Phyllis M. Newman is the author of Kat’s Eye and her latest novel, The Vanished Bride of Northfield House was published by Page Spring Publishing on 16 January 2018.
She kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The Vanished Bride of Northfield House.
The Vanished Bride of Northfield House is a creepy supernatural tale with a spirited heroine, intriguing mystery, engaging romance, and a daunting ghost. A historical fiction novel, it includes a mix of mystery and romance with touches of supernatural spookiness and gothic horror.
The story involves love, loss, and sweeping transitions. It is also lyrical and haunting, a story that unfolds against the social and political upheaval following the first World War.
Recently orphaned, the protagonist, Anne Chatham, arrives at a dark, troubled English country estate having newly acquired the technical skill of the age, the ability to typewrite. Anne struggles with multiple conflicts—not only a troubling ghost, but a family in conflict, a tragic death that appears to be accidental, and a matriarch that resents her presence.
I was interested in writing about a time when women had few resources and even less opportunity. Power and position could only be achieved through marriage, and large numbers of eligible males had been lost in the war, upsetting that social norm. Anne finds she must forge a future for herself through pluck and sheer intelligence.
2. What inspired the book?
I was inspired by all those wonderful takes of gothic mystery I’d read as a child. Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Northanger Abby. I’d read them all and wanted to read another. Modern mysteries have moved beyond all of the old themes, which is well and good, but I believe it is time for a new gothic mystery written in the old tradition. Actually, it was just fun. I loved creating the villains of the piece. They are colorful and exciting, especially the glamourous and rich cousin Charlotte and the menacing Aunt Martha.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I do not outline or map out the storyline at all. I simply begin with a strong opening, clarifying from the beginning what the major themes are, and then I have a closing paragraph that gives me a sort of guidepost to aim for. I then fill in the middle with conflict, historical information, and colorful characters. I just follow my characters, imagining what they would do, how they would react.
This works really well for me. With this particular novel, I had an idea about the arc of the story and who the murder was, then because of where my characters took me, I ended up with a different villain and had to change the ending entirely. I think it keeps my readers guessing because I, too, am guessing while I write.
4. Having been through the publishing process is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
My publisher committed an entire year, and an exceptional editor, to editing my book. I thought I had a perfect, well-written novel that might need a little brushing up but was otherwise just perfect! Not so much. I was grateful that my editor made suggestions, mostly about adding description, details, and stronger motivations (and I love to rewrite.) I have to say, my editor, guided by the publisher, made my work stronger, deeper, and richer. I added over 10,000 words and burnished the themes. As a writer, I could not have asked for a better working relationship.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I read. And a single word in someone else’s work can get me wound up and I’m inspired to write for days, having been given a new idea or concept. A writing colleague of mine said he did not read anybody else’s work (????) because he didn’t want to inadvertently ‘steal’ ideas. What? Where do you get your stimulus?
I also watch a lot of television, specifically anything Law and Order (great dialogue.)
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes. It is a metaphor for life. Everything you need to know is discussed in that mighty tome. (And if you asked me which movie if I could watch only one, it would be Casablanca).
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I have never been asked who I would credit for my love of books and my inspiration to write. I credit my father who read to me, and always from novels. He was big on biographies and history, but he would read aloud only from some fiction he was reading (and usually in the wee hours of the morning when I got home from a date.) It gave me a feel for the poetry in writing, the sheer power of words, and the legacy that a good book provides, something that lives on and on. People are always startled that my father read to me even as an adult. I didn’t find it odd at all.
About the book