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A Discussion With Author Of ‘The Firebird’ Susanna Kearsley


If you were to take a look at my bookshelf you would probably presume I was either a teenage high schooler or a very horny desperate housewife.  My choice in books typically range from a great YA series, something set in a dystopian society or something with a paranormal/fantasy twist,  and I have been known to enjoy some erotica from time to time.  In other words, historical fiction is hard to come by on my book shelf.  So, when Simon and Schuster sent me ‘The Firebird’ by Susanna Kearsley to review, I was immediately intrigued by the time shifting aspect of the story, but also a little leery that I wouldn’t enjoy it because it wasn’t what I typically read.  Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about, because if you’ve read my review of The Firebird you know I absolutely loved the book and had a hard time putting it down.

The Firebird is available in Canada on April 30th and The US on June 4th and I was lucky enough to have the author, Susanna Kearsley answer a few questions about the book for me.  Of course I asked if there were going to a movie made of any of her books – it’s always about movies and books for me, but I was also very intrigued about her research process for this book. Check out my Q&A with Susanna Kearsley below;

KC – In The Firebird you told the present day story of Nicola and Rob along with the past story of Anna Moray.  Both stories and all the characters were equally compelling and I couldn’t decide who I wanted to read more about!  Will we see any of these characters in future books and if so, how do you decide whose story is unfinished?

SK – I’ve learned, with my characters, to never say never, because the truth is that once they’ve come to life on the page for me they tend to stay alive within my mind, and one or two have wandered from one book into another, in the past. But usually, once a character’s main issues have been dealt with, once the problem that first set the plot in motion has been solved, the book is done, the story finished, and the character falls “silent” for me. They’re anything but silent while I’m writing—my writing process is very visual and I actually “see” the story playing out like a film, so the characters are moving and talking all the time, so when I reach the story’s end I know the moment that it happens, because all that stops. The characters stop talking, and they’re happy and I’m satisfied, and I go on to something else. Once in awhile, though, that doesn’t happen—a character keeps moving, murmuring, just at the back of my mind. That’s what happened with Colonel Graeme, one of the historical characters from my book The Winter Sea, and because of him I knew I wasn’t finished with that aspect of the story, that I’d have to write The Firebird, to tell what happened next. And sometimes, too, a character will turn up in another book because they’re a good fit to play a part. I once needed a vicar, for example, in my novel Every Secret Thing, and realized I’d already created a great vicar in my book Mariana, so I just used him, and he did the job perfectly. Rob himself, from The Firebird, began life as a young boy in The Shadowy Horses, and if you’d asked me then whether he’d ever appear in a future book, I’d probably have told you ‘no’. It wasn’t till a reader wrote to ask me whether Rob would ever have his own book that I started “seeing” grown-up Rob, and how he’d make the perfect hero for The Firebird. So although I don’t think, now, that he and Nicola will turn up in a future book, I can’t be sure. I can say that Anna will make a brief cameo in the next book, which I’m currently writing.

KC – We’ve seen many books made recently into hit movies, if you could choose, which of your books would you like to see on the big screen and why?

SK – That’s a difficult question. Mariana has come very, very close a few times. It’s been optioned more than once, and I’ve actually written the screenplay for it, and there’s something special in that story that seems to appeal to a lot of people, so I’d love to see it make it to the screen someday. But I’d also love to see someone take on The Winter Sea. It would be more of a challenge, cinematically, but even if they lifted out the past story and only filmed that part, that would be OK. The story of the Jacobite attempt of 1708 has been suppressed and undertold for so long, and it’s such a fascinating story, I think in the right hands it could be a wonderful film.

KC – You tell Anna’s story and her journey from Scotland to Belgium and on into Russia so vividly in The Firebird.  What was your research process like for this book?

SK – Some of the research began with The Winter Sea, and the reading and onsite location work I did for that book, still fresh in my mind. I went back to those letters and documents, and let them lead me to new ones, including Admiral Thomas Gordon’s letter book, in which he copied all his correspondence and kept details of his daily life. I was able to spend a week in Edinburgh reading that, at the National Archives of Scotland, and to return to the town of Eyemouth to see just how it had changed in the time since I’d been there to work on The Shadowy Horses, and I travelled to Ieper, in Belgium, and went to St Petersburg, Russia. These onsite research trips are a vital part of my process—I find I need to be standing where my characters are standing, even if it’s in a different time, for me to get the details of a scene just right. I need all that sensory information: the scents, the sounds, the way the wind feels. Not only is it easier to describe a place if I’ve actually been there, but often I’ll stumble on details or settings I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, that lead to scenes that I wouldn’t have otherwise written. People, too, become an invaluable resource for me. For instance, the Irish Benedictine nuns who lived at Ieper in the 18th century are gone, but their community—which moved to Kylemore Abbey in the wake of World War I—is still alive and thriving, and they helped me a great deal with details of their history and the daily routine that the nuns of that time would have followed. And the head of the Historical Search Section at the National Archives of Scotland was brilliant at finding old letters and documents I wasn’t even aware of, that helped bring my characters fully to life. Once back home, I surrounded myself with those letters, and various books and old journals, and photos of all the locations, and started to write. It’s a back-and-forth process, continual. Research fuels the writing, and the writing takes me places where I realize that I need to do more research, that in turn leads to new scenes…and on and on it goes. It never really stops. But since I love the research, that’s a good thing.

I love how she details her research process, don’t you?  I’ve always wanted to write a YA/New Adult novel, and now I totally want to make it take place in Italy or Paris, just to justify the research trip:)  Susanna, who happens to be Canadian, also made this video that showed how she basically locked herself in The Royal York when she was getting close to deadline, just to have some uninterrupted writing time.

I want to thank Susanna Kearsley for taking the time to answer my questions, and I hope you will all enjoy The Firebird as much as I did.  If you want to read more about Susanna you can  check out her website here, follow her on Tumblr or follow her on Twitter.

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