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Paula Brackston on Names, Language, and Life as a Writer

Hear New York Times bestselling author Paula Brackston talk about how she picks her characters’ names, how she uses language to set a tone, and how she juggles working on multiple books at once.

By
Mignon Fogarty
Episode #661
The Little Shop of Found Things cover

Click on the player to hear the entire interview.

Paula Brackston writes a successful book series that started with the New York Times bestseller "The Witch's Daughter," and now she's embarking on another series with her new book, "The Little Shop of Found Things." The new series is set in Wiltshire country in England and follows the story of Xanthe as she uses her gift for connecting with the history of objects to travel through time. In this first book, Xanthe travels back to 1605 to solve a mystery that involves a chatelaine.

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Despite the fact that the books have fantasy elements, Brackston says she still does a lot of research to make sure all the historical elements are accurate, and she talks about using language stragetically to set a tone for her books. "When I’m writing 1605," she says, "obviously, people speak very differently. I can't have them speaking exactly as they would have because it would be hard work for the reader, so I have a stylized version, and it’s the same when I'm doing the descriptive writing whether it’s in the present day or the past. I'm trying to give a flavor of that time, a sense of something other, something historical, something different, and I think you can't really do that using everyday words too much."

Here's an example from the first paragraph of the book:

It’s a commonly held belief that the most likely place to find a ghost is beneath a shadowy moon, among the ruins of a castle, or perhaps an abandoned house where the living have fled leaving only spirits to drift from room to room. To believe so is to acknowledge but half a truth, for there is a connection with those passed over to be found much nearer home. Every soul that once trod this brutal earth leaves their imprint upon the things that mattered to them.

Brackston's characters' names also lend a mysterious feel to the book. For example, the main character, Xanthe, gets her name from a Greek word that means "the golden one" or "fair haired." Brackston says, "I like the sound of it. I like the look of it on the page. I liked the fact that it wasn't going to get muddled up with anybody else." She adds, "To see the shape of the word is quite interesting to me. I like that."

Brackston laughed as she described her career and getting her first novel published. "I was one of those overnight successes that takes about 10 years." "The Witch's Daughter" was first picked up by a small British publisher and then discovered by Peter Wolverton, an editor at Thomas Dunne at St. Martin's Press, and it followed an unusual trajectory. "It wasn't until two years later that it became a New York Times bestseller. So, we’re not entirely sure how it happened," says Brackston. 

For more wonderful details about "The Little Shop of Found Things," insights on how Brackston now juggles multiple book series, and more, listen to the entire interview in the Grammar Girl podcast (Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify) or on the player at the top of this page.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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