Following Ophelia is my 8th novel for teens. It started life as an idea from my editor, Katie Jennings at Stripes. She was looking for someone to write about the Pre-Raphaelites and their muses. I was struggling to decide between lots of ideas I had for new books when my agent told me about the plan for this one. The one thing I did know was that I wanted to write about art – and here was my chance. I wrote a thousand word sample chapter, and they chose me to write the book. (The second competition I’ve won to get published, out of many where I tried.) Those thousand words became chapter one.
Historical novels have always appealed to me. I loved Children of the New Forest as a child, and Masha, set in a boarding school in St Petersburg. There’s a post by Sheena Wilkinson on the History Girls blog mentioning many such books that have inspired history writers, and I’ve read and loved lots of them.
But I never thought about writing history myself, until this chance came through. I thought the research might be overwhelming, but in fact it’s become one of the best bits about writing Mary Adams’ story. What did they wear in 1857 (answer – crinolines! Huge ones!)? What did they eat? Where did they live? Which artists were famous then? How did they treat their models? (Answer, as girlfriends, often. Sometimes they left them and sometimes they married them. And sometimes the models painted too.) To be poor in mid-Victorian London was hellish. But to be rich must have been enchanting …
Best of all, was writing through the eyes of a girl who is in love with art without knowing it. Every colour seems brighter to her than the people around her, every shape is sharper. She notices the vivid yellow of a bowl of lemons, or the peacock shade of silk she wants for a dress. When she meets a young artist and sees his messy, art-filled studio for the first time, she falls in love with the space as much as with him. He falls in love with the look of her, and how vibrant and strong-willed she is. But stories did not always end happily for strong-willed young women in Victorian England. I was very aware of this while I was writing.
So you’ll have to wait and see what happens to Mary.
The countdown to 9th March begins …