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.
This is the ninth of my interviews with a Romantic Saga Author, and today I’m thrilled to be with Liz Harris
Hi Liz, and welcome. Lovely to see you here today.
Pleased to be joining you, Judith
When you started writing your book, did you intend to write a family saga – or series of stories rather than one story?
At the outset, I’d intended to write a family saga centred upon the Linford family. There were to be three books, throughout the course of which the reader would follow three main story lines. I’d planned to end the first book in 1938, by which time I expected the novel to be about 120,000 words long.
The first book began at the end of 1919. 118,000 words later, I was still only in 1933, and I realised that I’d have to rethink my original idea. I decided that the reason I’d written so much at that stage was because each of the three story lines at the heart of the novel had so much meat on it that it could, in fact, have carried a novel on its own. And at that moment, I decided to extract each story line and make each into a 90,000 word novel.
.Because of this change of plan, the three books in the Linford Series are contemporaneous. The challenge to me was to ensure that not one of the novels tells readers what happened to family members who are not central to that novel, and who have a story of their own. I’m delighted that a number of those who’ve reviewed the first two books in the series, The Dark Horizon and The Flame Within, have commented that each book can be read on its own, and that they can be read in any order.
Which do think is more important, the family story or the romance?
This is difficult to answer. In the case of a series that focuses on a family, as does the Linford Series – Book 1 tells the story of Lily and Robert Linford, Book 2 the story of Alice and Thomas Linford and Book 3 is the story of Dorothy Linford – and where there is a love story at the heart of each novel, it’s hard to divorce the two since the romance involves a member of the Linford family.
But to answer the question as it applies to my novels, it is the love story in each book that drives the story on, but this is ultimately a saga about a family. The relationships between the members of the family are as important in their way as the relationship between the hero and heroine, and they frequently impact upon each other.
Generally, in a novel where the romance is more important than the family story, I imagine that the spotlight would have to be on the hero and heroine throughout most of the novel. That works really well for a vast amount of romantic fiction, but that is not how I see a family saga, which, to my mind, is generational.
How important do you think it is to research the historical background, locations, features of the era, your characters live in.
Extremely important. A saga is an historical novel. An historical novel isn’t a non-fiction account of an historical period or an event. While it’s a novel that shows the reader how people lived at the time during which the novel is set, it goes beyond that – it transports the reader to that period.
People who read sagas want to walk alongside the characters who inhabit that fictional world, and to get to know the central families and what motivates them, and authors can only recreate the world in which their characters move if they have a sound knowledge of every aspect of the history of the relevant period.
How do you manage to keep track of all the characters in your book/s over a stretch of time?
I use a huge piece of white card, purchased from the Art department in a local store, in order to keep the family tree in front of me. I draw a chart on part of the card on which I record the ages of the main Linfords in the years that are key to the story.
I keep an online up-to-date chapter plan for every novel, which I fill in at the end of writing every chapter. This enables me to locate very quickly something that I’ve written earlier in the book. On the chapter plan, I record the page at which the chapter begins, the time and place where it’s set, a brief outline of the content, the word count, and notes. The notes’ column is for key points that crop up in that chapter, such as hair colour, eye colour, name of servant, etc.
I have such a plan for each novel, and it’s easy to refer back to the plan when necessary. I find such a plan essential for purposes of continuity, and extremely helpful when it comes to editing the novel.
A saga demands change, both in its characters and its world, How important is the time period to the development of your narrative.
I think it’s very important. Just as we are reflections of the customs and beliefs of our time, so, too, should our characters reflect the mores of their time. Thanks to TV and films, most people today know enough about the 18th century, for example, for it to jar if they read a book with 18th characters who see the world through a 21st century sensibility. Authors should be alert to this.
If readers are to be drawn into a fictional world set in years gone by, a sense of place is vital. One of the ways of achieving this is subtly to introduce aspects of a time period that are different from those today. This will stimulate images of the period in the reader’s mind. These differences can also be used for dramatic effect, and might well even give birth to ideas for the story. A character could, for example, embody an aspect of life that is pertinent to the period in which the novel is set, and this could help to propel a page-turning plot.
Many thanks for having me as your guest, Judith. I’ve very much enjoyed thinking about, and then answering, your questions.
About the Author;
Liz is the author of the historical novels The Road Back (US Coffee Time and Romance Book of the Year), A Bargain Struck (RoNA shortlisted for the Best Historical Novel), The Lost Girl and the novella, A Western Heart. Her almost-contemporary novels are Evie Undercover and The Art of Deception. Liz’s latest two novels, The Dark Horizon and The Flame Within, are the first two books in the Linford Saga, which is set between the wars.
A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Historical Novel Society, Liz gives talks and workshops at conferences and literary festivals, and regularly speaks to WI and book groups.
I was fascinated by Liz’s description of how one book turned into three. This isn’t that uncommon, I think, but having them occur contemporaneously is unusual. I can imagine the hard work it took to avoid spoiling the other two. That’s impressive. A lovely interview, Liz and Judith. Beautiful covers and a fascinating glimpse into Liz’s approach to writing and her books.
I loved the covers. And what a clever way to write the three books! Thank you for dropping by, Diana, I’ve really enjoyed the whole series of chatting with other family saga authors. It’s been an eye-opener for me; the different ways we all work. xx
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I enjoy that aspect too, Judith, and not limited to one genre. I find authors, in general, creative and inspiring. We’re all so different and each journey has something to teach. 🙂
I so agree, Diana. x
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I was struck by the complexity of the task of writing the contemporaneous stories without giving away spoilers – and Diana beat me to it. Those covers are stunning! Thanks for this interview, Judith – I’m thinking that maybe I need a big sheet of white card, too…