AN AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH FRANCES WATTS ABOUT THE RAVEN’S WING
By Claire Catacouzinos
I had the pleasure for my first ever interview to be published on my blog to be with Frances Watts. An Australian children’s book author who I admire in having her first YA Historical novel set in Ancient Rome, The Raven’s Wing, published by HarperCollins in August 2014. She answered 12 Questions I had about her book, her writing, her characters, and about YA historical novels.
A note to readers: please be aware of spoilers in this interview about the plot of the book.
This interview was conducted by email in late January 2015.
About the Book
On the eve of her fifteenth birthday, Claudia is unexpectedly summoned to Rome by the father she hasn’t seen in ten years, a wealthy and powerful senator. She finds herself with both a new family and a luxurious new home in the capital of the world’s greatest empire.
But Claudia soon discovers a contest of power and ambition is secretly being waged—and she is the prize. Torn between two rivals for her hand in marriage, she must choose between her duty and her heart…a choice that could have deadly consequences.
A gripping mystery of love and intrigue set in Ancient Rome.
CLAIRE CATACOUZINOS: What inspired you to write The Raven’s Wing?
FRANCES WATTS: I studied Roman history at uni before majoring in literature, and I’ve always thought that one day I’d like to continue that study. After writing a series of junior fiction books with a medieval setting (the Sword Girl series), I decided I’d like to write longer historical fiction for older readers, and realised that this could be my chance to return to Ancient Rome.
FRANCES: I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the reforming Gracchi brothers.
CLAIRE: Do you prefer to write in the period of the Roman Republic or the Roman Empire, and why?
FRANCES: Despite what I said above about the Gracchi brothers, my preferred period is the early days of the Empire; it was a time of relative stability, but also saw great political, social and even moral reforms (for better or worse). It’s such a fascinating time.
CLAIRE: What inspired you to write about Claudia?
FRANCES: I wanted to create a character who was ‘modern’; that is, a character contemporary readers could identify with, yet who was still very much of her time.
CLAIRE: Did you always know that Claudia would end up with Marcus or did you have other plans for her character?
FRANCES: I did always have Marcus in mind for Claudia—and I wanted her to be attracted as much by his ideas and principles as his dashing good looks! Part of her coming of age, I suppose, is to begin to see beyond the bubble of her own world and to see the society she is living in, and to begin thinking critically about that.
CLAIRE: Did you always have Aurelia’s death planned out and Sabine’s naivety to kill her sister, or had this changed throughout your writing process?
FRANCES: That plot point did change and develop through the writing process. I certainly never intended for Sabine to be the one to kill Aurelia; I thought it might be Lucius—but, then, in narrative terms that seemed too obvious. Often when I’m writing the mystery is a puzzle to me too; I will have a general idea of where I’m headed, but I won’t necessarily have it all worked out to the last detail, and part of the interest for me is in seeing what unexpected directions the plot might take.
CLAIRE: Who is your favourite character and why?
FRANCES: Oh, that’s a tricky question! Claudia, of course…but I do rather like Aurelia (so decadent, but so sharp, too).
CLAIRE: How long did it take you to write your book? Did you have writer’s block at any stage, and was there any “aha” moments throughout your writing process?
FRANCES: The book took a year to write. It felt like a struggle much of the time; it can be hard to balance the needs of history with the needs of the story. I wanted it to be as historically accurate as I could make it, but there’s a certain point at which you need to trust that you have assimilated the research and just write, if that makes sense.
CLAIRE: Did you visit any archaeological sites in Italy for inspiration, and if so, which one was your favourite?
FRANCES: I particularly love Roman art—the mosaics and frescos. Two of my favourite places for this were the Palazzo Massimo in Rome (especially the garden fresco from the Villa of Livia) and the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
CLAIRE: Have there been any YA historical novels that have inspired you to write in this genre?
FRANCES: I wouldn’t say there were any specific examples of YA; I tend to find my inspiration in my own curiosity (in this case about Ancient Rome) and the desire to know more, and then I write to immerse myself in that time or place. It’s similar to the impulse to read, really.
CLAIRE: Why do you think there is a lack in the Australian book market of YA historical novels?
FRANCES: Sadly, that’s the market at work, and not just in Australia. The market for contemporary realism and dystopian fantasy in YA just keeps on keeping on!
CLAIRE: Do you prefer to write from the perspective of a character in history (one that you create or a famous personality) or a character from Roman mythology? And why?
FRANCES: I prefer a character in history, one that I’ve created myself. What I’ve always been most interested in is daily life, in what it feels like to live in different times and places, and for me, writing is a way to explore that, to give free rein to my curiosity. And that goes for pretty much any time and place that interests me. My next book is actually set in 1857 Edo (Tokyo)!
For more information about Frances Watts, visit her author website.
To purchase her book, you can go to the HarperCollins website, which will link you to other retailers.
And you can follow Frances as a fan on her Author Facebook Like Page.