Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

The things I never meant to achieve

This week my first novel will be published. My eldest son, an academic, bemused by my mounting excitement, said: It’s only a book mum (he’s written a few). But to me it is more than simply a book. It is a dream come true. I feel immensely proud of the achievement. Yet against that pride is a growing list of occurrences I didn’t envisage from the outset. You could call them accidents, or failures. But those are not quite the right words. The truth is simply a list of all the things I never meant to achieve.

I didn’t intend to write a book set entirely on an emigrant vessel

I set out initially to write a saga, spanning several decades, that followed the fortunes of a group of immigrants in the early days of the Port Phillip district. I did some generalised research and then, because the topic was so large, I broke up the task and began researching the voyage to Australia. I’d never written a novel before. So when characters turned up – characters with hurts, fears and secrets, I listened. Turns out they had a lot to say. By the time we reached the Bay of Biscay, I faced a decision. Did I pull back and try to write the saga I’d initially envisaged? Or follow the story where it was leading? I chose the latter. I still haven’t written the saga.

I didn’t intend to have Welsh characters

The first character who presented herself to me was a young girl who’d lost her father in tragic circumstances. Her father had been a musician. She needed someone to help her reconcile her grief. A young creative  couple seemed the perfect fit (the book is not a romance). But initially they were Irish. However, I had a research trip planned and would be relying on long-lost-family accomodation (as we Aussies do). I didn’t have any Irish relatives. But mum was Welsh. Hmm… maybe my creative young couple could be Welsh? I knew very little about Wales apart from rugby and male voice choirs. Rugby wasn’t invented in 1841 and, even if I could have created a scenario in which a whole choir emigrated en-mass, I wasn’t sure a fifteen-year-old girl would find it inspiring. I’d read How Green Was my Valley and knew that Wales had an industrial heritage. Some quick research told me that Wales also had a strong bardic culture. At which point, my Welsh characters became storytellers and, basically, hijacked the novel.

I didn’t intend to write a crossover novel

I didn’t think about my book’s market when I started writing. I wasn’t sure whether I could write fiction, only knew I wanted to give it a try. It wasn’t until much later, when it was far too late to turn back, that I realised I’d written a coming-of-age story with a strong female protagonist, which also included her stepfather’s viewpoint. Close on the heel of this realisation, came the knowledge there weren’t many books with that mix in the teenage section of the library, let alone ones with embedded Welsh fairy tales and fantasy elements. My book belonged everywhere and nowhere and in today’s cautious publishing market, let’s just say, that was risky.

I didn’t expect the book to take so long to write

We are not going to be explicit about how long The Tides Between took to write. At least, not without dropping our heads and muttering the numbers one and two without any spaces. I knew nothing about writing fiction when I commenced this project – nothing about voice, or character development, or viewpoint, or plotting or story arcs. The Tides Between has been my university. Added to which, when I started researching, we had four (sometimes five) teenagers still living under our roof. Since then, we’ve suffered young adult crises, mental and physical illnesses, watched children partner and marry, sold the family home, moved to the other side of town and welcomed two grandchildren into the world. We’ve also worked, travelled and, I hope, been productive members of our community.

I never set out to fall in love with Wales, learn her language, or make best friends on the far side of the world

It dawned on me recently that some people thought I’d written a novel with Welsh characters because I had a strong connection with Wales and spoke the language. In fact (as you’ve probably realised), it happened the other way round. When I finished the final draft of The Tides Between (while living in Wales) and wrote The End at the bottom of the page, I wasn’t sure that anyone would want my whimsical little novel and, I can tell to you, on that day, in that moment, with the snow-capped peaks of Snowdonia around me, it didn’t matter. My Aussie immigration saga had turned into a shipboard novel and been hijacked by Welsh characters. Meanwhile, I’d been falling deeper and deeper in love with a language. I’d failed, on so many levels, yet achieved more than I ever hoped for. I’d found my voice while writing the manuscript, connected with my heritage, and made friends on the far side of the world and somehow in the process of all the reading and writing and realising, I’d found my way home.

***

The Tides Between will be published by Odyssey Books on 20 October 2017. You can pre-order your copy from Novella Distribution, the Odyssey Books website, Amazon, iBooks or through your local bookstore. Here are the bibliographical details you will need to order from your bookstore.

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16 Comments

  1. Carine

    That’s beautiful, so proud of you. And so funny to see that family photo again! It was my first ‘meeting’ of you all! Good luck with the last few -probably stressful but exciting – days until the launch. xx

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      Thanks Carine, you were there at the beginning of the journey. I recall you helping me choose character names. 🙂

      • Carine

        Yes! I still have a signed copy of the very first draft of the first few chapters… Will be worth millions soon! =)

  2. Angela Newhouse

    I admire your tenacity and love of the Welsh language. Look forward to buying a copy of your book. Xx

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      Thanks Angela. Your support means a great deal. 🙂

  3. Bethan Gwanas

    Stori wych a rhyfeddol. Fascinating. Mor falch drosot ti. So glad you did it! Llongyfarchiadau – congratulations, awdur a siaradwr Cymraeg. Hail the author and fluent Welsh speaker. Xx

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      Diolch yn fawr iawn, Bethan am dy geirau caredig a dy gefnogaeth. Dw i ddim yn siwr am fod yn rugl ond, ydw, dw i’n siaradwr Cymraeg. Dw i’n falch iawn o’r ffaith a dw i’n falch iawn i alw fi fy hunan hanner Cymraes. ?

  4. Diane Murray

    such a great story and a great blog – be very proud.

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      Thanks Diane, I’m proud – and a tiny bit nervous too.

  5. Philippa Gooden

    Liz, I really enjoy your writing (blogging, reviewing etc). Looking forward to getting hold of this intriguing book, and agree entirely about how easily one can fall in love with a tiny country on the other side of the world. Can’t wait to go back and get to know ‘her’ and ‘her neighbours’ better. Very kind regards, Pippa

  6. Elizabeth Jane Corbett

    Thanks for enjoying my blog Philippa. It sounds like you enjoyed your trip too! I can’t wait to hear all about it.

  7. You should be proud. It’s amazing to look back on those Balwyn writer’s meetings and see how far we’ve all come. It was such a joy to be on the journey with you. I fell in love with Bridie, Rhys and Alf at first read and that was before you even knew what the book was about! Your writing is so magical and it’s been a privilege to see it grow. When that first book baby goes out into the world, it’s a magical, amazing, wonderful, nerve-making time. Enjoy it all! You deserve it after all the blood, sweat and tears you’ve poured into this novel of your heart. Love you and your work, Liz!

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      Thanks Leisl. I certainly look back and thanks the stars for Balwyn Writers. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. Can’t wait to start sharing more of the next book with you scene by scene.

  8. Shan Cothi

    Llongyfarchiadau enfawr i ti Elizabeth! Newydd ddarllen y blog yma ac edrych mlan yn ofnadwy at ein sgwrs bore fory ar gyfer Bore Cothi ar BBC Radio Cymru. Mae di bod yn daith anhygoel a dyle ti fod yn falch iawn o dy lwyddiant nid yn unig da’r ysgrifennu ond da’r iaith hefyd…anhygoel! Mi rwyt yn esiampl i lawer. Cofion cynnes Shan Cothi x

    • Elizabeth Jane Corbett

      Diolch yn fawr Shan am ddarllen fy mlog i! Ydy mae fe wedi bod yn daith anhygoel – daith damwain a hap. Ond dw i wedi cyrraedd adref. Dw i’n edrych ymlaen at ein sgwrs ni hefyd. Gobeithio bydd fy Nghymraeg i yn ddigon dda.

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