only for books on the subject I’m writing about, but on curious incidents I’ve never heard about—that’s where the next story frequently starts.
If I took a sneak peek into your writing space, what would I find?
An absolute disaster area! I’m not the greatest housekeeper at the best of times, but when I’m working on a novel I don’t notice clutter, and things tend to pile up. There are always, always documents of every age and type—from old maps to photocopied letters from assorted archives. Stacks and stacks of these (though I do try to tame the piles by sorting things into archival storage boxes, when I have the time). There are books, of course. My writing room has 14 feet of wall space on each side and I use most of it for bookcases that go up to the ceiling and are stacked at least two layers deep. Some of the books are for reference and some are for pleasure, and some are for rainy-day reads in the future. There are things I’ve brought back from my research trips: gravel from the rose garden of the English manor house I used in Mariana; a limpet shell from the rock beach below St. Govan’s Chapel in Wales; pressed flowers from Greece; an oyster shell from the Long Island location I’m using for my next book—I like to have these small things round me when I am writing. And you’ll usually find coffee cups—some empty, some forgotten, and at least one still half-filled with coffee that’s gone cold because I got distracted by my work.
If you were having a dinner party, and you could invite 6 characters (other than yours) to attend, who would you pick?
Only 6? Hmm. It’s not easy to choose—I love so many characters, it’s hard to narrow down the list. I’ll keep it to people from books written by authors who are no longer living:
Marian Halcombe, from Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, because she was such a resourceful and wonderful character and I always thought Walter was an idiot for preferring the beautiful but vacuous Laura to Marian.
Keith Stewart, the titular character of Nevil Shute’s book Trustee from the Toolroom, is one of those seemingly ordinary people who isn’t ordinary at all once you get to know him, and I’d love to hear him go on about his miniature mechanical creations.
Rilla Blythe (daughter of Anne of Green Gables and Gilbert Blythe) from L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside, has a tendency to speak before she thinks, which makes her fun and unpredictable and perfect for a dinner party.
Josh Canfield, the hero of Catherine Gaskin’s The File on Devlin, is both dashing and understated—a rare and attractive combination in my book—AND he’s both thoughtful and well-read, so he would definitely rate an invitation.
Elspeth Lamond, from Bride of the MacHugh by Jan Cox Speas, has the proven ability to hold her own in any gathering, and possesses both a lively curiosity and an original mind.
And I’d round out the guest list with the charming Sir Julian Gale, father of the hero Max from Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, who could regale us with endless witty tales of his life on the London stage.
What are you reading now?
Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice, a gift from my mother who re-reads it annually, a Christmas ritual I now follow, too.
When you finished The Winter Sea, were you already considering a sequel? How did your idea for The Firebird take shape?
To be honest, I didn’t think the story of The Winter Sea was going to continue. I “see” the novels playing like a movie in my mind while I am writing them, and when I’ve got the ending of a book right the character stop “talking” in my mind, and at the end of The Winter Sea the characters all seemed content and happy with the way things had worked out. But then I started “seeing” Colonel Patrick Graeme, from the past part of the novel, standing framed within the doorway of a cottage on the northeast coast of Scotland. And I knew he’d come for Anna. So I knew I wasn’t finished with her story.
At the start I tried to think of some new problem I could give the modern characters to take them through a second book, but they were just so happy where they were I didn’t want to give them problems. Then a reader, quite by chance, asked if young Robbie from my book The Shadowy Horses was ever going to get his own novel, and that kind of stuck in my mind and I started to see how Rob’s psychic gifts could make an interesting bridge to the past—and The Firebird was born.
Your books frequently include a paranormal element like ancestral memory, psychometry, or time travel. What inspires you to write about these topics?
For one thing, it’s a useful way of linking both the stories in the present and the past to one another. I don’t always use the paranormal to do this—in Every Secret Thing my modern day heroine is a journalist interviewing people, and whenever they start telling her about the past I use their narratives to just slide backwards. And in the new book coming out this spring, A Desperate Fortune, I use an old journal as the mechanism to connect the two strands of the storyline. But sometimes the paranormal connection just seems to work the best, and it adds another layer to the books that I find interesting. Reading the data from some of the university research studies into things like ancestral memory and psychometry is absolutely fascinating to me, and while I’m fairly convinced that many of the things we now consider “paranormal” will come to be seen as “normal” in the coming decades, I have to admit I kind of like the fact that we can’t yet explain, through science, everything that happens in the world.
What is an interesting fact or subject you’ve come across in your research that you haven’t yet included in your books?
Beginning with my research for The Winter Sea, and carrying on through my research for The Firebird, and now A Desperate Fortune, I’ve become quite well-acquainted with the Keith brothers: William, who became the 10th Earl Marischal, and his younger brother James, who became a general in first the Russian and then the Prussian army. Both men are strongly connected to the historical hero of A Desperate Fortune—although only the Earl Marischal makes an actual appearance in that book—and both were friends of a number of the other characters I write about, from General Pierce Lacy to Admiral Thomas Gordon. In 1737, when James Keith was taking part in the Russian siege of Ochakiv, on the Black Sea, he rescued a small Turkish girl named Emet-Ulla, whom he then delivered for safekeeping to his brother, the Earl. The Earl Marischal adopted Emet-Ulla as his daughter, and instead of trying to convert her to Christianity had her raised in her own Muslim faith (though she converted of her own accord in 1763, before marrying a man whom she afterwards quickly divorced). The Earl Marischal clearly loved her, and her own correspondence, coupled with that of those who knew her (including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the biographer Boswell) left behind the record of an intelligent and interesting woman, and—to judge by the portrait painted of her in her lifetime—a beautiful one. Women are so often left out of the historical record, and Emet-Ulla’s history intrigues me so much that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her turn up in a future book of mine.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just started work on a new novel, Bellewether, set on Long Island, New York. It’s a book that grew out of an incident drawn from my own family history, with a twin-stranded storyline interweaving the lives of the people restoring a modern-day museum house that may or may not harbor a determined ghost, and the intrigue and adventures of a politically-divided family living in that house in 1757, at the height of the French and Indian War.
I’m happy to say both my American and Canadian publishers have already bought Bellewether, which I’m planning to deliver to them in the spring of 2016, so it should be in bookstores a year after that.
If readers would like to learn more about you and your work, how would they do that?
I’m all over the place!
My website, which I update a couple of times a year, is at www.susannakearsley.com
You can find me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSusannaKearsley
Or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SusannaKearsley
I also play on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/susannakearsley/
And blog (although sporadically) both on my own: http://www.womaninjeopardy.blogspot.ca/
And as a member of The Heroine Addicts: http://theheroineaddicts.blogspot.ca/
Thank you so much for having me here. One more wonderful debt that I now owe to Lauren Willig!
Susanna, you are welcome, and we appreciate your willingness to share your time with us today. Since she is a generous soul, Susanna has offered to give away an autographed copy of The Firebird to a commenter on today’s post. You have until midnight EST on December 18 to enter. I will announce the winner on Friday.
Want to earn extra entries for this giveaway? You can enter up to three times. Here’s how:
- Leave a comment below.
- Follow the blog! If you are already a follower, just mention that in your comment. There are links in the top right corner of this page to become a follower.
- Post a link to this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter. Again, you can just let me know in your comment that you’ve done this. I trust you.
On Friday, I will use the Random Number Generator to pick a winner. Good luck! And thanks again to Susanna, for many things, but most of all for your wonderful stories.