This month, author Erica James celebrates the publication of Song of the Skylark, her twentieth published novel! She joins us to talk about this landmark moment and the inspiration behind her latest character, Clarissa Dallimore.
I’m writing this having just received a copy of my new novel Song of the Skylark. The manuscript I wrote has been turned into that most magical of things, a fully-formed book. Until now it’s been a story lived out inside my head, a story crammed full of characters who have been my constant companions for more than a year. To say I’m sad to see them go is a colossal understatement, I feel as though I’ve just been parted from some extraordinarily dear friends.
Song of the Skylark is a milestone book for me, in that it’s my twentieth published novel, which fills me with a mixture of triumph and disbelief. As my agent remarked to me recently, I’ve come a long way since my first book, A Breath of Fresh Air, was published in 1996 and selected for the WH Smith Fresh Talent Promotion. Not only am I twenty years older, with sons who are all grown up now, plus a grandson added to the family, but I have started to write the kind of books I wouldn’t have imaged I ever would – books that have stories from the past and present interwoven.
Perhaps it’s a sign of growing up (I refuse to say ‘growing old’!) but increasingly the past has a special appeal for me, in particular exploring what life was like before, during and after the Second World War. But in essence I’m only doing what I’ve always done, I’m writing about people and their everyday lives, whether they are living today, or seventy years ago.
In Song of the Skylark, Clarissa Dallimore, who I regard as the beating heart of the story, knows she had reached the end of her extremely long and eventful life and is looking back wistfully to when she was young. The idea for her character came to me from a single image, that of a lone girl boarding one of the greatest ocean liners ever built to cross the Atlantic to Britain shortly before war breaks out in Europe. It was that one single image of a young, and courageous girl stepping into the unknown that had me hooked, and led me firmly by the hand all the way from 1939 to the present day.