Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb - Guest Author Q & A

I am delighted to welcome author Victoria Lamb to the blog today as part of her Blog Tour for her new novel, Witchstruck. 

Thank you very much indeed for taking part in a Q&A for my blog as part of the launch of 'Witchstruck', Victoria!

Thank you for inviting me!

Q. Could you tell us a little about ‘Witchstruck’, your first young adult historical novel, please.

Witchstruck is about a teen witch, Meg Lytton, battling to stay out of the clutches of an evil witchfinder in Tudor England and getting very distracted by a hot young Spaniard, Alejandro, who's meant to be training as a priest. Meg has been brought to the ruined Palace of Woodstock to serve the Lady Elizabeth, the imprisoned sister to Queen Mary, and thinks life will be quieter there. But she soon finds herself in a desperate race to save the princess.

Q. I read, and very much enjoyed, your last book, The Queen’s Secret, featuring Queen Elizabeth I. When starting to write an historical novel, how important is research, and how do you balance facts and reality with creativity and storytelling?

Research is absolutely crucial. I wouldn't put a word to paper without making sure my plot will work in historical terms. On the other hand, too much research is a killer. Checking the details of everyday life or specific events can wait until they are needed, so as soon as I know where the story is going, and have a strong opening scene in mind, I generally start to write. 

Adult historicals tend to be more demanding than YA fiction where balancing research with creativity is concerned. The setting for Witchstruck is a well-known episode in the young Elizabeth's life - her imprisonment at Woodstock - but obviously the paranormal elements and the character of Meg Lytton are pure fantasy. When faced with fudging a fact because it won't fit into the story, i.e. it occurred in a slightly different way, I think that's acceptable. But with an adult historical, I would try to make sure I mentioned any necessary alterations in the Author's Note. I wasn't give the option of an Author's Note for Witchstruck, sadly, otherwise I would definitely have used it to explain how I approached the historical elements.

Q. Can you tell us what is next for Lucy Morgan, the young woman with the beautiful voice who featured heavily in The Queen’s Secret?

In The Queen's Secret, Lucy is only fifteen, a black court entertainer who uncovers a plot against Queen Elizabeth and is helped by a young Will Shakespeare, aged eleven. In the next book, His Dark Lady, we move to London where Lucy meets Shakespeare again - only now she's one of the Queen's ladies and he's an ambitious young player with a promising career in the theatre. But of course 'the path of true love never did run smooth' ...

Q. Have you always loved to read, and have you always wanted to write?

No, oddly enough. I had an initial block over reading which lasted until I was about 9. I imagine today it would be labelled a learning difficulty, though really it was a fear of getting it 'wrong'. The first book I read unaided was 'The Faraway Tree', which my clever teacher read aloud partway, then told us to read the rest ourselves. After that I moved almost immediately to The Hobbit, then on to The Lord of the Kings. I devoured books of all kinds after that, from Rider Haggard and Ethel M. Dell to Zane Grey's Lone Star Ranger, plus children's fantasy novels like Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea (which remains one of my all-time favourites). As soon as I could read, I started writing too. Poems first, then novels, mostly fantasy adventures. My parents took me to Keats' house on Hampstead Heath when I was about ten and bought me a book of his verse - which utterly transfixed me. That was the day I decided to be a writer.

Q. Which writers have inspired you, whether present day or past?

Keats for poetry; Tolkien and Le Guin for prose: see above. Also Mary Stewart's effortlessly brilliant first person narrative in her Merlin trilogy, which in my opinion remains unparalleled in fantasy fiction. I don't tend to be inspired in the same way by current writers. To be genuinely influenced, you normally need to meet that writer's work when young - or new to writing. After that, it's more about personal enjoyment or professional assessment than inspiration, however people may like to dress it up.

Q. What do you enjoy most about writing? What is the most difficult thing about it?

Having confidence in my own work is probably the most difficult thing for me about writing. Obviously, you have to be a raving egomaniac to write anything in the first place, or you'd never have the gall to assume you could manage it and you'd certainly never get up the nerve to send your work off in the hope of publication. What I mean is that if you are an honest writer, and not a fool who believes their own publicity, you will be perfectly aware that successful writing is more about trickery and sleight of hand than native ability. 99% of published novelists are not particularly great writers. But we learn to conceal that and to bluff our way through using 'writerly' techniques. What you're always secretly striving for when you write is that elusive 1% bracket where you're a god. It never happens of course. Or only in the bath. That's what I find difficult. Knowing I've failed and having to plough on regardless with the next line, the next chapter, whatever. 

Q. Are you able to discuss what you are currently working on, in terms of your writing? 

I've just finished revisions on His Dark Lady, see above, and am now writing the sequel to Witchstruck, where Meg Lytton is about to attempt a spell so dark and dangerous it could end up destroying her world. Exciting stuff, in other words! 

Q. If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose?

This is actually quite tricky. I'd like to be a large number of fictional characters (which is no doubt why I'm a novelist). Probably Will Stanton from Susan Cooper's utterly wonderful The Dark is Rising series. (If you saw the film but haven't read the book, pay no attention; the film was awful, the book is beyond amazing.) Being one of the Old Ones, I'd have to look like an ordinary person yet secretly be one of the most powerful beings in the world, and that would be rather fun.

Finally, some quick questions!

Morning or evening? Morning.

Dogs or cats? Dogs.

Hardback, paperback or ebook? Paperback. Preferably dogeared.

Tea or coffee? Tea. 

Pizza or pasta? Pasta.

Comedy or drama? Comedy.

Shakespeare or Marlowe? Mr W.S. of course. Who else?

Brontes or Austen? Austen. Those Brontes are so over the top.

Thank you so much, Victoria!

Thank you for some great questions, Lindsay! 


Visit the other sites taking part in the Blog Tour --->

Witchstruck (Corgi Childrens, £6.99)
The Queen's Secret (Bantam Press, £12.99)

You can visit Victoria's website here and follow her on twitter @VictoriaLamb1

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