Minette Walters – author of The Swift and the Harrier – an interview

Pictured is author Minette Walters at her home near Dorchester UK .
Photo by Fabio De Paola

Minette Walters was one of the most successful crime fiction writers in the world. Published to critical acclaim in over 34 countries, each new novel reached the top of the Australian bestseller lists. Her last crime novel was The Chameleon’s Shadow in 2007.

The Last Hours (2017) saw Minette moving in an exciting direction with an extraordinary historical novel set in 1348, the year the Black Death came to England. The story is brought to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion in The Turn of Midnight (2018). Set three centuries later, The Swift and the Harrier is Minette’s newest historical novel.

Minette lives in Dorset with her husband.

An Interview with Minette Walters.

Queensland Reviewers Collective:

The Swift and the Harrier is now the third of your historical fiction novels following a series of critically-acclaimed and successful stand-alone psychological novels.  What brought about the change from one genre to the other?

Minette Walters:

My passion for history and my love of new challenges. I live in a part of England that’s steeped in the past, and it’s hard to walk along an old drover’s route or pass a 17th century manor house without wondering what stories they can tell.

One feature of your psychological novels which has been replicated in your historical fiction is the strong-minded, intelligent and articulate woman at the heart of the story.  The most recent example of course is Jayne Swift.  As it is common to all your books, the choice of a strong female protagonist must be a very deliberate one.  Is that a fair assessment?

Of course. I admire any woman who chooses to control her life rather than allowing it to control her. I grew up with strong-minded, intelligent role models – my grandmother was a suffragette and my mother was widowed with three children under the age of eleven. Both were determinedly independent, and their free-thinking spirits passed to me and my female protagonists.

The Swift and the Harrier to my mind has three main strands – the historical aspect of the Civil War as it played out in Dorset [and its related theme of the enormous physical and emotional burden of war placed on soldiers and civilians alike], the role of women in a society where they were seen to be mere chattels of men, and the developing relationship between Jayne and William.  Was it challenging to maintain a balance between the three strands and not allow one [for example, the relationship of Jayne and William] to ‘take over’ the story?

Not once I decided that Jayne Swift, should be neutral.  By refusing to take a side, she’s accepted by both Royalists and Parliamentarians, and through her work as a physician becomes an honest witness to the conflict. We see what she sees and endure what she endures.  Her relationship with Willian is necessarily sporadic because the war divides them, but they keep being drawn together by the constant in both their lives, Lady Alice Stickland. She, and most of the other women in the story counter your suggestion that they were seen as mere chattels. Throughout, Jayne is encouraged and excited by the extraordinary courage and spirit that women showed in the war, particularly during the siege of Lyme.

A significant sub-plot of the novel is the story of Ruth and Isaac and the treatment they endured from their husband and father Samuel.  While it offers a specific and familial example of the generally misogynistic attitudes of men at the time, it seems to have a more contemporary purpose as well.  Is it also intended to prompt the reader’s consideration of the attitudes of men towards women in the twenty-first century?

My primary focus in each of my historical novels is to counter the idea that women were inadequate and inactive prior to the emergence of 19th century thinkers and novelists such as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.  The fact that women’s lives weren’t recorded in contemporary chronicles is entirely due to the scribes and commissioners of the chronicles being male, often monks and bishops, whose knowledge of women was limited. It would amuse me to advocate the view that women have only developed the ability to think in the last 200 years, since it would mean we’re evolving so much faster than men that we’ll be unstoppable in another 200 years, but Charles Darwin would say that’s patently absurd! Inadequate men, who are frightened by women, have always looked for ways to control them. That is as true today as in my portrayal of Samuel’s attempts to control his wife and child in The Swift and the Harrier. Ruth’s solution, as it should be for every woman in an abusive relationship, is to leave him. She does it with the help of William, a confident man, who, like the vast majority of his sex, have a great deal more love than hatred for women.

The Last Hours and The Turn of Midnight were both set in the time of the Black Death, The Swift and the Harrier during the English Civil War – will there be a fourth historical novel?  And, if so, what period in English history would you consider?

I love the 17th century. Through civil war, a failed 10-year republic, the restoration of the Charles II, and the Glorious Revolution that brought us democracy and a stabilising constitutional monarchy, it was a time of drama and turbulence. I’m still exploring it!

Finally, when you are not writing or researching for your new book, which novels do you enjoy reading?

All and everything. I’m an eclectic reader, who loves a good story, be it literary or genre fiction.

 

My appreciation to Minette in providing me with an opportunity to ask her the questions above and for her thoughtful and comprehensive responses.

To read in full the QRC review of her latest book, click here.

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