Monday, 5 May 2014

In Conversation With Katherine Clements

Today I am in conversation with Katherine Clements, author of The Crimson Ribbon.

The Crimson Ribbon is your first novel.  How did the idea come about?
I first encountered the real Elizabeth Poole in a biography of Oliver Cromwell. She was a religious radical and prophetess who gave evidence of providential visions to the Army Council in an attempt to influence the trial of Charles I. As I say in my Author’s Note, we don’t know very much about her, but she intrigued me.  A bit of research revealed a dark, seductive world of illegal printing presses, extreme spiritual obsession and a mysterious scandal. I thought that a fictional version of her was the perfect vehicle to explore some of the things that interested me about that period of history.

Ruth, the narrator of The Crimson Ribbon, is a fictional character and I created her because I wanted to tell Elizabeth’s story thorugh the eyes of another. Of course, it quickly became Ruth’s story too.

I recently picked up my copy of that same Cromwell biography and found the bookmark I used back then – it was a train ticket stub, dated almost ten years ago, so the idea of Elizabeth has been hanging around for a long time!

As your book is set around the English Civil War, I have to ask - Parliamentarian or Royalist?
It was only a matter of time before someone asked! I’m Parliamentarian, with a soft spot for the Levellers. But I have to say, I can’t help being a little bit seduced by the fascinating characters and glamour of certain Royalists!


You are a Historian (like me) - what is your favourite period of time from the past, and why?
I studied History and Archaeology at university and for a long time was fascinated by pre-history. I like the way that without a documented record, the archaeological evidence is so open to interpretation (great opportunities for a storyteller). As well as the practical stuff about how people lived, theories about religious belief and ritual at prehistoric sites fascinate me.

But I’ve now spent years learning about the early modern period and particularly the English Civil Wars, and I’m still obsessed with it. I love it because it was such an exciting, tumultous time in British history that doesn’t get the attention it should.

You don’t hear much about the English Revolution do you?  The 17th century saw the beginnings of so many things that are important in modern society, for example parliamentary authority and a free press. Some of the things that people were questioning and fighting for then, are still not resolved today.

Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
Three things: Read. Write. Persevere. Reading is just as important as writing. It’s how you learn what good writing is. Then, just write. Write bad first drafts, revise, edit and polish. I spent a long time not writing because I thought everything I wrote had to be perfect first time out. This couldn’t be furhter from the truth. The only way to get good at anything is to practice. And learn everything you can from others who are more experienced than you. I believe that courses, workshops, literary events, writers groups etc., can all be very useful.

The third point is about perseverance. There will always be rejections, there will be self doubt and negative feedback. There will always be people who don’t like what you’re writing. The tough thing is dealing with all that, learning from it and carrying on anyway.

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
All over the place. Sometimes from books or television or a song, from something I see or an overheard conversation. Sometimes a line or a picture will just spring into my head and it goes from there. Thinking/dreaming time is really important for me. I find the well runs dry when I’m too busy and distracted by other things. It’s funny but my most successful short stories have all come to mind almost fully formed. I wish that happened more often!

What are you working on next?
I’m working on my second novel – as yet untitled – which is a re-telling of the legend of The Wicked Lady. (You might know the 1945 film with Margaret Lockwood and James Mason that was loosely based on the same story). The legend tells of a noble-born highwaywoman who terrorized Hertfordshire in the 1650s. I’m bringing together research on the real life figure to whom the legend has traditionally been pinned, and the myths surrounding her, to create something entirely new.

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
This is dreadful, but probably my laptop and phone.

What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
That’s such a difficult question as there are so many historical figures I’d love to meet. So, I’m going to cheat and say I would invite five of my ancestors – grandparents and great grandparents – and ask them all the questions about my family that I never got to ask.

Katherine's book is available now, published by Headline Review.  You can read my blog post of it here.  Thank you Katherine!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

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