Today I’m delighted to welcome Rosie Thomas to One More Page to talk about her new novel, Daughter of the House which is released tomorrow. Rosie is the author of a number of celebrated novels, including the bestsellers The Kashmir Shawl, Sun at Midnight, Iris and Ruby and Constance. Once she was established as a writer and her children were grown, she discovered a love of travelling and mountaineering. She has climbed in the Alps and the Himalayas, competed in the Peking to Paris car rally, spent time on a tiny Bulgarian research station in Antarctica and travelled the Silk Road through Asia. Welcome Rosie!
The central character is Nancy Wix, the daughter of a theatrical family and therefore already on the margins of polite society. Her adolescent discovery of her own clairvoyant powers sets her even further apart, and therefore some of the story that unfolds lies in her struggle to find her niche in the world and – when she falls in love – to deal with the great divides of class and money.
The book is set in the aftermath of World War One at a time off great change and opportunity, particularly for women – what drew you to this period?
It’s a fascinating period because women had to re-imagine their personal and public roles yet again after the freedoms the First War had lent them. They had done men’s work in factories and in the fields, they had headed families and dealt with money and taken on responsibilities for which achieving the vote and having the first woman MP to speak for them were really only emblematic. When the men came home again they naturally expected to take back the reins. They found that the rules of engagement had changed – but there were still many battles. Nancy’s story continues the theme of powerful women trying to sidestep conventions that I began with her mother Eliza in The Illusionists.
How did you go about the historical research for the book and what was the most surprising fact that you uncovered?
I read very widely, and built as best I could on my sketchy historical knowledge! One of the things I really didn’t know about was the immense popularity of Spiritualism in the years after 1918 – all sorts of people followed it, from the Duchess of York (later the Queen and then Queen Mother) to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So many young men had been massacred and those left behind longed for a way to reach beyond the grave, or at least to make some sense of their loss.
For readers interested in the period what contemporary novels or non-fiction books would you recommend?
Oh, there are lots of wonderful novels that span the inter-war years. One of the reasons I was drawn to the period was my enjoyment of books like Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate, and the early books of Anthony Powell’s great series A Dance to the Music of Time. I read all kinds of history by way of research but D.J. Taylor’s Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940 was my absolute go-to for all kinds of useful facts and insights.
There’s an element of the paranormal as lead character Nancy is clairvoyant. What drew you to this theme and how do Nancy’s abilities shape her character?
The paranormal and its theatrical exploitation seemed a natural development from The Illusionists, which deals with Victorian music hall magic. Using stage illusionists’ tricks ‘paranormal’ phenomena were regularly presented on stage and in private houses, in séances and sittings, and clever but immoral performers could make good money by persuading bereaved people that they could reach and speak with those on the ‘other side’. I thought it was a nice twist that Nancy really does have paranormal abilities but wishes she could be ordinary. Her abilities make her an outsider…and I strongly identified with this and with her as I wrote, because writers are necessarily outsiders too.
You love to travel but if you could find a time machine and travel to any time and place throughout history, where and when would you go to?
Hard one! Maybe to the French Riviera in the 1920s, to hang out over cocktails with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and the Hemingways and Picasso?
You catch me just in the middle of one of the great joys of being a writer – the sudden gift of an IDEA! I have been planning to write one book for a couple of years now, and dutifully mentioning it and doing the background reading and doodling with plot and characters. Then, only a week ago, I was somewhere quite different on a short holiday. In a casual conversation heard a detail of time and place that made the skin on the back of my neck tingle…and that’s a sure sign. I’ve ordered some books around the subject, and I plan to spend the next couple of weeks looking into it.
Not saying any more yet…
Thanks Rosie and good luck with the new idea!
Daughter of the House is published on 30th July in Trade Paerback and ebook formats.
Find out more about Rosie and her writing at: http://rosiethomasauthor.com/