Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Lucy Adlington?
I’m a writer, first and foremost. I’ve written novels that flirt with science-fiction and fantasy, but all with history woven through. I’m also a costume historian, which means I get to research and write about the myriad ways in which clothes give clues about cultures in the past and present.
Your new novel, The Red Ribbon, will be published by Hot Key Books in September. It looks rather interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
The Red Ribbon is my latest novel. It’s a story of a girl who has to make impossible choices when given the chance to survive in a nightmare scenario. It’s also about nurturing friendships during adversity. It celebrates hanging onto your own identity regardless of what’s stripped away from you.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The inspiration came from a very dark era in history. The Holocaust, to be precise. I was researching for a non-fiction book about women’s lives in the 1940s when I came across a reference to the dressmakers of Auschwitz. Yes. You read that right. Prisoners who literally wielded a needle to survive in this concentration camp. While they had their own clothes and belongings stolen (sent back to Germany along with the goods and valuables of countless others) these talented women were forced to create fashions for the female guards of Auschwitz and for SS officers’ wives, including the Commandant’s wife herself. While my characters are fictional, the scenarios and the timeline are not.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
Writing can be tough, and publishing can be a tough industry, but… if you want to write you have to do it. I love the first heady rush of a new idea. I adore diving into research then plotting and planning. I hate the slog and self-doubt of the first draft. Then what sweeter feeling could there be than finally seeing your imagination in print?
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Historical fiction requires a great deal of integrity and background knowledge. Some of the best advice I’ve learnt along the way is to do your tons of research… then set it aside and write without notes. This avoids the dreaded info dump. You can always triple-check facts and details in the next draft. As for research, it is endlessly seductive. At some point you have to put other peoples’ books down and write your own.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
As soon as I could hold a pencil and structure a sentence, I wrote stories. Next up it was a pen (Berol handwriting pens, stupid things. Hated ’em at school), then a fountain pen (nicely pretentious as a teenager) then, eventually, a keyboard. I taught myself to touch type on a manual Olivetti typewriter so I could bang out stories more quickly. Now it’s biros for notes and mini laptop for drafts. I’ve kept my early stories even though they may make me wince at times. No need to scoff at the enthusiasm or innocence of youthful scribbles.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Although I’ve mentioned historical fiction I really don’t see myself as fitting into any particular genre. In fact, I love blending genres. Why not? It keeps things fresh & feisty. I tend not to read historical fiction, truth be told. It’s a bit too much like work in a way. I escape with crime fiction and thrillers. There are some stunning talents around though.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on a new novel about one of the characters in The Red Ribbon, set in 1946, with a few ghosts swirling about. I’m also researching a history book about WW2 called Ready for Action.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Much of my reading is non-fiction. This would have surprised me as a child, when I devoured fantasy novels and science fiction. On the pile beside me right now is East West Street, The World Without Us, A Woman in Berlin and sci-fi short stories by James Tiptree, Jnr., Her Smoke Rose up Forever.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
Recommending a novel to other readers is always tricky. There are books I love – Lord of the Rings, The Count of Monte Cristo, Persuasion – but I wouldn’t like to single one out. Perhaps for universal delight, Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
It often surprises people to learn that I used to play Sunday League soccer.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
As for the next twelve months, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to writing, writing, reading and writing. Plus some exciting European research trips. Plus the launch of The Red Ribbon of course!
Lucy Adlington’s The Red Ribbon is out now, published by Hot Key Books.