Monday, December 6, 2021

Tessa Harris

Tessa Harris is the award-winning author of the Dr. Thomas Silkstone series and the Constance Piper Mystery series.

Her new novel is The Light We Left Behind.

My Q&A with the author

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

These days I work with my editor after she’s read the novel to come up with something appropriate. In my WW2 titles we’re going for a less direct approach. The Light We Left Behind was inspired by the fact that my protagonist, an English psychologist at a top-secret intelligence base, fears her lover might be dead and yearns to reignite the spark they had when they were working together against the Nazis in Munich. The working title was The Secret Listeners, because the book centres on a group of German Jewish emigres who are taping the conversations of captured German. These officers are incarcerated at a luxury prisoner of war camp, designed to relax them and get them to talk freely amongst each other. As far as I know, mine is the first novel to feature this building – Trent Park – because for many years it was classified as top secret, just like Bletchley Park. I’m hoping my book will shine a light on the important role it played in the Allied victory in 1945.

What's in a name?

My main character is Madeleine Gresham, although everyone knows her informally as Maddie. She is from an upper-class English family, and I wanted her name to reflect that. Normally, a young woman with her background would have ‘come out’ at court, i.e., she would have been a debutante and presented to the king and queen. Her path in life would then usually involve marriage to a suitable aristocratic man and children. Maddie, however, shuns this route. She goes to Oxford University and becomes a pioneering psychologist, playing an important part in the war effort.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not in the least. I used to read an awful lot of classic literature, like novels by F Scott Fitzgerald and DH Lawrence. H.E. Bates was one of my favourite authors. Love for Lydia and Fair Stood the Wind for France were big influences at the time.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Before I start a novel, I like to have a beginning, a middle and an end planned out. Sometimes I write the final chapter directly after the first. That way I know what I’m aiming for. I change the first chapter more – perhaps a dozen times or so. With The Light We Left Behind I changed the ending twice. Originally, I brought the story into the 21st century, but on reflection, thought better of it.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Yes, there’s usually some aspect of myself that manifests itself in my main female characters. Although I’m certainly not a debutante, I did go to an English boarding school and know what it’s like to feel isolated and alone. Like Maddie, I also studied at Oxford. I wrote this novel during lockdown, so it was easier to put myself in the shoes of someone working in a claustrophobic atmosphere at a top-secret base – albeit in a stately home!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Places are tremendously important to me. They seriously affect my mood. I love dark, atmospheric woods, narrow alleyways, historic houses – anywhere with a hint of mystery. I always like to travel to the destinations I write about, although, sadly Trent Park, where my latest novel is set, is undergoing building work to turn it into a museum and has been closed to the public for more than two years.
Visit Tessa Harris's Facebook page and Twitter perch.

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--Marshal Zeringue