Monday, 16 August 2010

Why a Prequel?

This is the question I am asked by readers: if you intended to write a trilogy about the Ivanov family, why not write them in the correct historical order? Why write the first part of the story last?

A simple answer: when I sat down to write my first book, The Russian Concubine, I had no plans to make it a trilogy. You have to understand that the convoluted processes that go on in an author's brain are mystifying even to an author! I had no idea when I wrote it that Lydia Ivanova would come to play such a large part in my life or that I would fall in love with her beautiful damaged mother, Valentina.

So when I finished the second book - The Concubine's Secret(UK)/The Girl From Junchow(US) which follows Lydia's search for her father - two things kept elbowing out all others in my mind.

1) Firstly, how did Valentina Ivanova become the woman she did? What happened? What gave this private, secretive pianist such strength and yet such crippling weakness?

2) Secondly, what was Russia like to live in before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution? I had shown Russia during its grim repressive regime under Stalin's communism and now I wanted to show the other side of Russia. The glamorous side. The world of the Russian Court, the most extravagant and decadent in all Europe, with the final days of glory of Nicholas II, Emperor and Tsar of all the Russias.

It sounds a straightforward task, doesn't it? No such luck. I quickly discovered there are even more pitfalls in writing a prequel than in writing a sequel.

Throw-away references to the past in the other two books plagued me and had to be shoe-horned into the new one - which meant two characters both called Nikolai (argh!) and Valentina aged 15 years old when she first met Jens, not 17, as I needed her to be in Jewel (aargh!). Constantly I was tripped up. Harder still was planting in my portrayal of Valentina the seeds of the person she was to become.

Nevertheless I loved writing The Jewel of St Petersburg and exploring Valentina's world, displaying the magnificence of Russia as well as its suffering. Giving a glimpse of how the two are twined inexorably together. So now I shall sit back and keep a sharp eye on Valentina as she flashes her red skirts in the bookstores.


Audra said...

We your readers appreciate the effort! Thanks for sharing a bit of what the process was like -- I had thought it must have been a breeze (you'd thought everything out already) but I see it's not so easy! ;)

Kate Furnivall said...

Hi Audra,
When I read the books of other authors, I also imagine that they start on Page 1 and breeze along with no problems until they write those welcome words The End. But when I meet up with other writers I learn the real truth - that we're all the same, fluctuating between agony and ecstasy every step of the way. But the sense of fulfilment when the book is finished is immense. So we are all addicted and keep returning for more!

Debs said...

I enjoyed reading the insight into the problems you had writing a prequel. I agree with the previous post - you make it look so easy that it's hard to believe you found it at all difficult. I am half way through The Jewel of St Petersburg and loving every page. You have a fabulous talent.

Audra said...

@Ms Furnivall -- So we are all addicted and keep returning for more!

A cheer for that -- it just means I keep lucking out. Plus, being an aspiring novelist myself, I'm encouraged to hear it's agony and ecstasy, even for the pros! ;)

Kate Furnivall said...

Hi Debs,
The secret of art is always to make it look effortless! Enjoy the book.

Alli said...

I bought the book as soon as I saw it on the shelves and finished it in the same day. An incredible read. You never disappoint. Thanks for posting on the process of writing, it's very enlightening. You're so dedicated! I'm so looking forward to whatever you decide your next project is.

Kate Furnivall said...

Hi Alli,
Talk about dedicated! Reading JEWEL in one day shows total dedication - I purr when I hear that someone is so drawn into Valentina's story, just the way I was. I am totally swallowed by a book and its characters when I am writing, eating-breathing-sleeping it (which makes me very tedious company for my friends and family!) and I hope that passionate commitment comes out in the book. Sometimes I read a book and am disappointed because I feel the author was not committed enough to risk everything in the writing.

Anonymous said...

I've read all of your books and have immensely enjoyed each one!! What are you working on now? -Emily

Kate Furnivall said...

Hi Emily,
Good to hear from you. It's cool to know you've enjoyed my books and are already looking onward to the next one. I will be posting up info about it early next year but in the meantime I can tell you it will be called The White Pearl and takes place in Malaya 1941/42. It is about a woman called Connie who has a complex history and who is forced to flee with a group of her family and friends on their yacht to escape the advance of the Japanese. The story focuses on the tensions and traumas that occur in this hot and steamy setting. I am hugely enjoying writing it at the moment.

Richard said...

Hi Kate,
The Jewel of St Petersburg is a great book and returning to the Ivanova family is a pleasure...its a beautiful setting in time as well as geography.
Cant wait for the new one!!!

Kate Furnivall said...

Hi Richard,
I couldn't agree with you more about the beauty of the time and setting of the story of Valentina. It's a fascinating period that is only a faint blur to most readers, so I enjoy making it come alive for them to understand the conflicts and undercurrents that existed in the tsarist age. Good to hear from you.

MsHark said...

Wow, I just finished The Jewel of St. Petersburg, and I loved it. I really loved being given the insight into what happened in Valentina's life... and it completely changed my idea of her. From the other books I felt that Valentina wasn't a very sympathetic character, but this book was able to give me a glimpse into what made her the way she is in the other books. She is beautiful, courageous and loving and I am so glad we were given the opportunity to understand these things about her! I didn't realized that you hadn't planned to turn this into a trilogy. I was sitting here thinking how clever it was for you to start with the most recent and work your way back - because now I want to re-read The Russian Concubine, to read Lydia's story once again, and also to see if my perception of Valentina changes now that I know what made her who she is.

Thank you so much for these wonderful novels! I eagerly await your next one. :) Did you ever consider writing another one from the perspective of either Elizaveta, or Arkin?


Kate Furnivall said...

Hi Stephanie,
Thank you for loving Valentina so much - as I do. You talk about her as if she is real, which is exactly how I feel about my characters when I'm writing a book. They breathe, sleep, eat along with me and come to plague me when I can't sleep at night and am wondering what they're going to be up to next!
I like the idea of your perception of Valentina changing if you re-read the next book. I hope so, because you would now see her in greater depth. My own feelings towards her changed and developed as she became a much more complex person when she had a book all to herself.
As for a book from Elizaveta or Arkin's viewpoint, it's an intriguing idea - and I never say never.

Anonymous said...

I love The Jewel of St Petersburg! I literally jumped for joy when i saw the book on the shelf when i thought i couldn't find it! the ladies in the shop all looked at me and laughed haha. Are you going to finish Lydia's story or is that finished? -stephanie

Kate Furnivall said...

Hi Stephanie,
Lydia still calls to me! I'd love to continue the story for one last book but my publisher isn't keen for me to get labelled as a 'Russian' writer, so the final installment of Lydia's story has been delayed for the moment. But I have all sorts of ideas kicking around in my head, so I intend to return to the story soon, but right now my present book is set in Malaya. Hot and steamy!

Anonymous said...

I, like many of the other addicted readers anxiously await your new books. I'm excited to hear about The White Pearl and look forward to delving into the culture and ways of Malaya. I'm glad to hear you will continue Lydia's story as she is one character that I often wonder about. I feel like the power went out halfway through watching a movie and now I need to see the rest.

Kate Furnivall said...

Hi Tania,
I love the idea of readers being addicted to my books. I shall keep providing a fix as long as I can!! I derive great satisfaction from writing these novels and learning constantly about the different countries and cultures, widening my own horizons as I research them. So Lydia WILL return - just give me time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate-
I just finished reading your prequel to the Russian Concubine, "the Jewel of St. Petersburg" and I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was the first book of yours that I have read and I fell in love with the depictions of imperial Russia and the enchanting city of St. Petersburg- I could truly visualize the city as actually 2 different ones, the poverty stricken world that is parallel to the glamourish, lavishness of the boyars. The two parallel worlds converging provided a great foundation for a good story. However, I was really engaged in the story between Valentina and Jens Friis. Having not read the other novels, I cannot imagine a truer love story than the one between Valentina and Jens b/c the experiences they shared captivated me. I want to note that I'm afraid of reading the following novels because I really want to know if Jens Friis lives! If the reality of Valentina and Jens' situation weren't so, I wish that you had focused on Valentina and Jens' life and that the two could have been together w/ their daughter! But i guess that would leave no room for conflict as the resolution would be solved (a happy ending).

Anonymous said...

Oh and I wanted to add that the new Taylor Swift song reminds me so much of the intimacy btwn Valentina and Jens. Whenever I hear that song, I just think of those two because I first heard that song when I was reading your book! The song is called "Sparks Fly" =]

Kate Furnivall said...

Hi Anonymous 6th Nov,
What a wonderful response to my book - I couldn't ask for better! I agree with you about the love story of Valentina and Jens - and this was one of the strange things about writing this prequel last. When I got to the end of the story I REALLY wanted to keep them together forever. In fact JEWEL does draw to a close with them together, so it does have a happy ending. But my US publisher decided to include the first chapter from The Russian Concubine and that rather changes the feelings that swept the reader along on a path to love's final happiness. I do hope you read the other books to decide for yourself whether Sparks Fly!

Anonymous said...

I am so in love with your books. thanks for writing the wonderful books. so, will there be another book for Lydia after the concubine's secret?? when will the white pearl be coming out??

Laura Jacob said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your books! I started first with The Russian Concubine, plunged through The Girl From Junchow and now am going straight home to start The Jewel of St. Petersburg!

I must say, you are a gutsy author! You have no problem taking your characters to the brink of death and back (or sometimes through death!). Wow! (I haven't seen this quality much in such genres.) I love the historical depth and insight that you provide, and I cannot wait to read more!

I would love to follow Lydia to Hong Kong; it could be a story of Hong Kong in the grip of the British Empire (I read that your publisher isn't keen on you being only a 'Russian author'). I would love to meet up with Lydia again, sometime soon!! :)

Thank you so much for using your incredible writing talent to make such incredible characters really come alive!!! Wow! Such great writing!


Celeste Achterhof said...

Ms. Furnivall,
Over my lifetime I have read literally thousands of books from all genres and I wanted to take a minute to tell you that you are in a class by yourself. Out of all of those books, I have kept only twenty that I never loan out and purchase copies of to give as gifts and your books are on that shelf. I wanted to thank you. The effort you put in your books shows and I find new insights into your characters and even the environments each time I re-read them. The phone ringing pulls me back into my real life when I am reading one of your books and that is the highest compliment I can offer to any author.
Thank you seems so inadequate to express the gratitude I feel and my appreciation for your efforts but unfortunately it is the best I have to offer. I truly hope Lydia finds happiness in Hong Kong:).

God bless you.
Best Wishes,
Celeste Achterhof

Anonymous said...

I feel very lucky as I am able to read The Russian Concubine as a trilogy as I have only just discovered kate Furnivall.