April 23, 2018

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A Baby’s Bones

A Baby's Bone's - Rebecca AlexanderRebecca Alexander latest novel, A Baby’s Bones, combines the author’s passions for crime and fantasy. Rebecca returns to the page with an archaeologist working to solve crimes in the past, while finding murder in the present. Trained in psychology, Rebecca also wrote The Secrets of Life and Death, an urban and historical fantasy book. She lives in North Devon by the sea with her family, three cats and the occasional wild animal.

What can readers expect from your new novel?

Rebecca Alexander: A Baby’s Bones tells the story of Sage Westfield trying to explain how the bones of a baby were dumped in a well in the past. It also follows events in 1580 as the Banstock family wait for a precious baby to be born, while the French embroideress grows more secretive. I think if you want to read it purely as crime, that’s the main focus and I hope it’s satisfyingly tense. But if you want to be beguiled by the possibility of a ghost story, that’s there too. Sage has her personal struggle with impending motherhood and the tragedy of the baby in the well haunts her. I’ve brought in social anthropologist Felix Guichard to offer one explanation of the burial, the local vicar, Nick, offers another. Writing the book was like reading it in slow motion; I was quite shocked at where the ending was leading.

Tell us about the themes in your work.

Belief in the supernatural, ghosts and magic run deep in our culture. For me, it was a small shift in emphasis rather than a complete change to write A Baby’s Bones about a house that may (or not) be haunted by the violent events in 1580.

How did you become interested in all things mystical?

Reading history books made me look for the origins of these stories and I found the truth was often stranger than fiction. This knowledge just fed a belief in the arcane. There really were sorcerers and magicians who left behind their magical books. There were also monsters like Vlad the Impaler, Elizabeth Báthory, and Gilles de Rais.

Your interest in the subject matter stems from your childhood.

Near my school was a ‘fairy mound’, where we dared each other to walk across at night, and we sneaked into a burned out house to see if there were ghosts. I remember having a séance at my school and we terrified ourselves. Later, I studied psychology and found beliefs in magic and ghosts are deeply embedded in many of us. One of my characters, Felix, has a foot in each camp, both trying to explain things scientifically, but having seen things he can’t explain rationally. The house in A Baby’s Bones exists, and a real Tudor well was discovered at the back of the garden.

What made you choose an archaeologist as your protagonist?

I’m fascinated by history, not especially by kings and battles and migrations, but by family history and individuals’ stories. I grew up near a Norman castle and a Roman sea fort, my playground was climbing on two thousand year old walls and staircases that led nowhere. It was hard not to imagine what life would have been like back then when you find a thumb print in Roman mortar or a button from an American or French prisoner of war.

You found inspiration through the material your son was studying at college.

One of my sons studied archaeology at university, and I read his textbooks and realized that here was an unusual perspective on crime. I started out trying to solve a horrible crime in the past only to find one unfolding in the present day. Writing about someone like Sage was also interesting because she’s caught between two men, living alone but carrying a baby and trying to balance work and life. She has a focus on the evidence that any good detective has, and is trying to piece together the events of the past.

You currently teach Creative Writing. What would be your top tips for aspiring writers?

Many of us have a critical editor installed, that judges every word we try to write. If so, it helps if you can separate your creative side from your editor side. Write a first draft for yourself, muddle along, don’t try and tidy it up as you go and just get the whole story down. Then put your editor hat on and see what you’ve got. My first drafts are messy things, characters grow and even change names as the draft progresses, but when I rewrite into a proper draft, I know what’s going to happen. So my best advice is – write, write, write. Leave the judgments until later, or as Stephen King would say, much later.


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