Release Date: September 28, 2017
London 1667. Set in a London rising from the ruins of the Great Fire, Pleasing Mr Pepys is a vivid re-imagining of the events in Samuel Pepys’s Diary.
Desperate to escape her domineering aunt, Deb Willet thinks the post of companion to well-respected Elisabeth Pepys is the answer to her prayers. But Samuel Pepys’s house is not as safe as it seems. An intelligent girl in Deb’s position has access to his government papers, and soon she becomes a target of flamboyant actress Abigail Williams, a spy for England’s enemies, the Dutch.
Abigail is getting old and needs a younger accomplice. She blackmails Deb into stealing Pepys’s documents. Soon, the respectable life Deb longs for slides out of her grasp. Mr Pepys’s obsessive lust for his new maid increases precisely as Abigail and her sinister Dutch spymaster become more demanding. When Deb falls for handsome Jem Wells, a curate-in-training, she thinks things cannot possibly get worse.
Q&A with Deborah Swift:
How did you make the switch from set and costume designer to writer? Was this something you always wanted to do?
Theatre work is very long hours – I can vividly remember ‘all-nighters’ where we painted the stage floor-cloth overnight, fueled by coffee and chocolate biscuits. So once I had children, it didn’t fit with family life too well, so I was looking for an alternative with a better work/life balance. I had a transitional period where I did freelance design work and taught history of the theatre and history of design to university students. In a way I was always working with words – dissecting a play is a good way to get under the skin of its story.
Eventually I took the plunge and went to study for an MA in Creative Writing. These courses sometimes get a bad press, but I was lucky; the course was brilliant, and I met some other exceptional writers. On the course I learnt the bare bones of structuring a novel, and was lucky enough to have extensive critiques of my first novel. I filled a few waste-paper bins whilst I was there!
What made you choose to write historical fiction genre?
I read a lot of historical fiction. I like to learn something whilst I’m being entertained, and I find other eras fascinating. For me, I think the process of re-imagining history began with having to re-imagine settings for plays. So I had to do research in a similar way as I do now, to find out what people wore, and what their environment might be like. Plays are very condensed stories, which need to move quickly and be told in a couple of hours, which is good training for writing a novel. And working in the theatre you pick up an ear for dialogue that will move the action forward.
Where did you get the idea to write “Pleasing Mr. Pepys”?
I’d used Pepys’s Diary as research material for several of my other books, as his diary gives us a fly-on-the-wall vision of life in London in the 17th century. I expect he had no idea when he wrote it, that centuries later, it would be so widely read, or he probably wouldn’t have revealed so much or been quite so frank!
The women in his life were always in the background of his reports on his daily life, and I wanted to bring them to the fore. I’ve woven together the real history (detailed in the diary) with a plot featuring espionage, rebellion and romance.
How long does it take you to write and research a book? This book being your seventh historical fiction novel, was it quicker to write than the others?
Ages! About 18 months. And they don’t seem to get quicker because each one has unique problems and needs specific research. I think the only difference I can see, is that I’m not so nervous when I go through the inevitable stormy patch in the middle of the book. When I hit that brick wall I sort of know I’ll get through it and have a book I front of me eventually,
Of the books you have written, do you have a favorite?
I really enjoyed writing ‘A Divided Inheritance’ although it was a bit of an epic at 500 pages. Most of my books have been set in cold, damp England, so it was a treat to write about the blazing heat of Seville. I also found the real history of the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain very moving.
Who are some of your favorite authors, and what are you currently reading?
For historical fiction I like Ken Follett, C J Sansom, Kate Forsyth, Dorothy Dunnett, Sharon Penman, Philippa Gregory’s early books, and literary fiction like Geraldine Brooks, Tracy Chevalier and Rose Tremain. But I’ll read anything. I’ve just finished a dystopian post-apocalyptic novel by Terry Tyler and really enjoyed it. I read two or three books a week, so I’m a voracious reader!
Where do you do your best writing? Do you outline the book first?
No I’m a ‘pantser’. But I like to have an idea of the ending, and the real history has to shape my plots. So I make a timeline of the real history first, and then improvise within that. I did have a lovely writing retreat in Greece this year, and also in the Gladstone Library in Chester, but most of my best writing is done here at home, in my rather untidy attic room with a view of the garden.
What is your next project?
Pleasing Mr Pepys is the first of a trilogy of books based on the real-life women in Pepys’ Diary, so the next one is almost finished, and will also be published by Accent Press. It’s another stand-alone book called A Plague on Mr Pepys and will be out next summer. Pepys’ Diary tells us a lot about the Great Plague of 1665, so no prizes for guessing what it’s about!
Many thanks Suzy for hosting me!
Where To contact Deborah Swift:
Book link myBook.to/MrPepys