I’m beside myself with excitement to be interviewing Cesca Major today, as her latest novel The Last Night is published, because Cesca’s book The Silent Hours was one of the best narratives I read last year. You can read my review of The Silent Hours here. The Last Night is published today, 3rd November 2016, by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic books and is available for purchase from all good booksellers including here.
I’m also reviewing The Last Night below.
The Last Night
In a quiet coastal village, Irina spends her days restoring furniture, passing the time in peace and hiding away from the world. A family secret, long held and never discussed, casts a dark shadow and Irina chooses to withdraw into her work. When an antique bureau is sent to her workshop, the owner anonymous, Irina senses a history to the object that makes her uneasy. As Irina begins to investigate the origins of the piece, she unearths the secrets it holds within…
Decades earlier in the 1950s, another young woman kept secrets. Her name was Abigail. Over the course of one summer, she fell in love, and dreamed of the future. But Abigail could not know that a catastrophe loomed, and this event would change the course of many lives for ever…
An Interview with Cesca Major
Cesca, I’m thrilled to interview you on Linda’s Book Bag. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself please?
I’ve been writing for a number of years and The Last Night is my second novel. I live in Pangbourne, Berkshire with my husband and our son. I used to teach History and take the inspiration for my books from real life events. I have always been curious about the characters in history, the normal people that get swept up in extraordinary moments, and I try to bring them to life in my books.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I got the bug about ten years ago when I wrote my first novel and found I couldn’t stop. It’s an addictive process as you always believe you can learn more and get better so you just keep going. And then you realise you have written a number of novels and I suppose you are then calling yourself a writer!
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
Before I became a teacher I was an actress and a TV presenter. I loved performing and think a background in acting can really help your writing as you can use those skills (blocking a scene, dialogue, how people express themselves) in your books.
(That’s really interesting as many of the writers who’ve featured on Linda’s Book Bag have a similar background. There must be a link between the different creativities.)
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
I try to do a lot of my research face to face. There is nothing better than hearing people’s stories and experiences first hand. I was so lucky to be helped during The Last Night by a wonderful group of people in Lynmouth, Devon. After The Silent Hours it was a relief that all the research was in English not French..!
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
For me the most challenging part is the structural edit. You have your story down and then you need to look at it as a whole and see what is there, what is missing and how you are going to fix that. It’s exhilarating but seriously difficult.
(An awful lot of authors tell me the editing process is the most tricky time for them.)
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
Now that I have a son my routines are based around my lovely babysitter and his nap time. I always wrote in short chunks and did a lot of planning and research around these sessions so it works well. I work in a shed in my back garden which is lovely as it is completely private and has an LP player for my Classical Music (nothing with lyrics as I sing along).
I would find it hard to define your genre. It’s contemporary fiction, it’s historical, it’s mystery to some extent and it’s women’s fiction. What is your view of being categorised and do you think it matters where writers are placed?
A great question, it is so tricky. I think historical fiction can be such a turn off to some people. Particularly if they loathed the subject at school. I often describe my books as ‘Book club’ reads as the aim is you want to discuss them afterwards. It is a very controversial topic!
(I can sympathise with that TBR!)
Both The Silent Hours and The Last Night have very evocative covers. How did the images come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plots please!)?
I can’t take any credit for the covers, Anna Morrison is enormously talented and has come up with two gorgeous covers. I wanted the books to have a nostalgic feel and she has completely nailed the brief.
I find your narratives very visual. How do you manage this element of your writing? (Do you visit the places you describe? Use the Internet? Look at photographs etc?)
I do all of the above! I visit places as much as I can, so I made several trips to Devon for The Last Night. I take photographs, read books, see old newspaper clippings and use the Internet too.
When you’re writing, which is more important to you – a depiction of an historical event or the characters involved and why do you say this?
Definitely the characters. I am not writing non-fiction I am simply setting a story about people in another time. It is vital that people want to read their story and no one wants history rammed down their throat.
If you could choose to be a character from either The Silent Hours or The Last Night, who would you be and why?
I think I would choose to be Tristan from The Silent Hours. I loved writing his chapters – he was such a scamp..! In The Last Night I was always rooting for Irina, wishing her well.
Sometimes, as a reader, I find the emotions you convey almost too great to bear. How are you affected when you’re writing?
It can be quite upsetting to write about things that did affect real people. At times in my research I was quite shocked by what I uncovered but I hope I can channel the emotion into the books. I want people to be shocked and care, just because these things happened a long time ago does not mean they weren’t terrible.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Last Night should be their next read, what would you say?
Based on real events follow Irina as she uncovers the truth about The Last Night.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
LOTS and I am never close to getting down to the bottom of my TBR pile. I love Book Club reads, really humorous fiction and thrillers. I am always keen to hear book recommendations too. It is so wonderful to fall in love with a new writer and then read their entire back list.
What can we expect next from your writing?
I am extremely excited about the book I am currently working on. I can’t share an enormous amount with you but I am currently researching a fascinating event in New Zealand in the 20th century. Any excuse to travel there..!
Oh, great choice! Thank you so much, Cesca, for your time in answering my questions.
My Review of The Last Night
A body is washed into the rocks and the secrets surrounding it will reverberate across the years.
I don’t think I can write a review of The Last Night. Occasionally there’s a book that so appeals that it is nigh on impossible to find the vocabulary to express how I feel about it and The Last Night is one such book. I absolutely loved it.
The Last Night is similar in style to The Silent Hours, but is also subtly different and the suggestion of the supernatural came as a delightful and brilliantly evoked surprise. I think the way a real event, the flood in 1952 Lynmouth, is taken as a starting point and then a captivating story is built around it is totally fascinating.
Cesca Major writes with a lyricism that hypnotises the reader. The quality of descriptions is incredibly evocative. The iterative image of water is very much a presence and as much a character as any of the people. It’s there in all its manifestations from drizzle to flood, from benevolence to malevolence, and the quality of description means each depiction is pitch perfect. The writing is magnificent. As the book comes to its climax, the style matches it with more complex sentences that reflect perfectly the dynamism of events. It’s so impressive and satisfying to read.
The characterisation was incredible. From the loathesome Larry to the physically and mentally scarred Irina each is vivid and captivating. It was as if I became both Abigail and Irina as I read, and experienced their lives first hand rather than just as a reader. I thought about them both constantly when I wasn’t reading the book.
I loved the way secrets and half truths weave through the narrative and relationships so that there is mystery as well as emotion throughout. There are so many layers in the story that I think The Last Night would reward many, many readings. I know I will be returning to it over and over again. If you haven’t discovered Cesca Major as a writer yet, I urge you to do so.
About Cesca Major
After studying History at Bristol University Cesca Major went on to work as a television presenter for four years on various pre-recorded and live shows. She also taught History for seven years. Cesca was Runner Up in the 2005 annual Daily Mail Writing Competition and has continued to be successful in prestigious competitions ever since. She has written two novels based on real events. Her debut The Silent Hours was published by Atlantic Books in 2015 and The Last Night is out today, 3rd November 2016.