Friday, March 15, 2019

Author's Friday | PHAEDRA PATRICK

Photo by Sam Ralph
PHAEDRA PATRICK’s unassuming protagonists have charmed the hearts of many readers across the globe. First, there is Arthur from THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER, a sexagenarian widower who discovered a charmed bracelet from his late wife’s wardrobe, followed all the clues to rediscover her, and sends him on an intriguing journey to rediscover his self, as well. Next is Benedict from RISE AND SHINE, BENEDICT STONE, a jeweler who desperately needs to revamp both his shop and marriage and he has all the gems to do it. And now on her most-awaited third novel, THE LIBRARY OF LOST AND FOUND, we have Martha Storm, a quiet librarian roused by a book to find the truth about her grandmother’s death, the past, and her destiny. I’m sure you are as interested as I am on how Ms. Patrick comes up with these wonderful people.

I read your article in Women Writers, Women's Books, Why I Write, by Phaedra Patrick, where you mentioned, “I write because I have characters in my head, who create a fuss until I share their stories. They want me to kick start their adventures and hold their hand, to take them to a better place in their lives”.

To start this Q&A, which character made the most fuss in your head?
Phaedra Patrick:  Martha Storm, my heroine in THE LIBRARY OF LOST AND FOUND, wanted to be heard. I think she was fed up of being taken advantage of by others and asked me to help find her own voice. I usually start off my stories with an object in mind – a book, charm bracelet or gemstones – but with this novel, it all started with an image of Martha pushing a shopping trolley up a steep hill towards a small library.
Is it the same with secondary characters? Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?
Phaedra Patrick: In this book, Martha’s grandmother Zelda has a loud voice, both in my head and on paper. She’s an important part of the story and has a big reason for disappearing from Martha’s life for a long period of time. I think I gave her the opportunity for her own story to be heard.
Your main characters are all quiet, uncomplicated people, but seem to be creatures of habit. Is there a particular reason why you chose them?
Phaedra Patrick:  I’m a real introvert, happy with my own company and people often describe me as quiet. I can find places with lots of noise and crowds a little overwhelming, so when I’m writing a book, which usually takes around ten months, I suppose I like to spend that time with like-minded characters who I’m comfortable with and understand.
Although all books say that all the characters in the book aren’t real or related, are they really all fictional and made up?
Phaedra Patrick:  The character of Martha Storm comes from a few sources. One day I found my mum sewing new elastic into an elderly neighbor’s underwear and I thought this was taking helpfulness rather too far! A lovely friend of mine likes to help out charities and local causes and her house is always full of carrier bags of stuff she’s doing for others. Another friend has been in an emotionally controlling relationship for a long time. So, these threads came together and formed the inspiration for Martha and her life. But once I had written a few pages, Martha took on her own personality and became a real person to me.

Some other characters in the book are woven together too, whereas others are totally fictitious. I sometimes like to picture my favorite actors playing the parts, and I write for them.
Reading your books is like taking a long walk with these characters, sharing their journey. Have you ever incorporated a real-life situation from your own experience in the book?
Phaedra Patrick:  Yes, many times. There is actually very little in my books that haven’t arisen from a real-life situation that I, or someone close to me, has experienced. They are works of fiction but also very personal too.

For example, there’s a scene set on a ghost train in THE LIBRARY OF LOST AND FOUND that is based on my own love of fairgrounds. The seaside setting for the book is inspired by the North Yorkshire coast of England, which is full of tiny fishing villages and houses perched on top of cliffs. Martha’s grandmother Zelda has undergone an operation in the book (I’ll hold back on any spoilers) which was based on something that happened to my dad. 
In my debut novel, THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER, one of my favorite scenes is where elderly widower Arthur ends up shedding his clothes for art students. It’s based on my own experience of when I was an art student and also worked as a waitress in a pub. I went into college one day and found that one of the (middle-aged) ladies I worked with at the pub was also a life model. She took all her clothes off and I had to draw her. I was only sixteen at the time and was horrendously embarrassed. The scenario came to mind as I was writing the book and it inspired me to place poor Arthur in a similar position.
Have you ever written a character based on the real you in some part? Do you often project your own habits onto your characters?
Phaedra Patrick:  All my characters have shades of me in them. Martha Storm’s inability to say ‘no’ was something I shared with her for a long time. She’s a real planner and organizer too, with a keen eye for detail, and that’s also a trait we have in common.
In your latest book, The Library of Lost and Found, Martha Storm is a lovely character. But if you would describe Martha Storm in three words, what are they?
Phaedra Patrick:  Helpful, hibernating, vulnerable.
Being a woman yourself, what’s the most difficult thing about writing female characters?
Phaedra Patrick:  I have to fight the urge to write makeover scenes, hair, and make-up etc. Martha Storm has one on the book, and that means I can’t write anymore in subsequent novels. Other than that, I suppose I just want to write female characters that other women can relate to and cheer on, and hope that I do them justice.
Most often than not, female characters in fairytales are damsels in distress. What are your hopes for women in integrating fairytales in your latest book?
Phaedra Patrick:  Female characters in fairytales might start off as damsels in distress but I think many are also strong women who make decisions and act courageously. For example, Cinderella chooses to go to the ball against the wishes of her stepsisters, and Little Red Riding Hood has to outwit a big bad wolf.

The fairytales in THE LIBRARY OF LOST AND FOUND have a few dimensions for me. They’re influenced by my childhood love of fairy stories, and books bought for me by my parents that I still cherish. They hold up a mirror to what is happening in Martha’s life, and hers is also a kind of rags-to-riches type of story.

I hope that women, who read my book, can be who they want to be without anyone telling them otherwise or holding them back. It’s very touching when readers drop me a line to say they’ve identified with a character or issue I’ve written about. Also, if they enjoyed a book enough to share it with a friend, family member or reading group. It’s something I really appreciate.
I like meeting those unexpected people in your books; people who turn out to be totally different from what I anticipated. Do you plan them ahead? Or do they come into the plot as you write it?
Phaedra Patrick:  They kind of turn up as I write and most have various hints of real characters about them. They can come from the tiniest of details, a yellow tooth, a pair of blue trousers I used to own, or someone’s bad habit. I’m an avid collector of people and places and ideas in my head, and all these come out when I’m writing. 
In this book, Zelda came from my own grandma, who was rather feisty and could be a little indelicate with her words. Owen, the lovely male bookshop owner, took inspiration from the actor Brendan Gleeson, who I admire and can imagine playing the part.
In The Library of Lost and Found, which female character would you like to meet in person and why?
Phaedra Patrick:  Although it would be great fun to spend a day at the funfair with Zelda, I’d probably get motion sick from all the fairground rides she’d make me go on. So, I’ll choose Betty Storm (Martha’s mum) instead. Betty came to my story a little late on, as I was writing, because I think she was too timid to come out for a while. I’d like to tell her that you only get one life and she should do what’s best for her family but also think of herself too.
Lastly, [considering your three books,] are there certain characters you would like to go back to?
Phaedra Patrick:  After I’ve told my characters’ stories, I see them carrying on their lives in a better place without me. I’m quite convinced they are out there somewhere in the world and I know how their stories continue, even if I don’t write this down.
Thank you for giving us a deeper understanding of your book characters. It's very lovely to have this chat with you.
Phaedra Patrick:  Many thanks for your questions and the opportunity to answer them.

PHAEDRA PATRICK is the international bestselling author of THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER, and RISE AND SHINE, BENEDICT STONE. She has been published in over 20 languages worldwide and is the winner of the Prix des Lectrices Milady 2017. THE LIBRARY OF LOST AND FOUND is her third novel and will be published by Park Row on 26 March 2019.

You can follow Phaedra on Twitter here and learn more about her on her web site here.


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