Friday, 15 November 2013

An Interview with Deborah Swift, author of A Divided Inheritance

Thank you, Deborah, for being our special guest author on The Review Blog today. I loved A Divided Inheritance and am curious to hear about how you set about researching and writing this very rich novel. Below are the questions I asked the author and Deborah's interesting answers.

Carol: I loved reading a novel set in Jacobean London and in Spain during the Inquisition. I learned much about the persecution of the Morisco minority and about the finer details of sword play. Could you tell us a little about the historical background to A Divided Inheritance?
Deborah: I started by researching Seville because that is where the real sword school was located. When I went there on my research trip I discovered some archive material in the Inquisition museum that mentioned the Morisco expulsion, and a statue dedicated to those whose lives had been lost. When I came home I researched it and found the chilling text of the expulsion order which told people they had three days to leave or they would be killed. Of course then, when I discovered more about the Moriscos and their way of life, I just couldn't resist it and it became the major focus of the latter part of the novel.
17thC Seville ( from the museum of Seville)

Carol: I am curious about how you went about writing your novel which is very character driven.  How did you discover your characters?
Deborah: I had always wanted to write about a woman in business in the 17th century. My research told me that women in business at that time were usually widows, who took over the husband's business on his death. Often these were very successful - after all, well-off women of the day were used to handling household accounts and a large number of domestic staff already. However, when I started the novel I had no idea that Elspet Leviston would go to Spain or become interested in the art of the sword, or friends with the Morisco family, the Ortegas. That all came through my other main protagonist, Zachary Deane. The inspiration for him came directly from a 1630's book on the art of the Spanish sword - the esoteric art of 'La Destreza'. In the manual the characters in the drawings were called Alexander and Zachary (presumably to indicate the A-Z of fighting), but I decided to fictionalise them and both Zachary and Alexander now appear in the book.

Carol:  How did you set about planning A Divided Inheritance?
Did you plan it section by section or chapter by chapter and were there any surprises as you set it down?
Deborah: I knew it was going to be a big book because of the epic journey I wanted Elspet to make - from a staid, somewhat prim London lady into a much more open-minded and physically capable woman. And because to do that I would need to cross three cultures. So I divided it at first into four rough parts and structured each part like a mini-novel. At the end of each part though I tried to have a question hanging to propel the reader into the next part. I also used the image of the swallow both in the text and pictorially (thanks to the designer) to tie the parts together. The swallow flies free and crosses all the boundaries without limitations, giving a literal 'bird's eye view' of the struggles of the characters.
Carol:  How many rewrites did you need or should I say drafts? Do you have any 'director's cuts?
Deborah: Yes, I do lots of drafts, plus edit the previous days work as I go. I think there were probably about five drafts, though in these days of computers it's hard to tell as I don't print them all out. There are a few director's cuts. I cut quite a lot of Elspet's journey by ship to Spain, and through the countryside. Travelling time is always awkward - you need enough to have a sense of real distance and journey, and the arduousness of travel in those days, but not so much that it bores the reader, who is thinking, 'are we ever going to get there!' I needed enough time for her to develop a relationship with Mr Wilmot, but not too much.
I cut a few scenes in Senor Alvarez's fencing school too. I loved him as a character and he was in serious danger of taking over the novel! I needed all four parts of the book to balance, so I cut back to what I thought was essential.
Girard Thibault's fencing training ( taken from the cover of his book)

Carol: Can you say a few words concerning your writing day and other interests. What do you prefer for relaxation.
Deborah: I write in the mornings, and that leaves the afternoons free to fit in my other job and my research. If I'm having a particularly good day or nearing the end of a draft I hate to be interrupted and might carry on until I run out of steam. For relaxation I do a lot of physical things like tai chi, yoga and drumming. This is because it helps get rid of the adrenaline involved in writing - I really do live all those tense scenes! Also it gets me off my chair and somewhere where I can be sociable. I also love nature and the outdoors and do a lot of walking.

Carol: Did you read any other novels pertinent to the period you have researched for A Divided Inheritance
Deborah : I didn't - I try to avoid it if I can, and concentrate on reading research and novels set in other times. I pick up accents easily when I meet people, and 'voices' easily when I'm writing, and I want to keep focussed on my own. Also, there are not many novels set in this period, but now I've finished I'm open to any recommendations!
Some research books that I read and enjoyed, which are very accessible are:
'By the Sword' by Richard Cohen
'The Gunpowder Plot' Antonia Fraser
'Inquisition' Toby Green

Carol: Finally, what/who are your favourite historical novels/writers?

Deborah: I enjoy Rose Tremain, Tracy Chevalier, CJ Sansom. I've just started reading Elizabeth Chadwick (why did I wait so long?! fantastic) and just discovered Kate Forsyth, an Australian historical fiction writer.
Twitter @swiftstory
Carol McGrath is the author of The Handfasted Wife, a biographical fiction of Edith Swan-Neck and her possible survival after the Norman Conquest.

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