The writing process: a ‘dark ages’ time-slip novel

Where did you get the inspiration for the book/series?

To be honest, my ideas come into my mind pretty much unbidden. I’m constantly curious about people, relationships, history, things around me, and I read and research a great deal, but of course it takes a lot of imagination to develop the ideas into a viable story. In the first of the Dr DuLac series, A Shape on the Air, I wanted Dr Viv to have a troubled relationship, to have a traumatic experience that would lead to a time-slip and a deep connection to another woman in the distant past. The idea for A Shape on the Air came from my interest in early medieval history which was my first research field, the post-Roman, early Anglo Saxon era, commonly called the Dark Ages. I’d been reading recent research, mainly archaeological stuff, that supported my view that it wasn’t so ‘dark’ in the sense of barbaric fighting, invasions, and brutality, but that it was actually marked by richness and diversity. I am also very interested in the concept of time and I’d wanted to write a time-slip for ages – but then you have to think, how could it actually happen to normal people in their everyday lives?

Do you write using pen and paper or on a computer?

I write on my computer so that I can easily edit as I go, but my research notes and planning notes and graphs are usually the old pen and paper, and post-its everywhere. I have a pinboard beside my desk and I fill it for the novel I’m currently writing, with pictures from the history I’m writing about and inspiration for characters. For example my inspiration for Dr Viv is a pic of Rachel Weiss (looking elegant and thoughtful) and Rev Rory is James Norton in the role of Rev Sidney Chambers (gorgeous!). And there are lots of pics of early medieval banqueting halls (mead halls), Anglo Saxon warriors and ladies, a dark ancient mere, and the prototype of Viv’s apartment which is actually somewhere I once lived just outside  Oxford.

Who is your favourite character out of your stories and why?

My favourite character is always the one I’m writing at the moment! In A Shape on the Air, I loved Dr Viv/Lady Vivianne (traumatised by Pete’s betrayal/Sir Pelleas’s brutality) and Rev Rory/Sir Roland (a hunk but also sensitive and caring), but I was especially fond of Tilly/Tilda who is very sweet and such fun I really enjoyed writing her.

If you were a character in your story, which would you like to be?

I think it would have to be Lady Vivianne because I guess 499 AD would have been an exciting time to live in, caught between the Roman world and before the Anglo Saxon era was properly established. It was a time of change and uncertainty but also an opportunity for making your mark. Women were respected as part of the leadership of communities and Lady Vivianne holds her own in difficult circumstances. And I think she’s a good person with the interests of her community at heart. Although she was brought up as the daughter of the king/chieftain, she is not arrogant or entitled; she wants a more equal world.

How and why did you choose the names for your main characters?

I started with Lady Vivianne. The names Vivianne, Nimue, Nivian etc are the names associated with the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend (which is important in the story) and I had to choose a name that could translate to a modern equivalent, hence Dr Viv. Likewise Sir Roland which was a common name in English and French medieval legend, and then Rory came from that. It was the same for all the other characters in the two time periods. I deliberately didn’t choose totally authentic pre-Anglo Saxon/Britonic names because that wouldn’t have worked with the dual times and additionally, they would have been more difficult to read! It was a conscious decision to approximate a modernisation of historic names. After all, I’m writing characters who are from different ‘tribes’: Briton, Celtic, Roman, Angles, Saxons!

What are your future plans as an author?

I’ve written the sequel to A Shape on the Air and it’s set in Madeira. It’s provisionally called The Dragon Tree. Again Viv has a traumatic experience, so you can guess what that leads to! It is a time-slip/dual time story and goes back to the 14th and 16th centuries on the island which were fascinating times. I’ve also written the third in the Dr DuLac series, The Rune Stone, which returns to my favourite early medieval mystery. It involved a lot of research into ancient runes which was fascinating. Moving house in between lockdowns created a hiatus for me (so much to do and hard to concentrate) but I’m now starting a new novel, Daughter of Mercia which has cross-overs to the Dr DuLac series. For the moment, I want to stick with early medieval/Anglo-Saxon time-slip mysteries, as this has become my identified author brand. But who knows …?

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

Book Tours and a plot ‘spoilers’ challenge

The brand new Drumbeats Trilogy Omnibus edition is just out in ebook from my publisher Endeavour, and it’s available on Amazon right now – all three novels together in one place for only £5.99. The trilogy overall is a saga about love, betrayal and second chances – and one woman’s search for the strength to rise above adversity.

http://mybook.to/DrumbeatsOmnibus

It’s the story of Jess and we first meet her in Drumbeats as an 18 year old in 1965 on a gap year in Ghana (West Africa) where she’s teaching and nursing in the bush. She goes with a naive mission to make a difference in the world, but faces tragedy, civil war, and a new romance – with the echoes of the village drumbeats warning her of something … but what?

The next, Walking in the Rain, follows Jess back to England, and marriage, motherhood, and disaster … and the drumbeats continue to pervade her dreams.

The final book, Finding Jess, published singly just last August, sees Jess coping with betrayals, family problems and desperately trying to juggle a job at the same time … and finally returning to Ghana to try to ‘find herself’ again as an individual. Will she succeed? And what are the drumbeats trying to tell her throughout it all?

Some of the wonderful reviews I’ve already received: “scenes of raw emotion”, “an emotional roller-coaster”, “a heart-warming read, wonderfully written, compelling, warm and uplifting”“feel the searing heat of Ghana burning right off the pages”, “a powerful story”, “so evocative, it transported me to a different time, different place; I couldn’t put it down”.

There’s a major launch of the omnibus edition and a book blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources from January 26 to February 8. The tour’s full and all ‘sold out’ for 42 stops. So, I’m busy preparing content for the tour: guest posts, Q&As, selecting extracts …

How do you select extracts from all three books without giving away ‘spoilers’ for the plots? Goodness, it’s difficult! I’ve worked on several attempts. One host wants an extract from just one of the books, OK, but I have to select very carefully as it’s the second book in the series. Two of the hosts want extracts from all three and a few words about the context of each one. Fair enough, but what a challenge. All three hosts need a selection of different extracts, because I guess many blog readers will be following the whole tour and obviously don’t want to be reading the same stuff over and over! I wouldn’t! Should I take a different ‘theme’ for each, maybe? But even so, how do I do it, especially the context statements, without giving away too much of what happens to Jess through three whole novels and 30 years?! Well, I’ve given you enough above! Yikes.

Any advice, gratefully received! In the meantime, I’ll be ensconced in my study for the duration.

Get those brain cells working overtime, Julia. I WILL get there … eventually! In the meantime, I’ll pop up the official book tour banner from my tour organiser shortly. Six guest posts and Q&As drafted … nearly there …