Finding Rose is a multi timeline story authored by Julie Ryan. The novel is set in the First World War and Tudor England. As three sisters sit at their father’s side as he nears his end, they are drawn by his ramblings. Perhaps they are hallucinations, perhaps not. The story he tells them is graphic and convincing. He urges the sisters to Find Rose.
Your novel, Finding Rose, is quite different to most historical fiction in that it jumps through several time periods. What inspired this approach?
I write the books that I would enjoy reading and my two favourite historical periods are WW1 and the Tudors. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about combining them into one story until I spent time with my father during his last days in hospital. The morphine he’d been given made him ramble but my author brain began to wonder if perhaps he’d lived other lives and was simply reliving them. To distract myself I started imagining him as a Tudor monk and as a soldier in the Great War.
Covering more than one period must pose challenges. What obstacles to writing Finding Rose did you face and how did you overcome them?
For me it was about trying to come up with something a bit different as both periods have been covered in great detail by many other authors and I didn’t want to rehash something that was already out there. The hardest part was keeping track of the three different threads. I’d suddenly remember that one of the characters hadn’t been mentioned for about twenty chapters, as I’d got so engrossed in another part of the story so I’d have to go back and remedy that. I had sticky notes everywhere and a page for each character. The three stories also had to come together in the end, which presented its own challenges.
The First World War and the Tudor era both feature. Which is your favourite of the two and why?
It’s a bit like asking which is your favourite child – impossible to answer. I love both for different reasons and will read about either depending on what mood I’m in and what I’ve just read.
Researching these two periods can result in having to access very different types of sources. How did you go about the research for each period? Was one era easier than the other?
I was inspired by my grandfather’s story for the WW1 thread. Like many others, he enlisted as a young boy of just 16 and was at the first day of the Somme. Badly wounded he was left for dead but miraculously survived. I used a little journal he kept with dates of where he was sent to be as accurate as possible and the rest is down to watching videos of the trenches and reading about conditions at the time.
For the Tudors, I’m obsessed by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I but I didn’t want my story to be about them, rather to be set in Court during that timeframe. I’m also intrigued by strong women and how difficult it must have been as a female at that time. When I came across a female miniaturist at Henry’s Court who was the highest paid woman at the time, I knew I’d found my niche. I then did a lot of online research to check the timeline fitted my story. As there wasn’t an awful lot documented about her, it was fairly easy to improvise a fictional story about what is known.
How did you set about researching your novels?
It often starts with just a glimmer of an idea and a particular era and then something will just click and send me down all kinds of paths until I find the information I’m looking for. I also do a lot of background research about the era generally, for example, I found a wonderful book detailing what the Tudors had for breakfast, how they cleaned their teeth, the population of major cities at the time and although I may never use most of it, it all helps to get into the mind set of the period.
As I was thinking about the Great War, I recalled my great-grandmother mentioning a munitions factory and that led me down a completely different avenue of finding out more about the Canary Girls. When I discovered there had been an explosion at a factory near where my book is set, it just had to go in the novel.
How did you get into writing? Why historical fiction?
I’ve always been interested in writing but it wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I turned a short story into what was to become my first book, Jenna’s Journey. This is a romantic mystery set in Greece but the desire to write historical fiction was there in the descriptions and flashbacks. I was concerned about ‘getting it wrong’ so put off writing historical fiction. However, Finding Rose was a book waiting to be written and I knew it was just a question of time.
How do you go about planning your novels?
I do a lot of research but not a lot of planning. I like the book to unfold in my head as I’m writing it, hence the fact that I ended up with a major plot hole which was fortunately spotted at the critique stage so I had time to rewrite. It would make life so much easier if I could plan my books in detail but unfortunately my characters have other ideas.
How do you balance the fact and the fiction when writing this type of novel?
I take pains to make sure everything is as historically accurate as it can be from what is known. However, by choosing minor historical characters to actually feature in the book, I find I have more leeway with dialogue and events as little is usually recorded about their life other than the bare facts. I think it is much more difficult to balance the two when writing about historically famous people, as someone is sure to say the writer has got it wrong. In the end, as long as you are not historically inaccurate, it all comes down to interpretation. My job is really embellishing what little is known into what is after all, a work of fiction.
One of the areas that my website is looking at currently is the way that history is interpreted and presented to the general public. How do you go about deciding how to portray your characters and the events in which they become involved?
Unless you are writing a biography then as a writer you have to select the events that fit your story. In the case of Finding Rose, I was looking for a way to link the three eras and decided on an emerald ring. This then led to how the ring could have appeared in paintings and hence stumbling across Henry’s miniaturist who continued to work for Elizabeth. I looked at the many different portraits of her mother, Anne Boleyn and many could not even be positively identified as being of Anne and some were painted years after her death. This gave me enough artistic licence for my story. I love the blending of fact and fiction although it annoys me in films when a historical event is intentionally historically inaccurate. I like to entertain but also inform rather than mislead the public.
Which authors have been most influential to your own writing to date?
My love of writing stems from the first books I read by Enid Blyton, which allowed me to escape to another world. My love of the Tudors comes from reading Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory. Sebastian Faulks’s ‘Birdsong’ had a huge impact on me when it first came out and fanned my desire to research more about WW1. He really manages to portray the horror and futility of war.
Have you got any plans for future books that are in a historical setting?
I am still toying with the idea of writing a second book, taking some of the secondary characters from Finding Rose and exploring their lives. This time perhaps, I’ll embrace the period around WW2 until the present day but it’s at the early stages at the moment.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Read, read and then read some more. One good tip that I was given was to research just one year in the historical era you choose to write about. That way you can really get a feel for the period without being overwhelmed.
Finding Rose Links
Ros Rendle also writes fiction set in the First World War
Battles of the First World War – First Battle of the Marne – The Gallipoli Campaign – Battle of Verdun – Battle of Jutland – Brusilov Offensive – Battle of the Somme – Battle of Passchendaele – The Spring Offensive – Battle of Amiens – Victory on the Western Front?