Sometimes you find a niche where you know you just fit. That’s how I felt when I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and then the RNA Saga Writers group on Facebook. I was made very welcome and, in fact, was interviewed:on the Write Minds blog https://bit.ly/2VhEPg7, run by two of the members:Francesca Capaldi Burgess and Elaine Roberts, who you’ll soon be able to read about here.
I wanted to discover how and why, like me, they wrote family sagas, with a little romance thrown in. So I asked if any of them would be interested in discussing that. I certainly received some fascinating answers.
Today is the first interview and I’m thrilled to introduce a prolific and wonderful author, Tania Crosse.
Welcome, Tania, so happy you’re here today.
Please tell us, when you started writing your book, did you intend to write a family saga or series of stories rather than one book?
I never intentionally set out to write a series, it just seemed to evolve. My debut novel, Morwellham’s Child, is set at Morwellham Quay, the major Victorian copper port in Devon that’s been a living history museum since the early 1970s. I discovered it in the late 1990s on our first family holiday in the area, and was amazed to discover that nobody had ever written a story to illustrate its history. Living two hundred miles away, over the three years it took me to complete, we made frequent trips there for research purposes, and fell in love with nearby Dartmoor. So much so that in 2003, we bought a tiny cottage in a small village on the moor, which we owned for fifteen years, spending one week out of every month there throughout the year and becoming part of the local community. The more I learnt about the moor’s fascinating history, the more subjects I discovered that I wanted to illustrate in human, if fictitious, terms. I’ve written about mining, farming, the gunpowder mills, the infamous prison, quarrying, Tavistock workhouse, the arrival of various railways, the Great Flood of 1890 and the Great Blizzard of 1891. The first five books covered the Victorian era, followed by two illustrating Dartmoor’s part in the Great War. Then I was asked by my then agent, the lovely late Dot Lumley, to set two sagas set in the 1950s, and I set those on Dartmoor, too, again basing them on local history, but also bringing in wider events such as the legacy of WW2 and then the Korean War of 1950s. Although each book in the series stands alone, there is a thread running through them, which readers love to follow. After completing the Devonshire series, I had to take a break for various reasons, but eventually came to write Twentieth Century sagas, Nobody’s Girl and A Place To Call Home, originally one story inspired by a visit to Chartwell. The publishers, Aria Fiction, however, liked it so much that they asked me to expand it into two volumes, although each can be read alone. Finally, the Banbury Street series of two books is set in the London back street where I lived as a small child. The stories are set a decade apart and are completely separate, the main link being the matriarch of the street, Evangeline Parker, who I loved so much in the first book that I wanted to explore her more in the second. I’m so glad I did, as that was the book,The Street of Broken Dreams, that won Saga of the Year in the RNA Awards 2020 earlier this year.
Which do you think is more important, the family story or the romance?
For me what is actually more important is the historical background and the facts that I want to illustrate. I like to place my characters into what was a real life situation and see how they cope with it, weaving a tense, emotional story out of true fact. Inevitably, a family story and a romance will grow out of it, but it’s the social history behind it that’s most important. The Quarry Girl, for instance, illustrates life at remote, windswept Foggintor Quarry, which was a complete little community with cottages, gardens and even a chapel-cum-school, the ruins of which can still be seen today. Then the Princetown Railway opened in 1883, giving the quarrymen and their families easier access to the outside world. How might their lives have changed? One thing I discovered was the particular way in which the quarrymen would conduct the funeral of a colleague, and that found its way into the story as a major event in the life of the heroine and her family.
How important do you think it is to research the historical background, locations, features of the era, your characters live in?
Absolutely essential! As you can see, the historical background is what I aim to illustrate in the first place, but I will always go all out to track down the tiniest detail. If I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for, I will never make it up. If I’m not certain that something is correct, then it doesn’t go in the book. But meticulous research must be the same for any genre, except perhaps fantasy and sci-fi! What is fantastic is when you suddenly hit on something that’s exactly what you’re looking for. I’m currently working on the first of a trilogy set in Plymouth – again, all stand alones that happen to be set in the same city – and came across an actual film of George V’s Jubilee celebrations there in 1935 that I wanted to write about. I was cock-a-hoop!
How do you manage to keep track of all the characters in your book/s over a stretch of time?
Copious hand-written notes! (I don’t trust technology!) Date of birth, stature, colour of eyes and hair, and any other particular features or anything they’ve done before coming on the scene that I might need to refer to later. All quite important if you bring back characters from earlier books as I do particularly in the Devonshire series. In The Ambulance Girl, I wind up what has happened to all the characters and their families from the Victorian era through to 1919, so I had to get that right. The book finishes with an epilogue set in 1939 that provides a link through to the first of the 1950s Dartmoor sagas, Lily’s Journey, which was pretty poignant with most of the earliest characters having passed away by then. There are also tiny links to the Kent/London based series, too. The hero of the two Kent stories is in the RAF during WW2. There were a number of aircrashes on Dartmoor during the conflict, and when his plane comes down one night, he is rescued by descendants of earlier characters in the Devonshire series who remain farmers on the moor, so I had to have all their details correct. Very discerning readers might spot Lily as a small child in London-set The Street of Broken Dreams, so I had to have her at the correct age, of course. I’ve only ever made one continuity mistake. I’m not going to tell you what! Nobody’s ever noticed, or at least, they’ve never said, and I think that with so many books under my belt, I can be forgiven – although I have to say, it annoys me intensely to know I made such an error!
A saga demands change, both in its characters and its world. How important is the time period to the development of your narrative?
It really depends on what the story demands. My books do tend to cover a period of years, sometimes four or five, or sometimes taking a character from childhood to maturity. I do make use of prologues and/or epilogues in some of my novels if I think it’s appropriate. In The Street of Broken Dreams, for instance, I have a prologue set in 1944 that’s crucial to the plot, although the main part of the book takes part during the summer of 1945, from April to the autumn. There is then a gap before the epilogue in 1951, necessary as the heroine tries to come to terms with the trauma she suffers in 1944, but then something happens in 1951 that finally sets her free. The break is also necessary for the sub plot involving her best friend whose moral fibre has driven her to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of another. However, whatever I consider the necessary time scale to be, the most important thing is that the characters find peace or at least hope for the future in one way or the other, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion for the reader.
Thank you for being here on my blog today, Tania.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tania Crosse was born in London and lived in Banbury Street, Battersea, the setting of her two latest novels, The Candle Factory Girl and The Street of Broken Dreams. Later, the family moved to Surrey where her love of the countryside took root. She wanted to be an author since she was a child, but having graduated with a degree in French Literature, she did not have time to indulge her passion for writing until her own family had grown up. She eventually began penning historical novels set on her beloved Dartmoor. After completing her Devonshire series, some of which are currently being re-published by Joffe Books, she took her writing career in a new direction with four Twentieth Century sagas set in London and the south east, which were published by Aria Fiction. She was thrilled when the last of these, The Street of Broken Dreams, won Best Saga of the Year in the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2020 Awards. Tania and her husband have lived in a small village on the Hampshire/Berkshire border since 1976. They have three grown-up children, two grandchildren and a variety of grand-dogs! Tania’s interests, apart from reading and writing, of course, are dance, gardening and rambling, especially on Dartmoor, naturally!
A list of Tania’s books:
Morwellham’s Child: amzn.to/2OFElhq
The River Girl: amzn.to/2oQzRd4
The Gunpowder Girl: amzn.to/3iDAXjh
The Quarry Girl: http://amzn.to/35Dxf5P
The Railway Girl: amzn.to/2FL56io
The Wheewlright Girl: http://amzn.to/2SHQXFw
The Ambulance Girl: amzn.to/2uGaGxd
Lily’s Journey: amzn.to/2Z0qgAL
Hope at Holly Cottage: amzn.to/335SNEo
Nobody’s Girl: amzn.to/31m6Ioi
A Place to Call Home: amzn.to/2kzxcCJ
The Candle Factory Girl: amzn.to/2oqyq16
The Street of Broken Dreams: amzn.to/2Bjeg0g
For further details, visit Tania’s website at
Follow her on Twitter: @TaniaCrosse
Follow her on Facebook: https://bit.ly/3fZ8BQ7