Friday 1 November 2013

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Cora Harrison

I'm a huge fan of Cora Harrison's Debutantes books, so I was absolutely thrilled when the Bookbag were able to arrange an interview with her! I loved asking her these questions.

  • When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
When I was a headteacher I used to skip lunch, take an apple out in the playground and walk around or sit on a wall or go into the dining room, chat to the children or just listen to the conversations. The voices of the young people, in these informal settings, are very much in my mind when I write my books and when I wrote ‘Debutantes’ I visualized a set of girls in Year Six who persuaded me into giving them a room beside the old kitchen in the Victorian school house. They decorated it themselves and then filled it with ‘ball gowns’ (old evening dresses begged from mothers, aunts etc.). They used to have fashion shows almost every week and in between stitched industriously. I used to pass the room on the way to my office and I loved to hear snatches of their serious discussions – and admire the way that they were weaving stories about their future.

  • BB: I really love all four Derrington girls, and don't think I could pick a favourite - could you, if you really had to?
CH: I love them, too, but I think that my favourite has to be Rose. I have the most in common with her – like Rose, I was a sickly child who seldom attended school and alternated between being in bed at home, and in bed in hospital. Oddly no one ever seemed to worry much about my education, but I read voraciously and wrote almost continuously. I’m not sure that I was as witty as Rose, but I would have liked to be. When I was about fourteen a rich aunt offered to send me to a boarding school in Switzerland which was thought would be good for my health. Unfortunately she died before it could happen, but now I have send Rose instead!

  • BB: The time period of the 1920s is absolutely huge at the moment, with your two brilliant books, The Diviners by Libba Bray, Jillian Larkin's wonderful Flappers series, The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell all coming out over the last couple of years. And of course, there's Downton Abbey on TV and the recent film of The Great Gatsby. Are you reading or watching many things set in this time period apart from your own books? If so, what are you particularly enjoying?
CH:I’m enjoying immensely a revisit to some favourite books of the 1920s – Evelyn Waugh would probably be my favourite – ‘Brideshead Revisited’ is gently romantic and nostalgic, whereas ‘Vile Bodies’ is extremely witty and funny. Funniest of all, though is Nancy Miford’s ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ – I hope that a new film of this is made some time.

  • BB: For me one of the most fascinating things about Debutantes In Love is the way Poppy and Daisy are both interested not only in love, but also in pursuing their dreams of music and film-making respectively. Did you always dream of being an author or when you were young did you want to do something else?
CH: Yes, during all of my years of illness I was certain that I was going to be an author. I wrote loads of books (with very bad handwriting and terrible spelling) and used to have great dreams of being famous! Oddly enough, when I recovered and started to attend school, and then university, all of that slipped away and didn’t come back to me until after I had retired. I have had such fun with my books – will be fifty of them by the end of the year, I think – that now I wonder why I so completely buried that ambition. Still, it mightn’t have worked out. I feel grateful that I had such an interesting job as teaching and now am having an interesting retirement.

  • BB: I said in my review that the build-up to the kiss between Daisy and her love interest was the best I've read for ages - what's your favourite fictional kiss?
CH: My favourite, in a book called ‘The Constant Princess’ by Philippa Gregory, is the kiss between Prince Arthur, the son of Henry VII (and elder brother of Henry VIII) and his new bride Princess Catalina of Spain. The teenagers did not have an easy start to marriage with the whole court looking on but then they went to their own castle at Ludlow and once there, fell in love. Philippa Gregory describes their first kiss beautifully – the boy, Arthur, tentatively kissing Catalina’s hair, her eyes, the lobes of her ears, the trembling mouth, the hollow at the base of her throat. . . It is brilliantly done and feels so real.

  • BB: To say you're prolific is something of an understatement, with so many books in several different series. How long does it take you to write a book on average?
CH: That’s a difficult question because a book can be a long time maturing in my mind and I do always hold off until the whole form and shape of it is clear to me. I’m not one of those people who get a brilliant idea, sit down to write and then hope for inspiration. I like to know where I am going.
However, I very often change my mind as the characters grow and develop and then that’s fine. It often amuses me to look back at my notes to realise that I had planned things quite differently.
So, having done my preparation and having arrived at a moment when I am dying to start, I sit down at my computer and on a normal day I will type for about two hours. Depending on how things are flowing I will normally do about 1500 to 2000 words a day – sometimes more. When things are going really well and I’m dying to get my thoughts down onto the screen I sometimes do a couple of hours work in the afternoon as well. Depending on the length of the book I will take anything between three and five, or very occasionally six weeks for a first draft. I usually send this to the editor at this stage as I am not very good at having second thoughts and actually prefer to have a gap of a few weeks before going back to it again. I’ve been lucky enough to work with very good editors who are very creative about the whole process.

  • BB: As a former headteacher and your website says that you tour schools - what's the best thing about talking to children about your books?
CH: I love getting back into schools again and love to watch the faces and to know that, for at least some of them, my book has opened up a new world for them. The questions are usually fascinating and often quite unexpected and make me think again about a character that I have created.

  • BB: Do you listen to music when you write? If so, could you share the soundtrack to Debutantes: In Love (or any of your other books, if you'd prefer!)
CH: The sound track from the film ‘High Society’ with Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby fits beautifully with these books. I wanted them to be light and stylish and romantic; I think that film embodies these qualities and I love all of the songs
  • BB: What are you reading at the moment?
CH: I always have a few books on the go at the same time. I am reading a biography of Lady Penelope Devereux who was an extremely beautiful young girl at the Elizabethan Court, and was the step-daughter of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and I am reading Philippa Gregory’s book about the love affair between Robert and Queen Elizabeth (The Virgin’s Lover’) and then I am re-reading Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Life in Shakespeare’ – so you can see that I am very immersed in the 16th century!

  • BB: What's next for Cora Harrison?
CH: Well, I have a lot of ideas in my head. I would really love to do a book about Rose, the youngest sister in ‘The Debutantes’ series. Up to now I have been looking on Rose from the outside, but now I would LIKE to get inside her head in the way that I did for Daisy and Poppy in ‘Debutantes in Love’. And then I get lots of letters asking for a third book in my Jane Austen Series – book one was about Jenny, Jane’s cousin and her love affair with Captain Thomas Williams (in real life Jane Cooper (Jenny) and Thomas met, fell in love and got engaged, all in the space of three weeks!). The second book is about Jane and I would love to go back and to finish Jane’s love affair. And then, of course, there is the time of Elizabeth I and her magnificent court with those wonderful dresses! At the moment I am taking my dog for lots of long walks and turning over ideas in my head. .

A massive thank you to Cora for taking the time to talk to me - and I'm really hoping for that book about Rose in the near future!

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