Today I’m delighted to welcome Judith Kinghorn back to One More Page to talk about her latest novel, The Echo of Twilight. Judith is the author of three other novels; The Snow Globe, The Memory of Lost Senses, and The Last Summer. She was born in Northumberland, educated in the Lake District, and is a graduate in English and history of art. She lives in Hampshire, England. Welcome Judith!
Thank you, I’m so pleased you love it! My working title for the novel was simply Pearl & Ottoline – and though I became very attached to it, my publishers didn’t like it as much as me and asked me to come up with another.
As you know, the novel opens with Pearl’s recollection of a fateful ‘golden evening in August’: a remembrance that echoes through the story as she tries to make sense of the events of that night. Drawing on that theme, and on images, I played around with words and came up with a few possible titles – including The Echo of Twilight, which everyone liked.
What inspired you to write this story?
I’d always wanted to set a novel in Northumberland, where I grew up, and early inspiration came from my grandmothers; one of whom had been employed as a lady’s maid in the 1920s; the other, whose love of the Scottish Highlands affected me as a child. Both of them are in the novel – here and there, infecting dialogue and character – along with a few others who, though long gone, I remember vividly from my childhood.
I was struck by the names of both people and places in The Echo of Twilight. How do you choose your character names (Ottoline, Pearl) and those of the great houses they inhabit (Birling, Delnasay)?
As you drive away from Warkworth, heading north towards Alnwick, you pass – for all of ten seconds – through Birling. A few minutes later, if you look west across the fields, you will see Shortridge Hall: this is the exact location of and my inspiration for ‘Birling Hall’ in The Echo of Twilight. As for Delnasay, it’s there too; nestling in a valley beneath Tomintoul. Even the whitewashed cottage – Ralph’s studio – exists. And I know this because I’ve stood where Pearl stands with Billy and watched the smoke rise up from its chimney.
As for my character’s names, I never think too hard on them and prefer to let them come instinctively. Having said that, many of them are borrowed or plucked from family and friends, or come from my research. I first came across the name Ottoline when I read about Ottoline Morrell; and Pearl was always and could never have been anything other than Pearl. However, her surname, Gibson, was my mother’s maiden name, the surname of my maternal grandmother; and Billy happens to be the name my paternal grandmother used for her son, my father William.
In each of my novels I’ve written about places I know; and places I know well enough to be able to summon in my mind’s eye. I want my readers to be aware and confident of where they are, and for them to be so immersed in time and place that they see it all, too.
In setting The Echo of Twilight in Northumberland and Scotland – and even in London, in Fulham and Battersea – I was able to write about places I know. Imagining these places in a different era, a time not so long ago, meant I had to draw on a combination of imagination and research, and on old photographs and paintings.
J.M.W. Turner’s views of the Thames, his use of light and colour, remained at the forefront of my mind when I wrote about a golden evening in August. When I was writing about Northumberland – in the years during and after the First World War, I referred back to my father’s and grandmothers’ memories, and to old photographs. I was very much aware of the isolation of a far-flung county; of the uninterrupted peace and birdsong, and of empty, dusty roads. As the story moved on, ever further from the hustle and bustle of London and Turner’s Thames, and to Scotland, that sense of isolation and quietude became more pronounced.
A lot of this is drawn from my own experience. For so many years I’ve gone back to the Northumbrian coast, where the skies are unending and the wind roars in from a steel-grey sea and very little changes. Regardless of new arrivals, commuters or tourists, it seems to me now a strangely timeless place. Fortified by castles, huddled villages and dunes; by ancient churches and cemeteries and walls. Over time, I’ve both loved and hated the place – but isn’t that always the case with ‘home’? We love and then sometimes hate it, depending on where we are in our trajectory.
For me, The Echo of Twilight allowed me to understand and love my home county once again.
Both Ottoline and Pearl are fascinating characters; did they behave as you expected them to when you sat down to write or did they take on a life of their own as you wrote and surprise you?!
My characters always and inevitably go off-piste and take on a life of their own. As their creator, I have a degree of control – at the start, anyway; but after that, they tend to lead me. And yes, Ottoline in particular surprised me – and right up until the end of the novel.
As a rule, I don’t plot too much in so far as character development is concerned. I place the obstacles and my characters find their own way round them. I want them to breathe, to have their own life and make their own decisions. I want their reactions and words to seem as real as yours and mine. And, even though I write historical fiction, even though the dialogue might contain a few old-fashioned or obsolete words, I want my characters to be as understandable as anyone today.
Finally … what can we expect next from Judith Kinghorn?
I’m not sure. The only thing I do know is that my next novel will be something quite different. In the meantime, I’m taking a break and about to head off to Australia with my daughter. So who knows… maybe I’ll write something contemporary – and set in the southern hemisphere.
Thanks Judith – enjoy your break and I’ll look forward to hearing about your next book.
Find out more about Judith and her novels at: http://www.judithkinghornwriter.com/