I was so captivated with this debut historical fiction novel that when the opportunity arose for a guest post from Ms. Worsley, I knew I wanted to hear more from this talented author. Specifically, I was curious to hear about her inspirations for She Rises as well as her writing experience as a debut novelist.
A very special than-you to Ms. Worsley for graciously fulfilling this curiosity...
Kate Worsley On Writing She Rises:
Not long after moving to the east coast of England it became a habit with me to go down to the quay every day. It’s a working quay, so there’s always plenty to see: cargo coming and going, barges and tankers and yachts, and beyond them, the birds and mudflats, water and sky. I got to know people who would go out on the water every day if they could. But for years and years I never went out with them. I never admitted it, but the very thought terrified me.
And it set me thinking. Every seafaring tale I’d ever read – and I lapped them up – was about the lure of the oceans. What if I wrote a tale in which going to sea was the very last thing my hero wanted to do?
And then I happened to pick up a mesmerising novel from the 18th century, a period I had studiously avoided ever since my English degree, assuming it to be all high-flown pomp and cold classicism. Tobias Smollett's 1748 novel 'The Adventures of Roderick Random' overturned all my prejudices.
What struck me first was the writing. Yes, here were the intimidatingly long clauses, page-long paragraphs and classical rhetoric that had so turned me off at college. But Smollett was writing in the very early days of the novel as a literary form, when it was still young and unformed and everything was up for grabs. He throws everything in there: riotous punctuation, ripe vernacular and fantastical plot.
And then there was the contemporary world Smollett depicts, in which appearance was everything and you could slip identities on and off as easily as a set of clothes, in which everyone was on the make and there were no safety nets.
I wanted to see if I could write a Smollett pastiche, throwing any and everything I fancied into the mix. As a landlubber I had to do my research, an adventure in itself: I went to Portsmouth to join the Tall Ships Trust at sea, climbing many metres high up the mast and out on the yard to set and take in sail. I went to the very first Harwich Sea Shanty Festival and was bowled over by the bearded characters I saw there and the heartbreaking songs they sang.
Perhaps most transporting of all, was stepping through the door of the Dennis Severs’ House, a candle-lit Georgian house in Spitalfields that recreates every detail of life as it was lived there, down to the half-eaten loaf and the chamberpot under the bed.
I got about 40,000 words in when I realised that although I was having a lot of fun I would have to rein myself in if I was to write a novel that any 21st-century reader – including myself – would want to read. My rambling, picaresque tale morphed into a more modern form, with what's billed as 'a twist'.
Many readers experience it as such, but my main intention was for the structure of the novel itself to embody the main character's dilemma: how to resolve the relative attractions of the shorebound world of domesticated women, and the dangerous life of men at sea.
Right up until the very last few chapters I had no idea how happily – or not – this would all end. And as I wrote my way through the story I wrote my way into something that felt like my own style, although I'm sure many of those rollicking Smollett moments remain!
All rights reserved Kate Worsley Guest post Book Barista June 2013