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I am very pleased to host a guest post by the lovely Clare Carson. Author of 2015’s Orkney Twilight and her latest novel The Salt Marsh.
But first, here is a little about her new book The Salt Marsh.
It is a year since Sam’s father died, but she cannot lay his ghost to rest. Jim was an undercover agent living a double life, and Sam has quit university to find out the truth about his work. Her journey will take her from the nightclubs of 80s Soho to the salt marshes and shingle spits of Norfolk and Kent.
Here, in a bleak windswept landscape dotted with smugglers’ huts and buried bones, Jim’s secret past calls to her like never before. Now Sam must decide. Will she walk away and pick up her own life? Or become an undercover operative herself and continue her father’s work in the shadows…
A haunting thriller set in the windswept marshes of Kent and Norfolk, from the author of Orkney Twilight
Today Clare talks about the history surrounding her novels.
What can a writer learn from the past to enhance their writing?
I am fascinated by the way the past shapes our present – as individuals and societies – and thinking about that has influenced the way I’ve written both my novels, Orkney Twilight and The Salt Marsh.
These books are about Sam, the daughter of Jim, an undercover policeman. They explore the way Jim’s work for the secret state and his past shape Sam’s life. The Salt Marsh is set after Jim’s death, but although Sam has buried her father, his legacy lives on in her mind and in the events and people she encounters.
Both novels are set in the eighties – at the tail end of the Cold War – but they also draw on different periods of the past.
In Orkney Twilight, Norse history and mythology is interwoven with the plot. In The Salt Marsh, the history of witchcraft is a thread running through the story. Sam is studying history at university and she reads Daemonologie – a book about witches written by King James 1st in 1597. He argues that witches exist, most are women, and they should be tortured, made to confess and then burned at the stake when found guilty.
When I read Daemonologie, it reminded me that many of our beliefs and actions at any period in time are not based on fact, but on stories told or legitimized by powerful people.
These stories often rely on simple distinctions between good and evil, us and them. When we look back on stories about witchcraft, we think: how could anybody have believed that? But of course, most people – from kings to commoners – in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did think witches existed, and many women were tried and killed in England because of these beliefs. The modern parallels to these stories are not difficult to identify. Communists were demonised during the Cold War, the Irish during the seventies, and today it is immigrants of any origin who are portrayed by some as the cause of many problems.
In The Salt Marsh, Sam reads Daemonologie at a vulnerable point in her life – and becomes obsessed by it. I’ve used Daemonologie and Sam’s thoughts about witchcraft to explore how fact and fiction entwine in our ideas about ourselves and our past, as well as our views of other people. Sam grew up in a family where fact and fiction were difficult to separate, because her father was a spy dealing in ever-shifting stories. She isn’t entirely sure whether she can tell the truth from the lies in her own history. The past shapes Sam’s perceptions and experience in ways she cannot control, the ghosts are present in her head. She discovers the truth of William Faulkner’s famous phrase, ‘The past isn’t dead and buried. It’s not even past.’
Thanks Clare for the wonderful insight into your novels.
About Clare Carson
Clare Carson is an anthropologist and works in international development, specialising in human rights. Her father was an undercover policeman in the 1970s. She drew on her own experiences to create the character of Sam, a rebellious eighteen year old who is nevertheless determined to make her father proud.
Why not pop over to visit the other blogs on the Clare Carson book tour?
Is this your type of book? Maybe a holiday read?
* This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on and buy I receive a little back, so thanks if you do. xx