Today’s installment of Aspiring Voices showcases Maggie Giles, a world traveler and fellow design school graduate. I caught up with Maggie and picked her brain about managing the research required for historical fiction, the influence of travel on writing, and how writing has changed the way she looks at the world.
Paul: I saw from your website(s) that you’re a multimedia designer. Do you think you ever bring a design sensibility to your writing? How is the process for doing design work different from your process for writing?
Maggie: I went to school for Multimedia Design. I did everything from animation to web design to 3D modelling to programming. It was a blast! Now I work in Marketing.
I can’t say I really bring any of my design or schooling to my writing since I feel like it uses two different versions of my creativity. Painting a picture in my head is different than designing a visual for me to analyze.
That being said, my process for both is pretty similar. Each has a planning stage. I need to make a skeletal outline before getting the details added. Although, one is usually diagrams and site outlines, and the other is character backgrounds and plot lines. [laughs] Eventually it becomes a finished piece of artwork.
Paul: So you plan and outline extensively?
Maggie: I don’t know if I’d say extensively… I guess it depends on the story. I wrote my first historical fiction from mostly my own knowledge, not really sure where it was going to go. I ended up having to go back and do a whole bunch of revisions to correct historical events. Go figure! Since that one I have done more planning. Though, sometimes just a timeline outlining my plot. I’m working on a fantasy novel which has required a bit more detailed planning.
Paul: How do you organize all that “before the detail” material? Do you have a system or a tool that helps you with it?
Maggie: Historical fictions I always order by dates and events that happened in the life of my character. That’s the easy one. Usually just a list maybe with some of my own scenes from that year as well. My setting and characters, although my own in a sense, were once real so I have less freedom with these visuals. My other works I usually plan out a bit more. Add some character background and setting. These ones I have more freedom with so I spend more time making them my own.
Honestly, the tool I use is Google Docs so I can work on it on any computer.
Paul: Is it like you know exactly how the final scene in the book is going to play out before you start on chapter one or do your outlines have some flexibility?
Maggie: I tend to have a good idea of how it’s going to end. That being said, as the story is written I find some elements that don’t work and others that take the story in another direction. I’m open to changes as I write always.
Paul: Historical fiction has always struck me as so research intensive. Do you find the research to be as enjoyable as the creative process?
Maggie: Actually I do. If I am writing a historical fiction, then the life/events of that time or person attracted me to the subject in the first place. Because of this, I find the research interesting as well, since it will be the background for my fictional account.
Paul: What about historical fiction appeals to you?
Maggie: Honestly, royalty. I know it sounds totally cliché, but the idea of court life and the country bring run in this fashion, fascinates me. I like to see how the women played their role in this lifestyle. It is something that has always been an interest to me.
Paul: How do you go about your research?
Maggie: Internet, mostly. I use some online journals, if I can find them. For Anne Boleyn, I have spoken to a historian who researched her life, and am addicted to the website www.anneboleynfiles.com—pretty much your source for all things Tudor. The problem is that not all historical accounts are similar and its easy to stumble across different interpretations of the period.
Paul: Is there some sort of organization method to keeping all these details for later? Or are you one of those enviable people who just remembers everything?
Maggie: I wish I could remember everything! That would be amazing. Unfortunately I’m not. I tend to keep a list of the years my stories will cover and list the events that happened during that time. Some will be important and play a huge role in the stories, others may just be mentioned as they were happening during the character’s lifetime.
Paul: Do you have a set of go-to sources? Are you kind of always on the lookout for new tidbits?
Maggie: I try to make sure I have multiple sources for the same fact so I can verify which is consider accurate and which is not. That being said, it is also a fictional story, so I can add my own information into it where appropriate. I like to try to keep my history—events, dress etc.—consistent with the times.
I love learning new things and new pieces of trivia. That being said, history, especially popular history, can be hard because there are always new tidbits, but you can’t be totally certain which is true and which is not. Plus, when stories have been over-told, people begin to take what happened in a historical fiction—be it a show, a movie, or a novel—for fact, when that is not the case.
Paul: I’m interested in this idea of stories being over-told. I know you mean it in a historical sense, but considering how often myths and fictional stories are re-told, do you think details of them from popular re-tellings begin to water down the originals, the same way it happens with historical fiction encroaching on actual fiction?
Maggie: No doubt. I think that any story being retold is going to change. It is open to interpretation and I find this changes from person to person. Plus I think that every story teller puts their own personality into their work. This alone is going to cause changes in events/stories.
As for it watering down the originals, I don’t think it is hard to find the original work, but a popular version/fact is often easily incorporated into the history/story to make it more exciting or glamorous or what will sell.
Paul: Do you have any literary heroes? Any one particular author or maybe a couple of them who inspired you to write or who do historical fiction in a way that you feel kind of exemplifies the genre?
Maggie: I don’t really have any literary heroes. My first favourite book was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.
I loved the Harry Potter series and feel that inspired me to write some YA. As for historical I’ve read a lot of Philippa Gregory and I have always been interested in the subject. But I can’t really say I had any literary inspirations. For my history I found a lot of inspiration during my travelling. It’s amazing to visit some of the places I write about.
Paul: What are some of your favorite places you’ve visited?
Maggie: I did a backpacking trip of Europe in fall 2011. I did 14 countries (26 cities). It was amazing. I saw so much. It was hard to pick a favourite. I love seeing new places, and even more, experiencing the history first hand.
Paul: Are those the same ones that have been most inspirational to your writing?
Maggie: They are. Europe was great for my writing. London had probably the most influence. We went out to Hampton Court Palace, and toured the Tower of London. But I would like to get back to England and do some of the northern castles as well. Also, I desperately want to go to Hever Castle in Kent
We visited Granada in Spain. There we saw the Alhambra. This was a gorgeous place. Also the childhood home of Katherine of Aragon (Henry VIII’s first wife.) It was amazing to see the places I’ve read about.
Paul: How important do you think firsthand experiences are to writers?
Maggie: I think it depends on the writer. Some people need to see/experience things first hand, others can write from pictures, or descriptions. Some can just imagine it. That being said, I certainly don’t think it has hindered my work in any way.
Paul: Has being able to go to these places and get that sense of the reach of human history benefited your historical fiction writing? I sometimes have the sense that Americans who haven’t traveled extensively have a funny view of history because there isn’t much in this country that tangibly connects us to a past beyond a few hundred years or so.
Maggie: I’m not sure I can give a solid answer to this question. I didn’t really consider much writing when I traveled. It wasn’t until after that I really took the idea of writing seriously. I think I would visit these places with a very different mindset now. But it certainly has made my stories feel that much more real.
And I should probably give you a heads up here and let you know I’m Canadian. [laughs]
Paul: [laughs] I guess I should have said North Americans.
So do you think taking up writing as a more focused pursuit has altered the way you see things and approach your experiences?
Maggie: Not everything but definitely some things. I never really looked at books critically until I was interested in publishing my own word. More so, I find myself (in a lot of cases) seeing something and saying “Hey! That would make a good story.” Not everything develops, of course.
I tend to draw characters from the people around me. Not the same person, but if I notice a quirk in a friend, it might get tied into my next character. But as I said above, it really depends. I don’t look at everything like it could be a good story. I feel like that would get exhausting!
Paul: Take it from someone who does look for the story in everything: It is exhausting. [laughs]
In what ways does having a sort of writer’s mindset impact your life?
Like I said, I don’t look at everything as a writer (which I’m thankful for). However, I am also a photographer (self-proclaimed!), so in some cases, I use photography to develop a story or character.
Paul: Describe for me the best or most memorable book you’ve read recently.
Maggie: Ahh the tough one. It wasn’t super recent, but it is my go to for this question. I highly suggest Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson. It was his first published novel and was published in 2011. He does a great job with this story. You only know as much as the main character and you uncover the mystery as she does. The author does a good job keeping the reader in the dark and wanting more. I can honestly say this book had me holding on to the end, desperate to find out the truth. I recommend this to most readers I meet.
Maggie Giles works full time as a marketing associate for an industrial gasket manufacturer. After attending university for multimedia design, she developed an interest in building websites and graphic design. Shortly after graduating, she traveled to Europe to complete a two and half month backpacking trip across Western Europe. Half way through her travels, she and her traveling partner discovered they had run out of books to read. Her friend insisted that Maggie write a story for their entertainment. Maggie quickly discovered the enjoyment of writing novels and has been writing consistently ever since. She began writing historical fictions during the Tudor era in England, but her writing interests span larger. She has also dabbled in thrillers, scifi and more recently starting a fantasy series. Although not currently published, Maggie hopes to release her first novel very soon. Catch up with Maggie and read short stories at her blog, follow her on Twitter, Like her Facebook page, and add her on Google+