BackStory: Five Questions with Emma Venables
Author of Snow in March
What inspired you to write ‘Snow in March’?
I’ve been researching and writing about Nazi Germany for a while now and I’ve long been fascinated with the image of anti-Nazi leaflets falling from the sky and have been considering how people on the ground might have responded to such an occurrence. This scene didn’t really fit into the novel I’ve been writing and so I thought I’d explore the image and the questions that arose from it in a shorter piece.
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers and why?
I’ve so many favourites but I particularly love Kate Atkinson and Sarah Waters for their characterisation and the texture of the eras they represent. They don’t hit their reader over the head with historical detail but weave it in very succinctly. Sometimes I think over-egging the cake in terms of historical detail hints at the writer’s insecurity about the time period they’re writing about. As a reader you want to experience the period organically, have it unfold around the characters, rather than feeling yanked away from the story by an author desperate to show off something they’ve researched which doesn’t fit but they need you to see it so you know they know their stuff.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
I love those days when the words just flow onto the page and you’re not second guessing yourself. I also don’t mind editing – I find there’s something very cleansing about the editing process. But then there are those days when I read back a story and it seems so terrible that I can’t figure out how to fix it. I’ve got stories that are lying in wait for me to fix them!
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
I’d love to live in Liverpool during WW2. I once interviewed my Gran for a school project on the war and I was in awe of how she just got on with everything. That’s not to say that I’d enjoy the whole experience (the nightly raids, etc.) but I’d love to dance with my Gran in the Grafton, sit with her in an air raid shelter, and just witness that sense of community, the Blitz Spirit. My Aunt recently told me that my Gran used to read historical fiction novels set in WW2 Liverpool and say: ‘it didn’t happen like that’ – I’d love to experience how it did happen!
What do you think is the most challenging and/or rewarding aspect of writing historical flash?
The most challenging aspect of writing historical flash fiction has to be condensing all the elements of narrative into a short piece while also ensuring you’re evoking your chosen era for the reader. And the flip side of that is that sometimes that challenge can be quite rewarding and keep you on point.
Emma Venables has taught Creative Writing at Royal Holloway and Liverpool Hope University. Her short fiction has previously featured in The Gull, Litro Online, The Lampeter Review, Strix, The Fiction Pool, LossLit, Spelk, and Normal Deviation: A Weird Fiction Anthology. She can be found on Twitter: @EmmaMVenables.
Image detail from a photograph of German women doing their washing at a water hydrant in a Berlin street, near the wreck of a German light armoured car, 3 July 1945, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum: © IWM (BU 8609).