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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Catherine Bloor talks about the inspiration behind her new historical fantasy book, Soul Of A Raven.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Catherine Bloor about her life and career, what inspired her to start writing, and the inspiration behind her upcoming book, Soul Of A Raven.
Tell me a bit about who you are
I work at the University of Aberdeen Library, searching out old books from among the million or so kept in store. My favourite things to do include walking long-distance trails, playing the clarinet in a local orchestra, listening to audiobooks, collecting sea glass and taking way too many random pictures on my phone of beautiful things in the countryside when I walk the dogs.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was a kid. I first wrote a ‘book’ when I was ten. It was about twelve pages long and had pictures! I was VERY proud! But then I didn’t write another story until I wrote Soul of a Raven, even though writing a book was something I dreamed of doing. There were many reasons for not writing, but mainly I think secondary school was a disaster for the imagination (!), and earning a living, and life, got in the way. I never made writing a priority.
When did you take a step to start writing?
My younger son left for University in 2019 and the nest felt empty, so it seemed an excellent time to start writing. Then covid happened, which gave me more time to write. I didn’t stop even though the first things I wrote were laughably awful.
How long did it take you to complete your book from the first idea to release?
Three years. Roughly eighteen months of actual writing.
What made you want to write Soul Of A Raven?
The beginnings of the idea for this book came from researching my family tree on Ancestry. I found the women in the book in the Victorian census documents. Mary was my five times great Grandmother and she worked as a wardress in Petworth House of Correction. Her daughter Eliza had thirteen children, one of whom was Catherine (who I called Wren). They were all very ordinary, humble women but I wanted to know more about them, which was frustratingly impossible, of course. So I found myself making up a story for Wren within the framework of the facts I found, and against the backdrop of some local history. As I wrote I couldn’t help putting magic in the story, because there is so much in history and folklore that lends itself perfectly to magic. The myths and mystery surrounding London Stone are a good example of this!
I still haven’t managed to get to central London to see the actual London Stone in its case on Cannon Street, even though I’ve written a book about it! But I am reliably informed by my elder son that it exists – he has sent me pictures whenever he has walked past it!
What were your biggest challenges with writing Soul Of A Raven?
The biggest challenge was having the courage to think that writing a whole novel was somehow achievable, or a good idea! At first it was a challenge to write every day and I had to be strict with myself and stick to some sort of timetable, otherwise days would go by with nothing done. I found that I wanted to keep it a secret from most people, because I was vaguely embarrassed to think I could do it.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Wren is my imagined ancestor. The structure of her life is based loosely in Victorian reality; she was born in Petworth, moved to Chichester, then something, probably poverty, made her move to London. I gave her magic, a destiny, and a troubled, powerful enemy.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Corvus evolved as I wrote, from ideas of darkness, of brutal historical times, of what happens to a soul when it can’t find peace, from ideas of longing and rejection, of immortality, of ravens and crows and magpies and their association with the dark and the gothic and the macabre.
What is the inciting incident of Soul Of A Raven?
There are two inciting incidents, perhaps. Firstly when Corvus is reborn from two murdered souls, and secondly when Wren’s destiny is created through the magical creation of the moon-coloured hare pendant at London Stone.
What is the main conflict of Soul Of A Raven?
Wren has to somehow fulfil her destiny to save London Stone and the city itself, when Corvus is doing everything to try and stop her.
Did you plot Soul Of A Raven in advance or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I had a vague three-part structure in my head, and I tried to plan each chapter. But I found I couldn’t plan in any detail. The only way I had ideas, and solutions to plot problems, was if I just kept on writing. Half-way through a sentence I’d have a little light-bulb moment about a different idea, totally unrelated, and I’d have to write it down quickly so I didn’t forget!
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Soul Of A Raven need?
I was so pleased when I’d ‘finished’ the book, but I knew it wasn’t right at all, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I got a developmental edit (structure, characters, pacing, plot problems etc) from a professional editor who somehow managed to very kindly tell me which bits were dreadful and muddled whilst at the same time really inspiring me to make it better. So after that I took it apart, re-wrote a lot of it, changed the ending, and made much more of Corvus. Since then the book has also been line-edited a couple of times to pick up grammar issues etc.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Write your story even if at first you think the words aren’t working – just keep going! Because you will get better, and you will really enjoy doing it!
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m thinking a lot about folklore and old tales from the late eighteenth century, so I’m hoping to try and bring some of that to life.
And finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, I totally am! It’s not perfect, of course, but I absolutely loved writing it. Writing has become part of my life now, and I love how it’s so satisfyingly creative and so absorbing.
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Soul of a Raven is available from 24th January online from Amazon, Waterstones and other major booksellers, and from publishers Cranthorpe Millner.
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