Blog tour: Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull
In the 18th century, Dawnay Price is an anomaly. An educated foundling, a woman of science in a time when such things are unheard-of, she overcomes her origins to become a natural philosopher. Against the conventions of the day, and to the alarm of her male contemporaries, she sets sail to Portugal to develop her theories. There she makes some startling discoveries - not only in an ancient cave whose secrets hint at a previously undiscovered civilisation, but also in her own heart. The siren call of science is powerful, but as war approaches she finds herself pulled in another direction by feelings she cannot control.
Today I'm delighted to be welcoming the very lovely Rebecca Mascull to my blog to answer a few (okay rather a lot) of questions as part of the Song of the Sea Maid blog tour.
Did you always want to be an author?
I was a pretty good liar as a kid, so I guess that was good practice for being a storyteller! I have been writing stories from an early age – my first serious attempt was a total rip-off of the cowgirl story from Romancing the Stone! I was a teacher for many years and wrote in my spare time. I realised that writing would always be my Plan B, if I didn’t devote the proper time to it. So I decided to leave full-time teaching and make writing my Plan A instead. Around about 12 years later, I secured my first publishing deal with The Visitors. So, I got there in the end! I think in stories and live in the past inside my head, so it really is the best job for me.
If so, did you always want to write historical fiction, or did you ever have a different genre in mind?
I never had a particular plan to write in a specific genre actually. I wrote three novels before The Visitors was published and two of these were reasonably contemporary. The third novel I wrote was historical - set during the Second World War in London and Warsaw - and it taught me a huge amount about how to research historical periods and how to structure the narrative of an historical novel. It didn’t secure a publishing deal but I learned so much from it, and I’m still very fond of it. One day, I hope to rework and improve it. It was such a joy to bury myself in an historical period that way, that I realised this was the thing for me. I’ve always been drawn to history and the escapism of imagining life in a different period, wearing a different frock! So, I think I will stay there for a while. I’m very interested in modern life, I watch the news every day and try to keep up with current events – but in my fiction, I want to be somewhere else.
Do you have a favourite author?
Such a tough question for any writer! But if I am forced to choose only one, it has to be Charles Dickens. He does this wonderful thing of writing page-turning plots and brilliant, memorable characters, whilst also making serious and important points about society and life. He is also fantastic at mixing comedy and tragedy, so you always feel at the end of one of his books that you have lived a life, with David Copperfield, or Pip, or whoever. I aspire to be a tenth of the writer he was, and then I’d be happy.
Is there anyone that particularly inspires you – literary or otherwise?
Dickens, as I say, but also many writers who I admire for their versatility and skill. Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Emily Brontë and short story writers Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore and Katherine Mansfield. I’ll also read almost anything by Amy Tan and Isabel Allende, as they are brilliant at taking you on adventures. I’m inspired by poets too, and the way they can give you a shiver up your spine, like the poem Here by Philip Larkin or Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, and the First World War poetry of Wilfred Owen. All of these poets, I feel, are reaching for something just beyond human grasp, something indefinable, the great mystery. I salute them for that.
Other than writers, I am inspired by my partner and my daughter, who are generous and hard-working, lovely people who believe in me and my work and keep me going. I’m blessed with some wonderful friends and family, many of whom have been through hard times, and have faced them with grace and patience. They inspire me too and I’m so grateful for them.
If you could have written any novel what would it be?
Oh, you do ask the trickiest questions! Can I have two? Great Expectations or Wuthering Heights. Just genius and timeless, both of them.
Do you have any peculiar writing habits or quirks?
I always take up a new notebook for each new project, usually bought for me by my lovely fella. Other than that, I do sometimes cock my head and close my eyes to listen to the voices of my characters when I’m sitting at my desk, so I probably look a bit peculiar when I’m doing that! Luckily, I’m usually on my own, so nobody can see me…
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin and I was so impressed by this novel. I thought it was beautiful, complex and profound. I’m still reeling from it a little bit, as with every great novel. Next, I have a TBR pile of urgent reads with 8 desperately urgent books on the top (for interviews, articles etc) and about 20 not so urgent. It’s all a bit frightening…
Have you read anything that made you think differently about how you write?
A seminal novel for me in that way was Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. It was all about storytelling, at the heart of it, and showed me how to use viewpoint, delay and flashback beautifully to deepen the story. I read Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively recently too, and that had a similar effect on me. Another is Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, which I read as a teenager, and showed me the power of first person narrative. John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman taught me a lot about the theory and practice of writing an historical novel. But to be honest, every single novel I read, even if I don’t like it, teaches me about the possibilities of this amazing, varied and endlessly rich form of writing.
Do you prefer an E-book or a physical book?
Physical book, every time. End of.
Is there another novel on the cards? If so can you give anything away yet?
I am working on Book 3 for Hodder, but I can’t say much about it at the moment. I can tell you that it begins in 1909 and is set near where I live in Cleethorpes. The Edwardian period is one of my absolute favourites, so I’m really enjoying myself.
Is there any particular period in history that you would like to write about in the future?
I’d definitely like to revisit that World War II novel of mine and/or any story set during that conflict – it’s such a huge topic, with so many tales and settings, you could of course write about the Second World War for the rest of your life and never get to the end of it. Other than that, I’m open to suggestions! History just fascinates me, whenever it was. Also, I was born and grew up in the 1970s and I would like to write about that one day, but I have a suspicion that I will wait until I’m an old lady, and then it will be properly historical in itself! I just hope I don’t forget it all by then.
Is Dawnay Price loosely based on a real historical figure or is she purely a work of fiction?
I looked at a range of female scientists throughout history – you’d be amazed how many there are but we just don’t know about them. Particular inspirations were Emilie du Chatelet, Sophie Germain, Anne Conway, Mary Somerville and Margaret Cavendish, to name but a few. All of these women battled against the times they lived in and preconceptions about their abilities based on the fact they were women. But all of them were reasonably well-to-do, and it was important to me that Dawnay be poor, orphaned and basically a nobody, so that she had even more obstacles to fight against.
Was there always the possibility of her having a love interest, or did that come secondary to the plot?
One of the themes of the novel came to me very early and that was the idea of science versus faith. I liked the idea that she would be quite a cool-minded person, to whom love and passion would seem rather irrelevant. And then she could be wrong-footed and taken completely by surprise by love. I wanted to show that fact and emotion could exist side-by-side in the mind, and also that for women, work and family can coexist and be fulfilling, rather than be essentially at odds.
She is very inspirational - is there any of you in Dawnay?
Not much, I don’t think! She’s much braver than me and I don’t have a scientific bone in my body. Yet, thinking about it, I suppose I do have a little bit of her determination, in my long journey towards becoming a published writer. And I like a good argument and can be a right bolshie cow sometimes!
Would you ever base a novel on a real historical figure? If so, is there anyone in particular you have in mind?
That’s a really fascinating question. I have considered it, but at this point I have rejected it so far. The reason is that I don’t want to be too constrained by the true facts of a real person’s life. I very much like to set my stories within authentic settings and events – the way I look at it is that I take up my characters and place them in a real historical moment in time and let my fictional constructs walk through real history. Therefore, it has an authenticity to it but I can decide (or at least, my characters can) on the outcome of their fate. However, never say never and who knows, I might go down that path one day. If I were to be tempted at all, it would probably be a writer or artist, like Dickens maybe…(*thinks*…) :)