Sammie Kurty, signing in! For today’s Fiction Reboot, we have the pleasure of welcoming back author Tessa Harris. Her first novel, The Anatomist’s Apprentice, won The Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Best First Mystery Award in 2012. Since her debut into the publishing world, Ms. Harris has released 5 novels about her ever intriguing anatomist, Dr. Thomas Silkstone. On January 27, 2015, she released the latest installment to the series entitled Shadow of the Raven. The novel investigates one of the most complex and complicated parts of the human anatomy: the mind. Dr. Silkstone and his beloved Lydia experience firsthand the inhumane, poor treatment of the mentally ill and the impact madness made on 18th century England. Today, Ms. Harris discusses Shadow of the Raven, writing, and where history and fiction intertwine.
Author Bio: Tessa Harris
After studying History at Oxford University, Tessa Harris began a journalistic career in Lincolnshire. She progressed to a London newspaper, and later a feature writer on Best magazine. After two years, she was made editor of a regional arts and listings publication, and later deputy editor on Heritage magazine. In 2005 she was made editor of Berkshire Life magazine. Tessa always had literature aspirations, and in 2000 won a European-wide screenplay writing competition for a work later optioned by a film company. The script was set in 18th century London and subsequent research led Tessa to the invention of Dr Thomas Silkstone, an American anatomist and the world’s first forensic scientist. For more Fiction Reboot interviews with Tessa, see here.
- If you could interview any author, living or deceased, who would you and why? Who is your favorite author?
As a journalist I’ve been lucky enough to interview some really big authors: Jeffrey Archer, Robert Harris and Barbara Taylor-Bradford to name but three. However, the author I’d most like to interview is Daphne du Maurier. I adore Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel. When I was on holiday at St Ives, in Cornwall, I passed the cottage where du Maurier used to stay and write, so I started reading her novels. I’d love to share a bottle of wine with her while watching the sun go down over the bay by St Nicholas’s Chapel. As for my favourite author? There are so many, but Sarah Dunant (The Birth of Venus, Sacred Hearts) has to be up there, alongside Andrew Miller (Pure) and Patrick Suskind (Perfume).
- In regards to your historical fiction, does the history outweigh the fiction, the fiction outweigh the history, or is it an even mix of both?
I’ve said before that writing historical fiction with real-life characters at its core is a bit like negotiating a minefield that’s already been swept. As long as you keep to the tried and tested path, i.e. stick to the facts, you’ll be safe. But if you stray – beware! If you’re not blown to pieces by eagle-eyed critics, then there’ll still be readers out there keen to take pot shots at you.
- What made you want to center your most recent novel, Shadow of the Raven, around the notorious Bedlam Mental Hospital and mental illness in general?
There are only two chapters set in Bedlam, but I wanted to touch on the treatment of mentally ill patients at this point in history. There was a debate going on at the time about how sufferers should be handled. Attitudes were changing. Members of the public could no longer pay to gawp at inmates at Bedlam for entertainment from 1770, but Bedlam’s head, John Monro, was convinced that madness could only be cured ‘evacuation by vomiting.’ Thankfully there were others who did not take this approach and gradually the treatment of the insane did improve.
- Do you personally identify with Dr. Thomas Silkstone? Do you identify with the medical detectives or play the “Sherlock Holmes” role in your own life?
I’ve lived with Thomas (in my head) for 17 years now. I identify very much with his reasoned approach to things, but he does tend to be a bit too serious. He needs to lighten up a bit, I think. Whether or not Lydia is the right person to help him do that is another story!
- Dr. Schillace recently remarked that students have an interesting but conflicted connection to Lydia as she can be hard to pin down. What would you say best symbolizes Lady Lydia Farrell and why?
A lot of readers are annoyed by Lydia. They think she’s too submissive. She’s certainly not the conventional heroine of contemporary novels of this period. They’re all very independent and feisty. Today’s leading female characters are very often portrayed as ‘breaking the glass ceiling,’ whereas Lydia exists under it. The reality of this period dictated that women had to conform or face being ostracized. Take Mary Shelley, for example, who was , in effect, banished for her affair with a married man. Not every woman had the will or the courage to forsake convention. Lydia is not weak, but up until now she has accepted her lot because she has had no choice. Many women in certain cultures face the same constraints today. Just because they do not openly challenge them does not make them weak.
6. I read that the Silkstone series originated from a screenplay. Would you consider trying screenwriting again?
I’d love to. In fact I’ve started writing the first book as a TV drama.
7. Finally, any advice to the discouraged writers just starting out? Especially those who are interested in genre fiction, mystery, thriller, etc?
Write, read and write again. Never throw anything away – nothing that you write is ever wasted. And never give up. It took me ten years to find a publisher for the Silkstone series, but I’d been trying with other works for the past 30!
Thank you, Tessa, for joining us today! You can find Tessa on Twitter and Facebook. Her latest novel, Shadow of the Raven, is in stores now!
Shadow of The Raven
American anatomist Dr. Thomas Silkstone hunts for justice amid a maelstrom of madness, murder, and social upheaval. . .
In the notorious mental hospital known as Bedlam, Dr. Thomas Silkstone seeks out a patient with whom he is on intimate terms. But he is unprepared for the state in which he finds Lady Lydia Farrell. Shocked into action, Thomas vows to help free Lydia by appealing to the custodian of her affairs, Nicholas Lupton. But when Silkstone arrives at the Boughton Estate to speak to Lupton, he finds that another form of madness has taken over the village. . .
What the critics are saying about Shadow of the Raven
““The Dr. Thomas Silkstone books have been an interesting and unique series. Set in 1784 and featuring an anatomist colonist from America, Harris looks at Georgian England through the fresh eyes of an outsider. She displays her complete historical knowledge with her easy and graceful presentation of the times. In this fifth installment, the personal stakes have never been higher. The books highlight a particular, more social aspect of the times. The twists and turns never stop, making Shadow of the Raven impossible to put down.” –RT Book Reviews, 4.5 Stars Top Pick
“Deception, murder and land wars thwart Dr. Thomas Silkstone’s latest attempt to find happiness with his beloved Lydia.” –Kirkus Review
About Sammie Kurty Sammie Kurty is an English major in her junior year at Wittenberg University and a contributor to Fiction Reboot. She is a proud member of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society. Sammie has been passionate about writing all her life and is about to complete her first novel, Sapphire Lake, a project she has worked on for three years. When she isn’t writing or reading, you can find her practicing makeup artistry or riding roller coasters. Twitter: @Shamtakee