Last month I read and loved Beatriz Williams’ latest novel, A Certain Age so was delighted to be able to ask Beatriz some questions as part of the blog tour!
Hello Beatriz, thank you very much for taking the time to answer some of my questions. First of all, could you tell us a little something about yourself?
It’s my pleasure – thanks for having me! I’m actually thrilled to see A Certain Age released in the UK; my father’s British, and my husband and I spent five years in London, where we had our first two children.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I’m one of those writers who’s been scribbling since I was a child! Writing was always my true love, but I recognized that, as a profession, it was going to take an enormous amount of courage and dedication without much chance at reward, so I pursued a business career and eventually earned an MBA in Finance. It wasn’t until I had my third child that I really found the self-confidence and discipline to—how shall I put it?—write for a public audience!
What do you enjoy most about being a writer? What do you find the most challenging?
I absolutely love spinning stories and creating worlds; I can’t begin to express my gratitude that I get to disappear into a fictional universe every day and that is my job. The juggle’s the challenge, though, especially now that I have to maintain all this social media and promotion, in addition to all the editing and proofing and the business side. I love going out on the road and meeting readers, but it definitely interrupts my writing routine! And once you interrupt that all-important flow, it’s hard to get back into it.
What kind of books do you enjoy to read and are there any particular books or authors who have inspired your own writing?
The sad truth about writing for a living—especially when you have four children at home, as I do—is that it’s fiendishly difficult to read as much as you used to…and when I do manage to settle down with a book at the end of the day, it’s probably some kind of research! But I do love to read historical fiction (Kate Morton and Jacqueline Winspear are two of my favorites) and smart contemporary authors like Curtis Sittenfeld (whose latest Eligible I can’t wait to peek into). But nobody taught me more about immersing a reader effortlessly into a historical world than Patrick O’Brian—he was absolutely the master.
What inspired you to write your latest novel, A Certain Age?
I’d been wanted to write a book set in the 1920s for some time, but I knew I had to find a story that would communicate all the things I wanted to say about this extraordinary decade. And one day I was listening to the final act of Der Rosenkavalier—Richard Strauss’s enchanting and terribly poignant opera about a love affair between a Viennese aristocrat and her handsome young lover, and the ingénue who steals his affections—and I thought how brilliantly that story and those themes would play out in Jazz Age New York.
A Certain Age is set in the Jazz Age of 1920’s New York. What was it that drew you to writing about this particular era?
Oh my goodness, what’s not to excite a writer about such an age? It’s the decade in which we emerged from the First World War and transformed into modern people. So much change is taking place in every possible pocket of civilization—art, literature, fashion, gender relations, sexual politics, science, technology, transportation, media, music—it’s just a revolution set against the tragic backdrop of the aftermath of war. Narrative thrives on that kind of conflict. And I was particularly fascinated with the rise of youth culture, and how that reconstructed the very workings of society, and that’s the story I set out to tell in A Certain Age.
There are some wonderful characters in A Certain Age. Do you have a favourite? If you could choose to be one of the characters, who would it be?
Oh, my characters are like my children—how can I possibly pick a favourite? But I do think Theresa Marshall emerges as the most vibrant of them, in spite of (or perhaps because of!) all her faults. She’s witty and clever and fully self-possessed, she’s capable of both great generosity and Machiavellian scheming, she’s full-throated in defence of those she loves. And she’s been through enormous grief and misery; just about everyone she’s ever loved has been taken away from her, so she’s developed a thick shell to protect herself from the world around her. As she narrates her story, she isn’t going to reveal the despair she’s feeling—she wants you to think she’s got it all together—so you have to read between the lines to get a glimpse of the true Theresa. She was a fascinating character to write, and I hope readers will find her fascinating to discover.
A Certain Age features a love triangle and surprising revelations from a family’s past. Did you know from the start of the writing process how you wanted each characters story to end?
Well, since I was inspired by a previous work, I knew from the beginning what the emotional end points would be for all three characters. The trick was to get them there—to guide them on the journey that would help them develop the necessary strength and wisdom to find that place at the end. Because of course my characters behaved differently from Strauss’s characters; they were their own people, in their own age, and I had to find new ways for them to grow. But that’s part of the magic of taking an old story and making it your own.
I was certainly gripped by this story and was sorry to leave these characters behind! Will we see any of them make an appearance in a future book?
Absolutely! I love creating a fictional universe in which old characters reappear, and the secondary characters in one book take centre stage in another. The Marshall’s are set to populate this world in the same way as my Schuyler family keeps popping up in all the different decades.
Are you writing at the moment? Can you tell us a little about your next novel?
I have so much in the pipeline—my head is just full of ideas for these characters and I’m already thinking several books ahead. My next one is called The Wicked City and it’s out in January; it’s about a straight-arrow Prohibition enforcement agent and the flapper he recruits to help him break a New York City bootlegging ring that reaches all the way into Appalachia. The chemistry between these two is just wonderful—Ginger, my flapper, is a wonderfully audacious woman with a vibrant voice, and he’s the perfect foil for her. And next summer I’ve got Cocoa Beach, which picks up the story of Sophie’s sister Virginia, who’s headed to Florida at the end of A Certain Age in search of her missing husband. It’s a bit of a psychological thriller, with a gothic twist, and 1920s Florida is such a lush, hedonistic setting. I’m so excited about both books!
Thank you to Beatriz Williams for taking part in the Q&A, you can check out the other dates on the A Certain Age blog tour below: