A little late, due to the complexities of the pandemic, but last week I finally held my book launch events for my debut historical fiction novel, Three: A Tale of Brave Women and the Eyam Plague. I was post-Covid and struggling with my recovery; the dreaded fatigue being every bit as bad as they say. I also couldn’t taste the glass of red wine I had each night for a bit of Dutch courage! But, aside from the unwanted Covid side effects, the nights were a great success and I very much enjoyed sharing my researching and writing process with friends, family and faithful readers.
I began the evenings by reading from the prologue, then sharing the inspiration for my book, my researching process, how I actually went about writing and structuring, the sources I used and the novel’s most significant themes. It was a joy to read passages from the novel, returning to the thoughts, words and lives of my beloved characters, Emmott, Catherine and Elizabeth.
There were plenty of interesting questions asked on the night. Here are just a few of them and my answers:
Q: What historical information is available on people outside of the village, such as Rowland Torre?
A: Not a lot. I haven’t been able to find out what became of Rowland. Did he stay true to Emmott’s memory his whole life or did he go on to marry and have children? (I think I actually wish for the former!) Part of the oral tradition is the story that the people of Stoney Middleton watched Elizabeth Hancock burying her family members from the other side of the valley. Whether they did, remains an unconfirmed part of the story of that harrowing year.
Q: When did you know you wanted to write a book?
A: Ever since I was able to read and write, so pretty early on in my childhood. I was always making and writing books. My first one was called ‘Mrs Bluetit and Doctor Robin’. I remember my parents taking my second book to the working men’s club, where it caused raucous laughter amongst their friends. ‘The Squirrel Who Lost his Nuts’ was clearly not the most inspired title. As a teenager, I dreamt of being a writer, but it felt like a dream that was just so far out of reach there was little point in pursuing it. But then the pandemic arrived and suddenly the world was different. Furlough meant my dream suddenly came close enough to touch.
Q; What was the number one lesson you learned about writing?
A: It is hard! Taking the Future Learn course on writing fiction really helped me to intentionally plan to use literary devices, such as foreshadowing, character dress and movement, repeated action, interaction with objects and constructing scenes around single lines of dialogue. I think that helped to bring some variety to my writing style.
Q: If you could rewind three years and start again, what would you do differently?
A: I would save up and pay for an editor!
Q: [After saying ‘We don’t talk about Chapter 30!’] How did you move on after Emmott?
A: I wrote Rowland’s chapter. Interestingly, I didn’t do this for the other two women’s stories. I wrote the William and Joseph chapters right at the end of the writing of the novel. So, perhaps the Rowland chapter was part of me processing my grief. After I had written that, I moved on to writing Catherine’s story.
Q: Who would play the three women if you adapted for screen or stage?
A: This is a tricky one and on the night it resulted in people sharing how they had pictured the women whilst reading, which turned out to be quite diverse mental images! For me, I think Emmott is willowy and tall with brown hair, Catherine has soft curls and typical English rose features and Elizabeth is earthy and weathered, with sinewy strong arms and crows feet from laughing with her children so often. I honestly don’t know who would play them. I do know there would be no Keira Knightley on the cast list; just not a good fit. I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments! My aunty is confinced it would make a good mini-series.
Q: How did your writing of the waves in the Eyam epidemic fit with the waves you were living through as a writer during the Covid pandemic?
A: They didn’t really match up. I was writing the ‘second wave’ in Eyam at the start of the summer when we were enjoying a bit of a reprieve from Covid. I was hoping we wouldn’t live through our own second wave…
Q: Did you ever think about giving up?
A: No! I got plenty frustrated and the fact I had written the three women’s stories separately and then faced weaving them together, not really knowing it would work as a novel and perhaps I had written 100,000 words for nothing, was especially daunting, but I was determined to keep going. That’s me really. I never know when to stop.
There were a couple of questions I couldn’t answer on the night, but have since found the answers to thanks to the village historian, Fran Clifford. No, there are no reports of plague victims being unearthed during the landscaping of gardens, which is probably just as well. it is already quite macabre to think grave markers became part of people’s floors. In answer to the question about how long after the finish of the epidemic the legacy of the people who lived through the plague year was preserved, the stories were first handed down by word of mouth and then William Wood, the first historian to document the story, wrote his book about the village in Victorian times. Clarence Daniel (a resident of Eyam) collected Eyam memorabilia and set up a private collection in his house, Le Roc, on the Lydgate in Eyam. When he died in 1986, his wife passed the collection to the Eyam Village Society. Some members of that group became founding members of Eyam Museum. They spent seven years researching and setting straight any myths they uncovered. Two of those founding members were John and Francine Clifford and they wrote the book, ‘Eyam Plague 1665-1666’, which I made good use of in my own research for the novel. It is the most up-to-date and accurate record of what actually happened in Eyam and it forms the basis of the museum’s displays.
I recommend you give this fantastic interview of Fran Clifford by Owen Roberts (curator of Eyam Museum) a watch!
Thanks to all who came to support me, listened, asked questions and bought more books. To those people opening my novel on Christmas morning, I hope you like it!