Author Interview: Frances Quinn: The Smallest Man


Welcome Readers to another installment of the Books Delight author interview series. Today we are excited to talk with Frances Quinn about history, writing and her new book, The Smallest Man. 


JMR-Welcome to the Books Delight, Frances. Tell our readers where you live, what you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?

FQ- I live in Hove, on the south coast of England, with my husband and our three Tonkinese cats. We’re a short walk from the seafront, so a perfect day is often spent on the beach – I’m not keen on cold water so I don’t swim here, but I like to sit and watch the waves, and I’m afraid I’m a shameless eavesdropper so I’ll  people-watch and listen in to conversations. It’s lovely in the summer, but I love wrapping up warm and going down to the beach in the winter too. When it’s raining, what I do for fun is what most writers do – read!

JMR- You are a journalist and copywriter; how did this prepare you for writing historical fiction?

I’ve spent my whole (quite long!) working life putting words together, so I’m used to using words to have a particular effect on readers, and I think because I’ve done hundreds of interviews, I’m tuned in to the way people talk, so I find writing dialogue quite easy.  I’ve always had to write to deadlines and to specific word lengths, so that helps too, and of course research is something I have a lot of experience of. 

But people often assume that all that means writing fiction must come easily and it really doesn’t – it’s a different skill and for me, much, much harder than any other writing I’ve done. And there’s also the drawback that writing isn’t ‘me time’ in the way it might be for someone whose job is completely different – I’m sitting in front of a screen, writing, all day, so I don’t get the mental change of scene that other people do.

JMR-What is your favorite historical time period? Why?

I’m fascinated by the time of the Great Plague that hit London in the 1660s – there are so many parallels with the way people are behaving now, during the current pandemic. I also love the Georgian era. My second book is set in 18th century London, and I’m discovering that the Georgians are surprisingly modern, and a lot of fun – they invented celebrity culture long before TV, tabloids and Twitter existed.

JMR-Who is your favorite historical female? Why? If you could ask her one question, what would it be?

FQ- I’d love to have a conversation with Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles 1, who’s one of the main characters in The Smallest Man. She married at the age of 15 and was a French Catholic Princess in a country that hated Catholics and wasn’t very keen on the French, and where she didn’t even speak the language. The early years of their marriage were desperately unhappy – they made Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s relationship look blissful - yet they ended up madly in love and real soulmates. In the book, I’ve imagined how that might have happened but I’d love to hear her version. 

JMR-Tell us about your new book, The Smallest Man. 

FQ- Set in 17th century England, The Smallest Man tells the story of Nat Davy, a boy with dwarfism, who’s sold by his father and given as a present to Queen Henrietta Maria. Though initially, his role is to be a kind of human pet, he soon realizes that the queen is as homesick and unhappy as he is, and they become friends. At the same time, England is beginning the slide towards a civil war that will tear the country apart and result in the execution of the king.

JMR-Your main character, Nat Davy, is based on a real man, Jeffrey Hudson. Why not write about Jeffrey? What freedom did a fictional character give you in your storytelling?

FQ- Only parts of Jeffrey’s story are known, so I’d have had to make up a lot anyway, and I didn’t want to write what would essentially be a fictionalised biography. Inventing Nat meant I could use the parts of Jeffrey’s story that I felt made good fiction, leave out the bits that didn’t, and give the novel a satisfying shape - something that real life usually can’t provide.

JMR- Most readers of historical fiction are looking for a realistic setting, an immersion into the time period. What elements do you use to give the reader that ‘I feel like I’m really there’ feeling?

FQ-  In each scene, I think about what the characters would be hearing, tasting, touching or smelling. I don’t particularly like too much visual description in fiction – you need some, so the reader can visualize the action, but I don’t want to know what every character we meet is wearing or what colour their chairs are. Bringing in the other senses can bring a scene alive in a more subtle way.

JMR- What’s next? Is there a second novel in the works?

FQ- Yes, my second novel is scheduled for publication next year. It’s set in 18th century London, and it’s about a girl who wants to be a bonesetter. They were the forerunners of today’s orthopaedic surgeons and osteopaths, and because you had to be strong to manipulate bones, it wasn’t something women generally did – but my character, Endurance Proudfoot, isn’t taking no for an answer.

JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on social media and the web.

FQ- I’m on Twitter as @franquinn, on Instagram as franquinn21, and on Facebook at FrancesQuinnAuthor. I love hearing from readers, so please do get in touch with questions or comments.

JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?

FQ- What is a Tonkinese cat? (it’s a breed that comes from a mix of Burmese and Siamese, and has the beauty of a cat, the affectionate nature of a dog and the mischief-making powers of a monkey – they’re a terrible distraction for a writer but even so I recommend them to everyone!) 

JMR- Thank you Frances for a great interview. Good luck with your book, The Smallest Man. Readers if you are interested in seeing more about this book, click on the Amazon Link below.

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