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Interview with Sara Sheridan

     Today, I have the pleasure to interview Sara Sheridan. She is the author of the Mirabelle Bevan historical mystery series. She has recently published, On Starlit Seas, which is a novel based on the life of Maria Graham. I have greatly enjoyed her Mirabelle Bevan mysteries, and I look forward to reading this one as well! I hope this interview will give you some insight into her novel. Thank you, Mrs. Sheridan!



You were inspired to write On Starlit Seas on a real person. What drew you to her story? 

I found Maria Graham in the National Library of Scotland’s John Murray archive. They had the books she’d originally written and her letters, journals and other papers. It was like finding a diamond in a mine. It was her nature, really - she just sparkled. It seemed extraordinary to me that this woman hadn’t been memorialised. She was a traveller, a writer and a mathematician. I wanted to write about her immediately.

How did you weave historical and fictional parts in the novel? What was your research process of On Starlit Seas

I am a nerd. I am big into research. After I had read all Maria’s papers, I explored her world - I had already written two novels in the era but Maria’s places were her own - Piccadilly in London and the royal court in Brazil. I set out to learn what it was like to be a woman in that era. The spaces in Maria’s story provided the rest - the time between her first husband's death and when she met her second. And the huge advances in the chocolate industry, which was growing exponentially. 

You dedicated this book to seeing women. What do you think are Maria’s feminist qualities? 

Maria wasn’t a feminist in the modern sense but she had a sense of fairness that would be familiar to today’s equality activists. She didn’t conform to the expectations of women in her era - she was a rebel, although she was careful not to do do anything inappropriate to her class. She knew she was on a short leash and she couldn’t push it too far. But she still pushed it, of course. She pushed it plenty.


How different was it writing about a real-life person compared to writing historical mysteries with a fictional female detective? 

Well, they are such different eras. The research for the early 1800s is far heavier than for the 1950s, for a start. With real people, it’s important to honour their stories - what actually happened - I tend to try to write into the gaps in their stories. With fictional characters there is more intimacy because you know them inside out - you made them up after all - so you have absolute freedom.  

Do you plan to write more books based on real people in the future? 
I’ve just finished one based on James Clarke Ross’s 1842 expedition to map the exterior of Antarctica! So yes please. 

What do you hope readers will take away from the novel? 

I hope they’ll fall in love with Maria and the era. It was an extraordinary time when the world was expanding. I think it’s amazing to see where we came from - to make those connections about the places our culture evolved from. For women especially because so much of our history is untold. 

What are you currently working on now? 

I’m writing the 8th Mirabelle Bevan Mystery set just outside Inverness in 1958. It’s called Highland Fling. I’m about a third of the way through and I think I will be done next year - around February.

On a lighter note, chocolate is very important in the book. Did you do lots of hands-on research? 

You know how I love research! Books always have flavours for me. During Secret of the Sands (the book in this set before On Starlit Seas) I ate a lot of dates and coffee - it’s set in the desert, you see. With On Starlit Seas it was hot chocolate. I put on 7lbs!




About the Author:

     Sara Sheridan is the author of On Starlit Seas, Brighton Belle, England Expects, and London Calling. She is a cultural commentator who appears regularly on television and radio. In 2014 she was named one of the Saltire Society's 365 Most Influential Scottish Women, past and present. 

     For more information visit her website at http://www.sarasheridan.com/.

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