Author: Katherine Webb
Published: 24th March 2016
Hello everyone, today it is my stop on the wonderful blog tour for The English Girl by Katherine Webb. I must just mention how much I like this cover. It really just makes you want to pick it up and get lost in its story. Today I am delighted to be able to share with you why Katherine chose the time period she did in which to set the English Girl in.
A moment in time - why did you pick this time period?
I arrived at my time periods for this novel in a slightly round about way! I knew I wanted to write a story about the desert, and the mysterious allure of it; and I knew I wanted to write about the early, pioneering explorers of these wildernesses, and about a long held secret, but I had a bit of trouble tallying these three aims into one time and place. I knew I had to find a desert I could go and spend time in before writing about it - the book would have been so much the poorer if I didn’t. And, sadly, with a great deal of the Middle East undergoing cataclysmic upheaval in recent years, there simply aren’t that many places it would be wise to travel to. In Arabia, perhaps the most iconic desert region in the world, where I longed to set the book, Oman was really the only option.
You can, of course, visit the Arab Emirates, but I can’t think of any countries that have undergone a more radical modernisation than those - any that look more different now to the eras I would be writing about. So I started to research Oman, and, more specifically, British involvement in Oman.
Another determining factor as to when I would set my story was that I wanted the character of Maude Vickery to straddle both of the time lines - the time of early exploration, as a young woman, and the later period, as an old lady. So, these two strands could only be about fifty years or so apart. I was hugely relieved when I first read about the Jebel Wars in the 1950s - uprisings against the Sultan, during which the British sent out army officers, and sections of the RAF and the still-new SAS to help.
What I loved about Oman in the 1950s, aside from the British presence so vital for my plot, was that, thanks to the Sultan’s conservative rule, very little had changed in the country for centuries. It was only in 1970, when the current Sultan, Qaboos, came to power, that serious modernisation began. My 1950s character, Joan Seabrook, could travel to Muscat and Oman and feel as though she had stepped into the past, into another world entirely. This was the exact experience I wanted for her! A naive traveller in a very strange land, who meets an old woman who has seen and done it all, in another life, half a century before…
So, for the first time, I had some idea of a story, and had to hunt around for the right place and time in which to set it. This felt a bit backwards to me - I usually start with a time and a place, and the story grows from there! But once I had read more, I knew I’d got it right. I also like to bring forgotten pieces of history to light. I love that I had no idea about British involvement in Oman before I wrote this book, and I hope that readers will be similarly interested to find out about it.
The English Girl is out tomorrow!