Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On Inspiration: Alison Stuart

My guest today is fellow Aussie, Alison Stuart, who is an award winning writer of historicals with heart.  Whether duelling with dashing cavaliers or waywards ghosts, her books provide a reader with a meaty plot and characters who have to strive against adversity, always with the promise of happiness together. Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.  She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town.  She loves to hear from her readers and can be found at her website, facebook, twitter and Goodreads. Her latest book, Gather the Bones, is a “Downton Abbeyesque” haunting love story set in 1923.

What or who inspired you to first write?
Elisabeth, I can’t think of a time in my life when I wasn’t writing. Somewhere in the attic there are still notebooks filled with stories, probably all bearing a vague resemblance to whatever book I had just read. My best friend at school was also a budding writer and we made a pact to write our first novels. We would spend our lunchtimes perched in the willow tree working away...mine was (of course) and English Civil War story and hers science fiction. She became a published author years before me!

But probably my greatest influence was my fourth form English teacher who was probably the first person to tell me that there was a spark of something there and to actively encourage my “creative writing”. I didn’t write for many years after leaving school, until a skiing accident left me with a dislocated shoulder and a primitive notebook computer alone in a ski chalet in the Australian Alps. I haven’t stopped writing since.

What is the inspiration for your current book?
I will talk about my September 2012 release, Gather The Bones, which was by far the most complex book I have written, not only does it cross genres (mystery, history, romance and ghosts) but also tackles the theme of war (which I will discuss below). A number of different influences came together to bring this book to fruition, but the first is probably a professional interest in military history (I am a former Army officer). Visiting the battlefields of World War One and spending time at the graveside of a young relative moved me profoundly.

Is there a particular theme you wish to explore in this book?
I particularly wanted to explore the affect of war on individuals, not just the soldiers but the families they left behind. To do this I paralleled the World War One narrative with the diary of a young wife during the Napoleonic wars to show that the experience was universal across the ages.

What period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?
My absolute passion is the English Civil War and has been since I was a child. It is such a little understood period of English history and yet so much of what we enjoy today in terms of our legal and democratic “freedoms” flowed from this short experiment with republicanism. Something about the doomed King with his long hair and pearl earrings and the “dour” parliamentarians appealed to me. There was a family legend that we were descended from a regicide so that helped to colour the attraction for me.

I have written two historicals with romance set in this period, By The Sword and The King's Man (and one time travel romance, Secrets In Time, which may count as half a book!)

What resources do you use to research your book/s?
I have a lifetime’s accumulation of books on the English Civil War. Although I am a great user of the internet for research, sometimes you just have to go back to a b-o-o-k.
I am also a great traveller and at one time or another I have visited all the places I have written about. There is nothing like walking the ground your characters walk and smelling the same air to add veracity to your writing.

Which authors have influenced you?
The biggest influence on me was probably Rosemary Sutcliff. She wrote well researched historical novels for young people and is probably best known for Eagle of the Ninth (your own period, Elisabeth!). I devoured her books and reread them again and again.

What do you do if stuck for a word or a phrase?
I put an asterix and move on... or I hit “thesaurus” in the word processing package.

Is there a particular photo, piece of art, poetry or quote that strikes a chord with you? Why?
<Looks around office and just sees a muddle>. Hmm...2 things:

I have a small leaden statue of a Roundhead soldier that has sat on the shelf above my computer for twenty years. I thought I had lost him and I was heartbroken but he turned up and I couldn’t imagine writing without him looking over me.

The second object is an original seventeenth century John Speed map of “Invasions of England and Irelande” which my father gave me. It has travelled everywhere with me.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Just write the book...but don’t expect that first draft to be of the quality that is submissible to an editor. The important thing is to get the story down so that it is vaguely “story shaped” with a beginning, a middle and (most importantly!) and END. I have seen so many aspiring authors spend all their energy on polishing and polishing that front part of the book that it is never finished. Once you have that rough draft, that is when you start the rewrite and the polish.

Tell us about your next book.
I am turning to crime...historical crime. I actually read more mysteries then I do romances so it seems a natural progression. I don’t want to jinx myself by saying too much beyond – “cosy” mystery, Singapore...1910.
Thanks for joining me, Alison. And congrats on Gather the Bones, being a finalist in the 2012 Australian Romance Readers Awards, 2012 CRW Award of Excellence, 2013 GDRWA Booksellers Best Awards and the 2012 RONE Awards. Well done!

The horrors of the Great War are not the only ghosts that haunt Helen Morrow and her late husband's somewhat reclusive cousin, Paul. Unquiet spirits from another time and another conflict touch them.

A coded diary gives them clues to the mysterious disappearance of Paul's great-grandmother in 1812, and the desperate voice of a young woman reaches out to them from the pages. Together Helen and Paul must search for answers, not only for the old mystery, but also the circumstances surrounding the death of Helen's husband at Passchandaele in 1917.

As the mysteries entwine, their relationship is bound by the search for truth, in the present and the past. 

You can connect with Alison via Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.She would love to hear from you.All Alison's books are available for purchase via her website.


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