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March Book Club Choice

Sophia's Secret by Susanna Kearsley

Cover of Sophia's Secret

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Carolyn McClelland, a writer of historical novels, finds herself with a familiar enemy; writer’s block. A change of scenery leads her, and her book, in a whole new direction. Writing about the attempted Jacobite invasion of 1707, Carolyn takes up residence in a cottage in Edinburgh.  Inexplicably drawn to Slains Castle, and not so inexplicably drawn to the charming, but somehow familiar, Stuart Keith, Carolyn is soon writing with an unusual speed and imagery which leads her to wonder whether her ‘fictional’ character of Sophia is really so fictional after all.
Carolyn soon realises that she is somehow channelling the memories of her distant relative and that her story has a life of its own.

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Suggested Discussion Points:

Author Q&A

Q. How much of yourself is in Carrie? Besides the fact she is a Canadian novelist, like you are, but how much of yourself shows through in the way she thinks and acts in the novel?
Charlotte Scott, Aberdeen

A. Every heroine I write starts out as an idealised "me", but as the book progresses each develops her own personality on the page, so they become more like good friends than true reflections of myself. Because Carrie was a writer, like me, I purposely gave her my writing habits - or at least, the habits I used to have before I had children! These days, I can't stay up all night and sleep late in the mornings because I have to wake up bright and early to get everyone to school. But writing late at night is still a special indulgence for me, when I can manage it, and like Carrie, I do become so completely absorbed in the work that I lose all track of time. Apart from the way that she works and does research, I think Carrie's most like me in the way she interacts with her family and friends, and in her sense of humour.

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Q. Which plotline did you enjoy writing more? Carrie’s story or Sophia’s?
Diane Bunton, Bath

A. That's a difficult question! I honestly enjoyed them both. As I said before, when I write about a a character it's much like when I meet someone in real life - I don't know everything about them to begin with; they reveal themselves to me as time goes on by what they say and do. And I'm not a great planner, I often don't know what a character's going to say till they say it, which keeps the process very fresh and fun for me. So writing the stories of both women was a constant revelation to me, wondering what new challenges Sophia would be forced to cope with, and then waiting to see how Carrie would be affected by that. And while writing the historical segments was undeniably enjoyable, so too was the chance to relive my fond memories of modern day Cruden Bay. Truly, I loved them both equally.

Q. Has your writing ever been inspired by dreams like Carrie’s?
Mrs Quinn, Edinburgh

A. Not dreams, but my subconscious mind is definitely at play as much as Carrie's is, and like her, I get some of my best ideas in the bath!

Q. What inspired you to set the novel around Slains Castle ? Did you visit the area after you had decided to write the book, or had you been there before?
Rose Adams, Chelmsford

A. I set the book at Slains because that's where the action really happened, in the months that led up to the 1708 invasion. Most of the characters I've put at Slains in the past story were actually there at the time, doing just what they did in my book, so to be true to the historical record I couldn't have put them anywhere else. I had already started writing the book before I took my trip to Cruden Bay to do the on-the-ground research, but I'd made myself as familiar as I could with the area using photographs and maps, so when I did get there I at least knew where everything was (and had no trouble finding the pubs!)

Q. I’ve also read your other novel Mariana, which also blends the past and present – what draws you to this mix of history with the present. Would you ever consider writing a purely historical novel?
Miss Boyne, Edinburgh

A. I've always been interested in history, and the way in which our modern lives are shaped by what has happened in the past. I suppose that's why my books tend to feature contemporary characters who have to face a problem rooted in the past, because I like to explore that whole concept of how human lives can connect across time. Having said that, I do have a couple of ideas for novels that would probably be better told as straight historicals, instead of my using the "then and now" approach, but both ideas are still just beginning to develop and would need a lot of time and careful research to do properly.

Q. How difficult was it to carry out the research for this novel?
Laura Hilly, Gloucester

A. I would use the word "challenging" rather than difficult. Certainly it took a great deal of time and study, because in the past story I was using a number of real people as characters and their lives had to be re-created as faithfully as I could manage. In the case of John Moray, this meant doing a bit of amateur geneaology to fill in the gaps of his immediate family records, identifying his brothers and sisters and using found bits of his personal correspondence to help track his movements and get a good feel for his character. I had to do this with many of the characters, in fact, trying to make each person as real as I could while attempting to piece together the puzzle of what happened that summer and autumn, and why. But as frustrating as it could sometimes be, I absolutely loved that part of the research. Sitting in the British Library and reading letters Moray wrote - actually touching the paper he touched over three hundred years ago - that's just a moment I'll treasure, and never forget.

Q. What books/authors do you like reading?
Amanda Brill, Edinburgh

A. I have fairly eclectic tastes, actually - everything from Kurt Vonnegut to Winnie the Pooh - and my shelves are stuffed with books I bought because they "sounded interesting"... Favourite writers would be Mary Stewart, Nevil Shute, Lucilla Andrews, Jan Cox Speas, and Agatha Christie, to name a few just off the top of my head.


Book Club Reviews

This star review was by Mrs C.S., Innerleithen. A free copy of the April Book Club Choice

What a great read 'Sophia's Secret' is. It started so gently, and it wasn't long before it got more and more interesting. Both Sophia and her modern-day counterpart were very strong characters. The ending was unpredictable and very very moving. I'll definitely be reading more of her books!Mrs C.S., Innerleithen

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Not my usual type of book, but as it is set in Cruden Bay, where my sister lives, I felt compelled to read it. I found the interweaving of the historical conflict and the modern romance fascinating. The book is well written and easy to read. I really enjoyed it.Mrs. J. R., Gunnislake

I was delighted to read Susanna Kearsley's book 'Sophia's Secret'. It is so beautifully and so cleverly written. It was a geography lesson and a history lesson, not to mention telling the reader all about the political climate of the time. And to have that wonderful 'twist in the tale' was just icing on the cake...M.P., Port Seton

A beautifully romantic novel which entwines past and present to create a story which is very hard to leave behind. Peopled with believable characters and in a glorious setting this is a fabulous book that draws you in and makes you believe in the magic. A wonderful love story perfect for a rainy day or a sunny beach.Penelope Bullock, Lancaster, Lancaster


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