This month, celebrated author Rebecca Alexander is releasing the first novel in a new exciting series, titled A Baby’s Bones. The crime series will follow the exploits of archaeologist Sage Westfield.
I was lucky enough to be sent a copy to review, and granted an interview with Rebecca herself. Read on for our chat, and find out what tips Rebecca gives for aspiring authors.
Can you describe your new novel in five words or less?
Tudor tragedy haunts archaeologist.
What’s been your main drive for telling this story?
I first thought about the story when I had to visit an old house with a real Tudor well, and couldn’t shake off the creepy feeling. It wasn’t a huge leap to wonder what had happened there that was so oppressive, and visiting the local manor house added to the mystery. Reading about pregnancy and birth in Elizabethan times got me thinking about how amazing it is that any children survived those hazardous days filled with disease, starvation, war or, in this case, murder.
What’s your writing process like e.g do you use notebooks, post-it notes, apps?
I write straight onto my elderly computer but when I’m lost for what happens next (I never know) I take a notebook and pen out onto the hills or the beach and work it out. If that fails, I’ll walk to a coffee shop and find something that works over a fruit tea and maybe a piece of cake. I have notebooks everywhere: car, office, bedside table, every coat pocket and every bag. I still end up writing ideas on bills and receipts.
As the novel flits between two eras (modern day and Tudor England) did you run into any difficulties in writing?
I can recommend swapping between two timeframes. It was so easy to write the historical strand. Vincent Garland, my point of view character, just whispered in my ear which is why it’s told in first person and present tense. Writing the contemporary strand was more work, as it had to fit with the reveals and clues in the other strand. The book literally started with one line: ‘It was the bone from a baby’s arm.’ Since I don’t plan my stories, I had to write the whole book to find out how that happened. Going back into the past was a nice change of pace.
How much historical research did you have to partake in to build up a full Tudor England picture?
I’ve been reading histories and visiting Roman and mediaeval buildings all my life. My father used to walk his four children around castles and archaeological sites whenever he had a day off. He recently called me to say – with some disappointment – that he had just found a Henry II coin. He had hoped it was Henry I, but what I found amazing is that people would cut a penny in half to create a halfpenny, and the cut edge is still sharp. That fascination with the past has kept me reading and the internet has shared far more of the contents of museums or the finds from archaeological digs. The problem is finding enough time to write!
What’s Sage Westfield like as a woman?
I think Sage values her independence and professional life very highly. She’s very focused and doesn’t always notice the more emotional things going on around her. Her job allows her to actually excavate historical sites occasionally (while having a mountain of paperwork) and she also teaches at a local university. She didn’t intend to have an affair with a married man but continued it after she found out he was married with children. Becoming pregnant and choosing to have the baby has changed her outlook already, she’s unsure about how all the pieces of her life will fit together. Which means it’s not the best time to meet someone.
Why focus on archaeology?
Archaeology is like a criminal investigation. You find evidence: a bit of pottery, a sliver of glass, a few bones, then you put a narrative together. It’s the science of understanding the past. Uncovering artefacts is like finding clues, you build up a changing picture that explains all the things you have found. I hope the reader is using the information that Sage uncovers to work out what happened, just like any crime story.
Can you give me any advice for wannabe authors and writers?
Write the book you would love to read! If you love your characters, if you find something dramatic, someone else will too. My passion for the past made me write this book, which felt like reading a book in frustratingly slow motion. When I had finished the untidy first draft, I looked at what I had and reorganised it into closer to the present book. If you enjoy the story in that first draft, hopefully other people will as well.
A huge thanks to Rebecca for this amazing opportunity, and Philippa for setting it up.
A Baby’s Bones is out now via Titan Books