Together with the Women's Prize for Fiction, we’ve launched Futures to highlight the talent of the next generation of female writers and support them to have the long and illustrious careers we think they deserve.
When Stacey Halls, 32, was interviewing novelists as part of her role at trade magazine, The Bookseller, she had no idea she'd one day grace its pages. Fast forward five years and her debut The Familiars was the top-selling hardback debut novel of 2019, a Richard & Judy pick and won a Betty Trask Award. She's gone on to write two more novels, The Foundling and Mrs England.
What was the inspiration behind your most recent novel Mrs England?
I wanted to write about two things - the fairy-tale setting of Hardcastle Crags in West Yorkshire and coercive control. There wasn’t an obvious story attached to the setting, which is a stunning wooded valley with a chocolate-box mill perched on a river. But the atmosphere and seclusion of the place -it feels cut off from society and even time - spoke to me, and the threads of a story came to me about a nanny who takes a position with a wealthy family of manufacturers on the decline. I also wanted to explore emotional abuse through a historical gaze - coercive control was only made a crime in 2015, though of course it has always existed. There was just no knowledge of it.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
This is my third novel, and the first draft was written in the first half of 2020. I went into my own sort of lockdown before the rest of the world, moving to Hebden Bridge to write it. It was my first time living alone and the first time I’d lived near my family in a decade, so I had an idyllic three months writing, reading, walking and having friends and family to stay before everything shut down. This is also the first novel I’ve written as a full-time author, so I had more time to pick over it, take it apart and put it together again.
What motivates you as an author?
I suppose you’re always trying to write a better book than the one before. You hope the next one will be the best thing you’ll ever write, and then the minute you begin it always falls short. Russell T Davies says writing is an act of loss, which sounds quite depressing, but it’s true.
What is your favourite book by a woman?
I don’t have an all-time favourite but My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier is one of them, and influenced Mrs England.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Show, don’t tell. My novels are all heavily researched, but I try not to put in any more historical detail than you would find in a contemporary novel.
What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a writer?
In a dream world an actor, but I doubt I’d be very good. I auditioned for the part of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films when I was 15 and that’s the extent of my brush with stardom.
Which female author do you find most inspiring?
I’d buy anything Sarah Waters writes without reading the synopsis. Her eye for detail, her skill for sensationalism - it seems mad that she isn’t actually a Victorian herself.
Do you have any writing routines or ticks?
No, I’m quite dull really. I can write anywhere but I suppose I am quite old-fashioned when it comes to research. I only use books, never the internet, and I like to have a nice thick wad of notes before I begin writing. I also like a rough plan; I’d never just see where the story takes me, though I’m trying to loosen up and be a bit more instinctive.
What’s your favourite Women’s Prize winning book?
Hamnet - I’ve been a huge Maggie O’Farrell fan for years, and this is my favourite of her novels. Its sense of immediacy is astonishing, and though you know it’s about the death of a child, it’s so compelling I read it like a thriller.
What do you hope to have achieved as a writer in ten years' time?
I hope to continue to tell stories about women in the past that bring them into the present. For too long women have existed in the margins of history, and I feel it’s my duty to bring them out and onto the page.
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