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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Lelita Baldock talks about her new historical fiction novel about the Cornish fishing trade, Where The Gulls Fall Silent.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Lelita Baldock about her life and career, what inspired her about the history of Cornwall, and the creative work that went into her new book, Where the Gulls Fall Silent.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I am an award-winning author of historical fiction represented by London-Based Literary Agency InterSaga. (https://intersaga.co.uk/)
Born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia, I now reside in the United Kingdom.
I love books, all things literature, reading and history – always have. My favourite thing in the world is curling up with a novel and sinking into the pages. I will never stop reading! Fun Fact – as a child, I actually hated reading. It took much endurance and persistence on my parents’ part to get me to start, but then I never stopped.
Travel and history are also my passions. New places, peoples, cultures, landscapes – these things inspire me and fill my soul.
Family and friends are the most important part of my life. I am happily married to my-soul mate and I am the mother of one adorable fluffy rescue-cat named Jazzy.
I believe in living your life your way, treading gently on the world and giving love, joy and acceptance freely.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I believe I first wanted to write a book at the age of around 10. We had been given a creative writing task at school and I found I loved putting words into a story. My father encouraged me, suggesting I write him a story. I never did. I tried, but it felt too much at that age. I have always been a perfectionist. But the seed was sown and the desire to try never went away.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I dipped my toe into writing a novel in my final year of school (not the best timing – and I never finished the book). Then in my early 20s my family and I took a holiday to the Finniss River in South Australia. Sitting on a small motor boat, surrounded by countryside and rustling reeds, an idea for a story popped into my head. I wanted to explore the isolation of living in such a place, and why a person would choose to live alone. That story was my catalyst to really try and write a novel. So I did. The roots of that story became my debut novel Widow’s Lace.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Widow’s Lace took me 14 years to bring to fruition. I wrote the first draft at age 24/ 25, in snatched moments of time in-between my work as a secondary English Literature teacher. It was my first ever attempt at writing such a long novel, and I had a lot to learn. But that’s ok! I throughout loved the process and knew it was something I would continue to do.
But life happened, as it does, and I put the manuscript away for 10 years before drawing it out again in my late 30s and deciding to really go for it, complete the novel and publish. And I am so glad I did.
I haven’t looked back.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My lasted released novel, Where the Gulls Fall Silent, took me around three years to complete, if you count the time between the idea for the story coming to me and actually releasing it. Actual time actively working on the novel was more like 18 months.
The story of life in a small Cornish fishing village was inspired by a trip to Cornwall in 2019. But I was working on book one of my crime novel series, The Unsound Sister, at that time, so didn’t get to start writing until 2020. The novel was released in late 2021.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Where the Gulls Fall Silent?
The harsh but beautiful Cornish coastline inspired Where the Gulls Fall Silent. I fell in love with the sweeping views and the sense of danger that emanated from the ocean. And the people of the region were so passionate about their history and their part of the world. Their legends, superstitions and traditions fascinated me, and I wanted to know more, and explore what life would have been like there in the 1800s.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Where the Gulls Fall Silent?
To be honest this novel flew from my fingers. I was so passionate about the history and so absorbed by the story that I burned to get the words out on the page.
At times the historical accuracy was a little challenging, and I had to spend further time to ensure my detail were correct. But I enjoy research, so really that was no hardship.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
The strength of the women of Cornwall inspired my protagonist Kerensa. There are many stories of the bravery of the fishermen who sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean and piled their trade. And rightly so. It was dangerous, unforgiving work and may men lost their lives in the pursuit of their work.
But what about the women left behind? What was their story?
That was the part I wanted to explore. Their history, experiences, tragedies and strength.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
There isn’t a singular antagonist in Where the Gulls Fall Silent – rather the superstitions of the people create an amalgamated antagonist. Probably developed from the harsh lifestyle of living on the coast in the 1800s, the Cornish people had many beliefs and prejudices. These created an interesting driving force for Kerensa’s character development, but also allowed me to redeem some of the worst offenders.
What is the inciting incident of Where the Gulls Fall Silent?
The slow collapse of the fish-run. Traditionally the waters off of Cornwall were rich with fish, particularly pilchards and mackerel. But due to a combination of over-fishing, which saw fish numbers dwindle, and a change in international demand, fishermen started to struggle to earn a living off the waters. This change caused significant social upheaval, leading to the migration of people from fishing towns to mining towns and a shift in the nature of Cornish life.
What is the main conflict of Where the Gulls Fall Silent?
The main conflict is between Kerensa, my protagonist, her mother Meliora and the town itself. Seen as outsiders and mistrusted Where the Gulls Fall Silent explores why Kerensa and her mother are shunned by the people of their town and Kerensa’s journey to acceptance.
Did you plot Where the Gulls Fall Silent in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I am a planner through and though. Perhaps a result of being a historical fiction author. It is an essential part of my process to research my setting and timeline thoroughly before I start, so as I research and plot.
I will outline my characters fully, set the key events of my narrative that must happen, detail how each event will be triggered and summarise the action of each chapter before I start writing creatively.
Of course, even the most detailed plan can go on a tangent when you start writing – but that’s a wonderful part of the process!
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Where the Gulls Fall Silent need?
For all my novels so far I have done the bulk of the editing myself. I handle the structural and story editing fully myself and only bring in an editor to do the final line-edits for typos and little errors.
I am proud of how well I edit my own work, I enjoy the process and like to have that control over the narrative. But a final edit to ensure there are no silly typos is essential!
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Go for it!! Starting can feel overwhelming. And while writing it can be easy to want to give up. Don’t. You have a story to tell and it is worth telling. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get that first draft out on a page – keep going and get the words down. Don’t worry about perfection first, just get the shape of the narrative out of your head and onto a page.
Then you can make it shine!
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I have recently completed my fourth novel, working title A Machine of Fingers. The story is set in post-revolution Paris and explores the impact of the revolution of the female lace-makers of Chantilly and the race to mechanise lace-making. It is currently out on submission to publishing houses and I hope to have some exiting news to share soon!
I have also begun the research for what will be my fifth novel. The story will explore the experience of the Latvian people during World War Two, loosely based on my own family history. Watch this space!
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I could not be more proud that I took the leap and started to write. It felt impossible, overwhelming and difficult. But it has made me truly happy to follow this dream.
Definitely worth every challenge.
It has been a journey though, and like all journeys has it’s ups and downs. I was honoured this year when Where the Gulls Fall Silent came 4th in the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Awards 2022 and the cover one gold! A wonderful reminder to stay the course and trust in yourself.
If you have a story inside you, or a dream of any sort, get out there and live it! Allow your dreams to take up space – you deserve to enjoy you passions and revel in them.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Amazon link for Where the Gulls Fall Silent: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09HJH1TG6
Amazon Link for Widow’s Lace: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B086BDLP3X
Amazon Link for The Unsound Sister: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08ML8QS7H
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