Welcome back for part II of my interview with “The Phantom Tree” author Nicola Cornick. Find out what Nicola is working on next!
5. RHP: If you could time hop, as Alison does, where would you go first and why? What would you most like to experience first hand?
NC: If I was given the opportunity to time travel the very first thing I would ensure would be that I could come home. That would be non-negotiable! Once that was agreed I think I’d be rocketing all over the place because there are so many things I would want to witness first hand: I would like to pay a visit to the court of Henry VIII. I’d like to see what Wolf Hall really looked like. I’d like to be present at the building of Ashdown House, the seventeenth century hunting lodge where I work for the National Trust. I’d want to know who really murdered the Princes in the Tower… There would be no stopping me!
6. RHP: Alison and Mary are very different characters. They have an uneasy relationship – rivals, tentative friends, fellow survivors. Not a simple relationship to define. Did you set out to create these two opposing yet complimentary characters, or did the complexities of their relationship evolve as you wrote?
NC: The relationship between Alison and Mary very much evolved as I wrote the book. When I started out I was very focused on Mary and the book was all about her. It was only gradually that I came to realize that the central relationship in the book was actually between the two girls and that it was this that in some ways drove both stories. I loved that Alison was such a complex character and that I had the opportunity to show her both as a child/young woman and as someone older who had changed so much as a result of her experiences. I loved the mutual dependence between the two of them, which sprang from convenience and necessity, and I found it very emotional writing about how Alison feels towards Mary at the end of the book.
7. RHP: Mary sees visions and speaks to a spirit guide, Darrell. Alison time travels. How did you choose each character’s “super powers”?
NC: I enjoy adding an element of the paranormal to my writing and really loved those “super powers”! I wanted Mary to have a secret friend because she is very isolated and alone for a lot of the book, so to have her communicating telepathically with Darrell makes her feel less solitary. I also liked the fact that Mary herself disliked her gift of the “sight” because she was afraid it would mark her as a witch and was very conflicted about her powers.
Alison was so different; she is dismissive of the supernatural and so for her to experience time travel was rather fun. It challenged her pre-conceptions. I also loved that she thought she was the only person who had that particular power, only to discover that wasn’t the case!
8. RHP: Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
NC: I’ve just completed another timeslip book, this one set in the 18th century and the present and based very loosely on the “first” Lady Diana Spencer who was the ancestor of the late Princess of Wales and a famous artist in the Georgian period. It will be out at the end of the year.
Nicola Cornick is an award winning novelist and historian who wrote over thirty best-selling historical romances before she changed genre to write historical mystery. She studied History at the University of London and at Ruskin College Oxford. Nicola volunteers as a guide and researcher for the National Trust at Ashdown House and acts as a consultant for TV and radio history programmes. In her spare time she is a guide dog puppy walker.