Friday, 24 June 2011

Friday Feature: Elizabeth Speller Interview

Elizabeth Speller's The Return of Captain John Emmett is rather prominent at the moment as it's one of the picks for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club this year. I thought it was so good -- particularly the evocative descriptions of England in the aftermath of the First World War - that I reviewed it here despite it not being YA. I'm really excited to bring you this interview with Elizabeth!

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?

I automatically see women, because women buy most novels, I gather, but in fact with this book a lot of men have contacted me to say how thought provoking they found it and how much they enjoyed the historical aspect.

2. How much of an impact has the selection of The Return of Captain John Emmett for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club had on you?

It is, obviously, a huge deal, especially for a first novel (my other books were non-fiction). I was astonished as there are so many new novels out there and meeting R & J was fascinating. But the bottom line is that what writers want (much more than money, or they'd never be writers!) is to have readers and R & J deliver readers. Love seeing the paperback everywhere too!

3. I¹m really ashamed to say that I hadn¹t realised your second novel, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, was a sequel to John Emmett until I looked on Amazon a few minutes ago. Is this going to be a long-running series? (I hope so!)

What I hope to do is move on through the period between the wars, with different mysteries but following how Laurence-and the world-moves on. The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton is a mystery set in 1924-the year some people first began to realise there might still be more trouble ahead internationally.

4. As I said when I reviewed Captain John Emmett, I thought the very best parts of a wonderful book were the descriptions of England just after World War I. How much research did you have to do to capture the time period so well?

It is a period I love and had written about in an earlier book (Sunlight on the Garden) but although I knew the big historical landmarks, researching the tiny points took ages-but was enormous fun! What colours were the trains of different railway companies? How many people had cars? Who wore what underwear? How quickly did a letter arrive? What areas were smart or poor in London? It was, for instance, a big surprise to find that in the early years after the Great War as many people threw parties or went to the races on Armistice day as took part in solemn remembrance.

5. If you threw a literary dinner party, which six people (real or fictional), would you invite?

Dr Samuel Johnson, Virginia Woolf, Louis MacNeice, Sydney Carton (from the Tale of Two Cities) and Dorothy Parker and Becky Sharpe (from Vanity Fair). But it would be a nightmare - they'd all row like mad, drink, flirt, sulk or hate each other.

6. What piece of advice would you give to someone hoping to be an author?

To read and read and read and to carry a notebook and pen at all times.

7. Do you listen to music when writing? Are there soundtracks for John Emmett or Kitty Easton in your mind?

There's a piece called The Banks of Green Willow by the composer George Butterworth, who was killed on the Somme in 1916, that always takes me back into pre-war rural England and I listened a lot to songs from Oh What A Lovely War for the spirit of the war itself.

8. Given the subject matter, would you have any hesitation in recommending John Emmett to teenagers? I know that you've mentioned disagreement in a school over what years it would be suitable for.

I think a lot depends on the maturity of the teenagers (I was a sensitive one and had nightmares about my GCE set text: Lord of the Flies!). Everything in it is researched and not gratuitous, but war and its effects on the psyche can be disturbing. I still think most 14 year olds could read it.

9. I love your website - particularly the superb trailer for the US edition of John Emmett! - and you're a frequent Tweeter. How important do you think the internet is for authors today?

I think it's crucial. It gets the name of a book out there but also, more personally, writing is a very solitary occupation and to be able to be in contact with readers and other writers is interesting and fun, and on line blogs and reviews by mainstream readers are probably as (or more!) important than newspaper reviews these days.

I love the trailer too-so simple yet so effective. Brilliant idea!

10. What's next for Elizabeth Speller?

Well, I'm writing my third novel and have a fourth lined up as well which takes Laurence further into the 20's as international tensions grow.

Thanks so much for the interview, Elizabeth - and I'd love to be a fly in the wall at that dinner party! Best of luck for the future and I'm really looking forward to reading Laurence's continued adventures.

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