Author interview: Dorothy M Parker
Last year I had the pleasure of working with new novelist Dorothy M Parker and her time travel novel, The Angel of Incompleteness. Her novel was published a few months ago so I thought I’d take the time to find out more about her motivations to write the novel, and more.
Me: Hi Dorothy! What is your career background – I mean, before you wrote this novel?
Dorothy: I was a journalist at the BBC for most of my career. I studied Biochemistry at Glasgow University and Journalism in an American University.
Me: Is this your first novel?
Me: The main character is Louise, someone who has worked in broadcasting. Do you have a particular affinity with her? If so, how?
Dorothy: Yes, I was a TV Researcher, Producer/Director and then Editor of an Investigative Journalism documentary series at BBC Scotland. Many of Louise’s experiences are derived from my experience, although I focused on the bad ones for the purpose of the story!
Me: Your novel includes time travel – is this a genre you particularly like? If so, do you have any favourite time travel books/films?
Dorothy: Yes I love time travel. I was trying to understand quantum physics when I started writing this book, so I became fascinated by the fact that there is no time at the quantum level. I played about with this for the novel.
Favourites include Carlo Rovelli’s book ‘The Order of Time’, Ruth Ozeki ‘A Tale for a Time Being’, ‘Outlander’, ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’.
Me: When did you first discover the nineteenth-century artist Berthe Morisot? And what attracted you to writing about her?
Dorothy: I was looking at a book about Impressionists when I came across Berthe Morisot, just as Louise does in my novel. I didn’t know there was a woman Impressionist, and I fell in love with Berthe’s paintings – the lightness of touch, the beautiful colours. I became fascinated with Berthe’s work and her life, her struggle to be a painter in a man’s world.
Me: Your novel also includes the other main Impressionists – was it fun to bring them to life?
Dorothy: It was great fun. I read letters written by Manet and Degas, and researched them as well as Monet, Renoir, Cezanne. I discovered that Edouard Manet was brilliant and charismatic, Edgar Degas was a misogynist, and Paul Cezanne was a grump. It was fascinating that these amazing artists knew each other in Paris. That was one reason I wanted to go to that time in the book.
Me: What issues did you find with writing about a real historical person who can’t answer back?! Do you think there are ethical concerns? Did you feel any sense of duty to the real people in the story – which might have constrained you in some way?
Dorothy: Yes I really struggled with this at the beginning, especially as I was a journalist and spend my career making sure information was correct. Then I decided to give myself a break – lots of authors have written about real historical people. But I tried to be as faithful as possible to Berthe’s character and life. I did a lot of research around her and her family.
Me: How long did you take from the original idea to completion?
Dorothy: I didn’t set out to write a novel, but I became intrigued by Berthe Morisot about 5 years ago. At the same time I was trying to understand quantum physics. The ideas just took over, to the point I was waking up in the middle of the night to write them down. So the book insisted it be written. It’s my first novel so it was a huge learning experience. I put it away for months, and then a year at a time, so it was 5 years on and off.
Me: Your novel not only deals with the Impressionists and Morisot, it also brings the Paris of the post-Commune period to life, including the Haussmann rebuild/public works programme. You contrast the wealthy with the poorest districts. How did you research this?
Dorothy: I read ‘The City of Light’ by Rupert Christiansen, Robert L. Herbert’s book ‘Impressionism’ and did loads of internet searches about the clothes, the sewers, the food etc.
Me: Your novel includes quantum physics and the theory of entanglement – how would you summarise the latter to a reader of this interview?
Dorothy: Hah, difficult. In quantum physics it has been proved that 2 particles can influence each other over distance, instantaneously. There is no space and time at the quantum level. When you change the spin of one particle, the particle it’s entangled with changes its spin at the same time. I thought it would be fun if this applied to 2 women from different centuries!
Me: How many of Berthe’s paintings have you seen in real life?
Dorothy: I’ve been to as many exhibitions and art galleries as possible and seen all I can, maybe 50 paintings.
Me: Where did you take liberties or speculate in the absence of evidence?
Dorothy: Well obviously the time travel through the painting was a bit of a liberty. Louise’s relationship with Berthe and Eugene Manet was of course fictional. Berthe’s relationship with Pierre Puvis de Chavannes was speculative. They did know each other but I created their story for dramatic effect.
Me: Did you outline your novel in advance, and if so, how tightly did you outline it?
Dorothy: I didn’t outline at all to start with. Then I got lost and tried to map out the structure. Then I changed it several times, and then I asked Karen for help and that saved me.
Me: For any readers inspired to learn more about the topics of your novel – which books would you recommend to them?
Dorothy: The ones mentioned above. Also ‘Berthe Morisot ‘ by Jean Dominique Rey.
Me: Most of the novel is historical – do you have a particular interest in historical fiction?
Dorothy: I didn’t before becoming absorbed in this world.
Me: What are your favourite genres?
Dorothy: Magic realism and now, historical fiction
Me: Who are your favourite writers?
Dorothy: Ruth Ozeki, Mary Oliver (poems), Carlo Rovelli, George Saunders.
Me: Do you miss the world of the novel now that the story is complete?
Dorothy: Yes I really miss it. I take every chance I can to talk about it. I’m now doing a lecture on Berthe Morisot to U3A art appreciation group.
Me: Would you like to travel back to that period yourself, given the limitations women suffered at the time?
Dorothy: I’d love to visit Paris in the 1870s and meet Berthe and the Impressionists, but it would drive me mad to stay there. Women were either poor or heavily restricted.
Me: Did the novel go in any unexpected directions that you were unprepared for?
Dorothy: I enjoyed getting involved in the social scene in Paris, the balls and the dances. I hadn’t expected to write about that so that was fun. I had to develop the Louise’s relationship with her husband more and add some extra plot points and crises to make the story work, so I had to create a bit more drama to make the story work. There was a lot to learn about character arcs, plot and structure.
Me: Did your characters surprise you when you were writing the book?
Dorothy: I became very fond of them, even Edgar Degas. Louise and Berthe’s deepening friendship was a delightful surprise. Giselle, the maid, flourished into a minor character. And as I learnt more about Berthe I understood how hard she had struggled to be an artist.
Me: What did it feel like to hold your published novel in your hands for the first time?
Dorothy: Amazing. I was overwhelmed. It had lived in my head for so long it was hard to believe it was real.
Me: Do you paint or engage in any visual art form yourself?
Dorothy: I paint, mostly landscapes.
Me: Are you planning to write more novels?
Dorothy: Not at the moment but who knows, something else may bubble up and demand to be written.
If readers want to check out Dorothy’s novel, you can follow the link below to Amazon: