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Thursday 17 May 2018

GAINING INSPIRATION FROM REAL LIFE - a guest post by Vanessa Couchman

Today I have a very special guest on my blog - the fabulous and multi-talented Vanessa Couchman.  I've had the pleasure and privilege of working with Vanessa as editor of both her novels (The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow) - both of which I can highly recommend.  Here, she shares some of the secrets of her inspiration.

Welcome, Vanessa!  Over to you...

Historical fiction is based on real life events, or at least they establish the backdrop to the story. Part of the appeal, both for readers and writers, is the weaving of fiction around fact. Some periods of history are especially popular hunting grounds for authors seeking inspiration. For example, there seems to be an inexhaustible interest in the romantic lives of the Tudors and in the turmoil of the two world wars.

For me, the choice of topic to write about is rarely the result of a conscious plan. Small snippets, stumbled upon unexpectedly, spark off inspiration. I didn’t set out to write either of my published novels, but they wouldn’t leave me alone until I had.

It’s purely by chance that I set my first two novels on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. While on holiday there a few years ago, we chose one of two guest houses in a village on the coast of Cap Corse. 

In our room we noticed some old letters that had been framed and hung on the walls. The Corsican owner told us that when he was restoring the house, a workman found the letters in a box walled up in a niche in the attic.

They turned out to be love letters, written in the 1890s by the village schoolmaster to the daughter of the house, a bourgeois family who would have disapproved of their relationship. They were star-crossed lovers. She had to marry someone else for family reasons (not uncommon on Corsica) and it was not a happy marriage by the sound of it.

Who walled up the letters? Why? What happened to the schoolmaster? What was it like to live in a Corsican village at the turn of the century? This story intrigued me, so my first novel, The House at Zaronza, fills in the gaps in the real-life story. It follows the life of the young woman, whom I named Maria, from 1899 up to the early 1920s, via World War I.

My second novel, The Corsican Widow, which has just been released, was inspired in a similar way. While carrying out some research on another topic, I happened upon an article about female criminality in 18th-century Corsica. You might think this is a somewhat abstruse topic, but the article contained a fascinating snippet from a contemporary chronicle. This related the story of a wealthy widow who is lonely after the death of her husband. She falls for her shepherd and scandalises her neighbours and the rigid, traditionalist Corsican society in which she lives.

I can’t say much more without giving away the plot, but suffice it to say that this story kept creeping into my mind. I had to put aside my other project and write The Corsican Widow first.

To write both novels I had to do considerable research about the history and culture of Corsica. When writing historical fiction, it’s not enough just to tell the story. You also have to get your facts right! 

Vanessa Couchman is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer and has lived in southwest France since 1997. She is fascinated by Corsican and French history and culture. Vanessa has published two novels, The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow, in the Tales of Corsica series, and plans further Corsica novels as well as historical novels based in France. Her short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies.

Writing website:   
Amazon author page:
Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

All of Vanessa’s books are available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.

The Corsican Widow:
The House at Zaronza (reissued in 2018):
French Collection: Twelve Short Stories:

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