Author interview: Rebecca Mascull

15 Jun

I thoroughly enjoyed Rebecca Mascull’s debut, The Visitors and have been eagerly anticipating her beautiful new novel, Song of the Sea Maid which is released on Thursday (it’s another great read!). I’m delighted to welcome Rebecca to One More Page today to tell us more about the new novel and discuss some of the themes in it. Welcome Rebecca!

Rebecca-Mascull-267x400Your new novel, Song of The Sea Maid is released this week; please could you tell us a little about it and the inspiration behind it?

It’s the story of an orphan girl in 18th-century London who is lucky enough to find a benefactor and be educated. She becomes a scientist, travels abroad and makes a remarkable discovery. I’ve had a story like this in my head for years and years, because I’ve always been fascinated by science. I want to know what it’s like to have a scientific mind, because I certainly don’t have one! I also realised as late as my 20s that the history that gets written down in books isn’t necessarily the whole story and it set me thinking: what if someone with no position or power within society came up with a brilliant idea? Would we ever know about it?

I love novels that shed a light on the lesser known (yet so important!) roles of women throughout history and Dawnay Price certainly has her work cut out to make her mark. Dawnay is an orphan and a woman at a time when class and gender were difficult barriers to overcome; why did you give her these particular challenges?

 I think most protagonists of stories have a series of obstacles to overcome in any narrative. It’d be a pretty boring plot if they didn’t! Dawnay’s challenge, as you say, is to overcome her origins to not only become a scientist but also to have her ideas heard. In the 18th-century it was generally considered the women had weaker brains than men i.e. in every way, the weaker sex. The thought that a woman could have any place in science was laughable to some. What’s amazing to me is that just today I saw an article about a Nobel prize-winning male scientist called Tim Hunt who said this:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

So, really in almost 300 years since Dawnay’s time, I wonder, how far have we moved on? (Thanks to author Kerry Drewery for alerting me to that article!)

How did you go about your research for the novel and what was the most surprising fact that you uncovered?

If you want the long answer, you can watch me take you through all the stages of my research here in my study on Hachette’s #WhereIWrite:

http://www.whereiwrite.tv/rebecca-mascull/

The short answer is that it’s a heck of a lot of work! I start by reading about the period and books written at that time, as well as watching TV documentaries and movies set in the period. I take notes and type them up. I collate my findings into files, boxes and onto picture walls. I write a synopsis and chapter plans. All that can take a year or more. Some of the most interesting things I found have been by accident, for example, by rifling through second-hand bookshops. There are lots of shocking facts about everyday life in the 18th-century: one of the things that surprised me most was that women didn’t wear knickers and when they had their periods they just wiped it on their under-skirts!

Song of The Sea Maid is set in England, Portugal and Menorca; why did you choose these particular settings and did you visitsong of the sea maid the locations as part of your research?

I chose London as Dawnay’s starting point because I visited the Coram Foundling Museum as part of my research into orphanages and found that to be a good basis for the fictional orphanage in which Dawnay finds herself. I also wanted her to have a formative experience with exotic animals, so the zoo at the Tower of London presented itself as the ideal opportunity. Many years ago, I visited some caves in northern Spain and saw prehistoric art and it has always stayed with me. I studied Spanish and travelled quite a bit across the Iberian Peninsula, so it was lovely to go back there in my mind and follow Dawnay on her travels.

Both Song of the Sea Maid and your previous novel, The Visitors, follow the lead characters from childhood, into adulthood. Why was it important to you to write your characters in this way?

 That’s a really interesting question and I didn’t notice it until I was well into Book 2. But I think it’s because I believe that our childhood experiences are so crucial in forming us, that even if I were to start a novel with a character in adult life, at the very least, part of my preparation would be to look at that person as a child and think about what they went through and how that influenced them. I guess you could also say that both of these stories are versions of bildungsroman or a coming-of-age story, so it’s important to see that progression. Also, children have very little power and that interests me too – how they overcome or subvert this. I watch my daughter grappling with this every single day!

Song of the Sea Maid is set in the Eighteenth Century; if you could travel to any time and place, where and when would you go?

Oh, for a time machine! What historical novelist wouldn’t kill for that?! So, just about any time before I was born would be interesting to me. But I do have particular favourites, including the crazy, madcap world of the 18th-century: the Edwardian period (great hats); First World War trenches (though I certainly wouldn’t want to stay there very long); Second World War Europe (everywhere else would be a bit too hot for me – I don’t like heat!) and lastly – thinking of Dawnay’s interests – prehistoric humans. We know so little about the latter – how they talked, what the structures of their societies were like – and our evidence is so scant, I think the adventurer in me would want to go there first.

And finally … what can we expect next from Rebecca Mascull?

I’m currently working on Book 3 for Hodder and Stoughton. I can’t tell you much about it, apart from the fact that it starts in 1909 and is set in the town near where I live – sunny Cleethorpes! As you see, it’s the Edwardian period so I’m hoping to include lots of great hats…

Thanks Rebecca!

Song of the Sea Maid is released in hardback and ebook formats on Thursday 18th June by Hodder.

Find out more about Rebecca and her writing at: http://rebeccamascull.tumblr.com/

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Author Interview – Rebecca Mascull : Song of the Sea Maid | Lady Fancifull - 16th June 2015

    […] to see other Q + A’s with Rebecca Mascull on Song of The Sea Maid, I found the Monday one, on Onemorepage.co.uk As this isn’t a WordPress blog, I couldn’t ‘like’ it and have it […]

Leave a Reply