Margaret James talks with Christina Courtenay about writing time-slip
CC: For me, it’s the chance to tell two stories in one, so to speak, and I also love the slightly paranormal/mysterious overtones these stories often have. I think that adds another dimension to the novel. And as I love both historical and contemporary tales, this way I get to do both – perfect!
MJ: Your heroine is a professional genealogist, and I know you’re interested in genealogy yourself. As a historical novelist, I feel that delving into the past often helps us to understand the present. Do you agree?
CC: Yes, I’m sure there are lots of things we can learn from the past in order to make sense of our lives, but as everyone knows, history also repeats itself because we don’t learn from other people’s mistakes. Everyone wants to do things their own way and that means not listening to good advice. In time slips, the protagonists do tend to lead similar lives to their ancestors, and the love stories often mirror those from the past. But hopefully the ending of the story set in the present shows that the characters finally do learn something so that the issues (whatever they are) can be resolved, and also that we, as human beings, have made progress in our thinking.
MJ: There’s always a great love story in your novels, which is hugely appealing to me, but would you be happy to be defined as a romantic novelist?
CC: Yes, absolutely! I’m first and foremost a romantic novelist, the historical background always comes second. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to be as accurate as I can with my research and the details I include in the story, just that for me it’s only the backdrop to the main thing, which is the romance between the hero and heroine.
MJ: How strongly did you identify with Melissa and Jake?
CC: I identified very strongly with Melissa, because the story is based on a real house I used to stay in which was reputedly haunted. Whenever I went there I lived in dread of meeting the resident ghost, but unlike Melissa I would have run away screaming I think J However, with the help of someone like Jake, perhaps I could have faced my fears? He’s the pragmatic sort of person I wish I was!
MJ: Do you believe in ghosts?
CC: Yes, I do. Despite the fact that I’ve never seen one, I know lots of people who have. Sane, rational people, not the kind given to making things up. And I think it would be very arrogant of us to think that we know everything about the universe, including whether ghosts (or souls/spirits in another dimension perhaps?) exist or not. Until someone proves it one way or another, conclusively, I will continue to believe.