Here I interview myself… if you want to ask me a question, I’ll be answering on my goodreads page between 17th and 24th of February!

A photo of me on the beach and erm, not working...

A photo of me on the beach and erm, not working…

Interview with Natasha Solomons

Your new book is narrated by a man, Harry Fox-Talbot. What was it like to write as a man?

Incredibly liberating! The pleasure of being a writer as opposed to an actor is that one isn’t limited by gender or race or age. The casting director in my imagination allows me to become anyone. For this novel I observed many of the grumpy, older men of my acquaintance and then tried to imagine myself into that mind-set.

In fact, this novel is narrated by Fox at two different points of his life; the first when he is a young man, and the second when he’s in seventies and has been recently widowed. In the earlier narrative he’s hopeful and hopeless, insecure and over-confident and in love with his brother’s girl. In the later part, he’s older and sadder and although now celebrated as a composer, he’s now suffering from writer’s block and is unsatisfied. I needed both voices to really feel like the same person – but at different ages.

 

Why do you write about Dorset? What’s so special? Should we come and visit?

I have a profound connection to this landscape. It’s old Wessex – an ancient place and its history is literarily etched into its surfaces in long barrows and iron aged hill forts and medieval field systems. I live in a hamlet under the shadow of Bell Hill (either named because it resembles a bell, or for the pagan god Beltane, no one really knows). I like to write looking at it – the way the clouds and weather form along the ridge always feeds into my work. When it rains, tiny amenities like miniature stone baseballs imprinted with sea creatures, wash their way loose from the chalk, reminding us that hundreds of millions of years ago our own hill was part of the ocean floor. This is the landscape of my dreams and my imagination.

And, yes, you should visit Dorset. The countryside is beautiful and Dorset cream teas are delicious as is the local cider. Our cider always has alcohol in it. Until I came to the US I had no idea it was possible to drink cider without become tipsy and getting a headache.

 

How long have you been at work on this book?

It took about a year.

 

Did the book involve special research?

I researched the phenomenon of child prodigies and the effect that such children have upon their families. Having a supremely gifted child impacts the family in a similar way as having a disabled one – he or she becomes the centre of family life and other relationships are often put under tremendous strain.

I also researched the connection between music and landscape. This involved not only reading about the song collecting in both the US and UK, but also talking and listening to musicians and their music. The prize winning singer/ song writer/ song collector Sam Lee was incredibly helpful.

I read every interview and snippet I could find with conductors – I really wanted to think my way into the mind of a grouchy, seventy-something man.

Why are people sometimes dismissive of fiction when it incorporates romance?

This complaint is often leveled against Jane Austen, primarily, it has to be said by male critics, who rail that during the Napoleonic Wars Austen wrote a book about a young woman who changes her mind, and a gentleman who changes his manners. The suggestion is that it is unimportant. Yet, there is nothing more important nor more complex than love in all its forms. Austen is the supreme observer of human passion and foibles and her brilliance lies in the acuity of her vision. She has twenty-twenty descriptive powers.  Her ‘two inches’ of ivory have out lasted her critics by centuries. I’m not sure that anything matters more than love.

How Downton are you?

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Is England really like Downton Abbey?

Downton Abbey has to be watched with a cup of tea. Or else it does this side of the Atlantic. I suppose it really ought to be in a porcelain or bone china cup, served by the butler with a little
jug of milk on the side and a plate of very thin, perfectly golden biscuits. But even if you don’t have the butler and a mere mug instead of cup and saucer, the tea itself is non-negotiable. I don’t know anyone here in Britain who watches Downton without one. It would be like sitting on the sofa stark naked watching TV. And in the most part we don’t do that. Even in England.

My point is really that Downton is as comforting as tea. It’s familiar and marks the season more reliably than cold weather or frost in these weirdly temperate days. Lady Mary is being blackmailed. Check. Thomas is in a huff. Mrs Hughes and Carson are having a very uncomfortable conversation. Check. Check. The nights must be drawing in. Thank goodness Downton is here to console us until spring.

I know that the British always tell people in America that life here really isn’t like Downton. And it isn’t. Well mostly it isn’t. Sometimes, oddly, it sort of is. I was doing the washing up in my orange marigold gloves a couple of days ago (not very Downton, as I was doing it myself, up to my elbows in suds) but then the Portman Hunt rode past my kitchen window with a score of thundering horses, riders in red coats and jodhpurs and the whoop of hounds and the cry of the hunting horn. That bit was rather Downton, I’m sure you’d agree.

Here in Dorset we have Milton Abbey. The village of Milton Abbey is exquisitely pretty as the landlord decided in the eighteenth century that the houses were in the way of the lake he wanted, so he flooded them and built a new village downwind. Lord Grantham would never do such an unkind thing to his tenants. Real British landlords could be rather loathsome to the?ir tenants. Poor Daisy gets off rather lightly in episode one when she berates a neighbouring landlord who’s taken over and given the tenants notice. Lucky that she works for Lord and Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey rather than the former proprietor of Milton Abbey. She might have ended up at the bottom of the lake rather than with a tidy scolding from Carson.

The great house at Milton Abbey is now a very smart school. The school chapel is the former abbey church. We walked around it on Sunday morning listening to the organist practising for the evening and then visited the gardens of the great house at Kingston Maurward. We had to buy our own tea in Styrofoam cups. But it was raining and the man behind the till brought us a bowl of chocolates because he felt bad about it. Commiserating over lousy weather, now that is very Downton indeed.

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Last chance to book for the Dorset Literary Salon with John Ironmonger!

 

Last chance to book tickets for the first Dorset Literary Salon!
Date: Thursday 23 April 2015
Time: 19:30 – 22:00
Venue: Symondsbury Manor, Bridport
Included: Hard copy book, cocktail upon arrival, light supper and wine
About:
The Dorset Literary Salon is nomadic and hosted by the internationally best-selling author and screenwriter, Natasha Solomons. The Dorset Literary Salon seeks out unusual and intimate venues as the backdrop to in-depth discussions with authors about their books. There will be cocktails inspired by the novel, excellent wine and the food will either be a simple affair or inspirited by the setting of the novel or the storyline. Each event aims to be unique and entirely dedicated to the author and their work. It also places the participants in a very special situation providing time and proximity. You will receive a hard back copy of the book to read in advance, which you are welcome to bring with you to be signed by the author.
Booking:
You can click here to find out more about the evening and to book your ticket. Please note that there is a limited number of seats available for this event so do be quick in booking your ticket!
Natasha and Ashley
Dorset Literary Salon