We’re delighted to welcome Sophie King to tell us how she found her historical voice.
It was during a talk at the Glasgow Literary Festival, five years ago, that it all began. But in order for this to make sense, I need to go back to the very beginning!
I started my writing career as a journalist and wrote for several women’s magazines as well as features pages on national newspapers. I only became a journalist because I knew that one day, I wanted to write a novel and this seemed the best way to make a living and bring up my children until I had time to fit that in.
It all took a lot longer than I realised! When I finally got my first publishing deal (with Hodder in 2005), it was for a romantic family comedy called The School Run. Since then, I have had eight other novels published in the same ‘Mum Lit’ genre.
So how does the Glasgow Literary Festival fit in? Well, I was there to give a talk on my Mum Lit books. There was also time to listen to the other speakers, including Victoria Hislop who was chatting about her inspiration for The Island. As she was speaking, a very odd thing happened. It was as though a flash of lightning went off in my head. Of course, I thought! I could write a book based on the stories my mother had told me about her family.
Now I know most people think their families are different but trust me. Mine is a one off. It has more tragedies in it than a soap. And I wish I was joking. But it also has its funny moments. My grandfather, for instance, was so cross when his mother married again that he took himself off to Borneo at the end of the nineteenth century because he’d just read an article on it in the National Geographical Magazine. He trained as a rubber plantation manager; came back to fight in the First World War; went to visit his brother who had been shot down; and married the doctor’s daughter who was sitting at his brother’s bedside. That was my grandmother.
He then whisked her back to Borneo and a life of adultery and ex-colonials before the rubber industry went bust, forcing them to return to England. My poor grandmother died when she was 41 of cancer at the height of the Blitz, leaving four children (including my nine year old mother) who were brought up by different members of the family. My mother fell into the hands of her strict aunt who had been presented at court before the war began and had no idea what to do with a child.
If that isn’t the start of a story, I don’t know what is. Within three months of the festival, I had finished The Pearls; a story about a pearl necklace that is inherited by three generations of women (as happened in my family) but with lots of fiction thrown in. My agent took it to the Frankfurt Book Festival and sold it for quite a lot of money to Germany. It then became number eight in Italy. I’ve also had two more historicals accepted by Italy, Germany and Spain.
How can you have more than one voice, I am sometimes asked. To my mind, it makes perfect sense. When we talk in everyday conversation, we use different tones and chat about different subjects. It’s the same in print. Different genres can help each other too. Sometimes I get ideas for my Mum Lit books that don’t quite work – but which fit my historicals.