Stephanie: I would like to introduce Tim Vicary. Author of several novels including, “Cat and Mouse.” He has also one the BRAG Medallion for his novel, “A Fatal Verdict.” Tim, please tell me about Cat and Mouse.
Tim: Cat and Mouse is the story of two sisters fighting for their rights in the turbulent months before outbreak of war in 1914.
One sister, Sarah Becket, is a militant suffragette. As well as campaigning for woman’s right to vote, she is also devastated to find out her own husband, a Liberal MP, is involved in a scandalous prostitution racket – which leads her to make the dramatic protest with which the book opens. When she is imprisoned her hunger strike attracts the torture that was inflicted on many suffragettes, but she is determined to escape and continue the fight.
Across the Irish Sea, her sister Deborah is trapped in a loveless marriage with an army officer. While her husband returns from abroad Deborah faces an agonizing choice – to end her passionate affair with James Rankin, a charismatic trade union leader, or face the loss of her beloved son. When she reads about her sister’s act of defiance, she resolves to go to her aid.
United by their cause, Sarah and Deborah combine to fight both male corruption and a sinister German plot to foment civil war in Ireland.
Stephanie: Sounds really intriguing. What inspired you to write this story?
Tim: I read a wonderful book called The Strange Death of Liberal England which pointed out that British society really was in turmoil during this period. There were three major battles going on: the struggle between men and women about the Vote; the struggle between capitalists and trade unions about poverty; and the fight for Irish Home Rule. Each of these threatened to turn society upside down, and I set out to write a story in which my characters were involved in all three.
Stephanie: Was there any research involved?
Tim: Definitely. I read a lot about of personal memories and stories about the suffragettes, and the more I read, the more astonished I was. These great grandmothers of ours were really amazing people – very stubborn, brave and impossible to control. The very first incident in the book, for example, is a true story which I’ve just borrowed for Sarah Becket. The real suffragette, Mary Richardson, set out to attack a famous Velasquez painting – the one on the cover – with a carving knife. There’s drama for you!
I also read a lot about poverty – particularly in Dublin. There were major strikes led by powerful trade union leaders – like my character James Rankin – and the ruling class feared this might lead to a communist revolution, which of course actually happened three years later in Russia.
And in the middle of all this there was trouble in Ireland too: gun-running, rebel armies, the threat of a civil war. That would have delighted the Germans of course, so another strong theme in the story is a German plot (which several historians believed in) rather like the Richard Hannay conspiracy in The 39 Steps.
So yes, I did a lot of research! It’s book on an epic scale, but everything in the story could have happened, I think, and quite a lot of it actually did.
One a more personal side…
Stephanie: Research is about my favourite process of writing. You learn so much from history and people’s interpretations and stories. There are so many questions you want to ask them and wish you could. That is where the art of fiction comes in and a writer’s imagination. What is your favourite period in history that you have written about?
Tim: I think this period, before and after the First World War, attracts me a lot. There were so many changes going on, and it’s a time that’s almost modern, but not quite, still just out of reach.
Stephanie: It is a fascinating period and this period to me always seem to have a timeless quality to it. Hard to describe really. I’m sure the changes were so hard for so many people. Is there a character in any of your stories you relate too and why?
Tim: The strange thing is that the ones I feel closest too are women. Sarah and Deborah in this book, Catherine O’Connell-Gort in The Blood Upon the Rose, Ann Carter in The Monmouth Summer, and of course Sarah Newby in my three legal thrillers. I don’t know why: I guess writing puts me in touch with my feminine side. The art of fiction, I suppose, lies in creating characters that are very different to the writer in one way, but similar in others.
Stephanie: That is really interesting. I agree it is the art of creating characters. How well described. What is your writing process like?
Tim: Right now, it’s terrible. When things are going properly, I feel the need to write every day; when they’re going badly, I can’t get anywhere near it. It’s like doing exercise: do it regularly, and you feel a physical need to do it; stop for a while, and you’re too tired to start.
Stephanie: I can so relate to that. I think it’s like that in anything you are used to doing on a daily basis. Among the authors you have met, who impressed you the most?
Tim: I haven’t actually met any authors. But I have a treasured letter from Patrick O’Brian, the author of the Aubrey/Maturin sea stories; I wrote to him once when he was only moderately famous, and he had the grace to write back. If I had to choose one author, he would be my favourite.
Stephanie: Isn’t wonderful to receive letters?! They are so rare these days, with emails and such. What is your favourite literary genre?
Tim: I like a really good convincing historical novel, one you can lose yourself in and wish it would never end.
Stephanie: I would agree with you there. And there are so many wonderful novels out there that do that. Have you ever read a book and afterward wish you hadn’t?
Tim: My funniest experience with that was when I was 17. My parents had rented a cottage in the south of France and we had to travel there overnight by train, in very uncomfortable French railway carriages with hard upright seats. I’d brought a book to read, which had been highly praised by a reviewer in the Sunday Times. ‘Every bit as exciting as the latest James Bond thriller.’ the reviewer had written. So I got this book out and prepared for a long night of high drama.
It was To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. I’ve never read a book by her since!
Stephanie: I have to admit I’m not a big fan of her books. But what a wonderful experience to travel to those wonderful places. Tim, thank you for returning to Layered Pages for an interview. It was an honour to chat with you.
Tim’s blog: http://timvicary.wordpress.com/