Interview with Sophia Tobin
How did you come across this story? What inspired you to write about it?
I knew that I wanted The Vanishing to be about a foundling (I’ve visited the Foundling Hospital, in London, many times), and I am interested in the complexity of the servant-master relationship. So I made my main character, Annaleigh, an orphan who to goes to work as a housekeeper in a remote Yorkshire house for a mysterious brother and sister. I chose Yorkshire because its combination of beauty and wildness was perfect for the book, and – as a life-long fan of the Brontës – I wanted to re-imagine that landscape in my own way. Other themes which interested me are in there too: love, revenge, imprisonment and drug addiction, to name just a few….
What were your main sources for your research? How did you organize everything? (That is, got any tips for fellow writers?)
I think it’s really important that the location research helps you to create a vivid setting, so I spent time in Yorkshire, making notes and taking photographs. As always, a lot of research took place in libraries, reading about everything from architecture to food, poetry and illness. Studying primary historical sources is my favourite part of the research – I loved reading Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater – and incredibly rich ‘everyday’ sources like the Yorkshire newspapers for the years 1814-15 were invaluable. As for organisation – I just write everything in an enormous notebook, beginning another one when that is full – I don’t tear pages out and rearrange them. That’s my only tip: keep everything in one place – don’t spend more time organising than you do writing!
What were the biggest challenges you faced either in the research, the writing, or structuring the plot?
My biggest challenge (which is also my favourite thing about writing) is that I’m not a plotter – when I start writing I never have more than a few bullet points on plot. I like to surprise myself as well as the reader. The problem with that kind of spontaneity is that it’s easy to lose your way or to find yourself with passages that you love, but which have no place in the final book. That meant that I did have to delete the original beginning of the book. I had worked on it for weeks, and having to remove it really made me feel the pain of that phrase ‘kill your darlings’.
Every writer has to leave something on the cutting floor. What’s on yours?
In addition to the example above, I cut the whole of Annaleigh’s childhood. Initially I wrote 10,000 words on her early years. But, even though I loved that detail, I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that it wasn’t serving the story. When I thought analytically about it, I realized: I really need to cut to the chase. So most of it went, with the exception of some scenes which I used in flashback form.
Tag you’re it! What historical fiction author do you most admire? Why? Now forward these questions to him/her and we’ll share their answers next week!
I’m tagging Imogen Robertson, a brilliant author of vivid and page-turning historical fiction, including the Crowther & Westerman series and The Paris Winter.
Sophia Tobin was inspired to write her first novel, The Silversmith’s Wife, by her research into a real-life eighteenth-century silversmith, and she continues to be inspired by the past. Her third novel, The Vanishing, a story of love and revenge, is out now.
Missed our previous Five for Friday? Read last week’s interview with Georgia Hunter . Want to binge read our interviews with fantastic authors? Check out our interviews with Anna Mazola, Essie Fox, Ami McKay, and Eva Stachniak.