Author of Gaslight, Eloise Williams, spoke to us about writing and her new novel, Honesty and Lies, in the latest issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more below.
Could you tell us a bit about your new book, Honesty and Lies?
Set in the winter of 1601 and centred around Greenwich Palace, it’s the story of two girls and their friendship. Honesty, a Welsh girl seeking fame and fortune, befriends Alice, a maid to Queen Elizabeth 1. But while Honesty looks for attention and praise, to make a better life for herself, Alice must stay invisible, hiding a terrible secret. Can they trust each other?
It’s a tale of intrigue, scheming and plots set in the spellbinding world of the Elizabethan court. A thrilling adventure where nothing is as it seems.
Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
Inspiration is always difficult to pinpoint. I adore London and have done since I was very young. I love the history of it and the way it changes, the size and variety it brings, its scruffiness and its grandeur. Taking a boat from Greenwich to Southwark seems to chime as an important moment in thinking of this story. As does walking along the South Bank of the Thames.
I hadn’t written anything historical since Gaslight so it seemed like a challenge and I like to challenge myself creatively. I also wanted to write something about appearance and reality, and this seemed the perfect setting for those comparisons. The splendour of the palace, life as a maid, Christmas and Twelfth Night, theatre – both in the real sense with the Globe and in the way that people perform their roles.
Could you share a little bit about how you research when writing a novel? Is this something that you do before you start writing, or as you go?
I start by doing a bit of very easy research into the period. This could be through reading books and listening to podcasts, watching films, visiting museums and historic buildings. It helps me to get a basic understanding of what life was like for young people at that time. However, I’m always in danger of falling into a research rabbit hole as I get overly interested in everything, so I have to stop myself after a while. I then write the first couple of chapters which gives me a better idea of the areas I need to concentrate on a bit more specifically. I’m not a historian – though I think it would be fascinating – so I like to give a flavour of the time but only so that it serves the story.
What top tip would you give to an aspiring writer who would like to try writing historical fiction?
History is just the backdrop and should help to paint the picture, not detract from the story. It’s tempting to drop facts in just because you’ve learned them. You can include some of the weird and extraordinary things you discover – there are lots of things which seem unusual to us now – but only when they illuminate something about the characters, their personalities, journey, or their lives. It’s not a history lesson, tempting as it is to make it one sometimes. If you want to put a fact in, try to make it part of the rich tapestry which supports the action.
You’ve written so many brilliant books for young people, as well as being the Children’s Laureate of Wales, and recently creating and editing The Mab alongside Matt Brown. What has been the best/ most memorable moment in your writing journey so far?
Firstly, thank you. It’s very hard to think of your own books as brilliant! It’s much easier to see what you perceive as the flaws. Stories tend to have a mind of their own and rarely turn out to be the things you had intended them to be.
I’ve had so many wonderful moments. Every time I see one of my books in a bookshop or library it seems like a small miracle. Discussing stories with young readers is always a highlight. They can be very frank with their questions and opinions so it’s always good to have a sense of humour!
Collaborating with Matt Brown and the other brilliant authors and illustrator was such a fantastic experience, and we are very proud of The Mab.
I think, though, if I were to choose the most memorable moment, it would be when a young person threw one of my books out of their bedroom in disgust and shut the door on it. Her mother told me that she did it because she was so angry on behalf of the main protagonist. She fetched it again later and loved the story, so it was all okay in the end, but it made me realise how passionately young people believe in the stories they are reading, and I think of it often. It helps to keep me focused on writing the best story I can.
You live close to the coast in West Wales and must feel inspired by the landscape there. Does much of that inspiration find itself in your books?
Absolutely! It’s impossible not to be inspired by the landscape here. Sometimes it presents itself directly in my work – The Tide Singer, Seaglass and Elen’s Island are all set by the sea and inspired by the coast of Pembrokeshire. Other times, the love of nature and wildlife I’ve fostered here comes through in my writing. I talk about birds a lot in Wilde, that’s a love I’ve found over the last ten years, and I can’t seem to stop mentioning the moon.
What other writers and books have inspired you (past and present)?
There are so many! Far too many to mention them all. I’m always impressed by anyone committing to writing a book and finishing it. I read widely and find inspiration of some kind in almost every story.
Could you let us know what you’re working on next?
Well, I do have some exciting story news coming up soon but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about it yet!
I’m also at the dabbling stage with another new story. This is probably the part of writing I love most and fear most. There’s every possibility of it being the story you want it to be, and the empty pages are enticing and exciting. It also feels somewhere between improbable and impossible that you’ll ever manage it and as if there is a colossal mountain ahead. This story is one which has been bouncing around in my head for a while now and it won’t let go. It’s based in my own family’s history, and it’s a story of hope, but I don’t want to give too much away in case the mountain proves too steep!
Eloise Williams grew up opposite a library in Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf, where she spent much of her time reading in the ruins of a castle. Her middle grade novels have won the Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year, the Wolverhampton Children’s Book Award, the YBB Book Award, and have been shortlisted for the Tir na nOg, the NE Book Awards and Wales Book of the Year.
She has an MA in Creative Writing with distinction from Swansea University and was the inaugural Children’s Laureate Wales 2019-2021. Eloise now lives in West Wales, very close to the sea, where she wild swims, collects sea glass and ghost stories, and walks on the beach with her cairn terrier, Watson Jones.
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