Last Thursday, Into the Fire by Manda Scott was published, at last free to fly. Without doubt, this is my favourite book of 2015 so far, a magnificent creation of two mysteries, two periods – modern and medieval – with the enigmatic and evocative figure of Joan of Arc at its heart, all set against a backdrop of fire. You can read my review here. I am delighted to host a Q&A with Manda today as a stop on the blog tour for this glorious novel.
The extra good news is that the publisher and Manda have kindly given me a signed copy to give away! All you have to do is RT this blog post on twitter, give it the hashtag #IntotheFire and tag the author @hare_wood. A winner will be picked at random. The competition will close at midnight 22 June.
I was delighted when I heard that you were writing a novel about Joan of Arc, a figure I want to read about. What inspired you to select Joan?
She was a woman warrior – and, unlike Boudica, we have no doubt that she existed – the question then is ‘what did she do?’ When I grew up with the Ladybird book of Joan of Arc (!) she was a banner-carrying cipher, a morale-booster for the French troops who sat on a horse looking godly while the real men did all the actual fighting. I have no interest at all in writing that – I’d go mad – but when I started to look at what she actually did, then it became clear straight away that this is a false premise, that she was a warrior, a trained knight with an exceptional grasp of battlefield and broader tactical strategy. And that, I could definitely write about.
The locations – modern and medieval – are beautifully evoked. Did you tour the region? If so, how did they bring you closer to Joan?
I did definitely go there – my partner’s been trying to get me to go to France for years and this was the chance to make it count. It made an enormous difference to walk in the places she walked, particularly at Orléans, where they still hold her in the highest esteem. And the plaque on the wall with the name of the Scottish soldiers is really there. I have a picture of it on my old phone. It was remarkably moving to stand in front of it and know these men really existed, that they came, for the sake of the “Auld Alliance” to help France in her war against England.
Why did you decide to have a dual narrative, following two investigations, one in the past and one in the present day?
I came to this story – to the idea of who she really was – through a newspaper article that described an orthopaedic surgeon who specialised in building faces on skulls, and who thought he had identified the true origins of the Maid of Orléans. He was thrown out of France and even now, is immensely bitter about it. This woman has been mis-represented for 600 years, and even now, she’s being held up as an icon of ‘perfect womanhood’ (virginal, godly, republican) by the far right in France. So it seemed to me that the contemporary thread was the key point – that I wanted to explore how the political movements of the twenty first century hijack the myths of the past – and how they’ll kill to keep that myth intact – but that I needed my reader to understand the history behind it – to see the real, radical truth, if you like. I believe absolutely in the maxim of ‘show, don’t tell’ in writing, so that meant that if I wanted to do what I thought was possible, it had to be through the vehicle of a dual time line narrative. It’s a lot harder to write, but if the author gets it right, it’s immensely satisfying to read.
Did this structure, plus its mix of genres, make the novel a particularly challenging book to write?
Yes! It’s always harder to write two time threads – and to weave them together in a way that means each depends on the other, so that both have the cadences of the genre – in this case, a thriller – and yet each has its own integrity. I want the book to be a seamless whole, for people to be able to shift back and forth in their minds and yet for the echoes of each part to echo through the other. We always do this if we right multiple points of view, but when the time threads are widely separate, it’s much, much harder. Very satisfying when it works, though.
Who or what was your inspiration for Police Capitaine Inés Picaut?
I’m not sure there was an inspiration – she is a complex person, trying to balance the various aspects of her life, so in many ways, she is me made French, though she looks very different and makes entirely different relationships. The only person in the book modelled on someone else is Patrice, who was, at least at first, modelled on a wild, mad mountain-biking, kite-surfing, hang-gliding friend of mine.
I am a huge fan of your Rome series – a groundbreaking sequence of novels. Do you think you will return to it or have you had your fill of Rome?
I’m not sure – I loved Rome, and I really enjoyed the challenge of writing spy thrillers – I love reading them and anything that lets me read the entire le Carré oeuvre is always a good thing, but at the moment, I’m heading into other things. I loved Pantera as a character, and would be happy to return to him, but it’s not on the cards just now.
ACCIDENTAL GODS – I’m 110,000 words into this – another dual time line (actually, this one has 3 time lines, but two of them are in the 2nd world war) which follows Picaut and Patrice in the contemporary thread, but looks at Patrice’s grandparents in the SOE/Jedburghs in WWII. I started writing in the post-Edward Snowden era and wanted to look at how the CIA/NSA got to be where they are – how they came from Bletchley park and the people who managed to break the ciphers, to an organisation whose avowed aim is to ‘collect everything about everyone and keep it forever”. And if they are hunting someone – Patrice – and he has to get offline, I want him to have someone he trusts – his grandmother, who was in the SOE – to be there to show him how it was done in the war. I’m having so much fun with this one – I’ve always been obsessed by WWII and I am absolutely obsessed now with the whole dark net/cyber warrior phenomenon – these are the ‘accidental gods’ of our age, just as their grandparents were the accidental gods who fought at the end of WWII.
Which novels have you enjoyed the most during the last few months and what are you reading at the moment?
Gosh, that’s hard. Ben Kane’s new one ‘Eagles at War’ is magnificent, as is Imogen Robertson’s new ‘Theft of Life’ I met Oscar de Muriel at Crime Scene and bought his debut ‘The Strings of Murder’ which I thoroughly enjoyed and I’m a few chapters into Jason Hewitt’s The Dynamite Room. In between, I’m reading vast, vast amounts of non fiction – Future Crimes by Marc Goodman has to be top of the list, with ‘Being and Becoming’ by Franklyn Sills not far behind. At this very moment, I’m reading @War by Shane Harris. – Thoroughly recommend them all.
Thanks so much to Manda – I love the sound of Accidental Gods! For further stops on the Blog Tour, take a look at the poster below.