Welcome back to my Friday Reads blog post, where I invite other authors to tell us about their recent book, and their writing life. After a little break over August I’m delighted to start the blog again. My guest today is historical fiction author Frances Quinn, so grab yourself a cuppa, get comfy and let’s start chatting. 😀
It’s usual, they say, for a young person coming to London for the first time to arrive with a head full of dreams. Well, Endurance Proudfoot did not. When she stepped off the coach from Sussex, on a warm and sticky afternoon in the summer of 1757, it never occurred to her that the city would be the place where she’d make her fortune; she was just very annoyed to be arriving there at all.
Meet Endurance Proudfoot, the bonesetter’s daughter: clumsy as a carthorse, strong as an ox, with a tactless tongue and a face she’s sure only a mother could love. Endurance wants to be a bonesetter too, but her campaign to convince her father she can do a man’s job is thwarted when her beautiful sister’s attempt at social climbing goes wrong. The pair are bundled off to London, beginning an adventure that’ll see both of them make their mark on the city as they win, and lose, fame and fortune.
Inspired by the true stories of two of Georgian England’s most famous celebrities, That Bonesetter Woman is an uplifting tale about finding the courage to go your own way, when everyone says you can’t – and about realising that what makes you different can also make you strong.
Welcome, Frances. That Bonesetter Woman is your second published novel. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
For as long as I can remember, yes. I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was about 7, plagiaristically called The Adventures of Squirrel Nutkin (sorry, Beatrix Potter). My Nutkin was a bit more urban than hers though, he liked pork chops and had a girlfriend called Susie and in one adventure he stands on top of a tower block with a mallet, to cure a six storey high bump on someone’s head. I do my medical research a bit better these days!
That sounds a fun story, Frances. Has any author inspired you?
In terms of my writing style, it’s the historical novelist Diana Norman. Her books are full of little details that make you feel you were right there with the characters, but she never hits you over the head with her research, as I’m afraid a lot of historical fiction can do. Her novels are real page-turners, with the kind of characters you’re sad to say goodbye to at the end, and there’s always a good dose of humour in them too. Some historical novels feel like they take themselves very seriously, and hers never do, yet at the same time her research is so impeccable that you learn about the period without it being hard work.
They’re all things that I try to emulate in my own books, and I was delighted when Stylist magazine called The Smallest Man ‘not your usual historical fiction.’
That’s fabulous! What do you like writing most?
Dialogue. I’m a terrible eavesdropper, always listening in to people’s conversation on the bus or in cafes, and I’ve also had years of interviewing people as a journalist, so I like the challenge of writing dialogue that sounds like the way people actually speak. I also love writing scenes that I hope will make people cry – quite a few readers have told me they were in tears (both happy and sad ones) while reading That Bonesetter Woman, and that makes me very happy because it means they believe in the characters.
Do you have a special place for writing?
I have an office at home, and above my desk is my ‘motivation board’, which is covered with things that get me going again on those days when the writing gets hard (which is often). It’s quotes from other authors about times when they’ve got stuck and how they got unstuck, nice things that people have said about my books, and cards and pictures that remind me of times when I’ve felt confident and happy.
That’s a great idea. Are you a pantster or a plotter?
Bit of both. I couldn’t start a novel without having some idea of where the story’s going and how it’s going to get there, so I’ll have a plot outline. But it will change – both my books bear very little resemblance to the original outlines.
Time to confess – Is your writing ever inspired by your family or real life incidents?
Yes, often. In The Smallest Man, both the hero Nat and his friend Jeremiah have bits of my husband in them, and Arabella is pretty much 100% a friend of mine, which made her very easy to write. In That Bonesetter Woman, the scene on the very first page, when Endurance and Lucinda are in the coach travelling to London and another passenger is being really annoying, happened to me on the bus from Tonbridge to Tunbridge Wells.
More often though, it’s something more vague – Endurance’s predicament is that she doesn’t feel she fits in anywhere, and I think that’s something most of us have experienced. So you draw on how that made you feel, and extrapolate that feeling into a very different time and place – because times change, but people ‘s feelings really don’t.
I agree, so many things subconsciously influence our writing. What are you writing at the moment?
I’m working on my third book, which is set in London and New York in the early years of the 20th century. It’s about a young woman who gets trapped in an aristocratic marriage, and finds her way out when she sails on the Titanic, stealing someone else’s identity to make a new life in the tenements of New York – only to find that burying the past isn’t as simple as she hopes.
Now that sounds intriguing. What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to write about the Edwardian period, and started looking at what happened then – the Titanic is such a gift to a novelist that I couldn’t resist it.
What time of the day do you write best?
In the morning. By about 4pm I’m just writing – or more accurately typing – nonsense.
What are your hobbies? If you have time for any! 😉
I like sewing, though I’m very much a beginner, and too impatient to do the kind of things you see on Great British Sewing Bee. But I love that you start with flat pieces of fabric and paper, and end up with something you can wear – some of the time, anyway! It’s a bit like writing a novel in that respect but thankfully a lot quicker.
Finally, what advice would you give to other writers?
The advice I turn back to over and over again comes from Benny Andersson of Abba. He still goes to his studio every weekday, and works on composing music, and he says the creative process is like waiting for a dragon to come out of a cave: you’ll spend a lot of time just sitting there, not seeing the dragon, but if you’re not there waiting, you won’t see it when it does come out. So you have to turn up, every day, and sit out the days when nothing comes, or when you type one sentence, knowing you’ll delete it the next day. Those days clear out your head for the ones where the words do come. Another author, the Swedish crime writer Camilla Läckberg, put it more succinctly in an interview I read: ‘Rumpan på stolen’, which means ‘Bum on seat.’ I have that sentence on my motivation board and I look at it often.
Great advice, Frances. Thanks so much for dropping by to talk to us today. I hope your book flies.
Frances Quinn grew up in Forest Gate, East London and read English at King’s College, Cambridge, realising too late that the course would require more than lying around reading novels for three years. After snatching a degree from the jaws of laziness, she became a magazine journalist, and later branched out into copywriting, producing words for everything from Waitrose pizza packaging to the Easyjet in-flight brochure. Her first novel, The Smallest Man, was published in 2021, and her second, That Bonesetter Woman, in 2022. She lives in Brighton, with her husband and three Tonkinese cats.
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