NAW- Tell us about your book, The Visitors. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?
The Visitors is the story of Adeliza Golding, born on her father’s hop farm in the late Victorian age, by the age of 2 she is deaf and blind. The book follows her journey to discover communication, friendship and love.
I was inspired by working with deaf students when I was training to be a teacher and I was fascinated by the different modes of sign language they used. I also saw a TV movie about Helen Keller when I was young and it always stayed with me. I wanted to explore the mind of someone who had no language and see how she discovers the world and herself.
NAW- What drew you to writing?
I’ve always had it in me, just that desire for mark making. Work-wise, it’s where I feel most at home. For me, it’s about two main things I love: story-telling and playing with words. I’m rather obsessed with narrative structure and how stories work. I love reading about ancient tales and what they have in common the world over. I could also read a dictionary and thesaurus all day and never tire of it.
NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title?
It was quite a quick write, this one. I did research for over a year, but the actual writing took about four and a half months, very quick for me. The title came early, as I needed a name for Liza to call these mysterious ‘voices’ before she had the knowledge to decide what she thought they were. So I decided to call them the Visitors, since they come and go from her. And then I realised that the word itself had other ramifications in the novel and could represent many different groups, such as the hop pickers on the farm; the English in South Africa and even the Boers themselves; and Liza at the Crowe household. So it just seemed to fit so well. Since the book came out, I have discovered at least three other novels released this year were also called The Visitors! But I don’t mind at all, as someone might search for one of those other books and come across mine by mistake and be intrigued!
NAW- What can a novice reader expect from The Visitors?
Well, I’m not sure what a novice reader is really. I think we’re all encouraged to read from a young age by school; some take to it and some don’t, some discover it later in life and some find reading doesn’t suit them. I hope that any reader who chooses The Visitors will find Liza’s character of interest and want to follow her journey. Though there are many themes within the narrative – such as deaf-blindness, the supernatural, class, war and so on – at its heart The Visitors is about friendship, first love and growing up. And hopefully everyone can relate to that.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Adeliza Golding. How did you research the character?
Liza’s voice came to me very early on. I felt sometimes that I was simply listening to her and copying down what she said. There were many influences on this, however, and the most crucial of these was my research into a real-life deaf-blind girl called Laura Bridgman. She was the first deaf-blind child to be formally educated in America and was resident at the Perkins Institute in Boston for many years. I read about her daily education regime as well as extracts from her letters and journal entries. Her determination to learn despite her difficulties was inspiring and mirrored very much in Liza’s character. As well as interviewing people who work with the deaf-blind charity Sense, and reading Helen Keller’s autobiographies, I also looked into Victorian ways of saying things, as well as Kentish dialect, as Liza’s teacher Lottie is a local lass and so would use the local language. All of this coalesced to form Liza’s voice.
NAW- You chose a very challenging topic for a debut work. The Visitors has so many layers with a love story, Victorian era, ghosts and so many aspects intertwined in one novel. Did you plan the novel this way originally or did the plot also develop progressively?
This is a good question. Firstly, I should say that, although this is my first novel to be published, it’s not the first novel I’ve written. I wrote 3 others before this and learnt a bit more each time I wrote another book. Secondly, I admit that I have a butterfly mind, and that many, many things interest me. I do find it hard to stick to one subject – just ask anyone I’ve had a long conversation with! I wanted to tell Liza’s story, yet I didn’t want her deaf-blindness to be the whole story – she is the story, the whole person, and so she deserves a fully realised setting, hence her Victorian setting and her father’s farm, her friends’ oyster business, her trip to London etc. I wanted a character to go off to war and I wanted Liza to use her abilities to solve problems, experience first love and to travel. So these various wants and needs mingled together and created her plot arc. Some of these ideas come through research – such as the hop farming, which I found in a book about Edwardian industries, and then I discovered that an ancestor of mine had been a farmer on hop land. So, writing a novel is a curious thing, and leads you off in many directions you weren’t necessarily intending! But I’ve learnt to embrace that and not worry about it. Such digressions can be very fruitful.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey.
As I mentioned above, I did write 3 other novels before this one. I did a Masters in Writing too. I sent dozens of submissions off to agents along the way, but it wasn’t until I secured representation with my current agent, Jane Conway-Gordon, that I finally received a publishing deal with Hodder and Stoughton. This was after 12 years of writing and many disappointments. It wasn’t easy! But I’m thrilled that The Visitors finally made it and now I have a further 2-book deal with Hodder.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I live with my partner Simon and our 7 year-old daughter Poppy. We have a busy family life and what with work and school, we don’t have much time for anything else! But I do love to watch movies and TV dramas and documentaries, and read, read, read. I also like cakes. Baking and eating them. Particularly the latter…
NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?
I have all sorts of inspirations all of the time, yet I do have a few special writers who are dear to my heart. From this list, you’ll see that I like all sorts! There doesn’t have to be a particular genre, style, readership or type of writing to attract me; I just recognise when writing speaks to me and draws me in. My favourites include Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood, Emily Bronte, Raymond Carver, Amy Tan, J. D. Salinger, Jack London, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Jane Austen, Isabel Allende and many others.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
I’m currently re-reading Howards End by E. M. Forster, because I’m researching the Edwardian period and it fits nicely within that era.
NAW- What will you be working on next?
My second book for Hodder is coming out in June 2015; it’s called Song of the Sea Maid and is about an C18th orphan girl who becomes a scientist and makes a remarkable discovery. Here’s a bit more information about this novel.
I’m currently working on my 3rd book for Hodder which is set in the early years of the C20th. I’ve been researching for a few months now and hope to start writing the first draft in the new year.
You can read the first chapter of The Visitors here.