Twilight Times Feature
with Robina Williams
Interviewer: L. Quillen
1. Does your creativity express itself in ways other than writing?
I am interested in property. I like to buy an old house and, while retaining its period features, make it comfortable and up-to-date. I also like to create a garden for wildlife.
2. Do you feel you were creative, even as a child?
I spent a lot of time reading books. I enjoyed the company of fictional characters. As a child I would walk into town to borrow books from the children's section of the public library. I particularly loved the stories of Enid Blyton and imagined similar adventures happening to me.
3. Could you share with the story behind the story? In other words, how did your writing lead you to your first novel?
I have been writing for publication for quite a long time. While my son was small and I was at home looking after him, I wrote newspaper and magazine features for several years. Then I went to work as a secretary at Liverpool University (I was a trained typist, and I must say that learning to type was one of the most useful things I have ever done).
While I was working at the university I took an M.Phil. pure research degree in the English department. While writing about the links between the novelist Wilkie Collins and the art scene of his day I became very interested in nineteenth-century painting. I decided to try my hand at writing a novel in which one or two well-known paintings featured in the plot.
[Ed. note: see Robina's article on "Paintings as Inspiration."]
4. How did you prepare for the creation of your first novel, Jerome and the Seraph? How much research was necessary?
I did no research for the novel, as I had already done all the research I needed while I was writing my M.Phil. thesis. My novel sprang out of my research thesis. All the material I needed was already in my head by the time I began the novel. I sorted out my plot, my characters and my setting and then started writing.
I arranged my plot around a painting by Sir John Roddam Spencer Stanhope called "Thoughts of the Past." I also brought one or two other nineteenth-century paintings into my story.
The two main characters, Brother Jerome and his quantum cat, were suggested to me by another painting, a much earlier one: Albrecht Dürer's 1495 painting "St Jerome in the Wilderness," where we see St. Jerome praying, with his pet lion at his side.
In my story the lion changes from a big cat to a small cat. The idea for the cat's quantum qualities came from Schrödinger's Cat, which is potentially both dead and not-dead. I had been reading about Schrödinger's Cat while preparing a chapter on "Perception" for my research thesis, and I decided to bring a tiny little bit of quantum physics into my story. I decided to include also some characters from Greek mythology, and to blend the old with the new: the ancient gods with the new quantum ideas. Perhaps the Greek gods never went away. Perhaps they didn't need to.
5. What kind of reaction do people have to your writing?
Fortunately reviews of my book have all been favourable to date. As to my journalism, I know that readers used to enjoy reading my feature articles, and I was careful to write in a simple, easy-to-read style. I was aware that people picking up a magazine in a dentist's waiting room had neither the time nor the inclination to embark on a big read -- they wanted something light and easily comprehensible, and preferably split into short sections.
6. Do you find anything difficult in the writing process, and if so what?
I find writing quite difficult. I aim for an effect of simplicity, and I am continually reducing text. I am a great believer in the art of précis-writing. On re-reading text I've written I try to cut it down some more. When I start writing each day I tend not to re-read what I have written the day before -- otherwise I would continually be reworking text. When I stop for a breather, or because I'm stuck, I go back and edit the last few paragraphs.
7. Do you currently have any writing projects?
Yes. I am halfway through a sequel to Jerome and the Seraph.
8. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would very much like to thank Twilight Times Books for having accepted Jerome and the Seraph for publication. My publisher, Lida, has been wonderfully encouraging and supportive, and immensely patient. Thank you, Lida
Robina Williams was born in a small village in Cheshire, UK. She now lives in nearby Liverpool. She has an Honours degree in Modern Languages from Oxford University and a Master of Philosophy research degree in English Literature from Liverpool University. Her research thesis was on the links between Wilkie Collins and nineteenth-century art. She enjoys looking at paintings, and regrets that so many fine and interesting paintings are hidden away in museums' and galleries' storage rooms and are not on public display.
Robina has been a schoolteacher, college lecturer, journalist and secretary. Nowadays she reads only fantasy books. She is a great fan of Terry Pratchett.
Jerome and the Seraph is her first novel, and she hopes that readers will enjoy it.