SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - When writer Julia Stuart read about Beefeaters still living in the Tower of London, she became fascinated about life behind closed doors at the palace and fortress which dates back to the 11th century.
Her second novel, “The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise” is the story of Beefeater Balthazar Jones, his wife Hebe, their 180-year-old tortoise and their adventures living in the Tower as their marriage crumbles after the death of their son.
Stuart, who was previously a journalist, published her first novel, “The Matchmaker of Perigord,” in 2007 and did extensive research about the Tower of London for her latest novel.
Stuart, who moved from Bahrain to Egypt this year, spoke to Reuters about her writing:
Q: Was it easier to write your second book than your first?
A: “No, it wasn‘t. I found the first one much easier. That one I wrote half when I was still working full-time, which took about six months, and then I took three months off work and finished the second half in 10 weeks. The second one I found much more of a challenge but it is a much more challenging book as it has the humor but also this tragedy through it.”
Q: What led you to the Tower of London?
A: “A few years ago I read an article about the Beefeaters living in the Tower of London and I thought it was fascinating that they lived there and were locked in at night with a resident doctor and a chaplain. I scratched around for a plot but couldn’t find one so wrote the first book but then I came back to this.”
Q: How did you research the Tower?
A: “I went loads of times. I became a member of the Historical Royal Palaces that run the Tower of London as well as other unoccupied royal palaces. They put on these special tours for members which you pay extra for but they are brilliant. One was a twilight tour and I went around the palace at dusk and we were told about the ghost stories and we got into the pub. Another tour got me into the Salt Tower. You can get into places where the public are not normally allowed.”
Q: Did you try to get access as an author?
A: “I asked if I could interview one of the Beefeaters but they said I would have to show them the synopsis -- but I didn’t have one at that stage -- and also guarantee that I would not bring the Beefeaters into disrepute but I couldn’t do that either. So instead I went and asked questions as a tourist and got away with as many questions as I could.”
Q: Does the book stick to the historical facts?
A: “Most things in the book are historically correct but I have invented a few things but for my own pleasure. I carefully kept all the history that I knew was right and did my utmost to get it right. The stuff I have made up is things like a red, rambling rose going up the Tower as there is not one and I have changed the name of the pub.”
Q: How long did it take you to write the book?
A: “About 18 months. The research I did quite quickly and I read loads of guides books but it was really the writing. I was feeling my way as I went along. Some authors I know have the plot nailed down before they start and know what is going to happen in each chapter but I didn’t do that until I was part into it.”
Q: What did you learn along the way?
A: “The biggest lesson for me was to nail the plot down before you start. Although I knew what was going to happen and who would end up with who, it would have been easier to know what was going to happen in each chapter from the beginning.”
Q: Did you ever have any ambition to write?
A: “None. I had no idea how on earth to write a book. I started writing short stories in my spare time for my own entertainment. I produced a collection and decided to see if I could get it published and I got an agent. She really liked them but said short stories by an unknown writer don’t sell and asked if I had a novel so I then had this idea about the Matchmaker and wrote that. She managed to get me a deal on the first three chapters which was amazing but also a bit terrifying as you’ve signed a contract saying you are going to write this book and you have never done one before.”
Q: Are you disciplined with your writing?
A: “I treat it like a job. If you waited until you felt like writing then you might never write a word again. You have to get going. Publishers like a book every two years and a book only gets written when you are sitting in front of your computer.”
Editing by Steve Addison