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Friday, 20 May 2011

Whisper My Name by Jane Eagland

One of the main inspirations for Whisper My Name is something that’s intrigued me for years, but I couldn’t see a way to write about it. I’m afraid I can’t tell you what it is because that would reveal a key mystery of the plot!

Then I was researching for my first novel Wildthorn when I came across references to Victorian spiritualism. That’s one of the delightful things about research – what you chance on when you’re looking for something else. What I read hooked me in and, combined with the topic-I-can’t-identify-without-giving-away-the story, gave me the seed for Whisper My Name.

Until then I’d not realized how popular séances were in the nineteenth century. Even Queen Victoria was not averse to a spot of table-turning, apparently. Like her, many people treated it merely as a pastime, but there were others including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who truly believed that it’s possible, via a medium, to communicate with the dead.

I found the whole subject fascinating, especially accounts of what fraudulent mediums got up to. A ‘spirit hand’ appearing through a hole in the middle of the table turned out to be a stuffed glove on the medium’s raised foot. Mediums handcuffed inside cabinets could release themselves with a second key secreted in their mouths and ‘appear’ cloaked in white muslin to thrill their audience. One such who was caught in her underwear claimed to have been stripped by an evil spirit.

I was entertained by all this, but you’ll have to read the book to see whether my mediums are frauds or true believers. What moved me most, though, was the serious side of spiritualism – the powerful desire to believe that the people we love have not disappeared, that they are still ‘with us’ and that it’s possible to make contact with them.

From that impulse, my main character Meriel Garland was born. Motherless and still grieving, by chance she takes part in a séance…

Though spiritualism gave me the framework for my story what interests me most when I am writing a novel are the characters and their relationships. As soon as I started thinking about her, Meriel sprang to life. Lively, determined, she’s the sort of person it might be fun to know. But she’s not without her faults and here I wanted to set myself a challenge – to see whether I could portray the less appealing aspects of her character without forfeiting the reader’s sympathy. Whether I’ve succeeded or not, I don’t know.

Once I had Meriel, I then thought about Sophie Casson, the young medium, a very different character from Meriel. Quiet, enigmatic, I knew she also had a story which I had to uncover.

I brought the two girls together and the mystery began to unfold.


Gabrielle Kimm said...

This sounds a fascinating subject, Jane, and it's an era I'd love to know more about. I'll definitely order a copy. I love the way you describe the independent life Meriel took on as you wrote the book - it feels great when characters take on an energy of their own, doesn't it?

Deborah Swift said...

Hi Jane, of course I'm desperate to know what the topic-that-can't-be-talked-about is! Guess I'll have to buy the book and find out.

Jane Eagland said...

Gabrielle - it was a great subject to explore. And I agree with you entirely about characters who take off- exciting.

Dee, Sorry - I just couldn't give it away! ( You could always borrow the book from the library...)

Eliza Graham said...

Jane, this sounds quite intriguing!

Ann Turnbull said...

I really enjoyed this novel and recommend it.