Marianne Ratcliffe is an author who will absolutely immerse you in the worlds she creates. It’s always a risk with historical fiction that the language used could go over the reader’s head – but I can safely say that this did not happen with me and Marianne’s writing. I have been lucky enough to beta read for Marianne and oh my goodness, her writing is incredible!! Not only that, she is also a beta reader herself, and without her input, my book The Summer We’ve Had would not have made as much sense as it now does!
I was also lucky enough to interview Marianne for Sapphic Fiction February. I really enjoyed hearing about her creative process – read on to find out more!
Introduce yourself! Tell us a little bit about you - who are you, and what do you do?
I'm a freelance medical writer/dog sitter by day, writer of sapphic historical fiction by night (and at weekends).
What made you want to sit down and write your first book?
I always wanted to write, but doing a creative writing evening class finally gave me the confidence to give it a try.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I'm a plotter, but like to leave a bit of room for pantsing. I always plan out the inciting incident, main character arcs and climax/resolution before starting, but I leave a fair bit of leeway for my characters as to how they navigate their way through. Sometimes they like to surprise me. For key characters, I always like to know what they want and what their main characteristic is at the outset, but let them develop from there. I love reading books where characters learn and grow and I always try to do that as a writer.
Which of your characters do you relate to the most, and why?
There's a little bit of me in most of my characters, even the villains. If we take The Secret of Matterdale Hall as an example, I remember being almost as naive as Susan back in the day, although I don't think I'll ever be quite as kind and empathetic as she is. I relate to Marion's feeling of being an outsider and unlovable (the latter no longer being true, thankfully!). And my years as an academic scientist certainly informed aspects of Dr Clabyourn's personality.
Has your own writing ever made you cry?
In the creative writing class I mentioned earlier, we did one session where we had to write a poem. I explored my feelings of "otherness" growing up. I still remember it: There were many ugly ducklings, destined to be swans. I was not one of them - I wasn't even the same species. Turns out there were other strange creatures, Lurking, like me, in the undergrowth, I just didn't know it then. As you can see, I'll never be a poet, but reading this STILL makes me emotional.
Does anyone you know in real life read your books?
I've had plenty of friends and colleagues read my books. My wife always reads my books, and is a great proof-reader. My Mum and Dad have both read the Secret of Matterdale Hall, which they enjoyed, although Mum did say (and I quote) "It has too many lesbians in it."
Imagine your book, or one of your books, was made into a film. Who would play the lead roles?
I'd leave this to the director, as I'm terrible at casting.
When you’re not writing, what do you do to relax?
Play mixed five-a-side football with people who, like me, are too old to be competitive.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given with regards to being an author?
"Kill your darlings" was something I needed to be told early in my writing career. Also, I never realised the difference between "practice" and "practise", until a beta reader pointed it out. Although I blame that on reading too many American books where there is no distinction.
How about in general life?
I recall my careers teacher advising me not to do English A-level (even though I loved English) as, if I wanted a career in science, I needed to do 3 Science A-levels. She told me I could always read novels in my spare time. Which advice I have followed my entire life!
What is a motto you live by?
Treat others as you would have them treat you.
How can people connect with you?
Finally a light-hearted one. If you were a sandwich, what sandwich would you be?
Probably a ham and cheese toastie; crusty on the outside, but warm and squishy on the inside.
If you enjoyed this interview, then make sure you’re following my social media accounts (@kblakemanwriter on Twitter and @katherineblakemanwriter on Instagram) to get all the latest updates! And if you want to support my own Sapphic Fiction journey while you’re here, my new novel The Summer We’ve Had is available now!