Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Interview with Deborah Swift, author of Shadow on the Highway

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Deborah Swift to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her latest release, Shadow on the Highway. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Deborah. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Shadow on the Highway.
Shadow on the Highway is the first book in what will be a trilogy of books based on the life of Katherine Ferrers, (married name Fanshawe) who became notorious as a highwaywoman in the 17th century. The three books will be written from different points of view, and we will have to wait until the third novel to hear Katherine’s own view of events! The first novel is written from the point of view of Abigail, her deaf maidservant, and the second by Katherine’s lover, Ralph.

Your book is based on the real life story of Lady Katherine Ferrers. How did you come across this tale?
I was researching the English Civil War and came across the Fanshawe family in reference to that. Katherine’s aunt, Ann, wrote a diary which I have used in my research for other books. When I investigated further I came across Katherine’s story and the legend surrounding it, which included ghosts, buried treasure and highway robbery. My eyes lit up!

Lady Katherine was real, but her exploits are the stuff of legend. How did you go about blending the two within your narrative? 
It was interesting to consider that the real history probably bore little relation to the legend. Of course the legend is very appealing. Who can resist the handsome farmer’s son, Ralph Chaplin, who lures a noble lady into the ways of highway robbery? The only trouble is, history can’t verify his existence. Shame! In the book I have tried to provide valid historical reasons for the legend, and use as much real material as possible, without losing the exciting parts of the legend.  In the legend Katherine is portrayed as unleashing a reign of terror over her village, but I wanted to restore some of her dignity. Unfortunately, I can’t give too much away here without spoiling the plot!

Your heroine, Abigail Chaplin, is deaf. What about the condition appealed to you and why did you choose to highlight it in Shadow on the Highway?
Actually, I knew I was entering a minefield as soon as I made this decision, but still wanted to use it because of its dramatic potential. Night-time exploits would be much more challenging for a deaf character, as the vision she relies upon becomes compromised by darkness. At the same time, I didn’t want to make the story only about Abigail’s deafness, as if that was what defined her, but more about her persistence and her courage, and her insecurities about ordinary teenage concerns, such as whether a particular boy liked her or not! I researched heavily, and discovered that in the 17th century the first efforts were made to educate deaf children, though it was far from the sort of education we have today. The new methods of signing were fascinating, but in the end I decided that Abigail, in a small village, would not have access to these schools or the new formalized methods. The likelihood is, she would have read lips and used simple signs. I carried on researching, eventually finding a particular memoir and realizing that actually Abigail could be capable of far more than I thought. I was underestimating the capability of lip-readers. The memoir is ‘What’s that Pig Outdoors’  by Henry Kisor, in which he teaches himself to lip read with the help of his parents and siblings. He became almost totally proficient, and was able to interpret accurately most of what was going on around him. This is still a controversial memoir among the deaf fraternity, but for me this seemed the most likely method for Abigail. For those sceptics, who are doubting that anyone could be that proficient, I ask you to read the memoir (listed in my historical notes). It is truly eye-opening!

The Diggers were entirely unfamiliar to me. Can you tell us a little about the movement and their goals?
The Diggers were a movement which sprang up after the fall of the monarchy in the 17th century. Many such sects emerged at this time, such as the Levellers and the Quakers. The Diggers retained aspects of both these groups - It was a movement that believed every man and woman equal in the sight of God, and that the earth belonged to all as our form of sustenance by divine right. In some respects the ideals were modern in outlook, with shades of ecological campaigning, and the idea that no man was nobler than the next. The Diggers  set up several experiments in communal living, to try and live from the land and their own labour, but all were destroyed by the land-owning classes who saw them as a threat. For another more detailed novel about the Diggers I would recommend ‘As Meat Loves Salt’  by Maria McCann.

Politics are an integral part of the plot. How do Abigail, Katherine and Ralph view the war and what impact does it have on their lives?
I think all of them view it differently. There was a massive amount of fear and uncertainty amongst the general population who had little access to up to date information. Daily life was affected by sudden influxes of soldiers needing to be billeted in the house, fears for relatives away fighting, or grief for those lost in battle. Food shortages, and fear of robbery and plunder by opposing forces all took their toll. Allegiances were fickle, as this was a Civil War, where brother fought brother. Each character has their own different idea about who should win the war and why, and as usual in the midst of war, there is no simple answer that will please everyone.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
I enjoyed writing the very first scene, as I knew it was the beginning of a long story, which would take three short books to tell, and one I was very keen to begin!

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
There is a part in the legend about buried treasure, and a part about highway robbery. Both of these pose problems because they are already clichés and as a writer I needed to find a new way into writing them. I suppose the only way was to enter more deeply into the character and write the scenes from the inside. This was the approach I chose.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
Ask me that when I’ve finished the Trilogy! Ralph will have his own book, the second in the trilogy, in which he returns from the war a changed man, and his relationship with Katherine (Kate) becomes deeper and more desperate, added to which he has to hide out like Robin Hood in the woods to avoid his mortal enemies. Kate too will have her own book, the third in the trilogy, in which we find out the truth about her highway activities, and how her dangerous actions affect Abigail and Ralph. There is of course always the problem that the legend is quite well known, and I need to put a twist on the ending so it is not too predictable!

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Shadow on the Highway and if so, what did you alter and why? 
For Shadow on the Highway it was the reverse of my usual process. There is plenty of invention in the legend already, so I concentrated on uncovering the factual elements of the story and trying to make the legend more believable.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
Actually, I‘d choose a minor character - the cook, Mistress Binch. Like all servants, she misses nothing, and would be able to give me all the insider’s gossip. Besides which, she bakes excellent cakes!!

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast of actors to play the primary roles in a screen adaptation of your work, who would you hire? 
I’d like a younger Gemma Arterton for Abigail – she was great in the adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but not sure about the others. Actors can be so different in different roles. If anyone offered me a screen adaptation, it would be brilliant,  so I’d just say yes to whoever they hired  - but probably cringe afterwards!

Okay, we've talked a lot about your book. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about you. How would describe your writing process? 
I am disciplined about writing every day because it’s now my work. I love it, but books grow little by little, so they take lots of time. Actually this book is half the length of my usual novels, to cater for younger readers too, who might want a quicker read. I’m keen to get younger people reading historicals! As for my process, about fifty percent of my time is spent on research, so you have to love history if you want to write historical fiction.

Who are your favorite authors? 
I enjoy books by Barbara Ewing, Christie Dickason, Diana Gabaldon, Kate Forsyth, and CJ Sansom. But I read widely and eclectically, not just historicals.

What are you currently reading? 
I’m reading The Stumpwork Robe by Prue Batten.

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies?
I love exercise activities such as dynamic Tai Chi, Yoga, hiking, and being active. Writing is very sedentary, so I try to counteract it as much as possible with active hobbies, particularly those that get me into a class or group, or get me outdoors away from the keyboard.

Where do you stand on the coffee or tea debate?
Tea. No question! English Breakfast Tea, with milk and sugar. 

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
I’m working on the other two books in the Highway series in between writing a much bigger book based around the women in Pepys’s Diary. He’s such a big character, but a delight to write. I’ve been working on this more than a year so by now I almost feel like I know him!

Thank you Erin for your lovely questions, I enjoyed answering them!

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Deborah Swift used to work in the theatre and at the BBC as a set and costume designer, before studying for an MA in Creative Writing in 2007. She lives in a beautiful area of Lancashire near the Lake District National Park. She is the author of The Lady’s Slipper and is a member of the Historical Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and the Romantic Novelists Association.

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The author balanced the characters nicely, with two budding romances, political idealism and the reality of war, a vicious villain, and the looming evil of Sir Simon--though after a short and sadistic appearance, he took off for parts unknown. I suppose he'll reappear in the sequels. Because readers need to see that he's eventually punished!
- Editornado, Amazon Reviewer

Deborah Swift has brought 17th century England to life vividly in this novel. She has clearly researched her era & proves to be very knowledgable on the subject.
 - Penny Jo Renner, Amazon Reviewer

Abigail is an engaging protagonist and the war-weariness of Civil War England is deftly conveyed in this YA novel. Caught between Cavaliers and Roundheads, gentry and cottagers, and coping with her own deafness and the folly of her own family members, she must steer around the dangers of her position in a household threatened by violence both domestic and war-driven. Deborah Swift has brought the knowledge of the seventeenth century displayed in her adult novels to this work for younger readers.
- E. Anne Graham, Amazon Reviewer

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Format: Print & eBook
Publication Date: July 15, 2014
Released by: Endeavor Press
ISBN-13: 978-1500549831
Length: 192 pages
Genre:  YA Historical Fiction

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Check Out All the Stops on Deborah Swift's Shadow on the Highway Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 25
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, August 26
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Book Blast at Princess of Eboli
Wednesday, August 27
Guest Post at Reading the Past
Book Blast at Broken Teepee
Thursday, August 28
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Book Blast at Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, August 29
Book Blast at Passages to the Past
Book Blast at What Is That Book About
Monday, September 1
Review at The Maiden’s Court
Book Blast at Reading Lark
Tuesday, September 2
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, September 3
Review at A Bookish Affair
Friday, September 5
Book Blast at Curling Up By the Fire
Saturday, September 6
Book Blast at A Book Geek
Monday, September 8
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession
Tuesday, September 9
Review at Brooke Blogs
Book Blast at CelticLady’s Reviews
Wednesday, September 10
Review at Unabridged Chick
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Thursday, September 11
Review & Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Book Blast at Luxury Reading
Friday, September 12
Review at The Musings of ALMYBNENR
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, September 15
Review at Historical Tapestry
Book Blast at A Bibliophile’s Reverie

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Shadow on the Highway Giveaway

To win a Paperback or eBook of Shadow on the Highway please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Five copies of each are up for grabs. Giveaway is open internationally.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on September 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on September 16th and notified via email.
Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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