Today I am extremely happy to welcome to BLI and introduce to you a wonderful new author and one of the kindest persons I know: historical fiction author Priya Parmar! Priya’s debut novel Exit the Actress (released in February) takes the reader on an enchanted time travel back to the colourful and buzzing theatre scene of 17th century London. You can read my review of Exit the Actress here, but now please give the warmest welcome to Priya and read on to discover more about her, the novel and all the little secrets behind the writing of the story there is to know
Stella: Priya can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I did not plan to write a novel. It just sort happened in a really fun, collective way. I did postgraduate work at the University of Edinburgh and then I began working with Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues in both London and New York. I also did freelance editing until a friend suggested I write my own novel. My mother was an editor and I trusted her to tell me if what I was writing was terrible and so I just began to research and then write.
I have always sort of lived in parts. I grew up part of the time on the East Coast and part of the time in Hawaii and then I moved part of the year to London and part of the year to Hawaii. I have a suitcase permanently in the corner of my room.
I have never left the house without a book since I was ten. I was also essentially illiterate until I was ten. I secretly could not read and had just learned to memorize everything and no one knew. Once I could read I plowed straight into Gone With The Wind
and did not leave the sofa for two weeks. I had fallen madly in love with words.
Stella: Describe a typical day of writing? Are you a planner or pantser?
Priya: I have really strict, strange rules for myself in terms of writing. I wake up and turn on the computer before I do anything else and write. I let myself write just four pages in a day whether that takes one hour or eleven. And then I stop. I never give up and decide to give myself a day off on the day. If I decide the night before that is fine but never as a reaction to writing. And then I never make up the work if I do have a day off. I just start over the next day. And if I am in Hawaii I go an jump in the ocean when I am done…
Stella: What do you think is the difference between a reader and a real Book Lover?
Priya: I am not sure. I think the switch happens when you don’t just read a book but treasure it and keep the story with you long after you finish. I know lots of people who like a story while they are reading it but do not miss it terribly when it is over. I miss a story terribly if I have really fallen in love with it.
Stella: What can we expect of Exit the Actress?
Priya: It is not a typical story of Nell Gwyn, nor of a royal mistress. It is a more historically rooted Nell in terms of her family history and it rejects the cockney, lewd Nell of popular myth. She is a complete person and has ambitions of her own outside of her affair with the king.
The secondary characters are different as well. Nell was the only mistress who befriended Queen Catherine. I was fascinated by the relationship between Charles and his queen as well as the queen and Nell.
Stella: Not many historical novels are set in the 17th century, why did you choose to write about this time period?
Priya: I did not really set out to set a novel in Restoration London but it is where Nell lived. The people are what drew me to the time. Once I got there thought, it was absurdly fascinating.
Stella: How did you come to know about Nell Gwyn and what compelled you to make her your heroine?
Priya: Nell was one of the first women I met while researching my doctorate. Her story stayed with me and when I decided to write a novel she was just insistent that she star in it. It was interesting. When I moved down to London from Edinburgh, I bumped into Nell’s life everywhere. I kept finding myself on streets that featured in her life and my bus passed her house with the blue plaque everyday.
Stella: Why did you choose to write a historical fiction novel? Was it a conscious decision or the story just flew that way?
Priya: I do not remember actually choosing to write a historical novel. I was not even sure I could write a novel. It all just sort of happened. I think I reasoned that it was actually easier for a first time author to hang a story on a historical frame rather than originate a story completely. Of course, that reasoning did not take into account my obsessive compulsion to get it historically accurate!
Stella: Would you like to try your hand at writing a novel in a different genre? If yes, which one intrigues you?
Priya: I like the idea of writing a fictional novel inside a historical period. I love the idea of people from history wandering in and out and going to parties with characters that I have just pulled out of thin air.
Stella: How long have you spent researching Exit the Actress? Can you give us a glimpse behind the scenes of how the novel came to life?
Priya: It is difficult to say as so much of the research happened during my earlier doctoral research. I would say, I spent a year researching and then four years researching and writing. The researching never stops. I was in the copy edit phase and still double checking that a certain color cloth would have been used in 1668.
Samuel Peyps was a wonderful guide. It was wonderful to have this randy old goat for company as I wandered through the Restoration. I knew the definite plot points of the story but so much of her daily life (other than when I was sure she was playing this or that role) was unknown. Samuel Peyps and John Evelyn, the diarists of the time, gave me the weather, the social calendar the gossip. It was wonderful to have them.
The interior landscape is what is really fictional. I looked at what happened (i.e. Nell went to Epsom and sent all her scripts back to the theatre but was back in a month playing terrible roles) and had to construct a plausible emotional, practical trajectory for how these things could happen.
Stella: What time period do you personally find the most fascinating and why is that?
Priya: It moves around. I am currently madly in love with WWI because that is what I am writing about but I have fallen for everything from the Romans to the Regency period. I loved eras of shift and collapse and movement; when the social, moral, cultural cards get thrown in the air.
Stella: Can you summarize Exit the Actress for us twitterstyle (140 characters or less)?
Priya: I am so bad at Twitter. I signed up and did not use it. Umm… ‘Ellen’s great adventure in becoming Nell Gwyn.’ How many characters is that?
Stella: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read Exit the Actress?
Priya: It is terrible but I don’t know? I love her story. I love her voice. People worry about the format but it honestly dissolves after a few pages and just flows through the book. It is not about a royal mistress as much as it is about a woman looking for the life she wants to lead.
Stella: Do you plan on returning to the Restoration period? What is next on your schedule?
Priya: I am currently writing a novel set in WWI but I definitely hope to return to the Restoration. I miss it. I miss the shoes and the dancing and the friendships and the theatre. I really miss the theatre.
Stella: Can you share with us some little secret trivia, something that not many people know about you?
Priya: I can walk on stilts and do back flips. But only into water and only on the stilts my dad made me when I was twelve.
Stella: Thanks so much Priya for stopping by and answering all my questions!
We are giving away a copy of Exit the Actress to one lucky commenter.
All you have to do is ask Priya a question
or leave a meaningful comment about the interview.
Which time period would you like to visit or which historical person would you like to meet?
Please leave us a way to contact you
(email in blogger profile or twitter name-
no way to contact you – no entry).
This giveaway is international
Giveaway ends on Saturday, May 21th 2011 and we will announce the winner on Sunday.