‘A dark and twisting gothic mystery, The Fortunes of Olivia Richmond is
a haunting coming of age debut exploring the supernatural
world of tarot and fortune telling alongside the lot of women in Victorian England’
The Fortunes of Olivia Richmond by Louise Davidson is out today, October 26th, with Moonflower Books. It is described as ‘deliciously creepy gothic fiction, an outstanding new piece of storytelling’. In celebration of publication day, Louise joins us today with a really insightful Q & A, which I do hope you enjoy.
‘Davidson draws you deeper and deeper into her compelling narrative, even as the sense of dread grows stronger with every turn of the page. Perfect for fans of Michelle Paver and Sarah Waters.‘
[ About The Fortunes of Olivia Richmond ]
1891 Norfolk. A large manor house, Mistcoate House, sits deep in the countryside surrounded on all sides by thick black woods. It is the home of the motherless 17-year-old Olivia Richmond, known locally as the Mistcoate Witch, thanks to her ghost-like appearance and chilling rumours of tarot and fortune telling.
With no home, job or references, no-nonsense governess Julia Pearlie is in no position to turn down the job of companion to Miss Olivia Richmond – despite any misgivings she may have about a young woman who locals say can summon the dead.
Olivia’s brother, Dr Richmond, believes this to be girlish fantasy and is looking to Julia to put a stop to it. But it soon becomes clear that there may be more to Olivia’s stories than Dr Richmond would have Julia believe. Not least because somehow, Olivia seems to know something of Julia’s own dark history. A past that she desperately hoped she had left behind.
As the winter chill wraps around the dark woods surrounding Mistcoate, Julia will have to fight to uncover the truth, escape her past – and save herself.
Q & A with Louise Davidson
Louise, you grew up in Belfast during the troubles how much of an impact did those early childhood years have on your life?
Well, thankfully the worst of the Troubles was over by the time I was aware of them, but the aftermath was very real, and I think it had more of an impact than I realised at first. I think I only really understood it when I moved to London. At home, the Troubles are a part of nearly everyone’s context to some extent. We all grew up with it, so it felt very normal but when I moved to London, I realised just how different my early childhood experiences had been compared to others. Sometimes I even think my references to it made people uncomfortable, even if it was a brief mention of a bomb scare or being coached on what to say when I was little. It was like they didn’t know how to respond. So I had to sit with what I had grown up with – the threat of danger, the dark conversations of adults, the tribalism of the late 80s and early 90s – and from that, I suppose, it was no surprise that I was already very interested in gothic literature and wanted to know as much as I could about the monsters that people create and fear.
The tarot card is something that you are very familiar with, due to a close relative being an intuitive. Can you share with us who this person is and how she inspired Olivia Richmond’s character?
I was actually introduced to Tarot by my aunts, my dad’s sisters, and my mum was always very interested in readings. My aunts gave me my first readings and my mum has taken me to a couple of others – including having my tea leaves read by one of the staff at a castle we were staying at in rural Ireland!
My aunt Pat is an intuitive, meaning that she sees, hears, and experiences things that most of us can’t. The funny thing is that I never really discuss it much because, like the Troubles, it’s just a part of my context. I would describe my family as sceptics about most things but with Pat, her abilities are undeniable. We don’t know exactly how it works but it does, and it can be difficult explaining that to other people. In a way, I think all of this culminated in Olivia’s character. Everyone wants to know how she does what she does, they want an explanation, and it’s hard to for her to explain so there is this sense of mystery around the whole thing.
How did you approach writing your novel? Are you a planner or a pantser?
I am a planner but, thanks to my current work in progress, I am learning to be more of a pantser! As I said, I often see my initial idea like a movie trailer in my head so I tend to sit down and start to plot things out to see how everything I saw fits together but that doesn’t always work out best for the piece. I’m finding that, whilst a good solid plan makes me feel like I know where I’m going, planning every minute detail leaves me with very little room for creativity when I actually sit down to write. So now I’m approaching projects with a loose plan that gives me opportunity to fly by the seat of my pants if I need to – after all, that’s where the magic is!
When did you decide you wanted to become a writer? And did you have a bumpy road to publication or was it a smooth journey?
I’ve been writing as long as I’ve been reading. Since I was little, crafting and telling stories was the most fun anyone could have, and it left me totally confused that other people didn’t seem to think so. I used to write spooky short stories every year for Halloween, and when I was in my teens, I wrote my first “novel” – although I lost it when the family computer crashed and wiped everything!
I’ve written theatre scripts and flash fiction and short stories and even tried song lyrics at one point. However, when I was in my late twenties, I left a career in theatre to retrain as a teacher. This was an amazing decision and I love my job, but it meant that my writing took a back seat for a while and, eventually, I started to wonder if I should give up on those dreams and just focus on the young writers in my classroom. I still had lots of ideas but no time or energy to do much with them.
Then I had the idea for ‘Fortunes’ and it would not leave me alone. I kept running it over in my mind, building the world and thinking about the characters and then – suddenly – we went into Lockdown. Now I had lots of time and a real need to occupy my mind, so I got to work.
It so happened that a friend of mine, the writer Lauren Forsythe, saw that my agency was looking for emerging writers who were working on a project to submit their work for a Book Camp and my friend encouraged me to apply. I did and was taken on by my wonderful agent, Kate, at the Kate Nash Literary Agency! They guided me through finishing the book, helped connect me with Moonflower Books, my fantastic publishers, and the rest is history. So, I would say it’s been a long road but, I’m also incredibly grateful to say, a relatively smooth one.
Do you have a special place for writing? Working as an English and Drama teacher to A-Level students, how do you make the time to write?
Sometimes it feels like my special place to write is hunched between the full laundry basket and the unloaded dishwasher, under the baleful gaze of my ignored Henry Hoover! But mostly I’m very flexible when it comes to when and where I write – I need to be, or it won’t get done! Being a teacher, there are intense marking periods and parents’ evenings that sometimes need my full focus so there will be points where the only writing I can do is in snatches. This is why I usually work initially on an A4 notepad that I can carry with me everywhere. Recently I became a reader at the British Library and I love sneaking off for an afternoon to their reading rooms to type up the written pages but mostly I can be found curled up on the sofa or at my desk during my lunch break, getting everything down on paper. Once I move onto typing, I try to use school holidays and weekends as much as I can. It’s full on but it’s the most fun.
Who are the current literary influences in your life? Any favourite authors?
I’m a big fan of Andrew Taylor – the Anatomy of Ghosts is a fantastic historical mystery that I revisit regularly, and I recently read The Scent of Death which helped remind me of how well drawn a historical setting can be with just a few select details. His world building is so beautifully developed and textured – it’s the sort of thing I aspire to. I have loved Terry Pratchett since before I was in my teens and have two tattoos in his honour! His ability to write books that you want to go back to again and again is unparalleled. Barbara Kingsolver is another favourite – every time I read one of her books, I feel like I get smarter. I love Donna Tart’s work – The Little Friend is an unnerving and haunting piece that I highly recommend to everyone. The Secret History is also excellent, but The Little Friend deserves love too. I also, in a quick change in direction, love Maeve Binchy. Her characters are warm, well-rounded, and intriguing – my friend Lauren Forsythe’s books always make me think of Maeve Binchy.
What are you reading now?
I’m currently reading The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe. I love a lot of the gothic Irish theatre writers such as Martin McDonagh or Marina Carr but I’ve never read any Patrick McCabe. He was recently interviewed on one of my favourite podcasts – The Blindboy Podcast – and it made me realise I had the book on my shelf and should give it a go. I’m only a third of the way through it and watching the character’s arc is like watching a car crash – it’s compelling in a dark and awful sense and I can’t look away.
What next for Louise Davidson?
Another book! I’m currently working on an idea set in 19th Century Ireland which I’m hugely excited about. It’s great to bring home into my writing. I’m applying the Stephen King principle of asking ‘what if’ and have asked myself, ‘what if the haunted house is a town?’ It’s still early days yet so it all may change but that’s where I’m going with it. Aside from that, I’m toying with an idea for a playscript and soon it’ll be Christmas assessments – the teacher brain is never quite switched off. Most importantly though, the future holds more stories – reading, writing, and exploring them – and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful for it.
The Fortunes of Olivia Richmond ~ Purchase Link
[ Bio ]
Born in 1988, Louise Davidson grew up in Belfast during the troubles with a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. The Catholic side of her family lived on Mountcollyer Street – the street featured in Kenneth Branagh’s Oscar winning film Belfast, that was badly affected by violent protests.
Louise’s earliest memory is of her parents deciding whether they should drive past a car that was on fire in the streets of Belfast. It was only when she left Belfast to study Creative Writing at University in the UK that Louise realised it was not normal to live in a permanent state of fear and anxiety. She says the sense of dread she has had from a young age drew her to Gothic fiction and is something she has tried to channel into her debut novel.
Louise was introduced to the idea of tarot, mediums and fortune telling from a young age as her aunt Pat is an intuitive, with the ability to receive messages from the dead and to predict dreams. Louise grew up watching her aunt predict dreams and pass messages from the dead to bereaved families and this helped her to create the character of Olivia Richmond.
After a career working in theatre production with theatres including Tinder Box and Ransome Theatre in Northern Ireland and Intemission and the Lyric Hammersmith in London, Louise now teaches English and drama to A-Level students. Louise lives in West London with her husband and stepson. The Fortunes of Olivia Richmond is her first novel.
X ~ @LouiseDWriter