She was educated at Leeds University and calls West Dorset her home. She has 11 lauded books to her credit and is fluent in Russian. She also happens to be one of the favourite authors of our CEO’s girlfriend. So, when the opportunity arose to contact Ms. Rappaport, we took advantage straightaway.
During her visit to Anglophile Studios, Ms. Rappaport was a most obliging guest (she even complimented our signature afternoon tea arrangement). Below is the transcript of our chin wag with her.
1. What inspired/influenced you to become a writer and what do you love about the process?
My love of history and getting to the truth of real life events and people are what inspired me. I love the research phase of winkling out information on my subjects. The thrill of finding new material has always given me a tremendous buzz.
2. What is it about historical non-fiction that captures your interest/attention? How did you choose the individuals that you decided to focus on?
I have always felt that non-fiction is far more interesting, fascinating and surprising than anything that has been made up. I particularly enjoy uncovering the lost stories of people whose lives have been overlooked or consigned to the footnotes. I’m not particularly interested in writing about people who are already well known unless I can come up with new research and a new perspective on them.
3. Of the many books you’ve written, which project are you most proud of/satisfied with? Which subject challenged you the most in terms of the research?
I am proud of all my books and they all, in their different ways, were a considerable research challenge. I loved writing Beautiful For Ever about the Victorian con-artist Madame Rachel. I had to rediscover her entire story from searching the contemporary press of the day and also undertaking a fair amount of genealogical research to pin down her family roots. I suppose that in that respect this was the most satisfying book to do, but I was also very pleased to have been able to uncover so much new and unknown material about the Romanov sisters. My latest book, Caught in the Revolution is full of people who are totally unknown to history and whose stories I uncovered through a lot of long, hard searching.
4. Describe your approach to writing; do you write longhand, utilise a laptop or tape recorder, etc.?
During the reading and research phase I write a lot of notes in longhand in large A4 workbooks; other notes I write straight on to screen. Then I start piecing the text together on my desktop Mac . I don’t like writing on a laptop as the screen is not good for my neck problem.
5. Who or what sparked your fascination with Russia?
I did! Nobody really got me into Russia and the Russians, I just developed a fascination for the subject in my teens. But I shall be eternally grateful to the wonderful history teacher at my Grammar School who inspired a love of history and made me want to write it in the first place and to my Grammar School for providing the opportunity to study Russian.
6. What inspired you to write about the Romanov sisters?
Walking round Ekaterinburg when researching my previous book, about the murder of the Romanovs, I kept thinking of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, shut away in a provincial town in Western Siberia and how much they reminded me of the Romanov sisters at the Ipatiev House. Hence the UK title ‘Four Sisters’ which was a nod to Chekhov. I wanted to tell their story because they had always been in the background of the Nicholas and Alexandra story – as just cyphers with no real personalities of their own. I wanted to give the sisters back their own individual identities.
7. Who are your top five favourite British authors/authoresses?
Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, Peter Ackroyd, Helen Dunmore
8. You’re on Desert Island Discs and Kirsty Young has just asked you to choose a book and luxury to take with you before she exiles you. What book and luxury do you select and why?
I’m passing on this one – no idea.
9. What advice do you have for aspiring writers and particularly those wanting to write about history?
I first wanted to explore and write about history when I was about 14. Life took me on many different directions before I finally got to do so. You need a lot of living behind you to write history well – I’m glad I didn’t start doing so till I was in my 50s. So I’d say, if you really want to write history it’s never to late, but you have to read and read and read and soak up life experiences and an understanding of the world first, in order to do it well. And you must never ever cease to be curious about everything.
10. What makes you proudest to be British?
That such a small country has produced such a gifted range of writers, artists and musicians; that we have not been bowed and defeated or overrun since William the Conqueror; that we are quirky and brave and individualistic. And that we had the courage to vote to leave the European Union. I am a passionate patriot.
11. Who are your top five favourite British music acts?
David Bowie, Kate Bush, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Nitin Sawhney
12. What are your top three favourite books of all time?
Bleak House, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre
13. As an author, and in your own words, why do you believe books are essential?
How else can one understand the depth and range – the subtleties, the pain and the joy – of human experience other than by reading?
14. What would you like your legacy to be?
That my daughters and my grandchildren are proud of me and enjoy the benefits of my literary estate – however modest – after I am gone. That I made some small difference as a historian in adding to our knowledge and understanding of the subjects about which I feel so passionately .