Interview with Kirsty Ferry, author of the Rossetti Mysteries

Today on the blog, I’m delighted to welcome fellow Choc Lit author, Kirsty Ferry. There’s lots happening for Kirsty at the moment. Book two in her Rossetti Mysteries series, The Girl in the Painting, is out in paperback on 7th March. Meanwhile book three, The Girl in the Photograph, will be released across all digital platforms on the same date. You can already pre-order it on Kobo!

For a taste of what’s in store , here’s the blurb for The Girl in the Photograph:

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.

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Thanks so much for joining me today, Kirsty!

Thank you for having me!

I loved The Girl in the Painting, so I’m really looking forward to The Girl in the Photograph. Can you tell me how you got the inspiration for the series, and how the stories are linked?

I always wanted to write a trilogy, but when I set out with Some Veil Did Fall, I never expected it to expand like it did. It started off as a short story, with tenuous links to genetic memory or reincarnation, and then I decided to tweak it – and I just kept on tweaking it and it ended up as a novel.  Once I’d finished it, I found I didn’t want to let the characters go, but I sighed and started a new story instead, which was The Girl in the Painting, again based on a short story I’d written called The Other Ophelia. I had already used the Rossetti poem Sudden Light as a premise for Veil, and continued with a much stronger Pre-Raphaelite focus in Painting. Then I had one of those ‘wow’ moments, where I saw how I could link the books. Perfect. I loved Becky and Jon, and so did the readers – I had been asked lots of times, “what happens next?”, so I decided Becky’s journalism and Lissy’s mad schemes could be the catalysts for Cori’s mystery. The third book, The Girl in the Photograph, was a continuation of the characters and the themes. This time, I focused on Pre-Raphaelite photography and Lissy’s romance. We’d touched on Stefano in the other books, so why not tell Lissy and Stef’s story to finish off the trilogy?

Fantastic. I’m all the more keen to start reading The Girl in the Photograph now!

Your novels fall into the paranormal, time travel and ghosts categories on Amazon (and they all have a romantic element of course). How helpful do you think these classifications are for your books, and if they don’t sum them up, how would you describe your writing?

I think they are really helpful! I was stunned to see Painting creep up to number 11 in one of those charts the other week. I don’t check ratings as it’s miserable if you’re way down the bottom somewhere and life’s too short to spend hours on Amazon stressing over it – but I clicked on ‘something’ and nearly screamed the place down when I accidentally saw that. So yes – I love those categories because my books do all right in them! Plus I’m in the same category as some of my favourite authors like Susanna Kearsley and Barbara Erskine. The style of my books has also been compared to the style of those writers and it’s awesome to hear!

I love the sense of place in The Girl in the Painting. How do you go about capturing a setting?

Lots and lots of research.  I’ve been to Whitby lots of times, so that was easy, but for instance, I’ve never been to the Tate Gallery –  but you can get floor plans from the website, and the galleries and exhibitions are all marked on them. You can also get photographs of, say, the foyer, on the internet. It was a matter of dropping my characters into the setting and seeing what they did. The houses my people live in are all genuine houses sourced from estate agents’ websites and they travel around and notice their surroundings by me using Google Street View. Daisy’s home in London was based on my office building, which is a converted Georgian Townhouse, and her family home in the country was an amalgamation of lots of stately homes I’ve visited. Lots of it just comes from my imagination as well. One of the best pieces of writing advice I was ever given was ‘we have five senses, use them all’. So they see things, they hear things, they touch things – you know what I mean. I think by doing that and adding little actions in, like squeezing teabags or hugging cushions you get a better picture of what the characters do and it makes them more realistic. You’ve got to tread a fine balance though – nobody wants to read an info dump of everything you’ve discovered.

And what’s your favourite place in the world, if you had to pick just one?

Ohhhh don’t make me do that! I can’t pick just one! Two places that spring to mind (apart from my own house) would be Norfolk where we go to quite often on holiday, and Coventina’s Well up on Hadrian’s Wall. Both places are fantastic for chilling, relaxing and inspiring me.

They sound wonderful. I love Norfolk too, but I’ve never been to Coventina’s Well. I’ll have to go and investigate!

Do you have any tips for people who write books with paranormal elements? (I consider myself a boringly matter-of-fact person, but I never had a moment’s problem believing in the world you created in The Girl in the Painting, which I found impressive!)

Thank you! Someone once told me that if you’re going to write paranormal, make sure it has a logical explanation to leave the readers going, ‘was it a ghost? Or was it not?’  I sometimes try to do that, but in something like Painting, it’s not going to be possible – especially with a character like Daisy haunting you! She was never really rational when she lived, never mind after she died (which was probably why I loved writing about her so much!).  I suppose you could write off some of the incidents that happen to Cori as ‘logical’– but a lot of it you couldn’t. Maybe the thing to do is to try to make your readers connect with the main character? If you make your hero or heroine believable and relatable, then whatever happens to them is just as if a friend is telling you what happened to them – we often have conversations about ghosts at work, and we all believe each other! Paranormal, timeslip and ghost stories are actually really popular when you look into it. So many people seem to enjoy them, and I love reading and writing and exploring the Gothic anyway, so perhaps it’s the readers that perpetuate it? We all suspend our imagination when we read and if you’re absorbed in the story, then you get carried along with it, in that world, until you close the book and return to reality.

Yes, that rings true. I certainly found I felt close to Cori as I was reading, so I bought into what happened to her and enjoyed losing myself in the story.

I’m also curious to know how much research you have to do for each novel, and what kind of sources you use.

It depends on the story.  I often don’t know what I need to research until I come across something that needs verifying. For example, with Painting, I had studied quite a lot about Lizzie Siddal anyway, but wanted to explore the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood a bit more, and wanted to see how mental health issues might have affected a young, unbalanced girl in Victorian times. Daisy becomes a laudanum addict to emulate her heroine Lizzie, and I needed to find out about the symptoms and the history of the stuff before I gave her some sort of side-effect that might have someone going, “errr – no. That’s wrong”. Also, with me fictionalising real people, I wanted to get facts such as dates of weddings correct as there will always be someone willing to write on a review that you were wrong! Lizzie is such an icon to so many people as well, I wanted to explore her character sympathetically. With The Girl in the Photograph, I had to do a bit of research on photographic techniques in the Edwardian age, and found myself looking up original glass photo plates (and buying some from ebay as well!) just to get the size right, and scoping out museums with old photos and equipment in. I adore old photographs anyway, so it never felt like it was a bother! For Photograph, I also needed to do a bit of work on the Staithes Group of Artists and a little bit on the Newlyn Colony in Cornwall. I will use any resource I can – a lot is gleaned from the internet, or from  ‘real’ books (I have a huge Pre-Raphaelite collection of them now!), or even dropping an email to a random stranger to ask a question! I contacted a couple of art experts based in Staithes to ask about the Staithes Group and they were really helpful. I also managed to visit an exhibition in Whitby of the Group’s artwork, but didn’t quite have the courage to introduce myself to the people running it as “that random author who had emailed them”!

I can understand that; I’d be the same! But the research sounds fascinating.

And what about when you start writing; how developed is the story in your head at that point? (For example, do you already know the rough plot? And are your characters all clear in your imagination, or do they develop as you go along?)

I am a complete winger. I never have a full plot or story in my head. I have a concept and jump right in. Then I see where it takes me. Sometimes I have a vague idea of the beginning and the end, but it often doesn’t end up like that at all. One of the recent ones I have written was, in my head, ‘a timeslip, where the girl works in a museum, linked into my Hartsford series.’ It turned into The Forgotten Hours, my Masters Dissertation and the third in a new trilogy. The first in that series was: ‘A bit like The Highwayman poem. But a proper timeslip.’  I like to scour the internet for characters though – so I at least have an idea of what they look like, even if I don’t know what they will do! I do a search and pick a suspect (Ewan McGregor and Aidan Turner have, not surprisingly, turned up in a couple of my novels in disguise!). I paste their pics into my document, along with any little comments that help and just start writing. The concept for my current one is: ‘An antiques shop.’ So there you go! I don’t even know how I manage to complete the stories!

Speaking as a planner I find that seriously intimidating – and impressive! So, moving on to the next stage, once you start writing, how long does it take you to complete a book, and how many drafts do you produce?

Gosh, it varies. If I am well into it, I can have a draft novel written in three or four months. If I’m not so well into it, it’s much longer. I always do a few versions of it though – I’ve got it down to about three now as I’m gaining more experience. There’s the first one, then the tidying up one, then a final polish, then off it goes before I meddle too much with it. I’ve learned that it might change massively before publication anyway, so I do my best and then if it’s taken on, I follow my editor’s advice, especially with the structural suggestions, and find it’s always improved beyond what I could initially see anyway. Sometimes you’re just too close to it. Sometimes, I just abandon the things, as I know whatever I do it’s never going to be any good and I wouldn’t embarrass myself or my publisher by forcing the panel to look at it!

Do you have any tips for getting into a creative frame of mind, or are you always in the mood for writing?

I try to fit it in when I can, but I have to be in the mood for it. It’s a total waste of time switching the PC on if I know I’m distracted or it’s not going to happen. I like to have a couple of hours free as well, which isn’t always easy to grab! I do like to have the kettle boiled and a biscuit ready, and the chores sort of done, so I’m not thinking about the massive pile of washing, or the dirty dishes, instead of how my heroine is going to fall for her hero. I did a lot of writing last year as I was doing my Masters and it was great – I was writing fiction but doing it to get a qualification – so it never felt like hard work. I think I wrote one full timeslip novel (The Forgotten Hours, which I mentioned before), one Christmas timeslip novella, a new trilogy of contemporary novellas about a group of sisters, and a Gothic novella, as well as a few short stories and the creative pieces I submitted for the course. All of the novels and the novellas (except the Gothic one, Upon the Solstice, which is very niche and I self-published under the pen-name of Cathryn Ramsay) are waiting on responses from my publisher, who is probably hiding from me at this very minute and dreading the next email communication, in case it’s a submission! I think I’ve burned out a little after all that though, especially since Christmas. I just need to get back into it, but I’ve been busy doing edits for two contracted books so it’s not like I haven’t been writing at all. If I can’t write, absolutely cannot get anything done, I’ll probably bake cakes or drag my art equipment out and forget about it for a bit. I’m not one for putting pressure on myself. I know I have enough in the pipeline to afford a little time off to re-energise, and there’s always the hope that I’ll get a new set of edits to work on in the ‘downtime’.

Wow – that’s fantastically productive. I definitely think time off should be authorised if you feel like it! And what do you do to celebrate, when you’ve finished a book?

Wine – preferably something like Cava or Prosecco; chocolate (of course); and a lovely long hot bath; all combined with a good book to read. I tell my family where I am, shut the bathroom door and hope that someone will come up and refill my glass or bring more chocolate as required! Well, you’ve got to treat yourself now and again, haven’t you?

Definitely! Thanks so much again for joining me, Kirsty! It’s great to be able to find out more about you and your writing.

Thank you for having me Clare, it’s been a lot of fun!

More on Kirsty

kirstypicKirsty is from the North East of England and won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall National Creative Writing competition in 2009 with the ghostly tale ‘Enchantment’.

Her timeslip novel, ‘Some Veil Did Fall’, a paranormal romance set in Whitby, was published by Choc Lit in Autumn 2014. This was followed by another Choc Lit timeslip, ‘The Girl in the Painting’ in February 2016 and ‘The Girl in the Photograph’ in March 2017. The experience of signing ‘Some Veil Did Fall’ in a quirky bookshop in the midst of Goth Weekend in Whitby, dressed as a recently undead person was one of the highlights of her writing career so far!

Kirsty’s day-job involves sharing a Georgian building with an eclectic collection of ghosts – which can sometimes prove rather interesting.

You can find out more about Kirsty and her work at www.rosethornpress.co.uk, catch her on her Facebook Author Page or follow her on Twitter @kirsty_ferry.

You can also visit Kirsty’s Amazon author page.

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