Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Friday spotlight on historical fiction author Heather Marshall. Heather Marshall was born and raised near Toronto, where she lives with her family and their giant golden retriever. She is the author of the international bestseller LOOKING FOR JANE – a story about a long-lost letter, a mother’s love, and a secret network of women fighting for the right to choose.
Heather, where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
LOOKING FOR JANE is available at all major book retailers including Barnes and Noble and Amazon. But be sure to visit your local indie shop too!
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
You can follow me on social channels @heathermarshallauthor and learn more about my work at heathermarshallauthor.com
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from Looking for Jane?
Looking for Jane is my debut novel. It’s an historical fiction novel that spans the 1960s through the present, and follows three women whose lives intertwine as they each navigate the choices (or lack thereof) available to them. Part feminist thriller, part heart-wrenching drama, part family history mystery.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I did a lot of research for this book. Authors of historical fiction always have to make decisions about how closely we are going to stick to the historical record, and where we’re going to deviate and take creative license. But with LOOKING FOR JANE, I really felt a strong responsibility to depict these experiences as accurately as possible. I really wanted to do it justice, and didn’t want to downplay or over-dramatize what these women experienced. There are two threads to this novel: the first is the existence and impact of so-called ‘homes for unwed mothers’, or ‘maternity homes’, where pregnant unmarried women and girls were sent to stay for the duration of their pregnancies in order to protect their/their family’s reputation. They would live at these homes for months, give their baby up for adoption (almost always by coercion or force), and were then told to go home and never talk about it again. The other thread of the novel is the history of reproductive rights and justice over the course of several decades, including access to safe abortion. I did a lot of research for both of these storylines, particularly through interviews with women who experienced these things firsthand. As such, the research was very emotionally taxing and disturbing, but as I say, I really wanted to make sure that I was honouring these women and depicting their experiences as accurately as possible. I also accessed a lot of government archive records and academic research papers and books on these topics.
What was the inspiration for Looking for Jane? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
The seeds for this book were planted early, back when I was doing a paper during my history Master’s studies. I was looking at Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s (Canada’s most prominent and infamous abortion provider) provincial court battles in the 1970s and 80s, in the years leading up to the 1988 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in Canada, and I thought ‘wow, this would make a great novel.’ It was all just so compelling and dramatic, and as someone who enjoys historical fiction, I thought I would really enjoy reading a book that covered that. At that point I was sort of standing in my own way – I’ve always been a writer and it was always my dream to make a career of it, but I figured that was a bit of a pipe dream that would never actually happen, so I didn’t pursue it seriously. But years later, when I was seriously considering writing, I thought about writing a book about abortion. And then around 2018, I stumbled across an article on the maternity home scandal, where over 300,000 Canadian women and girls were forced or coerced into giving their babies up for adoption at government funded institutions, and I thought ‘I need to write about this…’ So I had these two ideas for novels and then one day it just clicked for me that they were actually these two threads of the same woven story of women’s fight for control over their bodies and their lives. So once that clicked for me, the story just poured out. I wrote LOOKING FOR JANE over the course of about a year, then pitched it to agents and got a lot of interest immediately – I signed with my agent within 48 hours of hitting send on my query. And it got picked up by a publisher almost instantly. I was clear that they also thought this was a story that really needed to be told, and I’m so glad it’s found such a broad readership. I really think people need to know about this history.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
I think the biggest piece of advice, as frustrating as it might seem, is to have a lot of patience and persistence if you really have a dream of being a published author. I have a ‘practice novel’ that I wrote years ago that was never picked up by an agent. It will always just be the one that sits in the drawer. But that novel taught me a lot: how to find my voice in writing, how not to plot (ha!), how to get better at my craft. Trying to get that book published pushed me to take workshops on writing and the publishing process, which ended up being invaluable. The point is, the process can take years and years, but I think if you have a good book and you feel like you have something important to say, you should stick with it and keep trying. The querying process is grueling, there’s so much rejection and that’s difficult to cope with. But all it takes is one agent who thinks you’ve got something worthwhile, and one publisher who agrees! With that said, though, have the courage to acknowledge when one story just isn’t getting traction. Let it go, head back to your computer and write something new, then try again. There’s so much subjectivity in the publishing industry, and trends change over the years, so sometimes it’s just a matter of the stars aligning: sending the right book to the right agent at the right time. You can’t fabricate those circumstances. All you can do is keep trying until you break through! A lot of books that appear to be overnight successes actually have a history of rejection behind them, with authors who thought it would never come to fruition.
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
It really depends on my mood, the circumstances, and what I’m currently writing! I tend to develop moody playlists for whatever I’m working on, to help me sink into the feeling of the scene, era, etc. Other times, I just need utter silence to the point where I’ll pop in ear plugs. When I’m on a time crunch or writing a fast/propulsive/action scene, sometimes I’ll even listen to super upbeat techno that really helps keep up my writing pace.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re writing or editing a piece of work?
I’m almost always drinking either tea or coffee, and it almost always goes cold when I get too into the writing process, ha! It’s a good sign when I need to reheat my mug six times over…
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Heather! Good luck with Looking for Jane.