Today I am delighted to be part of the Blog Tour for The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland. I’ve loved every book That Karen has written, so reading The Plague Charmer is no different. This is a compelling read and I loved the historical mixed with fantasy.
Below Karen answers some of my questions.
Also a little extra treat check out this Plague Symptom Checker and see which Plague you have…
Can you in five words describe your book to those who haven’t read it?
‘Charmer more deadly than plague.’
When researching, did you find some interesting facts about this era, that don’t make it into the novel? Can you give some examples?
The novel is set at the time of the second plague, which killed many more men than women, so there were many widows left trying to run farms and manors. At that time a widow could inherit all her husband’s lands and property, but only if she lived in chastely and stayed single. If she wanted to remarry and keep the land, she had to pay a fine equivalent to a year’s rent on the property. But if she remained single and someone discovered she had a lover, even just a one-night stand, she’d instantly lose all her lands and property.
A story I came across – The village of Mapperton in Dorset had no church in the Middle Ages, so mourners had to carry their dead over the hills to the church in Netherbury. When the Plague came to Mapperton, the survivors tried to take their dead to be laid in consecrated ground, but the people of Netherbury armed themselves and blocked the road, fearing that they’d bring the Black Death into their village. So, the bodies had to be buried on the roadside, and the spot is marked by an ancient sycamore tree, known as the Posy Tree, because those who carried the corpses also carried posies of sweetly scented herbs that were thought to ward off the plague and mask the terrible stench of the plague corpses.
Was there anything in this book that took you by surprise?
Almost everything in this particular novel came as a shock to me. Something took over the plot and I was reeling by the end of it. The fake dwarf, who I thought would be minor character, turned out to be a major player. I didn’t foresee what would happen to the priest in the end and I was really surprised by some of the chilling events that took place down in the burial cave.
Do you have a favourite moment in the book?
Several people who’ve read the book have said one of their favourite scenes is when the women try to burn the ship. This was one of the scenes that took me by surprise. I sat down to write it and saw the scene playing out around me as if I was one of the women. I could feel my feet sinking into wet sand and the desperation and effort was so physical at one point, I was sweating and could hardly breath. I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen in that scene.
It’s hard to mention some of my favourite moments without spoiling the plot, but one is when Harold the young acolyte, Will the fake dwarf and Sara the packman’s wife watch the sea burn with St Elmo’s fire. I once saw the tops of the waves at night light up with this cracking unearthly blue light darting about everywhere and even though we know it’s a natural phenomenon, it is still spine-chilling to watch. Imagine the terror you would have felt back in the Middle Ages watching these blue flames rushing towards you, when you had idea what it was or what it might do to you.
Can you give any advice for those wanting to write? Either for historical fiction or generally.
Modern historical novelists try hard to look for plots and characters that are different from anything they’ve read before. Publishers and readers expect that. So, if you want to write historical fiction try to look for the untold story, not what the readers already think they know about that place or period.
To do this, it helps to have one or two characters in a historical novel that are out of step with the place and time, those who are on the margins of society – outcasts or dissenters. These characters will usually lead you away from the everyday stereotypical scenes into a hidden history about that place, which is factually true, but which the reader has never heard of. Telling the unknown stories about the time and place is what makes me excited as a writer.
And finally is there a question that you have always wanted to be asked? What is it? And what would your answer be?
When authors get together in the ‘Green Room’ before a talk or festival, they often discuss the questions that previous audience members have asked them. One question I’ve heard asked of authors many times, but which surprisingly no one has ever asked me is –
‘Do you write with pen, pencil or straight onto a keyboard?’
My answer would be – ‘I write with a quill pen dipped in blood.’
But the real question is – ‘Whose blood?’
What do you think of my Q&A with Karen Maitland, author of The Plague Charmer? Is there any other questions you would have asked?