IFOA: What was your research process for The Devil on Her Tongue?
Linda Holeman: After spending time in Portugal and falling in love with the country’s history and culture, I came home and spent months immersed in Portuguese non-fiction and literature. I returned to Portugal when I was certain of the shape and setting I wanted for my novel. Armed with camera and notebook, I explored Madeira’s capital of Funchal from the sea front to its hilltop quintas. I drove around the island, stopping in villages and walking the levadas; I went into churches and cemeteries, into wine lodges and into cafes and bars where I listened to the haunting melodies of fado. I stood on cliffs overlooking the tossing sea. I ferried to Porto Santo, and on that tiny island I understood the rhythm of an isolated life in the middle of the ocean. I walked the beach, smelling the air and water and studying the sky in sunlight and under the stars. To write about a character in first person, I have to become that character in an alternate universe to my own life. Being in Diamantina’s world eventually brought her voice to me, clear and sure, and I knew her well enough to tell her story.
IFOA: Do you consider yourself a feminist writer?
Holeman: The protagonists in my historic novels lived in a time and environment which made it impossible for a woman to have anything close to gender equality. As a champion for women’s rights, I advocate and support the civil liberties and equality of women. And so as a writer, the challenge I face is to find a way to write about women who break away from traditional gender roles and are still believable to 21st century readers. Diamantina is faced with the knowledge that the only roles open to her are wife or nun, but she can be neither, due to the circumstances of her birth. And so I had to find a way for her to forge a life for herself, one in which she could make choices regarding sexuality, reproduction, and the workplace—all still current issues for many women world-wide.
IFOA: You have written several novels for young adult readers. Is your process the same when you write for this audience?
Holeman: Although my research processes are the same, the actual writing for adults and young adults requires a slightly different mindset for me. While young readers today are very sophisticated and savvy, and want to read about real issues, I’m still very aware of my use of graphic images and language. I temper my words so that the visuals they present won’t be overly explicit and/or disturbing in scenes of violence, sex, and so on. The other difference is that I rein the novel in, reducing the number of characters and back stories and tightening the arc, resulting in a shorter word count. My YA novels have typically been half the length of my adult novels.
IFOA: Which author (living or dead) has made the greatest influence on you and your writing?
Holeman: There isn’t one writer. I have been and continue to be shaped as an author by my past and present reading, which is broad and has no set direction. As I’ve grown and evolved, so has my reading: a writer who influenced me when I was twenty wouldn’t necessarily do the same when I was forty. From the time I fell in love with reading, which was at six years old, I wrote my own stories in my head. When I began my journey in becoming an author, I pulled out all I had absorbed about rhythm and flow of both plot and dialogue, about characters and why I felt about them as I did and what kinds of scenes resonated with me – and why. Basically I’m saying that I take my cues from a lifetime of reading great authors.
IFOA: Your biography on your website mentions that you talk with your partner about story and character “…in some way everyday.” How do these discussions influence your writing?
Holeman: My partner Martin studied film and screen writing and works in that arena. He can dissect a film in much the same way that I like to pull apart and study a novel I’ve read. I have no formal education in creative writing: I learned to write by reading and the act of writing itself, and have always written by instinct. Martin is on the opposite end of the spectrum, with a deep and solid educational background in writing. Our different approaches – his more formal and mine more reflexive – create intense and sometimes heated debates on the ebb and flow of a good story, including character development and arc. We spend a lot of time discussing a movie we’ve watched together, or a novel we’ve both read or my own work-in-progress. These discussions are motivating and helpful in having me look at my work from a different angle. And they’ve also made me come to the realization that I tend to think of life as a story. That would account for why I often try to shut out all other sounds and hear classical music in my head as background : everything appears more interesting, bearable – and elegant!
Linda Holeman is the author of several internationally bestselling historical novels as well as eight other works of fiction and short fiction. Linda presents The Devil on her Tongue, a spell-binding story of loss, romance and betrayal set in 18th-century Portugal. She presents alongside Emma Healey and Tom Rachman on June 25th.