Interview with Deborah Swift

Yesterday I reviewed Deborah Swift's Shadow on the Highway, her historical novel about a 17th century highwaywoman and her deaf maid.  I'm thrilled to share my interview with Ms. Swift, so read on to learn more about this book and her research.

Lady Katherine Fanshawe
Was Shadow on the Highway the original title of your book?

When I first began, it was Lady of the Highway. But then I realized there was too much material for one book, especially for younger readers, so I have saved that title for the last book of the series, which is told from Lady Katherine Fanshawe's (Kate's) point of view.

As you were writing Shadow on the Highway, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

I was surprised by the character of Abigail. At first I thought she might not be able to hold her own against someone as strong-willed as Lady Katherine, but she developed a stubborn persistence which enabled her to more than match her. Abigail, being the maid, is able to discover secrets that are hidden from her mistress, and as she is deaf, she has developed great powers of observation.

Is this your first foray into writing Young Adult (YA) fiction? Are there any differences for you in writing for a YA or adult audience?

Yes, I have never tried writing for a younger age group before. One of the things that was difficult is that readers vary enormously in their maturity - one fifteen year old can be like an eighteen year old, and another like a twelve year old. So it is a big span of ages I'm dealing with. The main thing was to treat the girls in the novel as girls and not as women, even though often in that era, girls were treated as women from the age of twelve. I thought the idea of a girl becoming a highwaywoman, and taking control, might appeal to teen readers who are branching out into independence, though I hope this does not sound condescending. Though I have to say, mostly it is adult readers so far who have told me they've enjoyed it! In order to make the characters more accessible for today's younger readers I made their reactions more hasty, their dialogue more outspoken and direct. Abigail and Kate have strong opinions and allegiances, and haven't yet fully embraced adult tact!

Deborah Swift
How did you come across Lady Katherine Fanshawe's story?

I was researching something else and came upon her picture on the internet. I could not quite believe she was known as 'The Wicked Lady' - she looked so innocent. Once I'd heard the legend I then looked into the real history, and found quite a few discrepancies. I have stuck to the facts as much as I can, but solved a few problems by inventing a sister for Ralph Chaplin, a farmer's son, who appears in the legend, but cannot be traced in any records. So Abigail Chaplin was born, and this gave Ralph a valid reason for meeting Lady Katherine, a meeting that was to prove fateful for them both.

Were you surprised that there were historical female highwaymen (or at least one?)?

Yes. I think that riding the highway at night must have taken enormous courage. Apart from the romantic notion, highwaymen were thieves and engaged in a life of crime. I researched Dick Turpin and he was a sadistic thug, although Claude duVall was closer to the 'gentleman' we associate with the role. One of the mysteries of the legend is why Lady Katherine took to the road, and it was the fundamental question for me as a novelist, and the one that takes three books to tell! In the film The Wicked Lady, it was suggested that boredom was the reason, but I have supplied a stronger and (I hope) more plausible explanation, based on what I know of her history and the events of The English Civil War.

Read any good books recently?

I am reading The Swan Daughter by Carol McGrath, which I am very much enjoying. I read her first, The Hand-fasted Wife, and wanted more! It is a period of history (The Norman Conquest) very little written about, and pivotal to England's history and language.

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My thanks to Deborah Swift for her time and thoughtful responses.

You can learn more about her and her books at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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