Swapping downstairs for upstairs… How hard can it be!?
Look up the phrase ordinary girl and you’ll see a picture of me, Gemma Goodwin – I only look half-decent after applying the entire contents of my make-up bag, and my dating track-record includes a man who treated me to dinner…at a kebab shop. No joke!
The only extraordinary thing about me is that I look EXACTLY like my BFF, Abbey Croxley. Oh, and that for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve agreed to swap identities and pretend be her to star in the TV show about her aristocratic family’s country estate, Million Dollar Mansion.
So now it’s not just my tan I’m faking – it’s Kate Middleton style demure hemlines and lady-like manners too. And amongst the hundreds of fusty etiquette rules I’m trying to cram into my head, there are two I really must remember:
1) No-one can ever find out that I’m just Gemma, who’d be more at home in the servants' quarters.
2) There can be absolutely no flirting with Abbey’s dishy but buttoned-up cousin, Lord Edward.
Aaargh, this is going to be harder than I thought…
1. Thanks for stopping by, Sam. What is it about Downton Abbey that appeals to you so much?
Period dramas fascinate me since, socially, times have changed so much. I like seeing how characters cope with what life throws at them, within the emotional and social restraints of their day. The plots are also gripping (most recently the fall-out from the attack on Anna) and Fellowes has created characters that we care about, from out-of-place Branson and kind-hearted Mrs Hughes, to the sharp-tongued Dowager Countess and butler Carson. Plus there have been some real villains, vile valet Green being the latest.
I read an article recently which suggested Americans loved Downton because the series was rather like glamorous Dynasty – a show I also loved! – and certainly the sumptuous costumes and grand setting are a great background to the dramatic storylines.
2. Do you think the public's attitude towards 'reality TV' has changed since the very first series of Big Brother?
Fly-on-the-wall reality series have always been around, for example Seven Up, but yes, I do think our attitude to reality shows has changed. To a degree, we have been given the power of some Caesar, with the ability to turn our thumbs up or down.
However, I am a big fan and the vast array of these shows now available. Perhaps they appeal to me as a writer, as I enjoy the peek into the human psyche. Plus, on a practical level, some enable contestants to learn a new skill or – in the case of Million Dollar Mansion featured in Doubting Abbey – offer people the potential to win enough money to make a real difference to their lives.
The reality genre will always be one of my favourites, so long as it doesn’t detract from the money and time given to making dramas and comedy shows with real actors.
3. How did Doubting Abbey come about, and did you start with the plot or the characters?
I asked myself how a modern gal would cope, being thrust into a stuffy, old-fashioned aristocratic home – so I came up with the idea of pizza waitress Gemma having to pass herself off as her posh friend Abbey, for two weeks. So really, the plot came first – closely followed by the title. Before beginning I needed to do a lot of research into stately homes and visited the lovely Lyme Park near me in Cheshire. This building isn’t from exactly the same era, but the interior gave me ideas for how to furnish my fictional Applebridge Hall. I also needed to check my facts on aristocratic titles and find out how one would address an earl, his wife and their son.
4. Do you have a different approach to writing dramatic scenes and comedic scenes?
Adding in emotion is very important for the dramatic scenes and something I have really worked hard on. An editor from the short story world told me this was one of my weaknesses, so during the last year or so I have really tried to up my game – after all, it is getting the reader emotionally involved which is going to make them care for your characters, like in Downton Abbey where, for example, we really feel Daisy’s pain at her unrequited love.
As for comedic scenes, I really let myself go. In Doubting Abbey there is farce which has to be carefully written so that it doesn’t come over as unrealistic – Gemma is an impulsive, wacky character and I found it difficult to reign in my sense of humour! Fellowes does it so beautifully with the Dowager Countess’ and Carson’s one-liners and po faces!
5. Would you consider yourself a genre author?
I consider myself a romance writer, albeit of romantic comedies. But I also write short stories and having sold over 80 now to women’s magazines, was recently thrilled that Alfie Dog Fiction brought out a collection of my feel-good stories called Sweet Talk.
I love everything paranormal, though, and might one day shift into that sector of the romance genre!
6. How did you find your agent / publisher?
My journey to finding an agent and publisher has been a rocky one – I started writing in 2005 and finally bagged an agent in 2011, with several manuscripts, by then, under the bed. However, I feel this is a rite of passage for many authors, and if you can survive those years it stands you in good stead for dealing with the challenges of published life. Writing and selling short stories during the last couple of years has really helped boost my (what had become a rather weather-beaten) writerly ego and I wish I’d started writing and sending those out years ago.
But yes, it has been very sweet fulfilling my ambitions of first getting an agent and then a novel deal. If I can do it anyone can – determination is important. I have Samuel Beckett’s quote stuck up on my wall:
“Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
7. What's your next writing project?
I am contemplating a sequel to Doubting Abbey which is very exciting for me! Watch this space!
Website: http://samanthatonge.co.uk/Novel: http://doubtingabbey.blogspot.co.uk/