Today I have a guest who has centred her series for publishers Choclit on works of art by the PreRaphaelite painters - who I must say are also some of my favourites too -beautiful colours and pictures that tell a story. The series is actually called The Rossetti Mysteries, with a modern day hero and heroine, but with more than a few ghosts wandering through them! The latest, third in the series, is out as an e-book on 7th March (on pre-order now if you read on Kobo) and this time has both art and photography. It's called The Girl in the Photograph. I'm pleased to have the author here to tell us about the book (which has a gorgeous cover by Berni Stephens) and answer a few questions about writing inspired by art and artists. I will be taking notes.
A big welcome to Evonne on Wednesday to Kirsty Ferry.
|I told you it was gorgeous.|
What if the past was trying to teach you a lesson?
Staying alone in the shadow of an abandoned manor house in Yorkshire would be madness to some, but art enthusiast Lissy de Luca can’t wait. Lissy has her reasons for seeking isolation, and she wants to study the Staithes Group – an artists’ commune active at the turn of the twentieth century.
Lissy is fascinated by the imposing Sea Scarr Hall – but the deeper she delves, the stranger things get. A lonely figure patrols the cove at night, whilst a hidden painting leads to a chilling realisation. And then there’s the photograph of the girl; so beautiful she could be a mermaid … and so familiar.
As Lissy further immerses herself, she comes to an eerie conclusion: The occupants of Sea Scarr Hall are long gone, but they have a message for her – and they’re going to make sure she gets it.
I asked Kirsty to tell us more about her novels, her approach to writing about famous people from the past, research, and knowing when to stop - oh, and also about those ghosts.
* As your books have ghosts in them, I think of them as supernatural, rather than paranormal. Is that how you feel?
I think you could use both terms – ghosts are more ‘supernatural’ and more unexplained in a story, and a lot of people immediately assume that a ‘paranormal’ novel involves vampires or werewolves, so I can see where the confusion would lie. Out of interest, I just did an Internet search for ‘supernatural romance books’ and it brought up a whole host of vampire romantic fiction! I suppose that suggests that the terms are interchangeable, but it’s a very good question!
* Where do your books start out - with the love story, or the supernatural element?
The supernatural element I would say. I think of a place and a ghost and then I wonder how I can incorporate a modern day viewpoint and a dual timeline– which naturally leads onto the romantic element. I have done a couple of contemporary love stories as well, and the first one I did was really tough – I kept wanting to put a ghost in it. By the time I did the third contemporary, I’d sort of got the hang of it, but I do love my ghosts!
* Many of the stories are centred around pieces of art - what research do you do (and how do you stop yourself doing too much)?
For the Rossetti Mysteries books, I started with lots and lots of reading. I have acquired a huge pile of books on the Pre-Raphaelites, many of them from charity shops, second hand shops, bargain book shops and second hand sales on amazon. I also have a friend who is a Librarian by nature and by training, and she loaned me lots of her books as well. I use the Internet quite a bit too, and as I studied Lizzie Siddal in some depth for my Masters degree (which was Creative Writing and Research), I used a lot of academic resources as well. Tullie House Museum in Carlisle is about fifty miles away, so we’ve had some day trips there to see their Pre-Raphaelite collection, and my local art gallery in Newcastle has a few Pre-Raphaelite paintings too. On holiday, we went to the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, which is all about photography, and even little local museums like Bellingham Heritage Centre near Hexham have resources on photography I can take information from. Plus I had a tutor for one of my Degree modules who is an authority on Laura Knight, and Laura crops up in The Girl in the Photograph. I’ll even email people if I see a website and think they would be able to answer a question. How do I stop myself from doing too much? I don’t really. I do a lot, and take away what I need; then use the rest for a different project if I can! I’ve done several projects on Lizzie Siddal, for example, all stemming from the same research but all very different. I think the thing to do is not info-dump in the novels. I end up with loads of information stored in a Word document, but only some of it finds its way into the story, and only, usually, enough to support a particular point.
* The books are the Rossetti mysteries - do the real members of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood feature - and/or are your characters based on them?
Yes! The Girl in the Painting incorporates the real members of the PRB as a major thread in the novel. Daisy Ashford, my Victorian heroine, is obsessed with Lizzie Siddal, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. Daisy turns into a bit of a stalker, and leads the world, through her diary, to believe that she posed for Millais’ Ophelia painting when Lizzie Siddal was indisposed. Daisy does everything in her power to emulate Lizzie and make Dante fall in love with her, and it was an interesting journey to slot this crazy, drug-addicted - and quite wonderful - fantasist into the ‘real’ world of the PRB. It did involve fictionalising the members of the PRB, which I actually found quite easy to do – but I had to have the dates and events spot on and fit Daisy into the ‘real’ timeline. So I hope I got it right! Some Veil Did Fall is based more on the concept of Dante’s poetry about Lizzie – about soulmates and reincarnation – and The Girl in the Photograph is more about Pre-Raphaelite photography and Julia Margaret Cameron’s influence on one particular woman; so the only one I’ve given voices to real people in was The Girl in the Painting. But I loved every minute of writing about them.
* Do you invent works of art for the books, and would you base these on existing paintings?
I invented a ‘found’ Rossetti painting for The Girl in the Painting, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that there could be some of his work floating around in attics or in private collections that we know nothing about. I also invented a painting of Daisy by Henry, Daisy’s art tutor, which was in the PRB style, and I made up a Landseer portrait of Lady Ella Carrick, my Victorian heroine in Some Veil Did Fall. Ella’s portrait was based on umpteen portraits I’ve seen in stately homes over the years of beautiful Victorian ladies posing for the artist. The ‘found’ Rossetti was simply out of my head – an image of a redheaded woman looking very sensuous, but with her face hidden. The picture by Henry was maybe a bit more traditional – but again, based on an idea, rather than anything in particular.
* The new book is 'The Girl in the Photograph' what made you chose a photo, rather than a painting?
It was a natural progression. Some Veil Did Fall was based on poetry. The Girl in the Painting is set a couple of years after Veil, and as the PRB moved more into art, my book did the same. The Girl in Photograph is again set a few years after Painting – and by then, the Pre-Raphaelites had a foothold in photography with the likes of Julia Margaret Cameron coming along and translating their paintings into photographic plates; so it just seemed the right thing to do to tie up the series.
* Do you have a favourite Pre Raphaelite painter and picture?
It’s a difficult choice – I do love Waterhouse’s work, and I love his Tempest picture which is the painting on my blog. However, I think the most special painting has to be Ophelia by Millais, as I lived and breathed it when I wrote The Girl in the Painting. I do love some of the more informal sketches of Lizzie Siddal by Rossetti – so much passion
shows in those few pencil lines. So art wise, I’d say Millais and Waterhouse were the most talented; but Rossetti is the more interesting character. So I have lots of ‘favourites’, really!
Thank you Kirsty for sharing some of your writing processes. And good luck with the launch of The Girl in the Photograph.
Kirsty’s day-job involves sharing a Georgian building with an eclectic collection of ghosts – which can sometimes prove rather interesting.