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  • Robert Goddard

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Never go Back?

    Robert Goddard: I got the idea for Never go Back from the recent vogue for reunions of all kinds together with publicity about various sometimes fatal scientific experiments carried out on National Servicemen in the Fifties. This led to the idea of reuniting me and readers with Harry Barnett, who featured in my earlier novels Into the Blue and Out of the Sun and has proved enduringly popular. He was of course a National Serviceman in the Fifties!

    MT: How long did it take you to write Never go Back? Is this typical for you Robert?

    RG: The book took about a year to write. That's slightly below average, which is probably because I didn't have to do so much preparatory work for the central character, since I knew him so well.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    RG: I write by hand with a ballpoint pen. That's how I've always done it. I spend a lot of time preparing rather than revising, so there aren't umpteen drafts. My wife transfers the material to a word processor, criticizing (in a positive spirit!) as she goes, so a lot of editing is done at that stage. I suspect writing direct onto a word processor would lead to excessive fiddling, but of course my method merely reflects how long ago I started writing.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    RG: When I'm not writing I'm walking the cliff path, watching cricket, reading and of course thinking about writing. It's not something you can pick up and put down. It's really a way of life.

    MT: Looking back over all your seventeen previous novels (Never go Back is your 18th book, I understand), which is your own personal favourite and why?

    RG: I always have my highest hopes fixed on my next book, firmly believing it will be the perfect book. When I finish, I decide it wasn't quite that and try again. It would be best if I never produced one that satisfied me completely, for where would I go from there?

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    RG: I write for my readers, some of whom I meet or hear from and all of whom seem to appreciate what I am aiming to do with my books - provide them with a sophistication of plotting they will not get elsewhere.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    RG: My next book is entering the final phase and should be out next autumn, but it's probably too soon to say much about it, apart from the fact that it will please those who enjoy my books.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    RG: My inspirations when I started were John Fowles and Wilkie Collins. I always enjoy the Zen novels of Michael Dibdin. I am a great admirer of the writing of Donna Tartt and Christopher Priest. I really don't think I could select a favourite from all the books I love.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    RG: The aspiring writer should remember that writers are giving up, dying, retiring or going out of fashion all the time. New ones are needed despite how difficult it might seem to be to get a break. Fashion however is a fickle guide. It changes so quickly. So, believe in what you do and persevere!

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    RG: A last word. Writing should be enjoyable for the writer as well as the reader. It's something a lot of people seem to overlook. And one question: does the Book Depository site have a grassy knoll?

  • Elizabeth Chadwick

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for The Marsh King's Daughter?

    Elizabeth Chadwick: For that I'd have to take you back to a family summer holiday in the early 1970's and myself officially a teenager, but still very much the child. We were staying near Hunstanton and my dad remarked with a twinkle in his eye that King John had lost the royal treasure in the vicinty many hundreds of years ago whilst trying to cross the estuary at low tide. Perhaps if I was lucky I might dig up the odd jewel on the beach. These days I know very well that the coastline has shifted and the place where King John lost his treasure (if indeed he did) is now several miles inland. But back then, I must have spent the entire holiday digging massive holes in search of the elusive royal gold! I never did come across anything, but I suppose I struck gold of a different kind in that the idea never left me. What would have happened if someone had found the treasure soon after the disaster? What would they have done with it and what difference would it have made to their lives? Its's not the kind of thing you can melt down without questions being asked, but would you be able to leave it alone? What sort of burden would you be shouldering? Those musings were the foundations for The Marsh King's Daughter. Incidentally, the title is borrowed from the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tail about a woman being pinned down in a bog. It relates to the crown that King John lost, which belonged to his mother, and to Miriel, the woman who takes it for her own as she tries to break free from a world where she too is pinned down.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    EC: Just over a year. My contract was fourteen months, but I always like a bit of failsafe time. I believe in doing a professional job and producing the goods to deadline. I've been writing medieval fiction as a hobby and a career since I was fifteen though, which means that I am au fait with much of the background detail so only have to research the specifics - which saves time. Were I suddenly to branch out into Tudor or Regency fiction, I'd need longer to bring the background up to scratch.

    MT: How much research do you have to do for such a historic novel? And how do you make sure your research doesn't bog down the novel's narrative?

    EC: As I said in the reply to the second question, I already have a good working background knowledge - which stands me in good stead, but I am always augmenting it with extra reading. Before I begin writing the next project, I will research it in detail for about a month. Then I'll write a character outline and rough synopsis. While doing this, I'll continue to read the most relevant research material. Then I write and polish the first three chapters ready to submit them to my agent and editor. Once this is done, I get on with the main body of the novel, continuing to research alongside the writing on a need to know basis.

    I have never not got a research book on the go, but sometimes I'm just reading to further my general background knowledge as opposed to something pertinent to the manuscript. Once I've finished the first draft I go back and edit, putting in anything I've gleaned from my constant research reading that I feel is necessary, but definitely on a 'need to know' from the reader's point of view. Don't stuff is the cardinal rule. As far as research not bogging down the narrative goes there are several techniques a writer can use. Feed the information in small increments. Drop it into conversation providing you can do it in a natural manner. Make it an organic part of the whole so that it moves the story along and creates atmosphere at the same time. Experience the world through your characters - from the inside. See what they see, touch what they touch, feel what they feel and so on through the senses. I have an extensive reference library which I am always updating. I tend to buy books from university presses and reputable academic publishers. I also belong to several online academic communities and I subscribe to various historical societies.

    MT: Do you think novels can help us understand history better?

    EC: I think novels can lead readers into taking an interest in history and going to find out more for themselves. Novels when all is said and done, are fiction and the writer may well have taken liberties, slanted the history a certain way, or not researched in sufficient depth. Novels generally being less dry than text books are an excellent kick off point for whetting the appetite and as part of a menu that involves non-fiction reading around a subject, are a good augmentation.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    EC: First I write a character study and extremely detailed synopsis. Then I write the first three chapters and polish them until they sparkle. After that I write the rest of the first draft on the PC through to the end without looking back. Once this is done, I read that first draft on the PC and edit it. I then print it out and read it on the page as I would a book and I make biro notes. I then re-read it on the PC and key in the biro changes and any others that occur to me. Then I print it out again and read it aloud to my husband over the course of about a week - if my voice holds out! I tweak, key in the changes and then send it off to my editor and agent simultaneously. When they have read it, I consider any suggestions they have made, alter the copy if necessary and it goes to a freelance copy editor who will read and check for flaws in the narrative and historical errors. I make any adjustments required after her input and then the novel goes into the main production process. I do think that reading on a PC, on the printed page and listening to the spoken word activate different parts of the brain and act as different filters on the writing process. As far as I'm concerned, the editing is one of the most important parts of writing a novel.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    EC: When am I ever not writing! I re-enact with Regia Anglorum, an early medieval re-enactment society which aims to accurately portray the societies of England in the early Middle Ages. Although it's great fun, it's also a vital part of my research and helps to give my work that 3D feel. I know what it's like to walk the walk, wear the mail shirt, spin the wool, cook in a cauldron etc etc because I've done it - or I know someone who has. I enjoy baking cakes, taking long walks, watching films, reading and socialising with friends.

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    EC: Absolutely not. I have always written for myself first, last and always. From very early childhood I have always told myself stories; it's part of who I am. The detail that others like to hear them is wonderful but even without an audience I would still be writing for my own pleasure. Perhaps many writers do aim their work at a targeted audience. I suppose I am fortunate in that what I write naturally is what people want to read.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    EC: Having finished two stand alone but connected novels about the great William Marshal - The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion - I am now working on a novel detailing the story of his father, John who was a remarkable man in his own right with an absolutely riveting life story. From the background reading I have done so far, the Marshal family seem set to keep me in high medieval drama for some time to come!

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    EC: My favourite historical writer has to be the incomparable Dorothy Dunnett. Her use of language is stunning, as is the depth of her research. Her six book series charting the story of Francis Crawford of Lymond and beginning with The Game of Kings is not to be missed. Nor is her Niccolo series, beginning with Niccolo Rising. One of my favourite books is an out of print novel called Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebee Hill. It charts the story of a tribe of Lakotah Sioux on the eve of the coming of the White Man. The author translated it into the Lakotah tongue and then back into English to obtain the correct lilt and idiom to the text. It's a deeply moving, profoundly spiritiual book, whilst still being a very readable historical novel. I am also an admirer of Cecelia Holland, Roberta Gellis and Sharon Kay Penman. Recently, although not newly published, I have read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and been awed by the beauty of the prose and story-telling, and the same with The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox.

    I suppose these might be cited as literary fiction but I don't particularly view myself as a literary reader. As long as it's a good story well told, I don't care what class or genre a novel falls into. Oh yes, I must also mention the fantasy Ice And Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I was blown away by A Game of Thrones. And you can't beat Terry Pratchett for making you think and laugh at the same time.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    EC: Read widely. Acquire an inbuilt crap detector for application to your own work. Edit, edit, then edit again, but don't get so bogged down that you lose sight of the big picture. Check for repetitions and loose or verbose writing. Don't allow rejection to get you down. Those who were meant to write just pick themselves up and get on with it. Perseverance and the ability to learn from mistakes and rejections will drive you forward. Write for the pleasure of writing and the rest will follow. Joining organisations such as the Historical Novel Society or the Romantic Novelists Association should they be appropriate to your genre can help you along on your way and offer support, critiques and training days.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    EC: One of my vices is that I use music to inspire my writing. I don't actually write with music on, but I use it to formulate emotional resonances, add colour to scenes and to and give me an extra handle on my characters. I listen to music while doing mundane jobs or at the gym but as soon as I get that adrenaline kick in the gut, I know it's right for the soundtrack. These days my novels are always sent to my agent and editor complete with soundtrack. Indeed, they demand it. It's something I've done since writing my first ever novel in my teens, so I was using modern pop and rock music long before Hollywood or commercial TV advertising caught onto the notion! The Marsh King's Daughter includes Crucify by Tori Amos and Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin to explore facets of the heroine's character, and Seal Driver by Jethro Tull and Battleship Chains by the Georgia Sattelites for the hero's. I turned my literary agent Carole Blake into an avid Meat Loaf fan after she heard For Crying Out Loud as the grand finale to Lords of the White Castle. Indeed we ended up at a Meat Loaf concern at Wembley a couple of years ago all due to that soundtrack! Recent finds whilst writing my Marshal novels include rock band Alter Bridge, Canadian female soloist Beth Nielsen Chapman, and a very hard hitting version of Eleanor Rigby by Extreme Metal band Thrice.

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