7 Questions about Villains – with author Kirsty Stonell-Walker
8th March 2016
It's one of life's great pleasures to be able to sit back and read a good story. Even better to have the opportunity to ask the author your own set of questions. Today, I would like to welcome writer and blogger Kirsty Stonell Walker to Endymion to tell us a little about the origins and background to her most-recent novel 'We are Villains All.'
Author Kirsty Stonell Walker.
When did the idea for the novel ‘We are Villains All’ first occur to you? And did it undergo much evolution or change before reaching the final draft?
'We Are Villains All started life a decade ago as a book set in the 1970s and today. It never really fitted, or rather my characters never seemed very comfortable in their modern surroundings but I liked Max and Brough and so put them to one side until something came to mind that would make them work. After finishing A Curl of Copper and Pearl I suddenly had a vision of them in Victorian dress, that Brough would make a fine saucy artist indeed and so the nineteenth century became their home. The book then grew substantially in length and everything started to work. That can be the way with stories and I try never to abandon anything completely. You never know when you will find the key to a story.'
Would you tell us a little about the cover and why you chose this particular photograph? Did it have anything to do with your research into Victorian photography?
'I knew I wanted a photograph on the front cover. For a while I was besotted with an image of the actress Maude Fealy, who Maud Blake is partially named after, but it wasn’t quite right for the image I had of Maud, listening enraptured to her poet. While I was researching Julia Margaret Cameron and nineteenth century photography I saw the picture of Christina Fraser Tytler and fell in love because her devoted expression and quiet beauty was exactly what I had envisaged. She was absolutely perfect and so I had found my cover.'
The painting ‘The Wounded Cavalier’ by William Shakespeare Burton resonates through the story and can perhaps be seen as paralleling the plight of the three main characters. Is the reader correct in assuming such a correlation – and if so, what lessons, if any, or what ideas can be drawn from it?
'Yes, absolutely. The photograph of The Wounded Cavalier plays on the minds and emotions of all involved, and reflects not only what the characters assume their roles to be in the relationship but also what they would like their roles to be. Max sees glamour in the role of dying poet, but later sees himself in another role entirely. Maud sees herself as the passive witness to beauty and death, but I think by the end they all have to re-evaluate their places.'
The Wounded Cavalier.
The men in Villains are convincing. You don’t sentimentalise or glamorise us fellows and seem to understand our weaknesses. Do you find it easy to write about the opposite sex? It can often be a hurdle that the best of writers can fall at.
'Thank you very much, I do my best. I have rather brilliant gentlemen friends who I rely on to call me out if I write nonsense about boys. I secretly suspect that men and women aren’t actually that fundamentally different, it’s just the situations they find themselves in that tend to be different. In Villains, I have both a male and a female character in almost identical situations, at the mercy of an amorous pursuer of the opposite sex, and I especially like playing with gender expectations. I also have a thing about ‘Man Damsels’, men in precarious positions that are either doomed or need rescuing, strangely quite common in Victorian art. There aren’t enough of them in books for my liking so I have to write my own. I might be alone in this proclivity, so I better shut up now.'
'Iago' by Julia Margaret Cameron.
In the novel, there’s a lot of intrigue and passion among the society of village ladies. Do you think our modern attitude to Englishwomen of that era is flawed in any sense? We imagine them being complicit in being put on a pedestal of virtue? But were they? In that sense, Maud or especially Margaret might seem quite radical. Did you base Margaret on any historic figure?
'There are a good few ‘Margarets’ in Victorian England, that is to say women of a certain social class who carefully, but determinedly, transgressed what we would expect social boundaries to be. Looking at the female members of the Souls for example, there is no comment on how they behave or who they sleep with as long as they are discreet and it doesn’t impact on others. Margaret and Alfred Cranhope’s relationship is one of understanding and you could argue that he turns a blind eye to what he doesn’t want to see. We know of disastrous relationships, such as the Ruskins, because they go publicly wrong, but there must have been countless relationships where people just managed to make it work and kept their emotions hidden.
I have a suspicion that we modern folk are not so different to our ancestors, that we are no better or worse than them. I know an Emeline or two, that’s for sure!'
Portrait of young woman by Albert Lynch (1851–1912).
How do you manage to balance all the different demands of your life with writing so prolifically. Blogsposts, books, poems. Do you have some magical method of time management, or are you just blessed with enormous energy?
'I spend a lot of time very tired indeed, if that is any answer, but that’s to do with having children rather than writing. There is no magic method, I just find that I will always have time to do something I want to do, like searching through newspaper articles or tracing graves. Oddly, I rarely find time for vacuuming…'
On your blog, The Kissed Mouth, you blend educational elements with humour – and many of us who follow it enjoy this approach. By contrast, your books are serious in tone, often dark. What are you working on now for your next major publication and will we ever have a comedy?
The Crystal Ball (detail) J.W.Waterhouse.
'That is a very tricky question - humour can be problematic because it is almost always at the expense of someone else, and a lot of my humour is self-depreciating. I always remember something someone has told me that has made me laugh, and have immense fondness for those in my life that make me laugh, so try and reflect that in my blog As for what I am writing next, I am planning to publish a biography of Mary Hillier, who was Julia Margaret Cameron’s maid and model, hopefully around Spring 2017. As for novels, I am working on an idea but now feel compelled to write something funny. I know a really filthy limerick about a girl from Devizes, does that count?'