INTERVIEW WITH MARGARET FRAZER FOR CIRCLE OF WITCHES
I am delighted to welcome Margaret Frazer back to my blog. I am a great fan of Margaret’s historical mysteries, as most of you know, and highly recommend her Sister Frevisse series and her newer one, featuring one of my favorite characters, the dashing player and sometimes spy, Joliffe. But Margaret has temporarily abandoned the fifteenth century. Her new novel, available now as an e-book, Circle of Witches, is set in nineteenth century Yorkshire. I was quite intrigued by this switch and so I invited Margaret to stop by so I could find out more.
Sharon: Where did your idea for writing this book come from?
Margaret: Long, long ago I had unlimited access to a university library and I just plundered the shelves. I wasn’t a student. I was working there. And I had a lovely time just searching the shelves for things that caught my interest.
I got involved in studying megalithic circles and standing stones, which sidelined me into books about paganism and alternative ways of seeing our relationship with nature. I remember reading countless books on these topics. And out of this began to grow the idea that these were all good elements for a story. At the same time, I had a deep love for the Yorkshire dales. So I thought that would be a good place to set a story like this: It wouldn’t be modern, but it wouldn’t be far in the past. It would be some place where the transition was happening: Where the ancient world and ancient beliefs were just about gone and the modern world had not yet arrived.
Sharon: Is that what led you to pick the 1800s as a time period?
Margaret: Yes. Because they were well past the point where people were saying things like “burn the witches”, but there was still the possibility in the remote areas that the old ways could continue seriously instead of as folk parties designed for tourists to come to.
Sharon: Speaking of these ancient religious themes versus modern religious themes, the religious themes in Circle of Witches are very different from those in your Dame Frevisse novels. How do you think your readers are going to react to that?
Margaret: I hope they’ll be intrigued by the differences. I know that a lot of people reading my other books are convinced that I must be Catholic because I create such believable Benedictine nuns, but I’m not. This is simply – or not so simply – an author researching and using imagination to create what they believe to be a real person. And I’ve met nuns who have said, “She’s so real. And all the nuns are so real.” So I know that it worked.
But it’s true. For those who are convinced that this was my primary expression of faith, they’re going to be very intrigued – and perhaps a little disoriented – when I’m talking about a totally different mindset that I’ve research and imagined and created and made real. So I’m hoping that they’ll appreciate the different, for lack of a better word, ambience of the two approaches.
Sharon: Was it a deliberate choice? Were you deliberately making it different from what you did before?
Margaret: No, it wasn’t deliberate. It was simply what the story required. If I was interested in this theme and this was the plot I was working on, then this was the way the story had to go. It wasn’t, “I’m going to be very different in this book.” It was simply what the book demanded.
Sharon: You mention the themes and the historical aspects of the time period you’ve chosen in the 1800s. But why this particular location? Why the Yorkshire dales?
Margaret: I visited the dales several times and once lived there for six months. It’s beautiful. And in the 1800s – especially the early 1800s – it was still a remote part of England. The railways had not come. So the landscape had so many elements in it that make it perfect for centering this story around.
And there was also a simple desire to write about it as a way to re-experience a place I love and care about deeply. So, in some ways, the book is my song of the Yorkshire dales.
Sharon: I know that this is a novel that you came back to time and time again until it was perfect. How did it change and grow over time for you?
Margaret: Well, I grew and changed over time, so my perception of characters – of people’s relationships to each other and to themselves and to the world – became more complex and hopefully deeper. So things that had been all right when I was in my thirties I wanted to express more of when I was in my forties and fifties. There was more to be said and more to be done. And once you do that all of a sudden there are possibilities in the plot that hadn’t existed when these people weren’t so involved (both internally and externally).
Sharon: What’s the most important idea in the book for you?
Margaret: I have to think about that… [long pause, then thoughtfully]
That love of place and people should most deeply inform our decisions about life.
Sharon: How have the love of place and people informed your decisions about life?
Margaret: I suppose, when I was in my teens, I fell in love with Shakespeare’s plays. That led to falling in love with England before I ever went there. And it was wonderful when I got there to discover that it was even better than my youthful dreams had envisioned. From there, I fell in love with English history in the 1400s, so that a great deal of my life and my travels have been focused around knowing that time period and knowing that place more intimately.
And my love of people – or, at least, certain people – has given me a deeper understanding of how lives link in order to benefit or harm each other. So I have this love among people and loves of a place and time. And when you love you want to know more. So for decades that’s what’s been informing my life and my work. To explore and to learn.
Sharon: Do you see parallels between that and the characters in Circle of Witches? Do you see yourself in the character of Damaris?
Margaret: It’s always been diverting for people to say, “Oh, you see yourself as your main character!” Whoever that might be in the present book. But the truth is, I’m in all of those characters. In order to write believable characters, I have to find some element of myself that I can then explore and enlarge and turn into this person on the page.
So, Damaris? Yes. But also everyone else in the book: The loving ones, the destructive ones, the foolish ones. They all have elements of me. Without that they would be… unliving.
Of course, when it’s someone really nasty sometimes you find things out about yourself you didn’t really want to know! [laughs]
Sharon: Speaking of that, let’s talk about the villainess of Circle of Witches – the platinum blonde Virna. What do you see of yourself in her?
Margaret: I have experienced hatred born out of frustration or anger. It’s never led me to try to destroy someone, but it burns and it hurts and it’s terrible. And if you’re lucky, you realize how destructive it is. I did. And I worked at… disposing of the anger in me; turning it into something else and accepting the situation and the people who had given rise to it.
But in Virna’s case, she never does. She hates and that’s all she becomes: Her hatred.
And I can see myself in that: If I had taken that feeling of hatred that I experienced and let it take over my life, that would have been Virna.
Sharon: But for those of us who love your medieval books, you will be going back there, right?
Margaret: Most certainly! The two books I’m working on now – the ones roiling in my head – are both back in the 1400s: Not history mysteries, but straight historical fiction.
Sharon: And for those who have enjoyed your medieval stories, does Circle of Witches have something to offer them?
Margaret: Oh, yes! It’s an extremely good, exciting story that you can lose yourself in. Which is, I suppose, what I hope for in everything I write. And what I look for in everything that I read.
Sharon: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, Margaret. Circle of Witches is available now on Amazon. And I discovered that you have a new collection of Sister Frevisse stories out in Kindle, too, Sins of the Blood. Naturally I could not resist getting it, too. So once again you are playing havoc with my deadline for A King’s Ransom! Here is the Amazon link to Circle of Witches. http://www.amazon.com/Circle-of-Witches-ebook/dp/B00AG3KGFK/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1355629529&sr=1-1&keywords=Circle+of+Witches
And since I won’t have another blog up until the new year, I would like to wish all of my readers a peaceful and happy holiday, with fervent hope that 2013 will be a better year for us all.
December 15, 2012