‘Beyond the Moon’: Six Questions for Catherine Taylor [INTERVIEW]

Couple at sunset

The only thing that separates lovers First Lieutenant Robert Lovett and medical student Louisa Casson is a century of time. (Photo courtesy Canva)

From the moment I started reading Beyond the Moon, I could not put it down! This is the kind of novel that combines romance, drama, and fantasy seamlessly, and as a result it keeps readers like me suspending disbelief and buying the time-travel plot hook, line, and sinker. Now enjoy this exclusive interview with the author, Catherine Taylor! —J&H


INTERVIEW

J&H: What drew you to this kind of story and what difficulties did you encounter while writing it?

CT: As a child and young person I was always strongly drawn to Gothic historical fiction —think Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I just adored the idea of ghostly, shadowy old manors, misty moors and brooding heroes (nearly all the novels I’ve ever loved have been romances). I’ve also always loved books with elements of magic and/or time travel in them, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Charlotte Sometimes. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to be an author, and as I’ve gotten older, my passion for Gothic and speculative fiction has stayed constant. I’ve also always been fascinated by the First World War, ever since first reading Wilfred Owen’s heartbreakingly beautiful and poignant poem, “Strange Meeting,” at school. Out of all these passions, Beyond The Moon was born. At its heart it’s a love story—and a story of hope. I think the most difficult part of writing it was probably actually trying to marry all the different elements of it together in a satisfying and respectful way: the seriousness and gravity of Robert’s WWI experiences and the magic elements.

J&H: The hero here is World War I First Lieutenant Robert Lovett. He’s true leading man material, despite the fact that he is suffering from “hysterical blindness.” What is it about him that made your heart beat faster and what did you learn about this little-known condition while researching the book?

CT: Robert Lovett is, I think, a composite of the many young, Edwardian gentleman officers, whose intelligent and sensitive accounts of WWI I’ve read over the years. This so-called ‘Lost Generation’ were truly a class apart. They came almost exclusively from British private schools, and believed in the qualities taught by such institutions, such as courage, patriotism, selfless service, leadership and character, and signed up for active service with a desire to fight for the noble cause of “freedom,” expecting a heroic adventure. Read, for instance, Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That, and Siegfried Sassoon’s Diary of An Infantry Officer. Like Robert Lovett in Beyond The Moon, they cared deeply for their men—in fact the welfare of the men under their command is usually their  chief preoccupation—and their main fear was that they might let down the men under their command. I suppose it’s easy to idolize a generation in hindsight, but I honestly feel there was something special about this generation of young officers.

And it’s incredible to think that a condition like hysterical blindness could exist, isn’t it? That one could be so mentally shocked by one’s experiences that one could be rendered blind. But the horrors of WWI, manifesting as shellshock, actually did cause this kind of mental injury. Not only blindness, but loss of the ability to speak, paralysis even. Of course one of the saddest things about WWI was that, at first, those suffering from shellshock were deemed to be shirkers and malingerers. That mindset eventually changed, thank goodness, albeit slowly. And now we are well aware of the prevalence of PTSD among those who go to war.

J&H: Louisa Casson is an empathetic heroine from the start. Her grandmother dies, she suffers an accident due to her grief, and suddenly finds herself basically committed to a psychiatric hospital because her physician feels she is a suicide risk. How is it that a person could still find themselves in this predicament in 2017? And were you hesitant to portray a mental health facility in this story in the manner that you did?

CT: It seems crazy that this could possibly happen, doesn’t it? But I’m sure that it not only could happen, but does happen. Diagnosing someone with a psychiatric illness is a very subjective thing—a psychiatrist can only go on what he or she is told by the patient, or what he or she observes about the patient. Do look up the Rosenhan Experiment, conducted in the early 1970s to examine the accuracy of psychiatric diagnosis. In the experiment, eight perfectly sane people attended psychiatric hospitals feigning hallucinations. All were diagnosed with mental illnesses (schizophrenia in all but one case), admitted to mental hospitals as inpatients and even prescribed anti-psychotic drugs. And so why couldn’t it work the other way around too? Why couldn’t someone mentally healthy just as easily be deemed (like Louisa) as mentally ill?

And no, I wasn’t hesitant to portray Coldbrook Hall as I did. I can appreciate that the facility might seem outlandish to some, but in the modern-day UK, patients are too often subjected to appalling conditions in privately-run mental hospitals. It’s a modern-day scandal that has been widely reported lately in newspapers like The Guardian and The Times.

J&H: Robert and Louisa first meet when she stumbles across his room and steps back in time a hundred years. What major differences did you find yourself navigating around when it came to weaving a story that spans a literal century?

CT: I had to try to make sure that the two very different worlds of each time period stayed related to one another, so that the book didn’t end up as two completely separate books in one novel. I was aware that the “tone” of the WWI story is quite different from the modern-day story. Robert is a young Edwardian gentleman, the product of a privileged Edwardian world. The ‘feel’ of his parts of the story is quite different from Louisa’s. It can often, in fact, feel more elegant, elegiac and literary, than the parts set in the modern day psychiatric hospital. Louisa, of course, is in a very different environment, a modern-day hospital full of often rather terrifying mental patients, who swear and fight against the system, and can be quite intimidating. And not only that, there is also a lot of ribald humor going on between Kerry and Louisa. Sometimes it was quite hard to ensure that these two very different worlds and narrators meant the book still felt like a unified whole.

J&H: Can true love conquer the problems that arise when mental illness rears its head in a relationship? And if so, what does it take to overcome such an obstacle?

CT: I don’t think I’m really qualified to answer that question. Of course one would like to think that one would do everything possible to help a loved one suffering from a major mental illness. But I’m sure that sometimes it’s simply not possible, however well-intentioned one might be, and that perhaps people simply have to walk away from someone on a determinedly self-destructive path in order to save their own sanity. I have the greatest admiration for people who work in the mental health field. It must surely be one of the most difficult fields of medicine of all to work in.

J&H: When researching and visiting various World War I sites for your story, which was your favorite and why? Also, what were three details you would have loved to intertwine into your story but which may have fallen to the cutting room floor?

CT: I visited the Somme in France with my own private guide, and it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life—it felt like a pilgrimage. I think that possibly the most moving experience of all was visiting Wilfred Owen’s grave at Ors Communal Cemetery in northern France. It really brought a lump to my throat.

And oh my gosh, I cut literally tens of thousands of words from Beyond The Moon. It started off nearer 200,000 words than the 134,000 where it stands today. I had all sorts of advice from editors and agents—pretty universal advice, as it happens—to cut it back drastically, to 100,000 words. Above that point, apparently, no traditional publisher would even look at me. One publisher even assured me it should be cut back to no more than 80,000 words!

But I couldn’t cut it back any more without making it a completely different book from the one in my heart, and so I stopped at 134,000 words and published the book on my own. “Publish, and be damned,” they say. Well I did. And if I’m damned, I don’t really care.

Some of the cuts I made really do make the book better, I think. But others I was far more reluctant to make. It’s all so subjective. Some readers would happily read on and on about WWI (and I’m one of those who can’t get enough historical detail in the fiction I read), whereas others want to cut right to the chase. As an author you have to try to strike a balance. There are some parts of Beyond The Moon that I liked very much, and worked very hard on, which ended up on the cutting room floor—for instance in the first draft I originally described Robert’s train journey as a POW across Germany. Also I cut out a dinner party scene when Louisa is staying at Flora’s London house. But there was also a very long scene about a torpedoed troop ship (which was originally going to be the mechanism by which Louisa traveled back to 1917) that was probably best—on balance—cut of the novel. Maybe at some point I’ll publish some of the scenes I cut. Or I’ll use them in a future book!

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Catherine Taylor's BEYOND THE MOONABOUT BEYOND THE MOON

Outlander meets Birdsong is this haunting debut time-slip novel, where a strange twist of fate connects a British soldier fighting in the First World War and a young woman living in modern-day England a century later.

In 1916 First Lieutenant Robert Lovett is a patient at Coldbrook Hall military hospital in Sussex, England. A gifted artist, he’s been wounded fighting in the Great War. Shell shocked and suffering from hysterical blindness he can no longer see his own face, let alone paint, and life seems increasingly hopeless.

A century later in 2017, medical student Louisa Casson has just lost her beloved grandmother—her only family. Heartbroken, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol on the South Downs cliffs—only to fall accidentally part-way down. Doctors fear she may have attempted suicide, and Louisa finds herself involuntarily admitted to Coldbrook Hall—now a psychiatric hospital, an unfriendly and chaotic place.

Then one day, while secretly exploring the old Victorian hospital’s ruined, abandoned wing, Louisa hears a voice calling for help, and stumbles across a dark, old-fashioned hospital room. Inside, lying on the floor, is a mysterious, sightless young man, who tells her he was hurt at the Battle of the Somme, a WWI battle a century ago. And that his name is Lieutenant Robert Lovett…

Two people, two battles: one against the invading Germans on the battlefields of 1916 France, the other against a substandard, uncaring mental health facility in modern-day England. Two journeys begun a century apart, but somehow destined to coincide—and become one desperate struggle to be together.

Part WWI historical fiction, part time-slip love story—and at the same time a meditation on the themes of war, mental illness, identity and art—Beyond The Moon sweeps the reader on an unforgettable journey through time. An intelligent read, perfect for book clubs.

For fans of Diana Gabaldon, Amy Harmon, Beatriz Williams, Kate Quinn, Kristin Hannah, Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley and Paullina Simons.

Beyond the Moon was shortlisted for the Eharmony/Orion Write Your Own Love Story Prize 2018/19.

Catherine Taylor

Catherine Taylor

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Taylor was born and grew up on the island of Guernsey in the British Channel Islands. She is a former journalist, most recently for Dow Jones News and The Wall Street Journal in London. Beyond The Moon is her first novel. She lives in Ealing, London with her husband and two children.

To find out more about the author, visit her home on the Web at CatherineTaylor.net, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

BEYOND THE MOON
By Catherine Taylor
496 pp. The Cameo Press Ltd. $14.99

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours bannerPurchase Beyond the Moon at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

Beyond the Moon is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

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About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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