Women Who Shape Big Adventures | Sara Sheridan is great, Lucy Ribchester is great – they both write historical adventures with brilliant women at the core, so they’re a natural fit for an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Sara’s On Starlit Seas follows a celebrated 1820s writer leaving civil war-ravaged Brazil for England; Lucy’s The Amber Shadows is a pacey wartime tale of a Bletchley Park typist who finds herself embroiled in murder and intrigue.
“I find amazing women who’ve kind of been forgotten.”
First we get a background to how they came to their books. Sara first discovered Maria Graham for On Starlit Seas at the library – it’s like treasure hunting. You pick something up and there’s just a voice there, like they’re standing next to you telling their story. “I’m not only a swot, I’m a mouthy feminist,” laughs Sara, on why Maria seemed like a perfect fit. “I find amazing women who’ve kind of been forgotten and I think ‘that’s it’.”
For Lucy, it was quite a lot of things coming together symbiotically for The Amber Shadows. Her editor suggested she looked at Bletchley Park. She went on as many tours as she could, probably worrying the tour guides a little. She felt that she could write a swashbuckling adventure. It’s difficult to talk about without giving it away, as the whole book is about secrecy. When everyone’s keeping secrets around you, how do you know who to trust?
Honey was an amalgamation of Lucy imagining herself working at Bletchley Park – though she wouldn’t because she can’t keep secrets! – and Joan Fontaine.
“The atmosphere is the real experience of history.”
Sara was amazed that more people didn’t know the story of Maria – a writer of travel books, seriously go read her Wikipedia – because she was a bestseller, known alongside Jane Austen. Though, Maria was quite snobbish about Austen and fiction.
When looking through documents and papers, Sara would think “this is treasure, this is golden” when she found a woman. She feels a real duty to memorialise women whose stories have gone.
In terms of taking liberties with fact, Lucy would previously say, “I’m more interested in telling a story and using history as inspiration.” But more recently she’s been stopping herself. Perhaps it’s that the history she’s dealing with is still so recent. If she has real historical figures, she tends to keep them on the peripheral as she prefers to focus on fiction.
“The atmosphere is the real experience of history,” says Sara. It’s not about who’s ruling on the throne, it’s about the feel, the smell. It’s their job to take you to wherever they are and keep us up all night reading.
The hour discusses their approaches to fiction, how they approach and plan, and a shared love of the wonderful Agatha Christie. With an event about fantastic women, that seems a fitting note to end this on. All hail Agatha.