Q & A’s FOR THE MOON SISTER
1.Tiggy is the most spiritual of her sisters, and they often tease her by calling her a ‘snowflake’. How did you find writing her voice?
I was really excited to begin Tiggy’s story, because I already had a feeling that she was the sister most like myself. For all the other books in the series, I have always started by writing the past sections first before writing the modern-day sister stories. But for ‘The Moon Sister’, I began with Tiggy’s voice and I slipped into it naturally. I usually hesitate to say that I put myself into my characters, but in the case of Tiggy, we both share a strong sense of spirituality and a similar way of viewing the world. I loved every second of writing her story. It felt very easy.
2. How does Tiggy relate to her mythological counterpart, Taygete?
Like Maia, Taygete lived in isolation on a mountain in Sparta, which is now named after her. And like her eldest sister, she too became an object of Zeus’ desire. In order to escape his ruthless pursuit of her, she turned to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and of wild animals. Artemis turned her into a doe … but Taygete wasn’t safe for long, as Zeus eventually found her and shot at her with an arrow. As in all the books, the sisters stories are metaphorically shaped by their original mythology. My ‘Tiggy’ also seeks isolation in the beautiful Highland landscape of the Kinnaird estate, and there she meets Zed Eszu – his surname is an anagram for “Zeus”. This most powerful God definitely had a thing for the beautiful and clever Seven Sisters and just as Maia tells us in her story, Zed also relentlessly charms and cajoles Tiggy for her affections. ‘The Moon Sister’ not only contains references to Greek mythology, but also to old British Romani and Spanish Gitano beliefs: in both cultures, the moon holds great significance, and is the feminine balance to the fierceness of the ‘male’ sun.
3. In ‘The Moon Sister’, you raise many environmental issues, such as the balance of ecosystems, deer culls and veganism. How did you decide to approach this subject?
I learned so much about how we take our environment for granted, and it has made me far more aware of it. Tiggy is vegan and I relied on my friends to give me guidance on recipes and outline the difficulties of sticking to their diet, especially in remote areas. At the Alladale estate, which inspired the Kinnaird estate, the rangers there talked me through the way that deforestation and the modern world have had an impact on the Scottish landscape, and how an ecosystem that is unbalanced has to be corrected by humans. Like Tiggy, I was initially horrified at the thought of deer culls, but the more I learnt about the workings of Highland estates and the lack of natural predators, the more I understood that human intervention is necessary. As for the wildcats I saw, they were as grumpy as Tiggy finds them in the book! The Alladale rangers taught me about the wildcat breeding programs in Scotland to try to preserve this rare indigenous species, but sadly in captivity, kittens are rare.
4. Tiggy and Charlie often discuss their differing stances of spirituality versus science. Do you think that there is space for both sides?
Definitely – I see both Charlie and Tiggy’s point of view, and I enjoyed the way they slowly come closer to a compromise, the better they get to know each other. Tiggy is a trained scientist, but throughout her journey to discover her past, she gives in to her inner talent for healing. I have written about spirituality before, most notably in ‘The Midnight Rose’ through the character of Anahita, but never as thoroughly as with Tiggy, and I really enjoyed discovering more about the magic of Spanish gypsy brujas.
5.Through the character of Zara, you explore the effects of warring parents and divorce on children. Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to approach this subject in ‘The Moon Sister’?
Zara was one of the most complex characters to write. I am very interested in exploring unconventional families and relationships, as sadly, marriage does not always equal a Happy Ever After. Children are often the innocent victims that have to deal with the fallout of their parent’s break-up and often feel they are in some way to blame, just as Zara does.
6. As a trained ballet dancer, did you try your hand at flamenco dancing? How did you approach your research in Granada?
I wanted to write about a dancer in the series, and with Tiggy being described as so graceful, I felt that her heritage would fit the best. I spent a fascinating time in Granada exploring Sacramonte, and the best evening I had was seeing a live flamenco show in one of the caves. Being so close to the Gitano dancers and feeling the beat of the music, truly transported me to Lucía’s time. Having done so much research into the minutiae of flamenco dancing and the Spanish terms, at the end, I got up and danced with them!
7. Your character Lucía Albaycín is based on the famed flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya. What made you decide to fictionalise the character, rather than write about Carmen herself?
Carmen Amaya was a true legend in that everything we know about her life has been passed down by word of mouth, has been exaggerated and twisted – on many occasions, by Carmen herself. My main historical text on her life was the biography ‘Queen of the Gypsies’ by Paco Sevilla, who did a remarkable job of charting her life from birth to death. However, even Sevilla could not confirm basic details such as her actual place and date of birth. So I decided to free myself from the complicated myths of Carmen’s life, and came up with the character of Lucía Albaycín, and her lover Meñique, who is loosely based on the guitarist Sabicas, Carmen’s partner for much of her life. However, the story of the flamenco cuadro waiting out the battle for Madrid in the basement of a theatre, and their subsequent escape to Lisbon, is reputed to be true.
8. You explored Aboriginal culture in ‘The Pearl Sister’, and have now explored gypsy culture in ‘The Moon Sister’. What draws you to writing about disenfranchised peoples?
The Romani and Gitano cultures fascinated me because of their deep connection to the earth and nature, but also their tales of the Otherworld and their deep spiritual beliefs. It is what Tiggy and I are drawn to. Again, it was difficult to research because most of the culture has been passed down orally, but in speaking to Gitano’s in Granada, and reading a great deal about British Romani gypsies, I hope that I have done their stories and their traditions justice. Gypsy cultures all over the world have suffered from predjudice for centuries and the history of exclusion and persecution that they have endured is horrific. Just as with the Christian traditions, sadly, many gypsies no longer follow their spiritual culture, but I wanted to represent ‘the old ways’ accurately.
9. Zed’s predatory behaviour towards Tiggy constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, as Charlie states. Were you influenced by the #MeToo movement?
I passionately support the #MeToo movement and the bravery of the women who have spoken out. Zed’s behaviour towards Tiggy was always going to be a part of the story, because it is based on the events of the Greek mythology – but in a modern context, his actions have very different repercussions, and it is right that Charlie defends Tiggy when he realises what she’s been through with Zed. The book is actually set in 2008, but of course, I was writing ‘The Moon Sister’ in 2017, and it’s incredible to see the changes that have occurred in less than ten years. The media was full of discussions on consent and power in the workplace, so the subject was at the forefront of my mind.
10. You have been writing one book a year in the Seven Sisters series. Are you planning on taking a hiatus in order to focus on other projects or do you feel that you have gained momentum?
I have been working almost non-stop on the Seven Sisters series since the beginning of 2014, and it has been a very enjoyable marathon. I’ve lived and breathed their stories constantly and I feel so lucky that my readers have been cheering me on. After Tiggy’s story, I surfaced to take a short breath of air and to work on another project. I spent the summer writing a standalone novel set in Southwold, a beautiful English seaside town. ‘The Butterfly Room’ is due to be released in the UK and around the world from the spring of 2019. Now I’m refreshed and ready to continue with the rest of the sister’s stories.
11. Can you tell us what you have in store for Electra in ‘The Sun Sister’?
When we encounter Electra at the end of ‘The Moon Sister’, it is a very sudden jolt away from the natural and more innocent world that Tiggy inhabits in the Highlands of Scotland. We’re plunged straight into New York, and the reader realises quickly that Electra is not well. She is the sister that has appeared the least in the series so far, and, like CeCe, we’ve heard quite negative things about her from her sisters. I’m looking forward to hearing her own side of the story and of course, to discover her past, which will take me to the beautiful savannahs of Kenya.