It’s my turn to host Stephanie Bretherton and ‘Bone Lines’ as part of the blog tour organised by Anne Cater (RandomThingsTours). Many thanks to Anne for inviting me to take part in the blog tour where I have a guest post from the author herself. But first, here is more information about ‘Bone Lines’ and how you can purchase it:
A young woman walks alone through a barren landscape in a time before history, a time of cataclysmic natural change. She is cold, hungry and with child but not without hope or resources. A skilful hunter, she draws on her intuitive understanding of how to stay alive… and knows that she must survive.
In present-day London, geneticist Dr Eloise Kluftwrestles with an ancient conundrum as she unravels the secrets of a momentous archaeological find. She is working at the forefront of contemporary science but is caught in the lonely time-lock of her own emotional past.
Bone Lines is the story of two women, separated by millennia yet bound by the web of life. A tale of love and survival – of courage and the quest for wisdom – it explores the nature of our species and asks what lies at the heart of being human.
Although partly set during a crucial era of human history 74,000 years ago, Bones Lines is very much a book for our times. Dealing with themes from genetics, climate change and migration to the yearning for meaning and the clash between faith and reason, it also paints an intimate portrait of who we are as a species. The book tackles some of the big questions but requires no special knowledge of any of the subjects to enjoy.
Alternating between ancient and modern timelines, the story unfolds through the experiences of two unique characters: One is a shaman, the sole surviving adult of her tribe who is braving a hazardous journey of migration, the other a dedicated scientist living a comfortable if troubled existence in London, who is on her own mission of discovery.
The two are connected not only by a set of archaic remains but by a sense of destiny – and their desire to shape it. Both are pioneers, women of passion, grit and determination, although their day to day lives could not be more different. One lives moment by moment, drawing on every scrap of courage and ingenuity to keep herself and her infant daughter alive, while the other is absorbed by work, imagination and regret. Each is isolated and facing her own mortal dangers and heart-rending decisions, but each is inspired by the power of the life force and driven by love.
Bone Lines stands alone as a novel but also marks the beginning of the intended ‘Children of Sarah’ series.
A life in the day of a character
How do fictional characters come to life? Readers may wonder whether they are pure invention or drawn from ‘biography’ (whether the writer’s own, or from observation, or research). I can speak only from my own perspective, but sometimes there are varying levels of both and sometimes it’s all imagination. My debut novel, Bone Lines, is a dual timeline featuring two very different – yet connected – women: a prehistoric ancestor and a modern-day doctor of genetics.
One is young, vital, active, in danger, but with particular skills and gifts. She is a mother, hunter, shaman, survivor. The other is middle-aged, dedicated and ambitious, wrapped up in thoughts and memories, working through contemporary challenges. She is a scientist, thinker, lover, seeker. Both are independent and isolated but driven by a sense of purpose.
I am often asked how much my character, Dr Eloise Kluft,and I might have in common (and friends often try to identify any ‘real’ events or people in her world) and while there are many crucial differences and inventions, there are certainparallels when it comes to age, location, passions and concerns. In order to make contemporary characters feel authentic or relatable a writer will often draw on the familiar. However, what intrigues me most is that no one asks whether the prehistoric character (‘Sarah’ – as her bones have been named) is based on me, when both women have emerged from the same source.
While Eloise has a few traits that are quite close to home (and her overthinking is certainly a shared flaw) in a strange way, I feel that Sarah may be drawn from an even deeper ‘self’ – or perhaps a ‘best self’ – as she arrived almost fully formed and began writing herself, and while I had to wonder what I might do in her situation, she also very much told me what she wanted to do – and how. Some aspects or actions are inspired by research, but only a few details, here and there. (There is also some ‘essence of Holly’ here too, my amazing Aussie niece, who is a park ranger in NSW – and the kind of kick-ass, earth-connected sister who could definitely be one of the ‘Children of Sarah.’) One quality Sarah has that I aspire to (and which many of us may yearn for today?) is her freedom and ability to live in the moment, deeply in tune with the natural landscape.
If you imagine it, they will come…
It was after watching a documentary about the Toba supervolano in Indonesia 74,000 years ago that the seed was planted for the book. An image came into my mind of a young woman with a child walking away from the fallout of a natural disaster. Then it was the idea of finding a set of ancient remains in the present day – and what we might learn from them – that brought the contemporary narrative into focus. It may have been said by many other writers, but for me, once characters begin to form they have a powerfultendency to make to their own way.
Sometimes it can be a battle to channel them back towards your original concepts for the plot, and sometimes they change the plot as they develop. For example, certain lessons Eloise learns during her story had a significant effect on how she would react in a couple of crucial scenes toward the end. Research is also instrumental to the character/plot axis,however, and can help to rein in the self-determination of your creations with a sharp reality check. But also, this can inform particular details or idiosyncrasies in a character. One of the most vital tools in the writer’s workshop, however, is observation. We are such terrible gazers and eavesdroppers! But it’s all those little gestures, nuances, tones and phrases that can make even a minor character recognisable or memorable.
And the award for best supporting role…
Protagonists are one thing, but then there’s all the supporting characters, and while the primary purpose of some may be to move the plot along or to demonstrate a key theme, it helps ifthey’re not merely ciphers, but have some intriguing ‘dimensions’ to them, even if only glimpsed. I recently came across a great tip that said all supporting characters should be written as though they think the book is all about them. I like that. However, for the sake of narrative efficiency sometimes you have to combine characters, places and jobs in a way that might not reflect the real world.
While accessing a real-life point of view can give you important information and options, whether it changes your fictional characters fundamentally or not depends on your overall objectives for the book – and intended audience. A writer can never hope to please all those involved in a certain profession or activity, especially where dramatic licence may be needed. In every job, vocation or cultural tribe, there are unique individuals. My father was a policeman and while he would enjoy a good story for the story’s sake (as long as there was reasonable plausibility) there were very few fictional police characters that he felt he could relate to personally, apart from Morse.
Flaws in Focus
On the subject of real-life research, I had a fascinatingmeeting recently with the ‘lablit’ society at the Royal Institution, who did me the great honour of choosing Bone Lines for their bookclub. The group included several practising scientists and one or two (very gently) let me know what they might have done differently with Eloise. The book club also kindly offered to act as a focus group for the next book in terms of making sure not only the science is right (which to my great relief seems to be the case with Bones Lines) but also the finer actualities of the ‘life scientific.’ The most heart-warming reaction, however, was to hear how brave they thought it was to choose subjects and characters – so far (and yet so near?) from my own experience – and to bring them to life through something they recognised as ‘a book of ideas’ as much as a story about two curious, courageous – and flawed – women.
And that, perhaps, is one of the most important things with which a writer can grace a character – the kind of flaws we might find in ourselves and others – but which we (and others) can hopefully learn to forgive? There’s nothing like the possibility of redemption to give hope to our human story.
About the author
Who do you think you are? A daunting question for the debut author… but also one to inspire a genre-fluid novel based on the writer’s fascination for what makes humanity tick. Born in Hong Kong to expats from Liverpool (and something of a nomad ever since) Stephanie is now based in London, but manages her sanity by escaping to any kind of coast
Before returning to her first love of creative writing, Stephanie spent much of her youth pursuing alternative forms of storytelling, from stage to screen and media to marketing. For the past fifteen years Stephanie has run her own communications and copywriting company specialised in design, architecture and building. In the meantime an enduring love affair with words and the world of fiction has led her down many a wormhole on the written page, even if the day job confined such adventures to the weekends.
Drawn to what connects rather than separates, Stephanie is intrigued by the spaces between absolutes and opposites, between science and spirituality, nature and culture. This lifelong curiosity has been channelled most recently into her debut novel, Bone Lines. When not bothering Siri with note-taking for her next books and short stories, Stephanie can be found pottering about with poetry, or working out what worries/amuses her most in an opinion piece or an unwise social media post. Although, if she had more sense or opportunity she would be beachcombing, sailing, meditating or making a well-disguised cameo in the screen version of one of her stories. (Wishful thinking sometimes has its rewards?)
Twitter : @BrethertonWords