Elaine Blick is due to publish her first book with us at the end of the month, having already published several books elsewhere! We asked her about what continues to inspire her, and the historical facts her new novel is based around.
How would you describe Hearts Set Free and who would you say it is aimed at?
I regard Hearts Set Free as a historical novel set in a modern time frame. I think it should appeal to women twenty years and upwards, particularly those who enjoy novels set in the past, especially during the era of Jane Austen.
What first gave you the idea for the novel?
I visited Wesley’s chapel in Bristol and found a pamphlet he wrote in which he makes a blistering attack on the slave trade. I had not realised until then that he had such a profound influence on William Wilberforce who was instrumental in having the law passed which banned slavery in the British Empire. I saw the film Belle about the same time I visited the chapel and it occurred to me that the subject of slavery would make an intriguing background for a novel. It so caught my imagination, I went on to write a follow-up story about Miranda, a character in Hearts Set Free.
The book tells the story of the movement against slavery, but it is set in the present day with letters acting as a link to the past. What made you decide to tell the story in this way?
I wanted to show that events of the past have a bearing on our lives today, also that people of the present day are not so very different from those who lived a couple of centuries ago - their concerns and preoccupations are much the same as ours. That is why I have shown, throughout the novel, Debra of the present day identifying with Clara of the 18th century.
Which did you prefer writing, the historical segments or the story of the modern-day couple?
Without a doubt, I enjoyed writing about the 18th century. After a full exposure to the novels of Jane Austen the year before, I found it relatively easy to slip into the language and thought processes of people of that era. There is something about the dignity of the language and the leisureliness of life then that has an appeal for me.
What historical research did you undertake for this novel?
I had to check up on various aspects of life in the 18th century e.g. coach travel and London as it was in the 18th century. As I wrote I was careful to get the factual background accurate and Google was a great help here. The novels of Jane Austen were my best source for writing in the style of the times.
You’ve already published several other novels. Are there any similarities or common themes in your writing?
My other novels owe much to my own background and experience, even though some of them might be regarded as ‘historical’ because they are set in the sixties, an era I remember well. Hearts Set Free was my first venture into true historical writing, with characters and situations that were unrelated to my own experience. I suppose all my female protagonists have something in common – they are women who face problems in their lives head on and usually find the answers they are looking for lie in the spiritual realm.
Which would you say is your favourite out of the novels you have published, and why?
Usually the book I have just finished is my favourite because it is closest to me imaginatively. Miranda, the novel I have recently completed, is much in my mind. I find the girl who is the central character an interesting person, with many strands to her nature. Because she intrigued me while I was writing Hearts Set Free I wanted to follow her life beyond that novel.
What plans do you have for future writing?
At the moment my plans are vague although I would like to continue with writing historical novels. I may move into the 19th century, following the fortunes of one of the younger generation in Hearts Set Free.
What was the last book you read?
The last full length novel I read was Gone with the Wind because I wanted to absorb the flavour of slavery on the southern plantations of America, since this is the setting of part of Miranda. Most recently I read the autobiography of Billy Graham who grew up in the southern Bible belt of America and it interested me to see that even today there are attitudes towards black people that go back to the slave era and the Civil War. People like Billy Graham have had a lot to do with overcoming prejudice towards black people in the southern states. Wherever I turn I find the past has a direct bearing on the present and that is certainly a recurrent theme in my novels.
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