Monday, 4 December 2017

The Write Stuff with... Virginia Moffatt

Today it's my pleasure to hand the reins of the blog over to author Virginia Moffatt to talk about writing time slip travel in her latest novel Echo Hall which was published last week.

When I first had the idea for Echo Hall,I never envisaged that I would end up with a historical novel covering three different time periods. I started out with the idea of a woman in a strange house hearing ghostly voices, setting up a mystery which she had to uncover.

It was only when I worked out what caused the ghostly voices to speak that I realised I had an intergenerational story.  At that time, 2004, I could have easily set it between the then present and forty years before. However, it occurred to me that some aspects of the mystery could easily be  resolved by a quick Google search, so I decided I needed to set it in pre-internet days. When I took it back to 1990, the previous era immediately became World War 2, and I quickly saw that I could draw some historical parallels about war and conflict.

Initially, I planned to write the book switching between Ruth in 1990 and Elsie in 1942. However, as I was working out the plot, I discovered the only way I could understand what Elsie was going through was to go back a further generation. Rachel arrived in 1911 and I saw that her story needed to be told in its entirety for the rest of it to make sense. At the time I was watching ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ on television. I liked the format of going back down someone’s family tree and then coming back in the present.  I also had just read ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell and enjoyed the way he’d embedded stories within stories. So I chose this format for ‘Echo Hall’. Beginning with Ruth in 1990, we go back to Elsie in 1942, then join Rachel between 1911 and 1924, before finishing Elsie’s story in 1942 and returning to Ruth in 1991 where the last secrets are exposed. Very late in the day, I added a prologue and epilogue in 2014, with Ruth’s daughter Phoebe visiting ‘Echo Hall’ 100 years after world war 1, as a way of setting the scene and themes of the novel.

Writing a novel like this proved an immensely complicated exercise. I had to research the different time periods extensively, even the 1990’s which doesn’t feel like history to me. I then had to be judicious about not using every historical fact, so that the reader wasn’t bored rigid hearing about every aspect of the suffragette movement, or detail about life in World War 2. Once I had a feeling that each part had captured the sense of the era in which it was set, I had to make sure my timelines worked. I had lists and lists of dates, making sure conceptions, births and deaths made sense. Every now and then I referred to real life events, and I had to check and double check they were accurate. This led to a nearly colossal mistake, as in the final proofs, I realised I had the date of Guernica wrong. Amending that put a key timeline out, something I only spotted just before going to print. Hopefully, I haven’t missed anymore...

Because the novel follows three women in the same place at different times, I also needed to reflect this in the writing. Some things stay constant, Echo Hall, Arthur’s Stone, Sandstown Cathedral, all look the same throughout the novel. But other things change. The trees Ruth sees in 1990 are over 80 feet, yet many of them are saplings in Rachel’s day. Rachel visits the King George Hotel just after it has opened, when everything is sparkling and new. In 1942, it is serving war time rations, and its grandeur is fading. By 1990, it is dilapidated, with formica tables and offering soggy lasagne and oven chips. I hope these repeated features, along with repeated events (births, marriages, deaths), weather, and imagery, helps underline the sense of history repeating itself.

I really enjoyed researching and writing the historical aspects of ‘Echo Hall’. I hope that in doing so, I’ve created a believable world for my readers, one that prompts them to think about my core question.  Is conflict inevitable, or can we find another way?

Twitter: @aroomofmyown1

In the early nineties, newlywed Ruth Flint arrives at Echo Hall to find an unhappy house full of mysteries that its occupants won't discuss. When her husband, Adam, is called up to the Gulf War, her shaky marriage is tested to the core.

During World War 2 Elsie Flint is living at Echo Hall with her unsympathetic inlaws. While her husband,Jack is away with the RAF, his cousin Daniel is her only support. But Daniel is hiding a secret that will threaten their friendship forever.

At the end of the Edwardian era, Rachel and Leah Walters meet Jacob Flint, an encounter leading to conflict that will haunt the family throughout World War 1 and beyond. 

As Ruth discovers the secrets of Echo Hall, will she be able to bring peace to the Flint family, and in doing so, discover what she really wants and needs? 

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