An Interview with Laura Purcell

Laura Purcell has made a name for herself in gothic fiction. I particularly enjoyed The Whispering Muse, a story set around a theatre where the plays come to life more than merely on stage. She has a talent for making the reader root for morally ambiguous characters and evoking a haunting atmosphere in her mostly Victorian settings. With Moonstone, her first novel for younger readers, she takes on werewolves – and creates a feminist gothic love letter to stories. I had the distinct privilege of catching up with her ahead of publication to discuss writing for new audiences, chronically ill characters and strong messaging.

Cover of Moonstone by Laura Purcell[GdM] Can you pitch Moonstone in a sentence or two for our readers so they have a sense of what to expect?
[LP] My initial pitches for this book were ‘Werewolves in the Bridgerton era’ and ‘Carmilla meets Gingersnaps’. It’s a Gothic, Regency-era YA with themes of self-discovery, losing your innocence and seeking light in the darkness. There’s a touch of romance, some body horror and a sprinkling of gore.

[GdM] You‘ve been writing gothic stories for adults for a while, but Moonstone is your first foray into YA. How do you feel the writing (and publishing) process is different for a new audience?
[LP] It’s been a huge amount of fun to write for young adults. Nerve-wracking too, as they’re the most passionate and discerning readers. One lesson I’ve learnt is that there needs to be more contrast, more interplay of light and darkness. My characters are a little less miserable in this book! Not to say that I don’t think YA readers can handle gritty themes, but I’ve been working on conveying a sense of wonder and beauty that perhaps my other stories lack. This has also been reflected in the publishing process – the finished book is stunning, full of gorgeous touches and chapter headers.

[GdM] Fierce women are centre-stage in Moonstone, though all completely different in nature – and very few men. What inspired you to have such a clearly defined gender split in the story?
[LP] Female rage and perceived monstrosity fascinate me. Along with many other women of my generation, I was taught to view my anger as something ugly which must never be allowed to see the light of day. We were encouraged to present a different version of ourselves to the world, one more palatable and soft. So to me, the werewolf myth always carried a female connotation. Even the language we use cements this. Women are typically linked to the moon, their menstruation labelled as ‘the curse’ and the menopause ‘the change’.

To begin with, I envisaged a pack of she-wolves, all ostracised for different reasons, surviving out in the wild as a vivid contrast to the male-dominated society of the Regency era. In this time, the rules were made by men, women could not even vote, so in my mind the towns, social order and laws took on a male form, whereas nature, freedom and simplicity became female.

[GdM] To me, Moonstone is a manifest against social expectations, a plea to break the rules. Can you talk a bit more on that aspect of the story?
[LP] Yes, I’m so glad this came across! And perhaps some of that was a reaction to me writing in a new genre and going against what was expected of me. I wanted to express that it’s ok not to fit in. Society is constantly telling us we will find our fulfilment in family, or success, or good looks, and I wanted to encourage my readers to evaluate that. What if your own happiness actually lies in a low-key job and the single life? That’s fine too! Camille starts off thinking her ideal future would be full of expensive dresses, society balls and handsome gentlemen whereas to Lucy, these things represent a kind of debauchery. The two must challenge each other’s preconceptions.

And as I said before, in the Regency world the men make the rules; rules that in this book would see an abused wife forced to stay with her husband, a herbalist unable to exercise her talents and an adventurous girl sold into a boring marriage. The only way for my characters to write their own destiny is to become rebels.

[GdM] I particularly enjoyed Lucy being portrayed as chronically ill – as a chronically ill person myself, it’s great to see that representation. What did you aim to achieve and what do you hope your readers take from this?
[LP] I’m so happy to hear this. It was personal to me too, as most of my teenage years were consumed by chronic mental illness and in many ways Lucy’s experience is symbolic of that time. It was important to me that readers could see Lucy as heroic, loveable and capable – she is far from the ‘wan invalid’ Camille expects. She has been through things her friend can’t begin to understand. She’s irritated by Camille’s naivety, but also attracted by a glimpse of the innocent childhood her illness denied her.

[GdM] Wolves (and wolf shifters) are a popular element in fiction. What inspired you to write your own take on them? Any favourite myths or media?
[LP] This has been brewing for a long time. I love Gothic monsters and always felt werewolves were underused in comparison with, say, vampires. Speaking of which, Slavic myths claim that a werewolf becomes vampire when they die – two for the price of one!

As anyone who has read my adult books will know, the idea of duality is something I play with a lot, so shapeshifters feel very me! I’m a huge fan of werewolf movies (my favourites are Gingersnaps, The Wolfman and Late Phases) but they often fall down with unconvincing special effects. I really wanted my werewolves to look like regular wolves and have a less comical transformation.

[GdM] One thing all your books have in common is how well they bring the past to life without overloading the reader. How to you create historical atmosphere so successfully?
[LP] It has similarities to world building in the fantasy genre – you have to know how everything works, but not necessarily put it all on the page. What I try to remember is that to my characters, this in their natural element. They won’t observe the same details we would. It helps me zone in on the bits that count. The trickiest part is coming up against attitudes that won’t make sense to, or are repulsive to, the modern reader. You need to show certain terrible mind-sets existed, and were widespread, whilst making it clear you don’t condone them yourself.

[GdM] I’m sure you have been doing a fair amount of research for your settings. What is some fun bit of information that’s stuck with you, that you may or may not have been able to put into a book?
[LP] It’s ridiculous how many rabbit holes you end up falling down with this. Lucy keeps sheep and spins wool in Moonstone. The references to it are slight, but you would not believe how many hours I’ve spent teaching myself about distaffs and watching YouTube tutorials on how to milk a sheep. There were also loads of werewolf myths I wanted to squeeze into the narrative – maybe they’ll make it into a sequel? – including cursed ointments, magic girdles, green candles and pacts with demons. I read that werewolves were marked on their buttocks by the devil. Maybe if I’d written a spicier book I’d have been able to put that bit in!

[GdM] Having been publishing for quite a while, what is something you’d love to have known starting out? What experiences have shaped you as a published author over this time?
[LP] I can’t believe it’s been ten years since my first novel, Queen of Bedlam, was published by a small press! I’m still not convinced I know what I’m doing. Like a shape-shifter, I think I’m still waiting to take my final literary form! The pinch-me experiences I’ve had are being on the Zoe Ball ITV book club, seeing tube posters for The Corset, and writing a podcast executive produced by John Carpenter.

Publishing is a wild ride and very different from the writing process. The sudden scrutiny of what has been your inner life, then needing to be articulate about it in public, are aspects I’ve struggled with. Your expectations are all over the place. I started out hoping to improve my craft each time, and gradually increase sales, but the industry is geared to putting the biggest push behind a debut. So sometimes your second book is better but performs worse.

[GdM] Can you talk about what is next, about the fun new projects you’re currently working on?
[LP] I’m working on my next adult Gothic as we speak. It hasn’t been announced yet so I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say but it includes some classic creepy children. After that I have another YA featuring a dark twist on the unicorn myth – I can’t wait!

Read Moonstone by Laura Purcell

Buy this book on Amazon

Share this
Tags:
Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.

Get grit in your inbox

Stay on top of all the latest book releases and discussions—join our mailing list.