Catherine and I share publishers and publishing date! We also share a similar theme, for her story is based during a real life epidemic, the plague in 1665-6 and mine of course is set in a fictional future pandemic where a gruesome flesh eating disease has wiped the majority of the population. Catherine and I follow each others endeavours to spread the word about our books and are hoping to meet this summer to share the highs and woes of releasing our debut novels during covid-19.
The White Phoenix is set in London 1666, a time of unrest and the plague. What drew you into this world?
Like many people, I’ve been fascinated by the Great Fire of London since I was a child. Several years ago, I heard a radio programme about the rebuilding of the City after the Fire and this reignited my interest (and by the way, I have discovered that it is almost impossible to express this without using some kind of fire-related pun, so apologies for that.) When I started doing some research about the Fire, I discovered that in 1666, England was at war with France, the plague was still a big concern, and there was much fear of prophecies heralding some kind of impending catastrophe, so I realised that there was plenty of drama to write about.
How did you approach the research for your novel?
The 1660s is a great decade to write about because so much has been written about it - both at the time, and by modern historians – so I had plenty of good books to delve into. The Diary of Samuel Pepys was absolutely invaluable for helping to bring the decade to life for me – I would encourage anyone to have a look at Pepys’s diary because it’s so lively and readable. In addition to books specifically about the Fire, the other book that I leaned on heavily for domestic details was Liza Picard’s Restoration London, which told me everything I needed to know in order to describe my characters’ daily lives.
I also had a lovely time walking around the City of London, working out how long it would have taken my character Lizzie to get from one place to another, and getting the geography clear in my mind. Sadly, barely anything of pre-Fire London still stands today, not just because of the Fire but also because of the Blitz. However many of the street names remain the same, and some of the churches which were rebuilt after the Fire survive.
I also visited a modern bookbinder in London to learn about the bookbinding process which was very interesting.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
I’m not as disciplined as I would like to be, so my challenge is to make myself sit down in front of the computer every day and write something. I love writing – and researching – but somehow there always seem to be lots of other things that urgently need doing.
It’s been difficult publishing during a pandemic, how have you found the experience?
I was lucky that my publication date was in August 2020 when bookshops were open, and everyone was feeling quite upbeat. Because of the restrictions, I wasn’t able to have the book launch I’d arranged in my local branch of Waterstones, which was a pity, but I did manage to have three separate, very small launch parties in my garden instead. I also had fun going round to various independent bookshops, telling them about the book and encouraging them to order it.
I have missed being able to do school visits, although I have just begun to do some virtual school visits, so that’s good.
I am hoping that The White Phoenix will be a book that will continue to sell, especially as more schools discover it, so I am optimistic that its slightly difficult birth won’t affect it too badly in the long run.
What have you been working on recently? Can we expect something similar or will you exploring other genres?
I am currently working on my second children’s historical novel, but I am always on the lookout for ideas for short stories, and plan to write more of these in the future. I’ve also written a few plays for performance locally – including a short children’s play for our church which was performed on Zoom during lockdown – and I am keen to write more.
You can find out more about The White Phoenix on my website, www.catherinerandall.com, including links to buy the book.
You can also follow me on Twitter @Crr1Randall where I tweet, among other things, about recent children’s books I have enjoyed.