Deborah Swift is a novelist and poet. Passionate about reading and writing, Deborah was told as a child that she spent too much time with her “nose stuck in a book” – which, we agree, is not a bad thing!
Writing from her home in the Lake District, Deborah draws inspiration from the stunning backdrop of her surroundings, and from her earlier career as a set and costume designer. Deborah kindly agreed to share her writing process and also gave us an exclusive on her new project…read on to find out more!
Historical Honey: Deborah, you live in the Lake District – how much of an influence does the surrounding beauty have on your writing?
Deborah Swift: I used to be a poet, so I have always liked to observe nature in all its moods. I also like to imagine my characters amid these dramatic and awe-inspiring landscapes which have been unchanged for centuries.
HH: You used to work as a set/costume designer in film and television – can you tell us your favourite production that you worked on?
DS: I liked my work in theatre best because I could be more free in my interpretations, and the audience gets to see all of the costume all of the time, whereas in TV ninety percent of the filming is head and face and from the chest up! And I love to see the silhouette and shape of a costume, and its a shame if you hardly ever see a character’s shoes! My favourite productions have been Shakespeare plays such as Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but whilst at the BBC I did some work on costumes for Dr Who, and that was fun!
HH: Did you always want to write?
DS: I have always written something, because I loved to read and saw writing my own stories as an extension of this. I used to tell stories as a child to my sister, and later I told them to my daughter. I guess I see stories as integral to human life, but only in the last five or six years have I tried to write something as long and involved as a novel.
HH: Typically, how long does it take for you to complete a novel – from preliminary research to handing it in for publishing?
DS: It takes me about eighteen months. My most recent book was one set partly in Spain, so that was challenging as I had to get documents translated, and also had to do a research trip to Seville (it was beautiful so that bit was not so hard!) I spend about six months on solid research, in museums, libraries, archives and online, and the rest is drafting, redrafting, redrafting…..
Seville, Spain. Deborah spent time here researching for ‘A Divided Inheritance’.
HH: Are you nervous prior to the release of a book?
DS: Yes. I think it’s natural to wonder how a book will be received. But by that time I’m working on another exciting project, so there’s no time to worry too much.
HH: What advice would you give to aspiring historical-fiction writers?
DS: Choose a period you are passionate about. You will spend a long time alone at your desk with your chosen period and characters, so you need to really love them. Worry about whether or not anyone will want to publish it afterwards. Your enthusiasm for your subject will shine through.
HH: For most people getting in the right frame of mind to write is sometimes a challenge. Does the process come naturally to you, or do you just drink a lot of coffee?
DS: I’m quite disciplined, I need to be to get the words on paper, so I have a routine and try to stick to it – mornings I write, afternoons I do research, publicity and promotion and blogging.(oh yes and housework and my other job!) Some days the writing goes better than other days, but I try not to need a ‘right frame of mind’.
HH: Are you currently writing a book? Can you give us any exclusives?
DS: Here’s your exclusive – I’m writing a novel set in WWII, which is a big departure for me. My previous novels, including the new one, A Divided Inheritance, out in October, have all been set in the 16th/17th Century. For this I am interviewing people who lived then, so the research part of it is a lot more interactive.
HH: Where is your favourite historical location?
DS: I loved Seville when I went there to research for a Divided Inheritance. The Moorish architecture of the Alcazar Palace is spectacular. I also love towns like Chester in England where the Elizabethan architecture is still very much part of the fabric of the city.
HH: If you were hosting a dinner party; which three historical figures would you invite and why?
DS: I know it’s corny, but I would love Shakespeare to be there; perhaps he might write me a sonnet or two. But also I would love to have Maria Sybilla Merian, a 17th century artist who painted beautiful flowers and butterflies. And no historical dinner party would be complete without Ann Boleyn – she has almost single-handedly raised popular interest in historical fiction! I would love to ask her which of the many novels about her she considers to be the closest to the truth!
Can I cheat and have three figures from my novels as well to make it really interesting – Margaret Poulter the herbalist and cunning woman (from The Lady’s Slipper), Josiah Whitgift the secretive pawnbroker’s son (from The Gilded Lily) and Senor Alvarez the charismatic fencing master (from A Divided Inheritance). I think Ann Boleyn might wish she’d stayed in the 16th century!
Many thanks for interviewing me; it’s been nice to share some thoughts with you and your readers.