Today we’re asking Ian Beck some questions on his new book, The Haunting Of Charity Delafield.
Hi Ian and thanks for stopping by. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your latest book, The Haunting of Charity Delafield?
Oddly the real inspiration behind the book was a little drawing I made of a girl wearing a long bright red coat out walking in the snow. I had at first imagined that she was going to be a character in a picture book, because at that time (some years ago) I was mainly working in that area. The picture book never happened but both my editor and my agent liked her and reminded me about her now and then, and so she was eventually fetched out of limbo and I began to develop her story in a longer form. This began out of a game I used to play with my daughter Lily when she was younger, involving tiny little letters from faeries. After many false starts and abandoned drafts the letters never made it into the final version of the story, as so often happens things change radically as you write and re-wrte.
I love books set in Victorian times (as Charity Delafield is) Why do you think it makes such a fascinating period for stories?
We have inherited a huge and energetic imaginary world from the Victorians. Steam and fog and industry and progress are somehow all muddled together with lingering superstitious beliefs and nascent technologies. This makes for an irresistible world, well to me at any rate. I can’t help but be attracted to it. My early reading of H G Wells and of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and a later obsession with the Fantomas novels, which are set in late 19th century Paris have all fuelled my interest too. My novel Pastworld although set in the future, is about a massive theme park which attempts to recreate with scrupulous accuracy the Victorian London of the literary imagination. On a practical, story making level, it is easier for useful muddles mysteries and misunderstandings to take place in a world with no mobile communications technology.
I am hopelessly wedded to that period although not exclusively, I also have an obsession with London in World War 2 having grown up so closely to that war’s aftermath and I hope to feature that setting in a book soon.
There’s a fairy tale quality to your book, and looking on Amazon this seems
to be a theme for you (in your illustrations too) Are you inspired by old
fairy tales? Do you have a favourite?
As a working illustrator and would be creative writing student at the City Literary Institute in London back in the very early 1970s I was introduced by a teacher to the work of Bruno Bettleheim which opened my eyes to the deep roots and uses of the Fairy Tale. They are marvellous and astonishing things and open to so many ways of retelling updating etc, because they deal with all the big and fundamental states of being, with love and loss, wealth and poverty, happiness and suffering, hunger fear and tragedy all condensed down into those marvellously compressed stories. If I do have a favourite it would be The Six Swan Brothers.
I’d love to read more about Silas and what happens for him next. Do you have
any plans to write about him?
As a matter of fact I do, I am hoping he will have his own story to explore, without going into too much detail, or giving anything away I would like to follow him on his journey and also examine his roots, he was after all a foundling, much to discover there I think.
You’re also a well known illustrator. Why do you think illustrations are so
important to children’s books, not just picture books?
My earliest reading memories are the things which have stayed in my mind tenaciously from when I was seven or eight. The little moments of magical revelation, which are most often a combination of the words and the illustrations working together. The instance that comes immediately to mind is Lucy’s first meeting with Mr Tumnus in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The narrative shock of being in that other world is deepened and enriched by the addition of the marvellous line drawing by Pauline Baynes. Mr Tumnus walking arm in arm with Lucy with the simply rendered soft layers of snow covering the ground and the trees and his umbrella and parcels. That scene is inextricably linked to the drawing which compliments and deepens the writing, each serves the other and the imagination is stimulated. I regret the lack of drawings or illustrations in most YA or adult texts. The additions of the simple black and white drawings I hope add something to the feel of Charity Delafield even if they only provide hints at the edge of the story.
We all have a favourite book from childhood, can you tell us about yours?
My maternal Grandmother was a very patient woman and she would read to me over and over again the original tiny little landscape shaped Thomas the Tank Engine Books, which were relatively new when I was two or three in the late 1940s, so I suppose they were a favourite then, but mainly I think for the sunlit world of the pictures. When I could read for myself I devoured everything without discrimination. I was especially fond of The Borrowers, (again marvellous illustrations by Diana Stanley) and later the Just William books by Richmal Crompton, (drawings by Thomas Henry) and as a teenager I happily discovered Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier which is still a favourite.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring young writers or illustrators?
When I left Art School in 1968 I wasted too much time not daring to show people my illustration work. I drifted about for a year and did little part time jobs and dreamed of being an illustrator. I should have just got on with it there and then, so my first piece of advice is don’t be shy get on with it.
I wrote at art school bits and pieces, chunks and fragments, none of them finished, partly out of idleness partly out of fear of failing. No one ever saw those attempts. I moved to London and eventually succeeded in being an illustrator, I was still starting off bits of novels and short stories, but nothing was ever properly finished. Eventually, many years down the line, I was commissioned to illustrate a story of my choice by a publisher. I chose a story by Colette. The publisher didn’t like the translation. ‘Haven’t you ever written anything’, he asked. I took a part finished story from my drawer and finished it. It was published and the confidence that gave me moved me on to write my first full length novel for Children, The Secret History of Tom Trueheart, Boy Adventurer, and then on further to write 5 other novels including The Haunting of Charity Delafield. My second piece of advice therefore is to actually finish things. Without the lump of clay that may be your first draft you have nothing to refine, shape mould, re-write and make work. Finishing things is the key.
Thanks Ian for taking the time to answer our questions!
I loved The Haunting Of Charity Delafield and will be reviewing it later today. In The mean time check out the trailer!