Q: What inspired you to write The Moon, the Stars, and Madame Burova, and how did you create your characters Madame Burova and Billie?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts, clairvoyancy, Tarot, crystal balls and palmistry.
One of the great things about my job is that you can choose to write about things that you have a real passion for and on a visit to Brighton (a place I love) I saw the booth of Eva Petulengro, a famous Tarot reader and clairvoyant who worked on Brighton seafront for many years.
It sparked the idea for the book, and I read her two autobiographies, The Girl in the Painted Caravan and Caravans and Wedding Bands.
I then had some readings myself back home in Bedford and found the most amazing woman who had been reading cards and practising clairvoyancy for over 30 years and had clients all over the world. She agreed to act as an adviser while I was writing the book.
I was also keen to write about a holiday park because it provides a wonderful opportunity to include a host of interesting characters – particularly if they are entertainers by trade!
I chose to set it in the 1970s, in a place and time where I grew up because I experienced first-hand the cultural, social, and political climate that prevailed on the streets, in the playground, on the TV and radio, and in the press.
Society was openly racist and sexist, and attitudes and actions that were commonplace then are painfully unpalatable and rightly condemned today and so it was an interesting and challenging era for me to explore.
We cannot change history, but we must not forget the way things were and continue to learn from it. We have come a long way since the 1970s, but we still have a long way to go.
Although Madame Burova was inspired by Eva Petulengro, her character is entirely my own creation.
I borrowed her surname from a friend of mine who is Russian – an incredible woman who is truly a force of nature and the kind of woman I envisaged both Imelda and her mother, Shunty-Mae, to be.
To be honest, I’m not really sure where Billie came from! Sometimes when I start to write a character, I only have a vague idea of who they are, but as the story progresses, they take on a life of their own and I go where they lead me.
All I knew at the start was that Billie would be a foundling, and at a crossroads in her life and that her journey would lead her to Madame Burova.
Q: Can you say more about the research you did to write this novel, and whether you learned anything especially surprising?
A: As research for the novel, I not only learnt about reading Tarot, I learnt how to read Tarot to a professional standard.
The lady who had agreed to act as my adviser on the book also agreed to teach me. I did a beginners’ course and found myself completely hooked, and so continued for several months to complete an advanced course.
In order to write the best book that I could, I realized that I needed to understand not only the mechanics of Tarot reading, crystal ball, clairvoyancy, and palmistry, but also what it feels like to do readings for complete strangers.
I’ve done many readings to date, and I’m often surprised at how accurate they are. I can’t imagine that I will ever stop reading the cards now.
I also managed to meet and interview a real-life “super-recogniser” – someone who has an exceptional ability to recognise faces. A friend of mine who is a retired detective was able to arrange this through his contacts in the police service where super-recognisers are used to help identify suspects.
One of my characters in the book also has this very special skill and I wanted to ensure that I wrote about him authentically.
Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, "With its trappings of a modern fairy tale, this one should have wide appeal." What do you think of that assessment, and do you see the book as a modern fairy tale?
A: I take it as a great compliment! I do believe that Madame Burova has many of the ingredients of a classic fairytale. It has a mystery, magic and secrets, a mixture of heroes and villains, and of course animals.
It explores relationships, values, problems and solutions and there are lessons to be learned from the story and consequences for the characters’ actions – both good and bad.
There is also a happily ever after – but not necessarily the one you expect.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: Well, firstly I hope they enjoy it!
But at the heart of the book is the importance of true friendship, family, enduring love, and the courage to keep living your best life despite loss and hardship. We should never stop looking for the magic that is all around us in whatever form it takes.
I hope as well that the book promotes inclusivity – the idea that we should accept, value, and even celebrate our differences.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Another book, but I can’t tell you what it’s about. It’s a secret!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The book is dedicated to my parents who both died, just six weeks apart, while I was writing it. I am forever grateful that they raised me with a love of reading in a house full of books and that they lived long enough to see me fulfil my dream of becoming a published writer. I hope that this book is a fitting tribute to them.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ruth Hogan.