The Bookette: I guess the first question must be why emerald? Why not sapphire for instance? Does the colour, precious stone have a deeper meaning which relates to Emerald’s character?
KW: Green is the colour of envy and jealousy and there is a lot of both in the story. A flawless emerald is rare and so are green eyes. Emerald seemed a strong name to me and I wanted her to be a special character as rare as a fine emerald and with unforgettable green eyes.
The Bookette: Emerald is a courageous, noble character. From the very first page I empathised with her plight living a life not of her own choosing. Can you share with us a little of your character crafting process? Where do you begin?
KW: I wanted Emerald to be first and foremost a natural character. In many ways, I used the same approach to building her up as I did with the character of Nancy in ‘Raspberries on the Yangtze’. Writing in the first person helped enormously and that was really the breakthrough. The temptation is to let the demands of the historical background define the character, the challenge is to do it the other way round.
The Bookette: I really loved the scene where Emerald goes fly fishing. Do you have any special interest in fishing? If not, how do you go about writing a scene like that? Do you go out and observe fly fishers? Or is it purely your imagination of how it might work?
KW: I used to live in Ireland and we did a lot of flyfishing. I’m not very good at it but have listened to enough stories – true or false – to know how to go about catching a fish. I made up the knack of putting your mind somewhere else but it seemed to make sense to me.
The Bookette: Whenever I visit a stately home or estate, I always think that it must be an idyllic existence, to have the freedom of the garden, great rooms to dance in, and a sumptuous chamber to sleep in. Hawkstone Hall in part met this notion but it also showed the more brutal aspects of the lifestyle. No supermarkets with pre-packed chicken for instance and the use of herbs as medicine. Do you think it is important to convey the truth of a historical setting and lifestyle? If so, why?
KW: I believe it is absolutely essential to re create as honestly as one can the historical background. The magic can’t work if the characters don’t operate within the restrictions and constrictions of their time. This applied particularly to the growing attraction between Sam and Emerald. They never over stepped the conventions but because we are seeing it and feeling it through Emerald, we get a real sense of the charge between them.
The job of writing historical fiction is to re create a world that is convincing. To convince the reader, that world has to be accurate in every sense of the word.
The Bookette: My favourite character was Meg. She was an adorable little urchin. Which is your favourite character from Emerald and why?
KW: I really liked Meg, as well. I’m not sure quite where she came from but I needed her as a comic motif but also as an innocent commentator. She says what she thinks because she doesn’t know any better. And once she started ‘talking’, I always looked forward to the moment she opened her mouth because I was never quite sure what was going to come out!
The Bookette: I love historical fiction. Can you recommend any other titles that fans of Emerald will enjoy?
KW: My first historical novel was called “Wendy’ which was my idea of Wendy Darling’s story in Peter Pan. It has nothing to do with the character of Peter Pan. ‘Wendy’ is all about an Edwardian childhood. And once again, the accuracy and honesty of the background detail is crucial to the success of the story.
As for other suggestions, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, is extraordinary.
The Bookette: Extraordinary...but the size of Wolf Hall is rather intimating. Karen, thank you so much for answering my questions. Congratulations on the publication of Emerald. It’s available to buy in all good UK bookshops now. Want to know more about Emerald? Check out my review.