Q&A with Natasha Farrant, curated by Erin Hamilton.
The Voyage of the Sparrowhawk is a search for loved ones and a place to call home in the aftermath of WWI. A completely compelling story of love, friendship and unexpected surprises. I was glued to this book and was so excited to put forth some questions for author Natasha Farrant. I love the reference in her answers about Matthew Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables. Having grown up in that part of Canada, Anne and Matthew have a special place in my heart. I appreciate this story and the character of Nathan even more.
Can you describe your story in a sentence?
Epic journey of police chases, storms at sea and unexpected puppies, as two orphans in the aftermath of World War 1 take their narrowboat across the Channel in search of lost loved ones and a place to call home.
The lengths people went to in the quest for finding loved ones after the war is legendary- was this always going to be the main journey for Ben and Lotti?
The quest for their loved ones was always going to be the main driver of the plot. On a thematic level, the book was always about how we recreate ourselves and our lives in the wake of disaster – I feel it’s become very topical!
Narrowboats may be unfamiliar to some readers- did you have to spend time on one to ensure your descriptions were authentic?
Yes, I did, and it was utterly enchanting. I hired a narrowboat in Bath and my husband and I spent a wonderful weekend pottering on the Kennet and Avon canal. We went a tiny, tiny distance, because narrowboats are slow and we had NO IDEA what we were doing. But in the space of two days drove over an aqueduct, woke up to the sight of cygnets staring in through the window, made new friends, crashed into a wall, got stuck in the mud, visited two pubs, saw several kingfishers and enjoyed ourselves hugely. Time takes on a completely different quality on the water.
The character, Nathan is a quiet man but one who exudes safety and strength- was he inspired by anyone in your life?
Now I come to think of it, my family is full of loud women and quiet men – rather like Ben and Lotti! But I think, more than any person in my real life, Nathan draws on one of my favourite fictional characters – Matthew Cuthbert in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. Who doesn’t want a Matthew or Nathan in their lives, quietly watching out for them, offering unwavering love through practical help?
What came first- the plot or the characters?
On balance, I would say they arrived more or less at the same time. I was wondering what to write next, and I was at my friend’s house playing with her dog, Dobby the chihuahua (sadly no longer with us), and I said as a joke, maybe I’ll write a book about him. And I had just read Philip Pullman’s LA BELLE SAUVAGE and was thinking I’d like to write about a long boat journey, and also read an article about a couple who had taken their narrowboat across to France. And then I played around with ideas, and VOYAGE OF THE SPARROWHAWK started to take shape. So the whole book began with Dobby the chihuahua who becomes Federico… After that, Lotti popped up, fully formed as some characters do, ready to take control of her story.
What do you hope readers will take away from their voyage with Ben and Lotti?
What are you currently reading?
Like a lot of people, I’m struggling to focus for any length of time at the moment. But I just gobbled up THE SALT PATH by Raynor Winn in twenty-four hours. It’s a beautiful, brave true story about recreating a life through adversity. Then I re-read THE SECRET GARDEN. I’ve been re-reading WAR AND PEACE since the beginning of the lockdown (slow going), as well as THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES (research for a new writing project). And last night I randomly picked up a biography of Balzac which belonged to my grandmother. I’ve had it for years since she died and never read it, but it’s wonderful. Most importantly, it makes me feel connected to her, and I think that sense of connection is what I’m looking for most from books right now.
Voyage of the Sparrowhawk is due for publication by Faber&Faber on 3rd September 2020, and is available to pre order from all good booksellers.
Any views and opinions expressed in this blog may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.