Friday, May 23, 2008

SBBT Interview: Mary Hooper

I suspect that many of you out there have not heard of Mary Hooper. I'm not holding it against you...but I do think that you ought to pay some attention to her latest title, Newes from the Dead. Especially if you are in front of teens searching for good historical fiction. Or any teens, really, this one is a cinch to book talk. Just TRY and keep them from tearing it out of your hands after a good book talk. And not to say that MY booktalk is that good, but here's what I said in my review:

"Anne Green wakes up in the dark. She can't move. She can't see and she can't cry out. Her last memory is that of being hanged for a crime she did not commit. As she relives the events that led to her execution, there are people gathering around her motionless body. These people aren't her loving family assembled for her funeral, but doctors and students preparing to dissect her for science...The best part? It's based on true events from 1650."

Well, at least it worked on Erin and Sarah Miller (damn. linked to her again. I must stop.).

So, peaked by interest and my life-long love of historical fiction, I was lucky to interview her:

1. Is this the first time your main character has been based on a real person? How is writing historically based people different than characters you create? I imagine that it’s more constraining.

I love using real people (Nell Gwyn, Dr Dee, the wicked Earl of Rochester, Aphra Benn and so on) because then you can think: these people actually existed, it could really and truly have happened like this. And I quite enjoy being constrained, or otherwise the choices for the ways people can act can become too great and you (the writer, I mean) can get bewildered.

(Jac says: Way to be ignorant, Jac. Nice.)

2. You’ve written books set around this time period before. I know you researched Anne Green’s life, but was there a new approach that you needed to take to set the piece in the world that concerned Anne?

This was the first time I’d based an entire book on a real-life incident, so I wanted it to be as accurate as possible. As, however, there were (at least) three different pamphlets about Anne printed in 1650, I decided to take the most interesting and amazing bits from each, rather than use a pamphlet in its entirety. I knew next to nothing about life under Cromwell, so there was this aspect to investigate, too.


“…a crone wearing heavy leg irons who’d been hunched into a far corner was found to be dead – and
to have been dead for some days, too, for when they went to move her, it was discovered that her legs had quite rotted away from her body” p 147.

EW. SERIOUSLY. EW. I’m assuming that really happened. Did you find an account of it? It is the single sentence that most convinces the reader (ok, me) of how ghastly conditions were at that time. In my opinion it’s the single most horrifying sentence in the book - and there were some grisly events. What else can you tell us about prisons, and that lovely piece of imagery, that might not have made it into the novel?

I found an account of such a thing when I was researching Clink Prison (in Southwark, London) for The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose. It was too ghastly for Eliza, which is for a slightly younger readership, so I saved it up! I think the most fantastical thing about prisons at that time is that, if you were rich enough, you could live the life of Riley and come and go from your furnished private prison apartment as you liked. If you were poor, however, you’d be lucky to survive a hot summer what with dysentery, gaol fever, lice and worms. (Is that grisly enough for you?)

(Jac says: Yep. Plenty. Readers, how about you? Ghastly enough?)

4. I’d be interested in a novel that focused on Robert, or at least featured him. Any chance of that happening? I felt his story wasn’t finished.

Um…I have not attempted a whole book from a man’s point of view. Something else would have to happen to Robert to enable him to star in his own book.

5. Anne was repeatedly struck in the chest both while hanging and while on the dissection table (from the original pamphlet appended: “…a lusty fellow that stood by, he [thinking to do an act of charity in ridding her out of the small reliques of a painful life] stamped several times on her breast and stomach with all the force he could” p 2 of the appendix.) did you find any evidence or conjecture that suggested that they may have inadvertently kept her heart going by those actions?

Good thinking! This hadn’t occurred to me and I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere before now. Maybe it’s possible that this did happen.
(Jac says: I'm fascinated with archaic medicine. Go leeches!)

6. Anne was a victim of a grossly unjust law that targeted poor women – at what point did that law change? And how?

Although the law didn’t actually change until 1803, I get the feeling that once the Monarchy was restored in 1660, the world gradually became more enlightened and this patently unjust law was not applied so rigorously. (I have absolutely no proof of this so feel free to correct me if I‘m wrong).

(Jac says: Makes sense to me.)

7. You’ve written about the same number of historical novels for teens as you have contemporary. Besides the added burden of research, what makes writing the two genres different? Which is harder for you?

Oh, it’s not a burden at all! It’s the best bit. The planning, plotting, agonising and actual writing are the burdens, but research is the bit where you discover all the wonderful things that are going to bring your story to life. This is where I discovered that Christopher Wren was present at the “dissection” and that Charles I chose Sir Thomas Reade’s house to say goodbye to his queen in.

What makes them different? Modern YA novels, to make them authentic, should include stuff about Blackberries, ipods, text messaging and mobile phones. Yawn.

(Jac says: Yawn, indeed.)

Historical novels, meanwhile, can have dashing highwaymen, glamorous mistresses of kings, quack doctors, quaint customs, crystallised rose petals and frost fairs. No contest! I now find it much more difficult to make a modern novel compelling, and intend to stick to historicals.

(Jac says: Now that's more like it!)

8. I’ve noticed that most of your historical novels are primarily set in the 1600s. What is it about that era that appeals to you most? Are there other time periods that interest you?

I particularly like the Restoration period, when the monarch regained the throne and everyone went a bit mad with relief. Of course, two major incidents happened during this time on consecutive years: the Great Plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666, so they are a bit of a gift to an historical writer. I intend to write a Victorian Gothic novel next, so that period is about to interest and enthral me.

(Jac says: Victorian Gothic?! Fantastic!)

9. Are there any British writers for teens that you think Americans should pay attention to?

Anne Cassidy (Looking for JJ) writes great, gritty crime novels.

(Jac says: That pic comes from the British stage adaptation!)

10. What would you recommend to teen fans that liked Newes from the Dead?

My other historicals, for a start! And Celia Rees’s Witch Child if you haven’t already read it.

Thank You Mary Hooper!

The Rest of your Friday SBBT:

Varian Johnson at Finding Wonderland
Jincy Willett at Shaken & Stirred
John Grandits at Writing & Ruminating
Meg Burden at Bookshelves of Doom
Gary D. Schmidt at Miss Erin
Javaka Steptoe at Seven Impossible Things


tanita✿davis said...

Ooooh, Aphra Behn!? She writes about Aphra Behn!? I am SO THERE to read these books. And yes, I hadn't heard of Mary Pearson... much... except for your previous review and Erin's interview this week, but I am SO going to read this.

...When I'm not eating. Or in a moving vehicle. Because the crone legs: gak.

Sarah Miller said...

You should NOT stop linking to me, you goose!

Interesting, what Mary says about the constraints of historical fiction, 'cause they're KILLING me at the moment. I'm eager to see if I get more or less batty when I take on something entirely of my own imagining....

Anonymous said...

Really interesting stuff, Jackie. Well done!

Anonymous said...

I love what she says about why historical novels are better than contemporaries!

And I must echo your "Fantastic!" regarding the Victorian Gothic.

Great interview, as usual.


eisha said...

Dude, that is some serious nasty. But I'm so intrigued I'm going to have to read it anyway.

Sadly, I was actually eating when I got to the legs thing. Pasta, no less. With tomatoes.

Cat,Larya, Phallan, Anyelle said...

hi i want do read the book "The remarkable life and times of Eliza Rose" but i can't buy it in my country so i have been trying to download it but i can't find it, can you help me?
sorry about my poor english