Today I am pleased to be talking with Capital Writer Kate Blackadder about her recently released novel, A Time to Reap.
It’s April 1963 in the Scottish Highlands. Elizabeth Duncan, widowed with two small daughters, is the farm manager on the Rosland estate, the job previously held by her husband, Matthew. Following a hard, snowy winter, her working life is made more difficult by the unpleasant estate factor. Elizabeth enjoys support in the small community from family and friends, including her cousin Peggy and local vet Andy Kerr. The arrival of an American visitor at Rosland House unsettles her in a way she hadn’t expected but, after Matthew’s mysterious death, a new relationship has been the last thing on her mind. However, as she dances at the annual estate ball in September, that may be about to change …
Where did the idea for A Time to Reap come from?
I was brought up on farms in the Scottish Highlands (my father was a farm manager) and I suppose as you get older you start thinking more about your childhood. So when I came to write a third serial for The People’s Friend I made lots of notes, under the headings of the different places I’d lived in and other farms I’d visited, trying to remember as much as I could. Gradually various plotlines developed. I decided to begin the story in March 1963 as I thought the bad winter that year would make a dramatic start.
What sort of research was involved?
My characters are adults so of course they see the world differently to how I did in 1963 so I had to try to think in that mindset … plus of course I know nothing about the practicalities of farming. I enjoyed the research. While knowing of course that I couldn’t go into too much detail in the serial – it’s a story I was writing, not a farming manual – I didn’t want to make any mistakes.
(This black and white picture is from the wonderful Scottish Life Archive © National Museums Scotland.)
I found a ‘farmer’s year’ online, a kind of calendar for around the same period and place to keep me right about what should be planted when and so on. I bought an old book on farm management in a junk shop that was helpful. In one part of the story, a lad hurts himself falling off a haystack. I realised I had no idea how a haystack is made but I knew it couldn’t be a matter of just piling the hay up … I asked a farming cousin (below, in the hat) who told me about the process in detail – I was only sorry I couldn’t include it all.
Which character did you most enjoy depicting
The main character, Elizabeth, is rather glamorous (although usually dressed in muddy overalls) and her story is more dramatic – but I think I enjoyed depicting her cousin Peggy best. She’s got quite a hard life and things rarely work out as she would like but she’s very stoic and keeps cheerful (most of the time).
From short stories to novels, what are the main challenges?
I’ve had over fifty stories published so I am well used to keeping an eye on the word limit. A short story has one main theme and a small number of characters. So when it came to writing something longer (I had a novel Stella’s Christmas Wish http://amzn.to/2dYQOrY published last year) I had to remember not to keep cutting words out. I don’t really plan a short story – I have the idea and know roughly where it’s going – but a novel is like doing a jigsaw in the dark, until that last piece slots into place.
As you mentioned earlier, A Time to Reap was first printed as a serial for People’s Friend. What are the main things to remember when writing a serial?
Unlike a novel (see previous question) a serial also has a word limit. A People’s Friend serial has a first instalment of around 6000 words and subsequent instalments are 5000 words. Within each instalment there are five ‘chapters’ and these should be of equal length. Depending on the number of instalments there can be up to four or five viewpoints. So a fair bit of planning is required. Sometimes you want to carry on with a scene and make it more than 1000 words but you can’t. But I actually like that discipline and really enjoy the challenge of sticking to it.
Any plans for a sequel?
Not with these characters I don’t think, but it is a period of time and a place I might revisit.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve put together two collections of my short stories and am preparing another one to come out on St Valentine’s Day, 2018. I’m planning another serial, a contemporary one. I’m writing short stories. And I have a couple of novels in the making.
Thank you, Kate, and the best of luck with your forthcoming writing. It sounds as though you’ll be very busy.
A Time to Reap is available on Kindle http://amzn.to/2hLBaX5 and in a large-print edition in libraries.