Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

A review of Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Shattered by her mother’s mysterious disappearance, Esme is unable to move on. Her father’s re-marriage is the last straw, especially when she finds out that her guardian during her father’s honeymoon will be the interfering older sister of her new stepmother. Drawn by unanswered questions, and a mysterious sea eagle, Esme finds herself at Spindrift, the site of her mother’s disappearance. There she tumbles into a whole new world.

Elizabeth Foster’s debut novel, Esme’s Wish, has so many strengths it is hard to know where to start. I will resort to using headings.

The prose.
Delightful. Here is but one example:

‘She couldn’t see the woman’s face, but it didn’t matter. There was a map of this person within her, one that she had folded and unfolded countless times. The fall of her hair, the slope of her shoulders, the shape of her was more than enough.’

The world building.
The enchanted world of Aeolia is delightful, the city of Esperance reminiscent of Venice, with its canals, yet steeped in the lore of the sea. It is a city beneath the waves that is also above sea level, a land with its own magic which is waning, yet still indescribably unique.

‘At the mention of ‘Aron’ the bag came to life. It quivered and puffed like a set of bellows, before stretching out to more than its original size. Esme watched the bag’s contortions in awed silence. When it had stopped expanding, she fumbled with the drawstring and peered inside.’

The friendships
In Aeolia, Esme meets Lilian, who longs to acquire the gift of singing songspells, and Daniel who wants to be a ranger and tame dragons. Initially at odds, Lilian and Daniel have past differences to overcome, while Esme in her turn must learn to trust and open up to her new friends.

The quest
Like all good fantasy novels there is a quest. In Esme’s case it is simple – to find her mother. But it soon becomes apparent that her mother’s disappearance was far from simple. That it is, in some strange way, linked to Aeolia’s waning magic, linked so strongly that Esme begins to doubt her mothers motives. What will her friends think if they find out the truth? Will she find the courage to face her fears?

Esme’s Wish marks the beginning of a delightful new fantasy series for upper primary and lower secondary school readers. I thoroughly enjoyed my immersion in its world.

Notes on the assisted immigration system – for Elizabeth Lhuede

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Elizabeth Lhuede on Twitter about my recently released debut novel The Tides Between (I never tire of writing those words). One of her forbears, Elizabeth told me, had come to Australia in 1841. Her name was Anne Bowles.

Now if you have read The Tides Between (tsk,  tsk, if you haven’t), you will know it is set in 1841, on board an emigrant vessel and that one of the characters is called Annie Bowles. Elizabeth was interested in my research on the government assisted immigration system (hurray, all those hours have not gone completely unnoticed). She wondered whether I’d write a blog on the topic.

Would I considered writing a blog?!

Err… if you are a woman and Australian and have anything to do with publishing, you will know that Elizabeth Lhuede is the founder of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Who just happened to be reading my recently released debut novel (sorry, couldn’t resist writing it again), and wanted to know more about my research. Like, would I consider writing a blog, for someone who has done so much for Australian women writers?  I’d in fact consider it a Royal Command Performance. Or at the very least, a thank you note, from one grateful Aussie Woman Writer.

Let’s start with a brief summary of assisted immigration in the 1840s:

A colony desperately in need of labourers

When Major Mitchell described rich pastoral lands in Western Victoria as ‘Australia Felix’, men began flocking to the district. These wealthy young adventurers, paid a £10 license fee to ‘squat’ on their allocated runs and invested their capital in sheep. Ex-convicts from Van Diemen’s Land and other parts of New South Wales also travelled to Port Phillip in search of opportunities. Alarmed by this flood of illegal settlers, Governor Bourke officially recognised the Port Phillip District. In 1841, the year in which The Tides Between is set, Port Phillip was still officially part of the Colony of New South Wales – which then included present-day Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Transportation to New South Wales had ceased in 1840 (it’s not all about the convicts). Squatters were crying out for agricultural labourers. In the newly surveyed town of Melbourne, the ratio of European men to women was two to one. In the Geelong region, the ratio was four to one. Whereas in the Western District, Western Port, and Portland Bay the ration was eight, nine, and ten to one. As a consequence, there was also a desperate need for single female immigrants.

The migrants

During the early years of the nineteenth century, England and Wales experienced poverty and social unrest. The population doubled between 1800 and 1850. Agricultural labourers were some of the lowest paid in Britain. Employed seasonally, they earned between seven and ten shillings a week. Out of this they had to pay board and lodgings.

Many agricultural labourers moved to the burgeoning new industrial towns. They worked long hours toiling over dangerous machinery and lived in crowded tenements. In 1833, the government passed a factory act to improve the conditions of children working in mines and factories. Henceforth, no child under the age of nine age was to be employed. Those under the age of thirteen were only allowed to work nine hours a day.

The Merthyr Riots (as depicted in The Tides Between) occurred in 1831. The Tolpuddle Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers was formed in 1833. In 1834, the New Poor Law brought in a harsh new regime of poverty relief. The Rebecca Riots commenced in 1839, the same year that the Chartists rose in Newport. Amidst these scenes of agitation and distress, circulars and newspapers advertised the benefits of emigration.

The immigration schemes

Although the Port Phillip squatters cried out for agricultural labourers, and the British newspapers waxed lyrical about the benefits of emigration to New South Wales, problems of distance and cost needed to be overcome. A passage to Australia cost five times as much as a the more popular passage to North America and the journey to Port Phillip was four times as long.

A government assisted immigration scheme commenced in 1831 and was expanded throughout the decade. From 1837, a separate bounty scheme was also run by shipping agents who were paid to select and transport labourers on behalf of the colonists. The government scheme was criticised for being too expensive and not selective enough. While the government accused shipping agents of not caring for the welfare of migrants.

In 1841, the British Government introduced reforms. These maintained the bounty concept but placed it under the control of the newly formed Colonial Land and Emigration Commission. Over ninety-five percent of all assisted immigrants to Port Phillip prior to 1851 came under this more regulated scheme. Male labourers under thirty years – such as shepherds, bricklayers, wheelwrights, carpenters and masons – were sought as migrants. Single women under thirty were sought as domestic and agricultural servants. Married adults were to be under the age of forty years. Married or single, all migrants were expected to be sober, industrious and able to provide birth certificates and character references.

Migrants were housed in emigrant depots prior to departure. At the depot, they were given a thorough medical examination, divided into messes, and taught the routines of shipboard life. Every government assisted migrant vessel followed a standard victualling schedule and carried a surgeon-superintendent who followed a strict regime of hygiene. He and the ship’s officers were paid a gratuity for every migrant landed safely in the colony. Between 1839 and 1842 over 12, 000 assisted migrants arrived in Port Phillip. The influx slowed between 1843 and 1847 due to a colonial recession. After which, prior to 1851, a further 16,500 immigrants arrived prior.

The voyage

Despite being heavily regulated, the voyage to Port Phillip, was long and arduous. The mortality rate was around 3.7% with children being the most at risk. Some vessels escaped death and diseases. On others, the mortality rate exceeded 10%. The average duration of the voyage to Port Phillip was a hundred and eleven days.

There was little difference between a migrant vessel and a convict ship. The same ship might carry convicts to Western Australia, a wool cargo on the return run, and take migrants back to Port Phillip in the following year.  As a consequence, the fittings between decks were rough and purpose built for each individual ‘cargo.’

The ships’ hulls were rounded and their bows blunt which meant they were slow, leaky, and required a great deal of pumping. Prior to 1850, these ships followed the well-established Admiralty route which called at the Cape of Good Hope and used the brisk trade winds at around 39° S to carry them east towards Australia. By this route, they typically experienced seasickness in the Channel, storms in the Bay of Biscay, rising temperatures off the coast of Africa, and a windless inertia around the equator.

On-the-ground research

I read copiously in prior to writing The Tides Between (see below). I also did heaps of on-the-ground research. I visited Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum, Queenscliff Maritime Museum, The Immigration Museum, and the Museum of London Docklands in order to get a tactile sense of the journey. I also did a Thames River Cruise, walked the route from the emigrant depot to the Deptford watergate, spent a night on the sailing ship Enterprize (where I learned how to create a hatchway Rhys could open in a storm), spent time on both sides of the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, crossed from Queenscliff to Sorento on the ferry, and visited Williamstown. I also spent hours poring over old maps in the State Library of Victoria.

This is only the research I did for the maritime aspects of the novel. The fairy tales, Welsh language and London theatre history, are in a catalogue of their own.

Here is brief bibliography of the maritime related books I found most helpful:

  • PESCOD, Keith, Good food bright fires and civility (a great book on British emigrant depots)
  • PESCOD, Keith, A place to lay my head (a follow up book on Australian immigrant depots)
  • BROOME, Richard, The Victorians: arriving (a great summary of the era, reasons for emigrating, and the voyage)
  • CHARLWOOD, Don, The long farewell (my Bible on this topic, it includes two published emigrant journals)
  • HAINES, Robin, Doctors at Sea: emigrant voyages to Australia
  • HAINES, Robin, Life and death in the age of sail: the passage to Australia
  • CANON, Michael, Perilous voyages to the new land
  • HOPE, Penelope, The voyage of the Africaine (an emigrant journal)
  • HOWITT, Richard, Australia: historical, descriptive and statistic, with an account on four years residence in that colony
  • DANA, Richard, Two years before the mast
  • COLONIAL LAND AND EMIGRATION COMMISSION, Instructions to surgeons superintendents of Government ships going to New South Wales, 1838 (later versions of this document are available)
  • COLONIAL LAND AND EMIGRATION COMMISSION, Colonization circular
  • KEMP, Peter, Oxford companion to ships and the sea
  • MCCRAE, Hugh, Georgiana’s journal

I’m not sure if that is what Elizabeth Lhuede had in mind. I am open to further questions. I am in fact happy to talk at length on the topic. So, please, ask away?

PS. An emigrant is an outgoing migrant, an immigrant an inbound one. Therefore, in my case, you could say I emigrated to Australia from the UK at the age of five. However, once here, I became an immigrant in the eyes of the Australian Government.

Where Do I go – an interview with historical fiction author Beverly Magid

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Beverly Magid as part of her Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour. Her, novel Where do I go, is the sequel to Sown in Tears and follows the story of immigrant Leah Peretz and her family. Centred around the New York Jewish community, the story tells of the new immigrants struggles to survive, to keep their faith, and to gain a sense of belonging in a land that often feels alien. I particularly liked the novel’s emphasis on women’s equality and the industrial action taken by female factory workers, a topic that seems as pertinent today as it was in 1908. Beverly has kindly offered to answer some questions for my blog but first here is the blurb.

Where Do I Go

It’s 1908 and Leah and her boys have immigrated to New York’s Lower East Side to live with her brothers after surviving a pogrom in their Russian village. She is determined to find a home in America but the conditions are harsher than she expected. The garment sweat shops are brutal to work in and it’s essential that her son Benny works after school to help with expenses. Unbeknownst to her he runs errands for the local bookie/gangster. Life isn’t what Leah hoped for, but she’s a fighter and not willing to accept the awful conditions at Wollowitz’s Factory. She’s on a journey to find her own voice, to find a place for herself and her sons, to find a little beauty and romance in her life.

What was your inspiration for Where do I go?

Even though this book stands on its own, it is a continuation of the journey of Leah Peretz and her sons from my second novel, Sown in Tears. In that book, Leah and the boys survive a pogrom, which is an attack specifically on the Jews in her village. Her husband is killed and Leah must now take care and protect her family under dire conditions.  When that book concludes, you know that Leah will be considering immigrating. At the time I felt that I was finished with the story, but I was asked several times, “what happens to Leah, how does she manage?”  I began to think about that wonderful writing question ,”What if?” and became intrigued about the obstacles that immigrants faced in America in 1908. Thus I was inspired to continue along with Leah and discover how she again survived.

Tell me about your research process.

I investigate the times of the era I’ wish to write about in general terms, what’s happening in that world, then I begin to narrow it down to my characters and what is their world like. The more details I can bring to the story, the more my readers will enter into their world and believe in it. At least that’s the aim. I consider what they wore, ate, saw, enjoyed, customs of the times, how the weather might affect them, the smells of the neighborhood, the sounds, any newsworthy events which affect them. I want to create their world as they might have lived it day to day.

How does Leah’s journey mirror your own struggles as a woman in today’s society?

Even though Leah lived at an earlier time, female empowerment was as relevant then as it is now. Women have always been trying to find and make a place for themselves in society. Problems with work, or raising a family, or relationships remain as hard for women today as they did before. We’ve made great strides but there are always those who try to hold us back. How women overcame before I think is an inspiration to those of us today.

How has writing fiction differed from journalistic writing?

I was writing for entertainment industry magazines, interviews and reviews so there was no room to make up anything. Your standard is telling the accurate facts, even when you’re reviewing music, you can give your opinion but you need to label it as an opinion. Today the truth in journalism has been attacked but it’s more important than ever. In historical fiction I believe that as much as you are making things up, if you’re writing about actual events, those details have to be accurate. How you treat them and your characters, that’s where the fiction comes in.

What are you working on next?

I’m not sure. Ideas are slow to percolate with me. I was once advised that you should wait until the idea or inspiration is so strong that you can live with it for a couple of years, since that may be how long it takes to complete a project. Again someone asked how Leah fares in the future. What happens to her two boys? Does she continue to be an activist?  That could be what I end up considering for my next project. But right now I’m open to everything, waiting for an idea to catch fire.

Where Do I Go, flowed well and held my interest. Although, a sequel, it can easily be read as a stand alone novel. It is bound to be welcomed by those who have followed Leah’s journey from Russia to the New World.

About the Author

Beverly Magid, before writing her novel, was a journalist and an entertainment and celebrity PR executive, who interviewed many luminaries, including John Lennon, Jim Croce and the Monty Python gang, and as a publicist represented clients in music, tv and film, ranging from Whoopi Goldberg, John Denver and Dolly Parton to Tom Skerritt, Martin Landau, Kathy Ireland and Jacqueline Bisset.

Beverly is a longtime west coast resident who still considers herself a New Yorker. Among the social issues she’s passionate about is literacy and she worked with KorehLA to mentor elementary children in reading. Also she has been an advocate for Jewish World Watch, an organization dedicated to working against genocide and to aid the victims of war atrocities. On a lighter side, she is also a volunteer at the Los Angeles Zoo, monitoring animal behavior for their Research Department.

She is a news and political junkie who supports environmental, animal and human rights issues. She believes most passionately that “We must remain vigilant to the those who would erode the rights of people around the world and work to defeat them.”

READ THE FIRST CHAPTER of Where Do I Go.

Available in Paperback and eBook on Amazon

For more information, please visit Beverly Magid’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

 Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 15
Review at Donna’s Book Blog
Feature at What Is That Book About

Tuesday, January 16
Guest Post at My Reading Corner

Wednesday, January 17
Excerpt at WS Momma Readers Nook

Monday, January 22
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books
Feature at View From the Birdhouse
Excerpt at Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots

Tuesday, January 23
Feature at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, January 25
Feature at Just One More Chapter

Friday, January 26
Review at Life of a Female Bibliophile
Interview at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Sunday, January 28
Feature at Books of a Shy Girl

Monday, January 29
Review at Back Porchervations

Tuesday, January 30
Review & Interview at Elizabeth Jane Corbett

Wednesday, January 31
Review at Cup of Sensibility
Feature at A Holland Reads

Thursday, February 1
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Friday, February 2
Guest Post at Passages to the Past

Giveaway

During the Book Blast we will be giving away a signed copy of WHERE DO I GO! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on February 2nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Enter the Giveaway here

An interview with Leslie Tate – poet, author, actor and all round deep thinker about life

One of the best things about the writing life (or life in general for that matter) is the people you meet. People who think deeply and are trying to be authentic in their artistic expression. Leslie Tate is one such person. He turned up on my blog one day – on a post about my sense of dual national identity – and asked whether I would like to answer a few questions. I said , yes, of course. It is a thrill when someone reads my blog, let alone asks to hear more.

Turns out Leslie was super organised (like scheduling months ahead) and his interview questions were some of the more interesting I’ve encountered. I found his website equally intriguing. A place where Leslie describes himself as enjoying “gardens, vegan food, unorthodox Christianity and dance at Sadler’s Wells.”

I decided to read Heaven’s Rage – Leslie’s creative biography, which put me in mind of a summer spider’s web, all dew-dropped and glistening, as he sought to draw together the various threads that have influenced his life. I got a sense while reading that Leslie was a man on an endless quest to understand, to express and to live authentically. When approached, he graciously gave me access to Mark Crane’s powerful short film based on his memoirs, as well providing these thoughtful answers to my interview questions.

It seems to me that you write to make sense of life. What came first, the idea for the novels, the memoir or the film? How has each contributed to your self-knowledge?

During childhood I was afraid to go to bed because of my terror of the dark. My fears showed at school, and I was bullied as ‘girlie’. Later, as a teenager, my secret cross-dressing became a shameful obsession. Looking in the mirror I saw a boy/girl who put on an act but inside wasn’t decent. I’d no way of naming my ‘strangeness’ and my lack of social knowledge kept me believing I was one of a kind. As I entered adulthood I felt sure that my secret would keep me locked up in myself and celibate.

By the time I went to university I’d read Freud, Adler, Jung, Nietzsche, various mystics and lots of semi-autobiographical novels in an attempt to sort out my problems. I was sociable, ‘with it’ and played the role of helpful listener to students who were ‘hung up’ – which is where my first novel, Purple begins. In the words of the blurb: ‘Matthew Lavender, starting college in 1969, has embraced a student underworld of drugs, image and cooler than thou. But behind his wild and witty persona lies a shy, sensitive romantic – a ‘feeling type’ bullied at school and restricted by his parents – who knows absolutely nothing about sex…’

So I write about dilemmas and what we try to hide, and I draw on my own life, adapted into fiction, when writing a trilogy about modern love or, later, a memoir about the power of the imagination – aiming to develop, at each stage, a voice with the range and dynamics best fitted to the experience.


You are an alcoholic. Was accepting your intrinsic need to cross-dress a necessary first step in taking control of your addictions?

Sometimes I think that experiences like that come from the gods and that addictions and illness are the dark nights of the soul. But also, they break through the norm and show us who we are. As a novelist I want to name those experiences and how it feels to go through them. In Heaven’s Rage, because I was writing in first person, I could take people inside my obsessions; in the novels the focus is on how people grow through love, but even in a book like Blue, set in the urban, feminist 80/90s, there is a spiritual dimension. It’s through accepting what you’re given and making it your own that you come to terms with any condition.

As for kicking my habits: it wasn’t until I’d been ‘out’ for a year that I stopped drinking. So I believe my alcoholism was a cri de coeur. It was the voice of my blocked creativity, telling me that I’d sold my soul to my job. To quote Heaven’s Rage: ‘So how did I stop?’

It wasn’t through will power; I’d tried that and failed more than once. I didn’t take advice or go into rehab and although I’d come out as trans, I kept on drinking. But a moment arrived when I realised what I was doing — not just in theory but as it actually touched me, on the inside. I’d become my own prisoner, the man passed over who locks himself away. Looked at socially, I was sailing through; relative to my ambition, my life was on the rocks. And the key was my refusal. As a writer and a poet, I thought I couldn’t do it. And rather than risk failure, I’d decided to opt out and not try at all.

That moment of insight turned things around. I made a declaration, first to my wife but later to friends, using the A word and asking them, if they saw me drinking, to call me out.’

Could you have done it without embracing the need to cross-dress?

You refuse the gods at your peril. On the other hand to be possessed against your will can be dangerous. So I don’t try to supress it but, like horse and rider, work together in partnership, as a single being.

How has writing about cross-dressing further answered the question you faced at school: “Why do you want to do that, sir?”

I see my cross-dressing as a gift. Like the role of the two spirit people or the hijra, it’s a third way, and part of the spectrum. Also, knowing that trans people exist in many different societies helps. It’s a way of being equally human.

You are a man, married to a woman, who likes/needs to dress as a woman. Do you identify as transgender? Or do you reject the label?

I internally rehearse the dialogues I might have in the street, calling myself trans. The reason I expect someone to say something is I don’t wear a wig or make-up, and because I’m tall the people who take notice know I’m a man. Interestingly, lots of people are so bound up in themselves that they walk straight past me. When I get a reaction, women who ‘read me’ tend to smile, men try to look over my head or straight past me.

I feel happy and comfortable with trans because it’s me – although it’s really just a way of being fully myself. I’m a husband, father, ex-teacher, chess player, Quaker, Green Party member and carer. The only label I really want to add to those is author and poet.

***

Leslie Tate studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and has been shortlisted for the Bridport, Geoff Stevens and Wivenhoe Prizes. He’s the author of the trilogy of novels ‘Purple’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Violet’, as well as his trans memoir ‘Heaven’s Rage’, which has been turned into a film. He runs a comedy club, a poetry group and a mixed arts show in Berkhamsted, UK. His wife, Sue Hampton, is a children’s and adult author with 30 published books. Leslie and Sue appear as ‘Authors in Love’ at festivals/book events and have visited over 600 schools together.

Mark Crane was previously a special effects technician for nearly 10 years on many films including; Labyrinth, Superman IV, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Nightbreed, Frankenstein and Judge Dredd https://www.stage32.com/theatreonwax .

***

Signed UK copies of Heaven’s Rage can be bought here 

You can find ebook and paperback at Amazon 

Blurb for Heaven’s Rage:

Heaven’s Rage is an imaginative autobiography. Reporting on feelings people don’t usually own up to, Leslie Tate explores addiction, cross-dressing and the hidden sides of families. Writing lyrically, he brings together stories of bullying, childhood dreams, thwarted creativity and late-life illness, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life.

On his website, Leslie posts weekly creative interviews and guest blogs showing how people use their imagination in life, in many different ways.

 

Interview with Wendy J. Dunn author of Falling Pomegranate Seeds

It is hard to believe I have only known Wendy J. Dunn for eighteen months. We met through a Women’s History Month event at Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries. I have since come to see it as one of the more fortuitous meetings of my debut novel year. Academic, writer, and events facilitator, Wendy is a tireless supporter of other women writers. Although I cannot share her love of the the Tudors (due to the small matter of annexing, incorporating and trying to make everyone speak English :-)), I definitely wanted to read some of Wendy’s work.

Now, concerning the Tudors, if you are a fan of the more popular works, focussing on bedroom scandals, you may not find Wendy’s novels meet expectations. Told from the third-person perspective of Catalina’s tutor Beatriz Galindo, Falling Pomegranate Seeds is a poetically, philosophical exploration of women’s roles in society. I’d know Katherine of Aragon was Spanish (the name says it all), but in Falling Pomegranate Seeds, this tragic woman’s childhood is thoughtfully recreated, leaving the reader in no doubt as to her Spanish origins. So thoughtfully, I have asked Wendy some questions about her writing process.

You have a long-term interest in the Tudors. What was the catalyst for this particular novel?

Big smile – long-term interest is putting it mildly, Liz. I’m well and truly obsessed with the Tudors. The catalyst for this novel, the first novel of a planned trilogy telling the story of Katherine of Aragon, was actually my first novel, Dear Heart, How Like You This? That work narrates the story of Anne Boleyn through the imagined voice of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Elder.

Sir Tom also had a close connection to Katherine of Aragon. She recognised his talents as a writer and poet and was his patron in his early years. My research for my first novel left me fascinated with the story of Katherine of Aragon.

LOL – now I am hearing in my mind the voice of my PhD supervisor. Whenever I made statements like that she would say, “Now unpack and unpeel what you mean, Wendy.”  Completing my PhD illuminated how my own experience as the woman ignited, and continues to ignite, my passion to write through a feminist standpoint. Writing through a female standpoint maps out master narratives of oppression through the telling of female stories.

I have always connected to the stories of Tudor women because they provide explicit and inspirational examples of women navigating a patriarchal world. The life story of Katherine of Aragon provides a powerful example of a woman whose life is controlled by her gender, in a time when men determined the power permitted to women. Oppressed groups have not only knowledge concerning their own group, but also knowledge about the dominant group. Women create powerful lives through use of this dual knowledge – and the story of Katherine of Aragon offers compelling evidence of this. Despite possessing little choice about the direction of her life, she was able to claim a rich interior life of deep faith.

Tell me a little about the historical Beatriz? How did your version of her differ?

Beatriz Galindo was not only a poet (all her poetry appears lost to history), but also a lecturer of Medicine, Rhetoric and the philosophy of Aristotle at the University of Salamanca; a woman so respected for her learning she was employed to teach Queen Isabel of Castile her Latin and ended up tutoring the daughters of the Queen.

Years ago, when I began my research for this trilogy about the life of Katherine of Aragon, I discovered a footnote about Beatriz in an academic essay about Isabel of Castile. It provided me with only with these bones of information and that she was believed to have tutored Katherine of Aragon. The essay cited from her biography – a work written in Spanish. Since I can only read a few Spanish words, this essay offered me a huge gap to fill with the use of my imagination.

I believe this is a good thing because I am first and foremost a writer of fiction. With her portrait and the important facts provided by this essay, I was able to imagine Beatriz into being.

All my fiction is informed by history, and immense historical research, but the beating heart of my work is the story it tells. Research fires up my imagination and opens the door to my imagined historical people and their world. Knowing very little about Beatriz gave me a lot of ‘What if’ questions, which acted as midwives to my imagination. I could not help wondering how it must have been for her – a woman who lived a life denied to most women in the Medieval period. Did it come at a personal cost? Smile – readers who have read my novel know how my imagination answered this question.

The historical Beatriz was clearly an intelligent woman and respected for her learning. She was close to Isabel of Castile and acted as her advisor. All these things I used to construct my imagined Beatriz. Whether I am right or wrong about her, I cannot say. But I know she is a woman who deserves not to be forgotten by history. It is always my hope that my works of fiction will make my readers interested in my people so they will seek to learn more about them and arrive at their own interpretations.

How did you balance Beatriz’s journey against your desire to tell Catalina’s story? Who would you consider the true protagonist?

I have to say Beatriz. The story is told through her point of view, so that makes the first book of Falling Pomegranate Seeds (the overarching title for my trilogy) her story.

But I wanted in this work to understand the forces shaping Catalina of Aragon during her childhood and the years leading up to the leaving of her homeland. Beatriz, as Catalina’s tutor, offered me a powerful and adult perspective. She acts as a close and empathetic witness to Catalina’s early years, during a time when her parents were engaged in what they described as their ‘Holy War’. Since Beatriz was also Catalina’s teacher in her formative years, that offered me the opportunity to imagine how Catalina’s education shaped her and made her a woman who loved books and learning.

What steps did you take to ensure Beatrice’s character spoke to universal themes without being anachronistic to her setting?

By engaging in thorough historical research and reading writings important to this period. This is how I deepen my knowledge of the mindset of my historical people. I do my best to write through that mindset, as provided in this example from my novel of a conversation between Beatriz and her friend, Josefa:

“What is it, Beatriz?” asked Josefa.

Beatriz raised her hand and wiped her face. “I’m not sure if knowing him from childhood would help me here. I remember too well the many harsh words he and my father had over my education. He believed my father was very wrong and misguided in his desire to teach me as he did.”

“The good father would not have been alone in this. Very few women are brought up to be prodigies of Latin.”

Bitter, Beatriz gazed at her friend. “Even you expressed strong disapproval of this.”

Josefa heaved a sigh, shaking her head slowly. “’Tis not that I disapprove… I have told you this before too. I believe women walk a hard enough road without walking a road where there are pits at every step. As my mother often said to me, since we cannot get what we like, let us then like what we can get. Tell me truthfully, Beatriz. Do you think you’d have this awful hole dug for you, as you do now, if your father had not set your feet on this journey to become a scholar and professor of the university?”

Beatriz pondered Josefa. “Si, I am in an awful hole, as you say. But, Josefa, I know there are more terrible and darker holes. I will always be grateful to my father for giving me the key to escape ignorance, even if it only came from his great need to console himself after losing my mother.”

Josefa placed her hand over Beatriz’s. She gave her a wry smile.

“Escape ignorance? You know many ignorant women, si?”

“Josefa, you mistake my meaning.” Beatriz stared at the coverlet of Josefa’s bed. “All of us must walk our own roads, but ’tis wrong to prevent women from walking so many roads just because we’re women. Even Plato said, ‘Nothing can be more absurd than the practice of men and women not following the same pursuits with all their strengths and with one mind, for thus, the state instead of being whole is reduced to half.’ I so agree. Our world cuts off its nose to spite its own face by insisting the only purpose for women is to bear children and perpetuate the human race, as also said Plato. Surely ’tis far too hard a view to forever blame women for Eve’s sin.”

 For me, writing is about lighting my way through life – to seek answers to those fundamental questions of the human condition. I agree with Kundera (2003, p. 44) when he tells us, ‘…fidelity to history is a secondary matter as regards the value of the novel. The novelist is neither historian nor prophet: he is an explorer of existence’. LOL – and the more I write, the more I know the truth of Socrates’s words:  ‘The more I know, the more I realize I know nothing.’

Smile – that’s not quite true. I know how important it is to follow your heart in life – and seek the fulfilment of your authentic life. Following this writing road of mine has proven to be my way to grow as a human being.

You have only been to Spain once. How did that on-the ground research influence your writing of this novel?

Besides falling in love with The Alhambra, my time in Spain deepened my ability to imagine Catalina growing up in the royal palaces of her mother.


For fifteen days, I covered vast distances travelling in a comfortable, air conditioned bus, skilfully driven on well made roads – which gave me plenty time to ponder about travelling in earlier and dangerous times of bad roads, bad weather and ox pulled litters. For me, walking the walk of my characters has always enriched me as a writer, fed my imagination, and opened the door to the lives and voices of my historical people.

How did you fill the gaps with off-the-ground research?

A mountain of books, portraits, maps, period music, and lots of daydreaming.

Tell us about your next project.

It is the second novel of my Katherine of Aragon trilogy: Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things. Katherine of Aragon’s lifelong friend, Maria de Salinas, is the point of view character. Like Beatriz, history provides only the bones of her life story, which means my imagination has a lot to flesh out. My imagination has opened the door to a powerful storyline – and I am determined to do it justice. The challenge is to make it work and believable through the use of historical events – and do justice to Katherine of Aragon’s story too.

Kundera, M  2003, The Art of the Novel, Reprint Edition, Harper, Perennial Modern Classics, New York.

***

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author, playwright and poet who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of three Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel, and Falling Pomegranate Seeds.

While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter—named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne.

For more about her novels follow this link

Fools, Mortals and New Years Resolutions

In the dying days of 2017, I found myself on the BBQ forum (yes, it does actually exist). See, my brother had a new Weber and I noticed his grill looked healthier than mine. In fact, mine was, let’s not beat about the bush, getting rather decrepit and rusty. I Googled “what to do with a rusty Weber grill” and the wondrous wisdom of the BBQ forum opened up to me. To my surprise, I wasn’t the only one with a rust problem (and here was me thinking I was slovenly). And it seemed the Weber-gods cared. The oberwhelming consensus of the forum being to contact Weber, immediately.

I did (who was I to question the wisdom of the BBQ forum).

They responded (like the Weber-gods answered me). On supplying the relevant details, I was informed that a brand new grill was wending it’s way to my home. There were conditions. (There always are with gods). I must scrub my existing Weber kettle, replaced the drip tray, and promise henceforth to clean with more care.

I will. I solemnly swear. I will henceforth brush, wash and refrain from putting cold water on the hot grill ever again.

Happy New Year, by the way, that is the closest your will get to a New Years resolution from me.

Actually, that is not strictly true. I started 2018 by deleting the Facebook app from my iPad and phone. This was not a New Years resolution as I had declared my intention to do so for the duration of our week’s holiday in Port Fairy sometime early in December. However, I followed up on my intention, and survived the experience (yes, I’ve stopped shaking, thanks for asking). I am therefore counting it as a 2018 milestone.

The remainder of our holiday can be summed up in three words: reading, riding and running.

The running was primarily Andrew’s effort. 10 km per day – apart from the day on which he ran a marathon. I did my best with a nightly half-hour jog around the block. But I didn’t take my bike to Port Fairy. So, I couldn’t contribute on the riding front. But don’t go calling me a slouch! I pretty much read a marathon. My stated aim being to read for pure pleasure – nothing I would feel obliged to blog about or review (though of course I am doing so). Bernard Cornwell was my author of choice. A third person, omniscient novel about the battle of Agincourt, to get me started

I like reading Cornwell. He does battles like you wouldn’t believe. I have no desire to emulate him (that was part of the holiday appeal), and hope never to have to write an in-depth battle scene. But apart from being a great story, Azincourt taught me heaps about archery and humour and character. Next up, I read Fools and Mortals a novel written from the first person viewpoint of Shakespeare’s younger brother Richard. Not only was it a great tale full of humour, pithy multi-valent dialogue, and sharp characterization, it was also a great insight into the art of story telling. Consider this quote:

“And my brother, usually so reticent, had been sparked by the line. Had we seen his lordship’s clock in Somerset House, he asked and none of us had. He had described it to us, a marvelous invention of dials and wheels, of cogs and chains, which drove a pointer round a dial painted with numbers to tell the time. To make the clock work, he had said it was necessary to pull a weight upwards, and then the weight, released slowly descended to drive the intricate mechanism behind the clock’s face. ‘A Play is like that,’ he had said.

Will Kemp had laughed. ‘My arse it is Will!’

‘Truly!’ My brother had said, his right hand stroking Nell’s hair.

‘And how, my demented poet,’ Will Kemp had demanded, ‘is a play like a clock?’

‘Because we spend the first part of a play pulling the weight upwards,’ my brother had said. ‘We set the scene, we make confusion, we tangle our characters’ lives, we suggest treason, or establish enmity, and then we let the weight go, and the whole thing untangles. The pointer moves around the dial. And that, my friends, is the play.’”

Cornwell’s stories are like his lordship’s clock, structured to perfection. I was so engrossed, so non-social-media minded, so not thinking about my own work, that suddenly, quite unbidden the four layers of conflict I’d been trying to define in my current work-in-progress, fell into place, just like that. The sound not unlike the bing of a microwave clock.

Sometimes, you just have to relax and let the subconscious do the work.

After, Fools and Mortals, I needed an emotional break – too many new characters, too many unknown endings. I decided to re-visit some old Cornwell favourites – the Lazender family novels. Originally written in conjunction with Susannah Kells, the pseudonym for Cornwell’s wife, Judy, these books are a great deal more girlie than his usual offerings. Great big omniscient historical conspiracy novels with a poignant romantic thread. I hadn’t read them for years (since the library deleted them). But we live in the era of iBooks, so it took me no time to download them.

As well as re-acquainting myself with beloved characters, I found myself applying the clock analogy to the novels’ structures, marveling at the way the second half mirrored and answered the the first, like perfectly, in Cornwell’s confident lyrical storytelling tone. As I revelled in the structure (yes, this is considered a fun), I skipped back and forth between story elements, choosing their location by page number, based on where I thought they should sit in the story structure. Perfect. They were all in the right place, yet so unpredictably fresh. I read and re-read parts of Fallen Angels, multiple times.

Now I’m back home in Coburg. I have run (modestly) and started the New Year with a reading for pleasure marathon. Now it’s time to get stuck into the real work of 2018.

Tan y tro nesaf!

Wrap up for the 2017 Australian Women Writers’ Challenge

I am not a book blogger – trust me there are some serious book bloggers out there. However, I do believe in Australian Women Writers and, in January 2017, I signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

For those of you who don’t know, the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge was started late in 2011 when, after reading a blog about the gender imbalance in book reviewing, Elizabeth Lhuede, an Australian poet, academic and romance writer, was forced to examine the gender imbalance in her own reading habits. The outcome,  the Australian Women Writers Challenge – a blog dedicated to reviewing of books by Aussie women.

 

In 2017, I committed to reading and reviewing a measly four books by Australian women in the historical fiction category. I could have aimed higher but I have commitment issues. Seriously, I prefer to exceed my goals than reach for the stars and land low with a thump. In the end, I reviewed many more books than anticipated.

I started the year with a review of Lucy Treloar’s magnificent Salt Creek and followed that up with a post about the seven seriously seductive Rowland Sinclair mysteries. So, that was eight historical novels in January. Am I a super-star or what?!

February I read two history books, one of them in Welsh language, just so you know I’m not a slouch.

In March, I read and reviewed three children’s historical novels, in preparation for an HNSA Super Session, as well as Alison Goodman’s sizzling second instalment, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact. Was I on a roll or what?

In April, I read Kim Kelly’s, Paper Daisies, as well as fellow Welsh language tragic, L..M Owen’s time-slip mysteries, Olmec Obituary and Mayan Mendacity.

In May/June, I was lost in Welsh speaking Wales.

Back in Australian, I hit the ground running with a review of Nicole Alexander’s historical novel, An Uncommon Woman.  I followed this up with an interview and review of Theresa Smith’s delightful contemporary novel, Lemongrass Bay. In August, I interviewed L. J. Lyndon, author of The Welsh Linnet, and Rachel Nightingale, author of Harlequin’s Riddle. I also reviewed Kate Forsyth’s, Beauty in Thorns.

In September, I reviewed Carole Lovekin’s Snow Sisters and interviewed Helen Lewis, author of The House with Old Furniture, both published by Gwasg Honno.

In October, I reviewed Bernard Cornwells’ Warlord Chronicles. They were not Australian, Welsh, or written by a woman, but they were magnificent. I had to write about them.

In November, I stepped out of my comfort zone and interviewed, Isobel Blackthorn about her seriously skin-crawling horror novel, The Cabin Sessions. This was followed by and interview with Maria Donovan, author of the delightfully cosy crime with unexpected Welsh elements novel, The Chicken Soup Murder.

In December, I read Wendy J Dunn’s Tudor novel, Falling Pomegranate Seeds, but you’ll have to wait until January to hear about the book as I’ve asked the author to answer a few interview questions.

So, are you keeping up? What’s my tally?

  • I think that is 21 books by Aussie women – 19 of them, historical fiction
  • 3 contemporary novels by Welsh women
  • 3 historical novels by Bernard Cornwell – just because

At this time of the year, it is customary for book bloggers to name their favourite books. Which is tough. Especially as I am not a real a book blogger. However, if pushed, I’d have to say, Goodman gave us the most tortured love triangle, Lovekin gave us the most every-day magical, Lewis the most chilling commentary on contemporary British society, Blackthorn the most seriously disturbing read, and Theresa Smith and Sulari Gentil the most laugh aloud funny while L.J.M Owen and Maria Donovan gave me the most delightfully unexpected Welsh surprises. But sadly, I’m going to be a traitor to my gender, my adopted nation and my Welsh heritage by proclaiming Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles my pick of the year.

Tan y tro nesaf!

What used to be the Corbett Family Christmas Letter

This time last year my mum was given a few weeks to live. We all hunkered down for what looked to be a series of ‘last time’ events. As it turns out, Christmas 2017 has arrived and Mum is still with us. She has grumbled about this on-and-off throughout the year: I’m ready to go Elizabeth. But it has been a big year with many exciting moments and we are all glad she is still with us.

The Tides Between

I haven’t hit the best seller lists, or purchased a castle next to J K Rowling yet, but, the publication of my debut novel has probably dominated my year. It started with the announcement of a publishing contract in January and worked its way through professional author shots, cover designs, author panels, conferences, and late edits, to a fanfare launch at Hawthorn Library on 9 November. I’ve since done interviews and written guest posts, in Welsh and English, been reviewed, asked to refrain from posting on a few Facebook groups since, with the release of my novel I’d become a ‘commercial venture’ (ha,ha,ha says every mid-list author in the world). I have also received emails from both friends and complete strangers telling me how much they enjoyed, or have been touched, even healed, by my novel, how parts brought tears to their eyes. Those small messages have made the whole journey worthwhile. As did mum, proudly hawking copies from a recliner chair in her nursing home.

 

The Work in progress

In between birthing on the above magnus opus I have been doing the groundwork for my current work in progress. It will not be the sequel to The Tides Between for which I have so cruelly set you up. See, I’d got to the end of writing the manuscript and figured it wouldn’t be good for my mental health to be working on a second book while receiving rejection letters for the first. The concept for Stone Promises was born – a novel written from the viewpoint of Marred ferch Dafydd (the ignored-by-history wife of Owain Glyn Dŵr). I spent a couple of months in May/June visiting Glyn Dŵr sites and beavering away in Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru. I am now in the process of reading, noting, and creating a world out of what I unearthed. I will return to Wales for more research in August 2018 (because I can) and stay at the wonderful Stiwdio Maelor again. I hope to have a good first draft by this time next year (the sheer weight of research is making this a slow process) and will then get onto that sequel I have promised.

The Family

Andrew and I continue to enjoy post-family life in our timber cottage in Melbourne’s funky inner-North. Andrew has run seven marathons this year and also done a 100km ultra marathon. He continues to pedal his bike up horrible hills for pleasure and has also enjoyed some challenging walks in Tasmania. Oh, yes, in the absence of the above mentioned bestseller status, he also pays the bills.

Around this time last year, Jack, Ness, and Charlie welcomed baby Christopher into their midst in Southhampton. The whole family came back to Oz for two months mid-year. We all enjoyed watching Christopher make his first forays in to the world of commando crawling and hearing Charlie’s linguistically delightful stories. Strangely, at this point in the calendar mum went a bit quiet on the: I’m ready to die front. It was quite nice to see Jack and Ness too. 😁

 

Phoebe and Andy have also enjoyed a number of hiking trips, including the Overland Track in Tasmania. They are gearing up for a Swiss hike in the New Year. Phoebe represented the family at our AFS daughter, Alice’s, wedding in in October. Priya and her partner Evan moved house again this year (never fun). Priya also exchanged her aged-care job for a retail job which she finds far less stressful. Seth and Monique have had a successful year on both work and home-renovation fronts. But the big news is the arrival of their baby Genevieve Isabel born 22nd December just in time for Christmas.

 

The arrival of a brand new Corbett is a worthy conclusion to what used to be the Family Christmas letter. Needless to say, we are all looking forward to oohing and ahh-ing and getting to know baby Genevieve over the festive season and have all raced out to buy an extra present for under the Christmas tree. In fact, mum is so delighted, she’s glad she stuck around for another year.

Diamond Tales

From December 3rd to 23rd, the Discovering Diamonds is holding a Diamond themed storytelling extravaganza. So far, the Diamond Tales have been fabulous (I’m not sure how I got to be part of the salubrious line up). But seriously, why not bookmark the page and follow along?

To celebrate, Odyssey Books have dropped the Kindle price of The Tides Between, to 99 cents for two days. However, I must warn you, a number of people have written to tell me they’ve bought a paperback version after enjoying the eBook so much. But I’m sure you are made of sterner stuff than that. If not, well, it is December, and you do have all those nieces, cousins and aunts to buy gifts for.

Here is the complete list of Diamond Tales. Helen Hollick has done an incredible amount of work to get this promotion up and running. We’d love you to share, bookmark and follow all of our stories.

3rd December     Richard Tearle  Diamonds
4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses
5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds
6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows
7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond
8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds
9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks
10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond
11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens
12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone
13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire
14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald
15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert
16th December     Susan Grossey  A Suitable  Gift
17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia
18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds
19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds
20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond
21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud
22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas
23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 

The Chicken Soup Murder – an interview with Maria Donovan

I came across Maria Donovan’s debut novel while hanging around on an amazing supportive, wound licking and all around fabulous Facebook Group where readers, writers and bloggers share their milestones, tell stories, seek reviews and exchange bookish information. Under a post about my newly released The Tides Between, Maria wrote: ‘Your book sounds fascinating.’

‘Thanks,’ I wrote back. ‘I’m terrible at asking this question but…would you like a reviewing copy?’

‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Would you like one of my book?’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘of course! Was there any other possible response? Though, for all I knew, her book was a seven-hundred page tome on the joys of knitting with dog’s hair.

Turns out, Maria’s book was a novel (phew) called The Chicken Soup Murder and, quite frankly, I don’t mind a bit of cosy crime. I settled down for a good read. I wasn’t disappointed. The Chicken Soup Murder is the most surprisingly, whimsical, laugh-aloud, yet deeply affecting, family, come cosy crime novel, I’ve read in ages. Here’s how it begins:

‘The day before the murder George Bull tried to poison me with a cheese sandwich.

Break time: he got me in a headlock in the playground, patted my face like he was being friendly, smiled for the cameras and said, ‘Why don’t you and me have a picnic?’

After the first chapter, I expected the narrative to switch to an adult viewpoint. It didn’t – though The Chicken Soup Murder is certainly not a children’s story. It paints a poignant picture of three households affected by a health tragedy and then by a second sudden unexpected death. Young Michael is convinced the latter is suspicious. But his Nan won’t listen because, running beneath the possibility of a murder next door is a family secret which she refuses talk about – a secret which can be traced back to that little country to the west of England of which I’m rather fond. Published by Seren Books The Chicken Soup Murder is a startlingly original debut – so startling I’ve asked Maria Donovan to answer a few questions for my blog.

You’ve written poetry and plays and loads of short stories and now this amazing novel, can you tell how/why you began to write?

I began scribbling young and by the time I was eight had decided I wanted no other career than to be a writer. Since I did not want to go into journalism I just had to get on with it by myself. Life did a bit too much getting in the way and I only made writing the focus of my energies when I was in my thirties. It feels like it’s the only thing I really ought to be doing, other than trying to act with kindness. I’m competent enough at some other things to have been waylaid by alternative careers including nursing, gardening, being a magician’s assistant, and teaching. Thing is that I feel scratchy and unhappy if I haven’t been writing. So now I just think it’s a must.

So in my thirties I faced up to my own ambition, rather worried that I would find out I wasn’t much good after all. Looking back that’s one of the things that was stopping me. Until I tested myself I could carry on with the dream that I’d do it ‘one day’.

I don’t have too much trouble having ideas and making a start. What I’ve had to learn to do is finish something and make it as good as possible and then move on to the next project. Getting my first computer made a huge difference to the way I was able to organise my writing and keep going until it reached a finished state. Before that I was just swamped by paper and ‘alternative versions’. My publishing history shows I was more comfortable at first with short stories and flash fiction. But now I’ve completed a novel (having had a few half-baked attempts), I find I’ve developed a taste for the longer form.

What was the catalyst for The Chicken Soup Murder?

The title comes directly from an incident in which my husband’s dodgy DIY nearly killed me while I was making chicken soup. Like the character in my story, I laughed it off, but it set me thinking about a crime novel and I promised him I’d come up with something with that title one day. I had no idea what that would be and years passed. Things became much more complicated because my husband died of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos in 2010. I abandoned the novel I was writing before and while he was ill – and had to find something new. The idea of writing a novel dedicated to Mike, which has his warmth and humour appealed to me. The novel also has its realistic and serious side: how different people cope or don’t cope with living in a state of grief.

Did you always intend it to be written from the viewpoint of a teenage boy?

Yes. After Mike died, I wrote various short stories from the point of view of a grieving woman of about my age and I knew I needed to create some distance from my own perspective. An eleven year old boy seemed far enough!

If yes, why? If no, how did you arrive at Michael’s voice?

I needed to create a completely new perspective and to see everything I had experienced in terms of grieving as if it was all new. It really helped me to seal the story into that one channel of the boy’s experience – though he observes and reveals more than he understands and his own sense of what the adults around him are going through grows over the course of the novel. As for the voice, he just seemed to speak in my mind. I did transfer myself back to my eleven-year-old self: I still feel close to that inner child! I also listened – a lot – to girls and boys of that age and how they speak in the 21st century. Michael has been a good deal in the company of adults too – I make that clear – and has picked up all kinds of things from listening to his nan and her friend Irma, the cricket commentary and Nan’s beloved BBC Radio 4. I did have one go at writing the novel in the third person but Michael was quite insistent that I should restrict myself to his point of view without any means of knowing more than he could know. In the end I just couldn’t escape him: he was a voice in my mind and I just wrote it down.

Tell me about your Welsh connections? Your adventures with the language?

I went to University in South Wales and heard and saw Welsh there for the first time properly. I thought it fascinating and felt a lot more comfortable once I knew how to pronounce the words. Some of my good friends in Wales speak Welsh as their first language, and the University did offer Welsh courses, but I was so busy teaching (after graduating I did an MPhil in Writing and taught creative writing there for nine years) that my progress was patchy at best. When I moved back to Dorset I started to feel a sense of homesickness for Wales and its people and culture. In the last year I have practised nearly every day and at last begin to feel I am making some progress. I have now made friends here in West Dorset with other people who for various reasons regret missing out on knowing or speaking Welsh and are trying to put that right. Some are fluent and some are stumbling beginners but we’re helping each other.

And another curious thing happened. As I moved back to my native Dorset and learned more about the marks of ancient settlement in the landscape I thought about my ancestors who might have lived here a couple of thousand years ago and I longed to know how they might have spoken. I reasoned that this would originally have been a language common with the one that developed into Welsh. It would have been changed somewhat by the coming of the Romans and then obliterated by the Anglo-Saxons who demoted the value of the culture and language of the indigenous people until it all but disappeared except in Wales and to some extent in Cornwall. It’s an odd but satisfying feeling that I’m regaining something that has been lost – even though I know that the language would have changed a great deal over time. It is starting to feel natural and part of me. Which is very exciting! When I saw you were also learning, that felt like a great connection between us – as well as being novelists and writers.

What are you writing now?

While my debut novel was going through its pre-publication hoops I kept on writing short stories and flash fiction and was composting some ideas for a new novel, about a woman who goes missing. It’s partly set in the south of the Netherlands (I also speak Dutch and feel I can bear witness to the culture in a way that will seem satisfying) and partly in the UK.

When I met the famous writer Fay Weldon, who gave me such a lovely endorsement for The Chicken Soup Murder, she pointed out that if I were able to call it a psychological thriller this would help sales more than the label literary novel. Her wise words gave me a great way to approach the material I was working on for the new book: working title The Miller’s Wife. I thought, if I see it as a novel of psychological suspense from the start, I will know exactly what to call it when someone asks! It follows a search for someone who is perhaps missing, perhaps dead, perhaps murdered. There’s also an underlying theme of how people fall through the cracks and into homelessness. Once again, I hope to employ humour and pace – I need to maintain my own interest in order to be able to keep going to the end!

More about Maria Donovan and where to buy The Chicken Soup Murder can be found on Maria’s blog.

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