Blog Tour | The White Phoenix by Catherine Randall
September 2, 2020
The White Phoenix by Catherine Randall
Today I am on the Blog Tour for The White Phoenix by Catherine Randall and I am here with an interview with the author.
Before I share that though, here’s some information on the book.
Title: The White Phoenix Author: Catherine Randall Publisher: The Book Guild Published: 28th August 2020 Format: Paperback Source: Review Copy from Author Links:Goodreads. Waterstones*. Summary: London, 1666. After the sudden death of her father, thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hopper and her mother must take over THE WHITE PHOENIX – the family bookshop in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral. But England is at war with France and dire prophecies abound. As rumours of invasion and plague spread, Lizzie battles prejudice, blackmail and mob violence to protect the bookshop she loves. When the Great Fire of London breaks out, Lizzie must rescue more than just the bookshop. Can she now save the friend she wasn’t supposed to have? CAN THE WHITE PHOENIX RISE FROM THE ASHES?
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What is your favourite thing about writing books? I love creating characters and getting to live in a completely different world for a while.
Who is your favourite character in your book and why? I’m very fond of Lizzie, the heroine, because she loves books as much as I do and she is absolutely determined to keep the family bookshop going after her father dies, despite all the difficulties. She really cares about her friends and her family, and she always tries to do the right thing, although she doesn’t always manage it. I also have a huge soft spot for Sam, Master Pedley’s apprentice. He has had a difficult start in life and, unlike Lizzie, he doesn’t have the support of a family. He makes lots of mistakes but his heart is in the right place.
To be honest, I love all my characters. Once I knew that The White Phoenix was going to be published, I was so thrilled that they would all be out in the world and other people would get to know them!
What is your favourite drink to consume while writing? Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. I like the idea of having a glass of wine while writing, but it doesn’t really work for me. It doesn’t improve my writing!
Do you have any bad habits while you’re writing? I write historical novels, so I am always in danger of spending too much time researching the period I’m writing about, because it’s so interesting and much easier than actually having to create! I think it’s a common problem for writers of historical novels – we get easily distracted searching out that one little fact that we simply have to know before we can carry on with the writing. Someone once told me that the best thing to do was to get the research done, then put it away and start writing. I’m not very good at doing that!
How did you research your book? My book is set in 1666, which is a great year to write about because there is so much information available, including both contemporary diaries and modern history books. Of course, anyone writing about the 1660s has the benefit of Samuel Pepys’s diaries which I think are absolutely fascinating. They’re much easier to read than you might imagine, and there are some really funny bits, as well as lots of useful details about London life. Samuel Pepys only has a walk-on part in The White Phoenix, but I learned a lot about bookshops from some of his diary entries. Samuel Pepys’s own bookseller, Joshua Kirton, had a shop in St Paul’s Churchyard near the fictional White Phoenix.
Lots of good books have been written about the Great Fire, so it wasn’t hard to find out the details of when the Fire started and how it spread. I also spent a happy morning walking round the City of London with my son to work out how long it would have taken Lizzie to walk from one place to another. Sadly, there is not much evidence of the City that Lizzie knew because although it was rebuilt after 1666 much of it was then destroyed in the Blitz of 1940. The street names have remained the same though so you can still trace Lizzie’s footsteps if you are ever in the City of London.
When you start writing about a historical period, you suddenly realise that there are all sorts of important things that you don’t know, such as what people ate for breakfast, what the inside of their houses looked like, how they communicated with each other before phones and computers. Luckily there is a wonderful book called Restoration London by Liza Picard which answers all these sorts of questions. It was invaluable. I was also lucky that my Dad had books about the history of costume and cookery, so that my characters could wear and eat the right things!
I researched seventeenth-century book shops by reading books on the subject in The British Library. I also learnt about bookbinding, because Lizzie’s family were bookbinders as well as booksellers – my highlight was a morning spent with an actual bookbinding business in London.
Overall, I ended up with a lot more information than I was able to put in the book, but it means that the story is as historically accurate as I could make it. I hope that the reader will feel immersed in the sounds, smells and tastes of the seventeenth century.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? I think a plotter really, although I find things always change and develop when I begin writing. I always used to start books with no idea of where they were going and never finished them. Now I realise that I need to know how it is all going to end before I start writing. The twists and turns along the way are less plotted, but I do need to know what the end point is.
If you could live in any fictional world, which would you choose and why? I don’t have any brothers or sisters, so when I was a child I loved books about large families and used to pretend that I was one of them. A particular favourite was Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome about a family spending a holiday sailing and camping in the Lake District, and accidentally solving a crime along the way. For the same reason I would love to be an extra sibling in the Casson family novels by Hilary McKay. The children have a lot of freedom and the whole family is so warm and funny.
If you could befriend any fictional character, who would you choose and why? I have to say that I would love to be friends with my heroine, Lizzie Hopper. I think we would have lots to talk about, and I’d love her to show me around seventeenth-century London. I think she’d be really good fun to spend time with.
About the Author
Catherine Randall was brought up in Shropshire but has lived in London since graduating from St Catherine’s College, Oxford with a degree in Modern History. Catherine worked as an editor in book publishing before taking a break to bring up her family. She took a Master’s in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton, writing a novella for teens as part of her dissertation. Now living in southwest London, she is known in her local area as the writer of two history plays (The Teddington Review and Letters from the Front) performed in 2017 and 2018.
As a result of her research for The White Phoenix, Catherine takes workshops about the Great Fire of London into primary schools. She is passionate about encouraging reading and volunteers with the charity Prisoners’ Reading Groups. She is currently working on her second novel.