Kirsty Ferry’s spooky timeslip Rossetti series is guaranteed to delight anyone who enjoys ghost stories, art, and romance in evocative settings.
She’s got great tales to tell about the ghosts she shares her workplace with as well as weird stories about the Pre Raphelite artists. Just why did Rossetti dig up his wife’s grave?
Read on for full shownotes and a transcript of our conversation.
Show Notes Summary
In this interview you’ll discover:
The defining moment that got Kirsty writing ghost stories.
The collection of ghosts she shares her work with.
The darker side of the Pre Raphaelites – why Rossetti raided his wife’s coffin.
Where to go to catch the Goth vibe of Kirsty’s books
Kirsty’s favourite binge reads
Why she won’t be reading the latest Bridget Jones
Kirsty can be found at www.rosethornpress.co.uk and blogging at https://rosethornramblings.wordpress.com/
And on Facebook and Twitter
For more detail, a full transcript follows: A “close as” rendering of our full conversation.
Jenny: And now to Kirsty: Hello there Kirsty, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Kirsty: It’s very exciting! First time I’ve done a Skype interview and first time I’ve done a Podcast! So thank you.
Jenny: The three books in the Rossetti series take their name from the most famous of the pre Raphaelites, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and they all work around ghostly apparitions from last century – the world of the unquiet spirits – so I’m wondering . .
Was there a ONCE UPON A TIME when you were fascinated with ghost stories?
Kirsty: Yes! I’ve always loved ghost stories and probably the thing that started off this slight obsession was picking up Wuthering Heights when I was about twelve or thirteen. It’s a wonderful book with so many layers to it, but the crux is the love Heathcliff has for Cathy
For most of the book she’s dead and she’s a ghost knocking on the window trying to get his attention. He spends all that time missing her and wanting her. That idea of the unquiet spirit, of unfinished business, that started me off of wanting to write something like that, as good as that, so people would still wanting to be reading it many years into the future. So I think if there was a defining moment it would be Wuthering Heights.
Jenny: There seems to be a theme here because you’ve teased that in your day job you share a building “with an eclectic collection of ghosts, which can prove rather interesting.” We’d love to hear more about this collection . .
Kirsty: I work in a university in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Our offices are in a Georgian terrace of five buildings where they’ve knocked all the walls out so you can walk through this building drifting through walls like ghosts do.
A few years ago I said to a girl I worked with “Do you think this building is haunted?” and she said yes, she had actually seen a lady walking along the second floor corridor. She was all dressed in grey and she thought she looked like a nurse. When we looked into the history of the building it had been used as a convalescent home. We did a little bit of investigation and found she was called Elizabeth and she told us what year she worked there and she said she helped people.
When we dug into the records a little bit we found there was a lady called Elizabeth who worked there in those years in the convalescence home just like she had told us, so that was quite creepy.
There was also things the cleaners tell us. They were working in an office at the far end of the building and they saw a man walk in they didn’t recognise so they went running into the office they’d seen him enter to ask who he was and what he wanted and you can guess what I am going to say next – there was nobody there. But they saw a pair of legs going the upstairs. Just legs, no body, no head, just legs going up the stairs.
I remember I walked into the office one morning really early. And I could hear loud voices as if a very involved discussion was going on and I thought “Oh my manager is telling someone off so I need to make loud noises to let them know I am here.”
In walked in and stuck my head around the door and called out “Morning” in a loud cheery voice – and there was nobody in the office, so that was also a little strange. Other people have heard laughter, and whispering. And I lost a pen and I was looking all over the office. I couldn’t find this pen anywhere and I said out loud”Oh will somebody give my pen back” and I looked down and the next moment it was on the floor by my feet! Yes it’s a great building I love it I love it so much!
Jenny: I gather the pre Raphaelites greatly appeal to teenager girls who have posters of the famous Ophelia painting on their walls. The appeal might have been that Rossetti and Co told stories of magical and wild feminine beauty, of unrequited love and women of “untold power” – whether for good or bad – so I guess it’s not surprising their work appeals to young women. Is that what attracted you to the pre Raphaelites?
Kirsty: Yes, it’s such an aspirational thing isn’t it for young women? These very beautiful ladies who had this fascinating story behind them. Somebody thought that they were pretty enough to paint. They were captured in a portrait that becomes so famous that everyone in the world sees them.
I think the thing that started my interest in the pre Raphaelites was Lizzie Siddal who I heard about when I was doing my degree. Someone mentioned Lizzie and I thought “Oh she sounds interesting.” She was the lover and ultimately the wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She was his muse and she was also the model who posed for John Millais in his Ophelia painting. For anyone who has read the second book of the Rossetti series (The Girl In The Painting) it is very much based on Lizzie’s life at the time when she was working for Millais.
At the point when she posed for Millais her career took off and Rossetti – he was quite possessive I think – said to her that she wasn’t you going to model for anyone else except him. He told her “You’re going to be my model.” And she just went along with it.
She had been plucked from obscurity and brought into their world of fantastic people with all this excitement going on and she just went along with it.
There is this awfully Gothic story about Lizzie. When she died Dante said he could not work now she’d died, his muse was gone, his inspiration was gone, it was all a great tragedy, that was it, and he buried his poems with Lizzie in Highgate Cemetery in London.
Then a few years later his career wasn’t going quite as well as he‘d hoped and he thought to himself “Oh I’ve still some poems there haven’t I? I think I’ll have them back.” (Laughs) So he got some of his friends to dig Lizzie up so he could get his poems back off her and the story was that she was just as beautiful, however many years it was after she’d died, her lovely red hair was still trailing there in the coffin and she was as gorgeous as when he put her in there.
There’s this Wuthering Heights aspect of a love that lasts forever, but there is also a darker side when you get into it because Rossetti was a very ambitious man and he used her for his own purposes if I’m being brutally honest about it.
She in her own right was a very talented artist, she was a poet, but she couldn’t have any of her poems published while she was alive. There’s a suggestion she committed suicide and an indication she may have suffered post natal depression because she lost a baby and there are all these stories of her sitting rocking the empty cradle.
Yes there’s a Gothic thing going on, it’s not pretty, it’s not nice, it’s horrible really, but it’s fascinating. It’s the sort of thing that grabs a reader, it grabs a researcher, it certainly grabbed me when I was doing research for the books and you’ve just got to get it onto paper and get it in a book somehow.
Jenny: Turning from your specific books to chatting about your wider career
It’s a real achievement to have completed a trilogy. People talk about “finishing a book” but you’re well on the way to completing a library! Is there one thing you’ve done in your writing that’ you feel has given you the chance to break through?
Kirsty: I think the secret would have to be the confidence of getting the work out there, getting it submitted and getting people to read it. I’ve been one of those people who has written for years and years and years but left it hidden in a drawer or stored on my computer. When my son was a little older I started doing a degree and part of my degree was creative writing.
I had to put work out there, and get feed back on it, get the teachers to mark it and it was a bit nail biting and terrifying but that is the way you get better.
Through the degree I got the confidence to start sending stories to magazines and things. I took one of the stories that I’d done for my degree, expanded it and sent it off to Choc Lit Press and they said they’d take it and that became the first book – Some Veil Did Fall. The reason it became a trilogy is that I couldn’t let the characters go, I had to do more with them. I wanted to know what happened to them, so I just started writing the other books and the pre Raphaelites just linked in.
I’d used one of Dante’s poems, a particular poem Dante wrote about Lizzie about being soul mates and reincarnation and that kind of thing in the first book (Sudden Light – reproduced in part below) and that’s what Some Veil Did Fall was based on. The second book is based on the painting side and the third book on the photography so as the pre Raphaelites developed, my books developed, and it just worked really well.
Jenny: Does that mean we won’t be seeing any more Rossetti books or is there some unfinished line there that you might follow up on?
Kirsty: Well never say never. I have a Christmas book coming out this year that is linked into the first book in the trilogy, and the new trilogy that I am working on at the moment is linked into the Rossetti books through a minor character in one of the Rossetti books.
It’s a kind of continuation and there is another trilogy that’s contemporary and that’s linked in as well. So there is nothing specifically Rossetti, but you do find out more about some of the characters.
Jenny: These new books are they also in the timeslip and mystery genre?
Kirsty: Yes they are time slip ones. For the trilogy I’m calling the Hartsford series I have invented this little village in Sussex called Hartsford and a stately house called Hartsford Hall, and if you think about it you’ve got this building which is really old you’ve got all these people who’ve lived there and come and gone so there are a lot of stories attached to it.
In the first book Elodie, who works in the theatre in The Girl in the Painting comes back to the hall and becomes very good friends with Alex who has inherited the hall from his father. It is Elodie’s story. In The Girl in the Painting you realise she sees ghosts and in this one she has these little time clips where she goes back into the life of another character who lived at the hall.
Without giving too much away, there is a big storm, a tomb bursts open and it is empty and the story revolves around what happened to this girl. had to do a lot of research on highwaymen for this one, which is set on late 1700s. It was quite exciting to do a different period.
In the second book the girl works in a folk museum and everytime the clocks strike she falls back into the past.
In the third book Cassie who is Alex’s sister also has a time slip historical thread but it’s in the Second World War so it is historical but much more recent history. I’m sticking with what I know best – time slip, ghosts and mysteries.
Jenny: What attracts you to the timeslip/mystery genre, and why do you think mysteries are popular right now?
Kirsty: I think readers like to engage with the past and peel back the layers of time, to go back and look at these historical things and work out what happened to people. To travel that journey with the characters and enjoy the escapism and if you can get I think them to come along with you then that’s quite a success really
Jenny: Yes and I think people like to do that in reali life too – go to places and imagine themselves there. You go to the places where the characters tell their story. If you were going to organise a literary magical mystery tour for your series, where would you Tripadvise people to go?
Goths in Whitby
Well of course first up, Whitby on Goth weekend (it features in Some Veil Did Fall) It was awesome. I went there to do a book signing and it was great – top of the list!
And then I’d suggest North Yorkshire. This is the area where the books are set, in a little town a few miles away from Whitby called Staithes where they had an artist’s colony in the early 1900s. That’s where The Girl in the Photograph is based. It’s a beautiful little fishing village with a lovely little beach so get yourself up there.
I’d also say London. Go to the Tate Gallery and see their permanent Pre Raphaelite exhibition. Also the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery.
I went down to these galleries myself earlier this year, and I when walked into the V and A, I turned a corner and I was face to face with a Rossetti picture – it must have been eight feet high. I was stunned.
I also found myself in Gower Street where Cori (in The Girl in the Painting) found herself outside the artist’s Millais’ house where the pre Raphaelite movement was founded. Get yourself to Gower Street where it all started.
Kirsty AS READER
Jenny: Do you now or have you ever binge read yourself?
Kirsty: Oh absolutely. The first binge reading I can remember is probably Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers books about a girl at boarding school. I can remember a Saturday morning as a kid finishing one book and just having to start the next one. Then I moved on to Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart.
I also tend to read around themes and just recently I’ve had a Tudor thing going and read all of Philippa Gregory. I’ve moved on to Susanna Kearsley – all her time slip books.
And interestingly I looked up these children’s books I loved so I found them on Amazon. They were a delightful series of books by Elizabeth Enright involving the Mellendys family. They were favourites from my childhood so I found them and binge read them again last year.
I’ve just started to discover Sara Rayne she does haunted house abandoned buildings books and I’m binging my way through her at the moment. I’m onto about the fourth one
Jenny: They call it the Netflix phenomenon in reading. You’ve invested the time and you want to see what happens
Kirsty: Yes. You’ve invested so much time living their lives with them . . . You just kind of get into it; you want to find out what happens to the people don’t you?
The most annoying thing in as series for me is if you spend a whole book getting a couple together in the first book and then you move onto the second and they’ve had a big fall out and they are not together any more and you think “what was the point of that?”
I refuse to read the latest Bridget Jones one because that is exactly what happens! No!
Jenny: We’re coming to the end of our time together Kirsty and I’m just wondering: at this stage in your career, if you were doing it all again, is there anything you would change or was there a certain inevitability about it? What would you change – if anything?
Kirsty: I wouldn’t change it. It happened as it happened, in the right time for me. When my son was little I didn’t have time to write, and then I lost my job – we all got made redundant – and so I started writing again. Then I got a part time job in the University library which allows me to write as well, so it’s all progressed from there and it’s all gone really well for me.
Jenny: Thanks so much for joining us today Kirsty, it’s been great talking to you. Where can people find you online?
Kirsty: I’m on Twitter and I’ve got an author page on Facebook
I have a blog called Rosethorn Ramblings
and a website at www.rosethornpress.co.uk There’s a contact form on there and obviously you can also find me through my publishers at Choc Lit Publishing.
Kirsty has some interesting information on pinterest
https://www.pinterest.co.uk/kirstyferry/inspiration-and-suchlike/ for those interested in following up.
A Little Bit of Christmas Magic.
Sudden Light – the first two verses of the Dante Gabriel Rossetti poem Kirsty Ferry’s novel Some Veil Did Fall is based on.
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turned so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.
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