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INTERVIEW: Deborah Swift, author of 'The Lady's Slipper'

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I really loved the historical novel 'The Lady's Slipper' by Deborah Swift, set in England soon after the Restoration of King Charles II, one of my favourite periods of history. The Lady's Slipper is a rare orchid, and one young woman's decision to steal the beautiful and exotic flower so she can paint it sets in motion a chain of events that will change her life forever. You can read my full review of 'The Lady's Slipper' here, while below is an interview with the author of the book, Deborah Swift. 

Are you a daydreamer too?
Most of my daydreaming is channelled into my writing, but I can still be caught wandering by the estuary near to where I live with that far-away expression on my face, which means an idea is brewing.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I think I got a clue when all my english essays were three times as long as everyone else's! I've written poetry and stories all my life, and had a big collection gathering dust under the bed, right up until 2007 when I finally thought it was time to do something about it and study for an MA in Creative Writing.

 How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
Out for a walk with a friend I came across a white tent with an official from Natural England guarding the lady's slipper orchid. He said it was so rare that it must be protected, and we could not view it without being accompanied. Of course we had to go and see. And it was so beautiful and so fragile I just had to write about it.

 How extensively do you plan your novels? 
I don't plan at all, except to have a firm idea of the characters and their conflicting desires. For The Lady's Slipper I started with an artist (Alice Ibbetson) so I could view the orchid through her eyes as I thought an artist might see more in the process of drawing it. Once I have the characters I set them loose with each other and follow them to see what happens. I usually have a sense of the ending, but I'm open to changing it if the journey is different from the one I expect. Of course this way of working means quite a few revisions and re-working once the first draft is done, but I enjoy the not-knowing. I write for my own enjoyment and this way gives me the most excitement!

 Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
No, but I see writing as a kind of waking dream. As in a dream I find myself sometimes caught in recurring symbolism, and as I'm living my characters I find the same kind of freedom as in a dream - to transform into someone or something else. 

 Where do you write, and when?
I have a room overlooking my overgrown garden, and I write most mornings from breakfast to lunchtime, usually with a cat asleep on my feet.

 What is your favourite part of writing?
I love the beginning when all options are open to me, but best of all I love it when I forget the time because I am so involved in living a scene.

 What do you do when you get blocked? 
I  like to be outdoors so I love to walk. I'm in a walking group, so we do a all sorts of walks - woodlands, crags and close to the sea. I'm lucky in that I live in beautiful varied countryside and so the walks can be challenging and dramatic, or just a stroll and chat.

 How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I used to be a designer, so I enjoy looking at paintings and sculpture -everything from Michelangelo to Antony Gormley, who I'd say is my favourite sculptor. If I had to choose a painter it would be Waterhouse, I'm a big fan of the Pre-Raphaelites! But I recently got into Vermeer because I have been researching the 17th century. Although his paintings are really well known, the amount of useful detail in his work is astounding. To create Alice Ibbetson I found out about the few women artists of that time who painted flowers, and so now I'm also a great admirer of Maria Sybilla Merian's exquisite watercolours of plants and butterflies.

 Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
The main one is to have a clear desk as it helps my mind to be open and receptive. But I do have an arrangement of stones, feathers, pine cones and other mementoes that I've collected on my walks.

 Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Ooh, that's hard. Only ten? Well, I'll go for Tracy Chevalier, Geraldine Brooks, Rohinton Mistry, Philippa Gregory, Rose Tremain, Barbara Ewing, Lindsay Clarke, Mary Renault, Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield ( but the latter two are poets). 

Geraldine Brooks, who is one of my favourite writers too

What do you consider to be good writing? 
Where the story completely absorbs the reader. Somehow the writer must allow the story to be itself, to shine without the author getting in the way of that.  

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Take the dream by the hand, take a deep breath and tell your story. Then get plenty of feedback so you begin to know what your strengths are - then you can expand on them.

 What are you working on now? 
I have two more books in the pipeline - The Gilded Lily which will be out September 2012 and A Divided Inheritance which will be out October 2013. Both of those are finished and I'm working on characters for the next. I like to spend time getting to know the characters, so it's a very nice relaxing space in-between books.
Deborah Swift's website

I have to say that Mary Oliver is one of my absolute favourite poets too! Here's one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems:

Poem on image taken from Karen Ancas website

Here is a link to Mary Oliver reading three of her astonishing poems:

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