Author Q&A with Clare Grant

Author Q&A with Clare Grant

Clare Grant grew up in Yorkshire, and works as a journalist for local and national newspapers. Her BA in English Literature and MA in Heritage Interpretation led her down the story path to create her debut novel, Winter of Shadows. It is a gripping historical thriller that follows a woman in the 1800s that fights the historical prejudices at the time for the sake of saving other women from a terrible fate. The BSPG read all 400 pages of this in just over 24 hours, so you could say we're obsessed with this new release. Clare answered some questions about her book for us, enjoy this quick wrap up!

Congratulations on Winter of Shadows being your debut novel, what work,  research and other background led you to start to tell this story?
I was working on a different project exploring the role of women in policing historically. It struck me how extraordinary it was that until 1919 women could not legally become police officers and yet as I read I realised that women have actually been doing detective work for centuries. They were recruited by husbands, sweethearts and employers as sleuths but without proper recognition of their work - or a pay packet. Women would investigate, go undercover, shadow suspects in ways and places men were denied access. I knew then I wanted to write a series about such a woman.

Did you dive into reality and research looking for women crime scene photographers and take inspiration from that or is Ada an imaginative construction from the lack of women in the field?
Turning over in my mind what an 18th century female detective might be like, Ada Fawkes came to me - not as an appendage to a male investigator – but as an independent heroine with her own unique talents. The challenge was how to give her skills that Scotland Yard needed, skills so special that the detective branch would overlook the fact that she was a female. I also wanted to make Ada’s world believable, she must do something that was possible for woman in the 1860s.

My heroine came to me in a flash bulb moment. I was visiting the Ryedale Folk Museum, in the beautiful village of Hutton-le-Hole at the edge of the North York Moors. The museum has a collection of heritage buildings, some of which date back to the 1500s. I walked into an original early photography studio and knew in that moment that Ada was a crime scene photographer. Ada could subvert an acceptable female hobby, a lady’s genteel pastime and transform it into her career. Photography gave her power. It was controversial, threatening and unfathomable. It could not be ignored. I did not expect to find contemporary accounts of women crime scene photographers but I drew on the experiences of Victorian female photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron to help with authenticity.

Your story is set in York, and you grew up in Yorkshire, is it easy or hard to fictionalise your home, especially jumping back in time?
As far back as I can remember I have visited the Victorian street in York Castle Museum. It is one of my joys in life. Its dimly lit cobbled streets draw you into the dark alleyways of York as it once must have been. The thrill of pretending to be shopping in the apothecary or the sweet shop and of standing beside the Hansom cab as though you were about to go on a horse-drawn journey, never leaves me. It’s in this part of the museum - the old Castle prison - you can still see the doors through which condemned female prisoners were led to the gallows. The museum draws you back to another time in many ways. In my imagination, this is the world to which I easily return.

I currently live in Northumberland and perhaps this also makes it easy to fictionalise York in the 1860s, because it must all come from my mind. I am not distracted by the present. I also wonder if being impressionably present in a city when I was young, but later in life having a contemplative distance, makes it easier for me to create my historical series. And of course York in the 1800s is fascinating because it gives an insight into the whole spectrum of society from people at the top to people at the bottom in one small area. It’s a place too, of extraordinary historical layers that reveal themselves in every nook and cranny of the city.

A fun question: if you could be lead casting director for the television series or movie adaptation of your book who would play your two leads?
One of my favourite television adaptations of all time is Mrs Gaskell’s North and South with Richard Armitage playing John Thornton. Like Straker, he’s dark, brooding, stern and principled. He was a little bit in my mind when I was writing Winter of Shadows. But Ada, well I would leave that to the imagination of the casting director because I think we might all see her a little differently.

The ending of the story from a readers perspective leaves a decent cliffhanger and makes readers begs for more. How did you decide on the ending of the book with the unresolved and very obvious tensions? Is there a sequel planned? Is there a future storyline mapped out?
There are many seemingly irresolvable tensions between Ada and Straker. Not just those of their difficult personal circumstances. Ada is independent, self reliant, an outsider though she feels deeply and cares passionately. She is a woman capable of making any sacrifice if she believes it is for the greater good. The question is, can and will Ada choose a life without Straker? I’m not sure I know the answer yet. I have a storyline, but I find things change as I write. There are three more books in the series so I will have to see what Ada does next. She might surprise me.

Winter of Shadows was released April 20 2024, go and grab your copy now!

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