We caught up with Caroline to find out about the inspiration behind her debut, how to research historical fiction and her advice for aspiring authors…
You took our online Write to the End of your Novel course in 2017 – what was your experience of studying online with us like?
I’d never done any creative writing courses before and felt very apprehensive about it – the prospect of sharing my work and having it critiqued was terrifying to me! – but I was at a point in the first draft of my novel where I really needed a push. I was wading in the sticky middle, unsure how to get to the end, so the title and outline of the course really appealed. I liked the fact it was online – not only because I live in Switzerland so I couldn’t have taken an in-person course in the UK, but also because giving and receiving feedback through a computer screen was less terrifying than doing it face to face! I enjoyed the course and the interaction with the other participants, who were all very supportive of each other. As a natural ‘pantser’, I found the module about plotting especially helpful – it advised writing a scene/chapter outline as you go along and planning just a chapter or two ahead. By doing this, I was able to finish a first draft.
You debut historical novel The Other Daughter is to be published by Simon & Schuster. How did you feel when you found out about your publishing deal?
It felt amazing and very exciting, but also a little scary – after so long writing it, the thought that people ‘out there’ would eventually be able to read it was pretty daunting. But ultimately it felt incredible to get a deal. My dad was visiting me at the time so we went out for lunch to celebrate.
Can you tell us a bit about The Other Daughter and the inspiration behind it?
The Other Daughter is a dual timeline novel set in London and Switzerland. In 1976 ambitious young journalist Sylvia is desperate to get her big break at the London newspaper she works for. She persuades her editor to send her to Switzerland to report on the women’s rights movement, five years after women there got the vote. At the same time, she finds out she’s pregnant. Forty years later, her daughter Jessica has discovered a shocking secret about her birth and goes to Switzerland to try and find out what happened to her mother there in 1976.
When I started writing it my idea was to explore the nature-nurture concept and how growing up in a certain country can influence your sense of self – partly inspired by the fact that I’m half-British, half-Canadian; I grew up in Britain but have always wondered how different I’d be if I’d grown up in Canada instead. However, the story is also very much inspired by Switzerland, where I’ve lived since 2013, and the history of women’s rights in the country. After moving here I became fascinated by the fact that Swiss women got the vote at national level so late – in 1971 – and what that meant for equality in other areas of life too. I started to read up on how the women’s liberation movement developed after that date, and decided it would be a really interesting thing to write about.
What is your approach to research when working on historical fiction?
When I started writing The Other Daughter it wasn’t intended to be a historical novel so when it eventually morphed into one I was very much learning on the job! I read a lot of books, watched documentaries and feature films on the subject, and found a lot of information online, from journal articles and government websites. I wanted the context to my story to be historically accurate but I also wanted the freedom to write what I wanted, so my characters are entirely fictitious. I think research is necessary, but at some point you have to just let it simmer at the back of your mind while you focus on the story you want to write.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I don’t really have one. I’m a freelance copywriter/editor so it all depends on how much work I have on and when my deadlines are. When I’m writing a novel I try to work on it every weekday if I can – that could be all day or only an hour or so. But sometimes it just doesn’t flow or I don’t know what my next scene should be, so I just leave it and have a break. Often I find my brain will figure out what I should write while I’m doing something else – swimming and walking are particularly helpful at sparking ideas.
Can you share some of your top tips for aspiring authors?
Push on and finish that first draft, even if it isn’t very good, because then you’ve got something to work with. For me the writing is really in the editing – sometimes it’s only when I get to the end of the first draft (or even the second!) that I figure out exactly what the book’s about, so the editing process is all about shaping that story into what I want it to be. You can’t do that if you haven’t got a first draft!
Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?
My second novel is currently with my editor so I’m waiting for feedback on that and mulling over ideas for a third!
The Other Daughter is published on 18 February. Preorder here.