This week we’re talking to our 2015 prize winner Annabel Abbs about her writing inspiration. Annabel’s novel The Joyce Girl will be published on 16 June.
I write in a very small study with a balcony that looks out over a vicarage garden and an enormous London Plane tree. It sounds idyllic but between me and the vicarage garden is a noisy London street full of dog-walkers heading to the park at the end of the road, and noisy Polish builders (a permanent fixture where I live). I write on a Victorian, mahogany desk inlaid with scratched green leather with an embossed gold border. No one wants desks like this anymore, so they can be bought at auction houses for a song. It seemed right to tackle historical fiction from a historical desk and I’m now rather attached to it.
My study is full of books but the most important thing in the room (after my laptop of course) is my Wall of Inspiration. Writing biographical fiction brings many challenges, but one of its advantages is its ready-made cast of characters. My Wall of Inspiration for The Joyce Girl included portraits of all the characters (as many as I could find – photographs, copies of sketches and paintings) as well as photos of the places they lived and the cities they inhabited. My research included travelling to Zurich, Trieste, Paris and Campden Grove in Kensington, where I photographed some of Lucia’s many homes. I added lots of postcards of 1920s Paris which I bought in Paris or found in old books. I also pinned up images of Alexander Calder’s wire portraits and other dancers of the period. Beside them I pinned a large map of Paris. The Corona typewriter in the bottom left corner is a real 1920s typewriter but I only used it for inspiration!
My Wall of Inspiration was invaluable and I spent long periods of time gazing at it, particularly if I was wrestling with a character’s motivation or trying to create a sense of place. I’ve since been told that The Joyce Girl is very evocative of jazz-age Paris, something I attribute entirely to the time invested in my ‘Wall.’
When I began working on my second novel, I had to relocate the Joyce Wall to the landing outside my study so that I could create a new Wall of Inspiration. But I still look at the Joyce Wall every day and add new pictures when I have them. It was an exciting moment when I was able to add the Impress jacket design.
The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs
1928: Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music, literature and dance. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer, training with some of the world’s most gifted performers. When a young Samuel Beckett comes to work for her father, she s captivated by his quiet intensity and falls passionately in love. Persuaded she has clairvoyant powers, Lucia believes her destiny is to marry Beckett. But when her beloved brother is enticed away, the hidden threads of the Joyces lives begin to unravel, destroying Lucia s dreams and foiling her attempts to escape the shadow of her genius father.
1934: Her life in tatters, Lucia is sent by her father to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. For years she has kept quiet. But now she decides to speak. Inspired by a true story, ‘The Joyce Girl’ is a compelling and moving account of thwarted ambition and the destructive love of a father.
The Joyce Girl will be published on 16 June and is available for preorder from Amazon and Waterstones now.