Debutantes was published in the UK on August 2nd by Macmillan Children's Books and sounds like a great historical novel for YA readers. I'm looking forward to getting to this one! Here's a summary from Amazon.co.uk:
It’s 1923 and London is a whirl of jazz, dancing and parties. Violet, Daisy, Poppy and Rose Derrington are desperate to be part of it, but stuck in an enormous crumbling house in the country, with no money and no fashionable dresses, the excitement seems a lifetime away. Luckily the girls each have a plan for escaping their humdrum country life: Rose wants to be a novelist, Poppy a jazz musician and Daisy a famous film director. Violet, however, has only one ambition: to become the perfect Debutante, so that she can go to London and catch the eye of Prince George, the most eligible bachelor in the country. But a house as big and old as Beech Grove Manor hides many secrets, and Daisy is about to uncover one so huge it could ruin all their plans - ruin everything - forever.
As part of this blog tour, I have a guest post from Cora Harrison herself, about writing historical fiction and the research involved. Thanks to Cora for this, and I hope you enjoy reading it!
'I come, as Hansel came on the moonlit stones,
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons.'
The two lines above were written by the wonderful poet Seamus Heaney and I think they sum up for me my fascination with historical fiction. I remember a fellow author saying once to me that he couldn’t understand why I bothered with historical fiction as, to him, I was doubling the amount of work that I had to do because, instead of writing about what I knew and had experienced, I had to create this new and unknown world.
But that to me is the fascination about historical fiction. The research is a labour of love as I pour over books and find out what my heroines and heroes would be wearing, what they would eat, what were their houses like, how did they travel?
One of my favourite books when I was young – and it is still a favourite – is called ‘A Traveller in Time’ (by Alison Uttley) and when I research for my historical novels I feel that I, too, like Penelope in that wonderful book, become a traveller in time. The past surrounds me and becomes real to me and the present often seems dull and garish by comparison.
One of the most difficult issues for me is to decide how my heroes and heroines talk. My earliest historical novels, The Drumshee Timeline Series, were written about Ireland and most of them were set in a time when the Irish spoke Gaelic. Therefore it made sense to write them in straightforward English, as though I was translating. The same applies to my series for adults, ‘Mysteries of 16th Century Ireland’ about the Brehon lawyer Mara in the kingdom of the Burren. When it came to my series, ‘The London Murder Mysteries’, these were set in the London of Oliver Twist and as a great fan of Charles Dickens, I think I had the slang and speech of Victorian London lodged deeply within my subconscious. As for the ‘Debutantes’ that is near enough to our times to allow for modern speech, although I did read and reread the Mitford books so that I had a feel for that period also.
What I would do if I wrote a novel about my favourite period in English history, the time of Queen Elizabeth I? – well, that’s something that I am not sure about and will have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
So how do I work?
Well, I usually start off with a collection of books about the period and I soak myself in those before I start the first word of my story. Sometimes, as in the case of the 1920s I also look at films, and read novels that were written in that period – even Agatha Christie’s early novels do give a flavour of what it was to be a modern girl at that time. And, of course, as I am writing, it is wonderful to have the internet there at my fingertips just to check on a fact. The bit of ‘Debutantes’ which I found most difficult was how early cameras worked. I bought a big, old book – over fifty years old, in a second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye and tried to make sense of all the instructions about developing films – dipping the film into chemicals and having a dark room etc. Digital is so much easier!
The twenties were such a wonderful and fun time to be young, that the research was sheer pleasure. Of all music I love jazz and I think the clothes were so smart and above all, for the first time in history, the young were glad to be young and not trying desperately to be too adult before their time.