Blog Tour Part Two: The French Photographer Interview with Natasha Lester

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Cover of The Paris Seamstress.

Hi Natasha, and welcome to my blog, The Book Muse. Thank you for joining me here today.

First of all, congratulations on the new novel, it was exceptional, and had everything a good novel should have to tell a very powerful story.

  1. Jessica reminded me of Estella – both are women of their time, yet still strive to achieve more than people expect of them. What is it that draws you to write characters like Jess and Estella?

If women like Estella and Jess had never existed, then I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I have now, the opportunities that I have had over my lifetime. But there is still much that needs to change. So I write these stories to honour the women who have come before me and who have made many aspects of my life possible, but also to show how far we still have to go in many other respects.

  1. Jess is based on a real-life journalist, Lee Miller. I’ve researched Lee, and she sounds fascinating. How did you stumble across her story, and what was it about her story that inspired Jess?

I came across Lee Miller when I was writing The Paris Seamstress. She was mentioned in an article I was reading, specifically that, after writing about and photographing a war for years, she had turned to writing cooking articles and recipes once the war was over. I wondered how that might have felt and I was compelled to look further into her life. When I realised she began her career on the other side of the lens, as a model, I was fascinated by how the transition from model to war photojournalist had evolved. Then, when I discovered that, at her death, her son never knew of the incredible articles his mother had written during the war, never knew of the exceptional photos she had taken, I knew for sure that there was a story in there waiting to be written.

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Natasha Lester, Image from Hachette Australia
  1. Your characters reflect and explore the spectrum of humanity and human emotion. When writing, did you find doing this enriched the story, and how challenging (or not), did you find it to explore someone like Amelia or Warren Stone?

Warren Stone was very challenging to write. But the more I read about the experience of the women war correspondents, the more I knew that men like Warren had existed. The difficulty was in not making him seem pure evil, in making us understand his motivations and in giving him humanity. There is one scene in the book that uses direct reportage from one of the female correspondents, Iris Carpenter, about a sexual assault that she stumbled upon. When I read her memoir and the words she wrote about that incident, I found it incredibly difficult to imagine how the man involved was anything less than a monster. But I had to imagine, in Warren, who is an accumulation of many men and many incidents, more than his despicable acts; I had to strip them away to find the person beneath and the reasons why he might behave in the way he does in the book.

  1. Fashion plays a large role in this novel. The beauty of fashion and photography bookends the reality of war, and the bland clothes Jess wears during the war. Where did your fascination with fashion start, and do you have a favourite designer you’re drawn to for inspiration in writing these stories?

I’ve always loved clothes. My real interest began when I lived in London for two years and wonderful vintage stores like Steinberg and Tolkien were at my doorstep, and the V&A museum was there to be visited each weekend. One of my absolute favourite designers is Vionnet; she was a true artist. I am also currently obsessed with Christian Dior, as I am writing a book called The Dior Bequest.

  1. How do you think the war affected Jess and her interest in art, photography and fashion before, during and after the war?

I think you could not photograph and write about the things Jess saw without being deeply affected by it, without needing to seek out the other things besides war that humankind can create; beautiful things like art and photography. I think she spent the rest of her life trying to strip away what she saw during war and attempting to replace those pictures, layer by layer, with things that inspired other emotions than sadness and other actions than violence.

  1. Looking at what we saw on the page, how much of your planning for plot, character and backstory never makes it into the final copy?

So much! When I wrote the first draft, I had no idea how the book would end. I had no idea how Victorine would fit into the story, and that she would become such an important player. I had no real idea what D’Arcy would do once she arrived at the chateau in the contemporary storyline. Once I sketched all that out in the first draft, I went a bit overboard, as I always do, in the second draft, adding in lots of the research and deeply fleshing out scenes. So a lot of that has to be cut in the end as it slows the pace too much. The first and second parts of the historical storyline in particular were trimmed quite a lot.

  1. I adored Victorine, and I hope other readers do too. Her story was heartbreaking but revealed the reality of war and war orphans. When researching this, did you find experiences like Victorine’s were common, and what country had most of the stories you found from?

Her experience was so common, especially in France where the exodus of people out of Paris and Northern France in late May and early June 1940 left so many lost and abandoned children who were never reunited with family. The Russians also experienced a huge and devastating number of war orphans, numbering in the millions.

  1. One of my favourite things about this novel was how you developed the relationship between Dan and Jess, starting with respect, which led to friendship and then love. To me, this was something that was extremely important to the story, because we rarely see friendships like this celebrated. When writing, what led you to write this relationship in this way, and did you find it effective to do so for the plot?

This was always going to be a book about a friendship between a man and a woman, a strong and important friendship, that eventually turned to love. But that initial friendship, and their mutual respect, was to be the foundation for all of it, and without that, I don’t think their relationship would have been anywhere near as powerful as it is. I say in the back of the book that Jess and Dan were like gifts from the writing muse and they were; they came to me easily and quickly and their relationship almost developed by itself without me having to do more than type out the rush of words in my head.

  1. Warren Stone consistently tried to jeopardise Jess and embarrass Dan. Was this inspired by any truth, and did anything like this happen to your inspiration, Lee Miller?

As I mentioned earlier, Warren Stone is an amalgamation of men and incidents. One of the books I read for my research was called Never a Shot in Anger;it was the memoirs of one of the Public Relations Officers during WWII who was responsible for dealing with the press. So much of what happens to Jess is recorded as fact in his book and the troubling part of it was that he wrote about those incidents with no understanding of how wrong it all was. To him, it was just the way life was at that time. It’s quite shocking to read. And there was so much more that I left out and didn’t have the space to include. This is the part of the book that worries me the most – that readers won’t believe these things could possibly have happened. But they did!

  1. Each part is told from a different point of view and in various times and years. I enjoy the dual time line set up, because I feel it makes the story richer. Do you find a format like this effective, and what makes you decide on the dual timeline set up?

It makes it richer for me as a storyteller too, although it is so very challenging to pull off. So many character and points of view and story threads to juggle and eventually weave together. I decided on it for this book simply became I enjoyed writing that way for The Paris Seamstress. I like the way that it allows a mystery to unfold and for the reader to become involved in solving the mystery.

  1. Taking into consideration what has been discussed already, are there any sources for fashion, Lee Miller, war orphans and the war in general that you explored that might not have been mentioned yet?

The main sources were the actual articles written by the female correspondents at the time. I read most of Martha Gellhorn’s pieces for Collier’s Weekly, Lee Miller’s pieces for Vogue, Iris Carpenter’s pieces for the Boston Globeand Margaret Bourke-White’s pieces for Life. In their articles, I heard their voices, saw what concerns they had, what they deemed worthy of attention, and how they wove a story together. It was extremely useful, especially when I compared their pieces to the articles written by the men at the time.

  1. One scene that was written effectively was the scene at the concentration camp. It was powerful and drove home the reality of war. Can you tell my readers more about where the inspiration for this scene came from, and why you decided to include it?

That was a hard scene to write. But I knew from the outset that it would be in the book as all of the women talked about the effect that seeing the camps had on them. There were so many important points I wanted to make in that scene: about the fact that so many people thought rumours about the camps were untrue, that the camps could have been liberated earlier if more people had listened and acted, that  civilians in towns with camps on their doorstep ignored the plumes smoke and the smell of death for years. That, of course, we must never allow such a thing to happen again. It’s the hinge moment of the book and, without that scene, so much of what follows would not have been brought to bear.

13. Apart from the scene in the book, what more can you tell us about the occupation of Hitler’s Munich residence, and how being there affected those who raided the home?

It was fascinating to read Lee Miller’s piece about her stay in Hitler’s Munich apartment. I couldn’t believe how much souvenir raiding went on, how many soldiers took his cutlery and linen, and I wondered what it would feel like to be living in the apartment of such a man. Most who stayed there seemed to think it the ultimate sign of victory and took great heart from it; it allowed them to ridicule a man who, two years before, had been so feared that nobody would have ever thought to ridicule him. It made him a defeatable man rather than an immortal monster.

  1. Without giving too much away about the ending, can you tell us why you decided to write a realistic, bittersweet ending, and what this process was like after everything you set up for the characters?

The ending was hard to write but I couldn’t see another way for the story to end that won’t seem too convenient and too unbelievable. War changes everything for the people involved and its bitter aftermath extends for decades; the pain doesn’t end just because the war itself is declared to be over. I wanted to be true to that in the ending of this book.

  1. Any additional comments?

Just that this is my favourite of all my books, the book of my heart, and I hope everyone loves reading it as much as I loved writing it.

Thank you for joining me here today, Natasha, and congratulations again.

Booktopia

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge Check in Four – forty-five to sixty.

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My fourth check in, and most current one as of the 12th of August, 2018, takes me to sixty books for the year, and in July I managed to read an entire Kate Forsyth series, as well as historical fiction, an #OwnVoices book, female focussed books, and one with  fascinating link to ancient history that I adored, as well as memoir about race, feminism and religion that unpacked how various identities can often be at conflict and how this affects you as a person and how you see the world, but also looked at how various aspects of one’s identity can inform a world view and understandings.

From Cromwell’s England to the desert hospitals of World War One, a haunted house and survivalists, dragons and China, and memoir, along with a good dose of fantasy, this list is as diverse as the others, with a large dollop of Kate Forsyth, whose books are always delightful.

My next post of this nature will begin with the latest Kensy and Max adventure, and from there, who knows what else will come?

Books forty-six to sixty

  1. The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart
  2. The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1)
  3. The Silver Horse by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #2)
  4. The Herb of Grace by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #3)
  5. The Cat’s Eye Shell by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #4)
  6. Children of the Dragon: Relic of The Blue Dragon by Rebecca Lim
  7. The Legacy of Beauregarde by Rosa Fedele
  8. The Lightning Bolt by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #5)
  9. The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn and Interview
  10. The Butterfly in Amber by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #6)
  11. When the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson
  12. Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History by Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer
  13. The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios
  14. No Country Woman by Zoya Patel
  15. The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

From here, there will be many review books to come, some feminist fairy tales, crime, a whole mix – anything could be read and that is what is so enjoyable about the challenge and these posts – getting to see what I have read so far, and where it all fits in.

Australian Women Writer’s Check-in three: thirty-one to forty-five

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My next fifteen takes me to book 45 of the challenge – The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell. In this set, I read a wide array of fiction – all by authors I had never read before, from contemporary fiction, to historical fiction, literary fiction, and kids’ books that delved into the world of spies, and one of my favourite periods of antiquity, the Minoans and the explosion of Akrotiri on Thera. I read a non-fiction book by Kitty Flanagan, which was more like an extended comedy routine, to mysteries and family legacies.

From World War Two seen through the lens of Jewish refugees in Shanghai, to book illumination in the middle ages, and the melding of various mythologies and histories to create unique characters and voices that stretch out across the decades and centuries to tell stories of war, family, fear and mystery, and the fun of child spies and wildlife adventures.

These next fifteen were recently completed and, the last fifteen will take me to the start of August. Just over half way done for the year, I have read four times what I pledged, and hope to read many more in the months to come, adding to my ever growing list.

Books thirty-one to forty-five

  1. The Jady Lily by Kirsty Manning
  2. The Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
  3. Burning Bridges and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan
  4. Bluebottle by Belinda Castles
  5. The Upside of Over by J.D. Barrett and Interview
  6. P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones
  7. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey
  8. The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady
  9. Ella and Olivia: A Wild Adventure by Yvette Poshoglian
  10. Kensy and Max: Breaking News by Jacqueline Harvey
  11. Swallow’s Dance by Wendy Orr
  12. We See the Stars by Kate van Hooft.
  13. The Far Back Country by Kate Lyons
  14. Beneath the Mother Tree by D.M. Cameron
  15. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

So far I haven’t mentioned favourites on any lists, because there have been so many on the others, but on this one, The Jade Lily, Kensy and Max, Swallow’s Dance and The Peacock Summer are the ones that stood out for me and that I enjoyed the most for various reasons, all stated in my reviews on these books.

Blog Tour Part #2: Interview with Kayte Nunn, author of The Botanist’s Daughter – 12th August 2018

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Hi Kayte, and welcome to The Book Muse.

First, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about your latest book, The Botanist’s Daughter, which I reviewed here on the 4th of August for the blog tour. I hope you can answer the following questions in as much depth as you would like to.

  1. What was your initial inspiration for this story, and where were you when it came to you?

About three years ago, I took my young daughter to the Sydney Botanic Gardens for a picnic as it was not long before she was due to start school. It was a sultry late-January day and we were looking for fairies (there is a fairy trail there) and ended up at the Herb Garden. In the middle is a wonderful cast bronze sundial on which is a raised relief of herbs. I put my hand on the warm metal and instantly knew there was a story there – it was like a bolt of lightning. I had a vision of a young, headstrong girl in a similar garden in England and I spent the rest of the afternoon in a daze as I thought more about who she was and what her story might be. I fully believe that stories come and tap you on the shoulder and it is the writer’s job to try and do justice to them.

  1. Gardens, and in particular botanic gardens such as the one in Kew, and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, as well as Anna’s landscaping business play an important role in the story. Following on from where you got the idea, what is it specifically about gardens that you are the most attracted to? Did this attraction help to formulate your plot and characters?

I’ve always loved gardens, and the mystery and magic of growing things (though sadly I have a rather brown thumb, not a green one!). I also love the names of plants and flowers, that often sound like poetry, and have fond memories of listening to my grandmother tell me the names of all those that bloomed in her garden. The scent of tomato plants and greenhouses takes me straight back there.

  1. On the theme of gardens and plants, do you have any favourite literary gardens or plants? When I think of this, The Secret Garden and the plants in Herbology in Harry Potter immediately spring to mind – are there any characters linked to gardens and botany that you like?

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Secret Garden is a book I have re-read many times. Dickon is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters – a gentle and wise boy who was so in touch with nature. More recently, I loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowersand Garden Spellsby Sarah Addison Allen, which combine two of my favourite things – gardens and magic.

  1. Are you a plotter or a pantser when it comes to writing?

I’m mainly a plotter – I actually have a whiteboard where I map out the main beats of the story – usually once I am a little way in and know where it might go. That really helps me get the emotional structure of the narrative clear. However, I still leave plenty of room for the detours my subconscious might take me on.

  1. The dual timeline is fascinating, and I found it very effective to tell your story – as it has been for several other historical fiction novels I have read over the years. What made you choose this format to tell Anna and Elizabeth’s stories?

My favourite thing about history is when it becomes tangible in the present – an object from the past that still exists today provides a very clear link to that time.

I also wanted to have two characters that could almost have been better placed in each other’s era – Elizabeth is modern, confident and headstrong, whereas Anna is cautious. calm and quiet. I liked having the ability to contrast and compare events in both of the stories.

  1. What challenges did you face when writing the dual timeline, and what were they? Is there any advice you received or something you found out about writing a dual timeline that could help writers who want to use this format?

Near the beginning, I contacted the novelist Kate Forsyth, as I had read and loved her book, Bitter Greens, which has a dual timeline that works really well. She was generous enough to give me the advice to write each one separately, to keep my head in the world of each story, and that is what I did. When I came to stitch the narrative together, though it was mostly surprisingly seamless, it required great concentration not to give away the mystery of the past in the present narrative until close to the end, and to try and remember what the reader did and didn’t know at any given point.

  1. What sort of research did you do, and how intense was the process? What strategies did you use to ensure the process was smooth and accurate?

I’m not certain I used any particular strategies – I looked for as many reference books, both on Victorian everyday life, and Chile in the 1880s, as I could find, from my local library and the State Library of NSW, and read, made notes of points of interest, before starting to write. I spent several months doing this.

During the writing process, when I found myself wanting to know certain facts and details, I stopped to find them out – for example I found a very helpful online community of ship enthusiasts who helped with the type of vessel Elizabeth would have sailed on and from which port; I found photographs of Valparaiso in the 1880s and so could see what the town looked like, which buildings existed then.

I also found a wonderful diary written by a sea-captain’s wife who lived in Valparaiso in the 1830s. This was fifty years before the time of my story, but her descriptions of the landscape and the plants that grew there was an invaluable primary source. I also visited several exhibitions of botanical art and about 19th-century plant hunters in both Sydney and London during the course of writing, and read many letters written by plant hunters when they were on their expeditions.

  1. I love that the novel is distinctly female driven in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries by Elizabeth, Daisy and Anna and her family. These relationships were key to the story – what kind of sacrifices did you make in terms of character for Daisy and Elizabeth for the time you set them in, if any, and why?

One of the books I came across in my research told the stories of a number of extraordinarily adventurous women in previous centuries, and when I visited Kew, I discovered the Marianne North Gallery, which houses the paintings of this Victorian adventuress and botanist. So, I knew that I could faithfully create characters who were equally single-minded and brave, even though this was not generally expected of women in those times.

  1. Daisy’s sacrifice after a significant and heartbreaking event in the novel was crucial to the plot and uncovering the secrets that link Anna to Trebithick. The impact these had on me as a reader was profound – i was shocked and saddened but knew I had to keep reading on to find out what happened. Were these scenes and revelations hard to write, emotionally, and how so?

Yes, I remember writing the scene where Daisy discovers Elizabeth and Tomas with my heart in my mouth!

  1. What more can you tell us about the Devil’s Trumpet, its history and what it does? Does it still exist in the world, or is it a mystery plant to many still?

One of the clues in writing the story was a newspaper article I came across online about a rare, poisonous plant (actually a class B drug and illegal to cultivate in England) that had mysteriously sprung up in an English suburban garden. The owners eventually realised that it must have grown from seed imported from Chile that they had been putting out for the birds. That plant is the Devil’s Trumpet – datura.

  1. In Kew, Ed tells Anna that he believes the plant is extinct, or at least, that they have no samples available. Is there any truth in this, or did you take a bit of creative licence with Ann’s cultivation of the seeds in Sydney?

I invented a sub-species of daturaas the plant that Elizabeth went looking for, but when I researched if it was possible to germinate very old seeds I was delighted to find that scientists have successfully grown seeds up to 32,000 years old.

  1. Who was the most challenging character to write, and in what way did you find this to be so?

Damien Chegwidden – I had to rewrite him several times to make him truly villainous, but also not a one-dimensional baddie. I wanted the reader to understand what motivated him – I kept the adage ‘everyone is the hero of his or her own story’ very much in mind.

  1. Damien Chegwidden is of course, the villain in this novel – against anyone who is trying to beat him in finding the Devil’s Trumpet – were there people and situations like this in real life, do you think, of botanists competing to see who could find plants first?

According to accounts I read, early plant hunters were sometimes cooperative and collaborative, although several (particularly orchid hunters in the late nineteenth century) were unscrupulous – or worked for unscrupulous men – and would strip an area of the desired plant, urinate on a competitor’s haul to kill them, or even pull a gun on a rival!

  1. Finally, the ending left things quite open to the imagination – does this mean there is potential for a follow-up, or are you leaving this to the imagination of your readers?

I love stories that leave a question for the reader’s imagination to decide on, and help the story and characters live on in their mind. I hope, in some small way, I managed to achieve this, while still providing a satisfying conclusion.

Any further comments, or anything I may have missed?

The book is ultimately, I hope, about courage: Elizabeth’s is bold and obvious, and Anna’s more subtle, but both have to summon inner strength, albeit in different ways.

Again, thank you Kayte for agreeing to appear on my blog as part of the blog tour for your novel.

Booktopia

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge Check-in One – books one to fifteen

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All year I have been meaning to write progress posts for every month, or every ten books. Until now, I have woefully neglected this activity, and having read 61 books already, am breaking it up into posts of fifteen – and will continue to do this until the end of the year/early 2019, making the collation of posts for my final wrap up of this challenge easier than last year’s attempt. Each list will be varied, with review books and ones I chose to purchase making up my count – they will be diverse in terms of story, genre, fiction or non-fiction, readership, age and as many other aspects of diversity as I have stumbled across on my reading journey – greatly depending on what I have been able to find, have been sent and what I have access to, but also, I choose books based on what I enjoy as well, and in doing so, I feel like I hit as much diversity in my reading as possible without too much trouble.

These lists – to date so far by today, are a little less than half of my total books logged for the year, which on the 11th of August, stands at 115, and counting. I have well surpassed my goal of fifteen for the challenge – a conservative estimate as I often have a list in mind of upcoming releases and books I own, yet also don’t always know what else will come my way. I find it best to underestimate – and then anything extra becomes bonus points.

So below is my first batch of fifteen out of sixty one, with links to each review.

First fifteen

  1. The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan
  2. The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett
  3. Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham
  4. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner
  5. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier
  6. The Endsister by Penni Russon
  7. Graevale by Lynette Noni  
  8. Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn 
  9. Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen
  10. The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht and Interview
  11. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French 
  12. Surf Rider’s Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem by Mary van Reyk
  13. Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer
  14. Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard 
  15. Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen 

Coming up next, posts sixteen to thirty of the Australian Women Writer’s challenge and at some stage, a Book Bingo wrap up post for both of my rounds of the challenge with Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Theresa Smith Writes.

Book Bingo 14 – A Book by an Australian Man

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Another week, another square to check off for book bingo. This time, I’m checking off a book by an Australian man, with a new historical fiction book by Anthony Hill, who has written many historical stories about war and animals in war. This time, he has turned his hand to writing about the voyage that led Captain Cook to discovering the east coast of Australia and Pacific Islands for England and colonisers in 1770 – with 2018 marking the 250th anniversary of Cook’s journey on the Endeavour which was a three year trip, starting in 1768, and ending in 1770.

A book written by an Australian man: Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

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Captain Cook's Apprentice - cover imageAnthony has taken an interesting tack with his book – using a young sailor named Isaac Manley to tell the story, and how Isaac sees encounters with Indigenous people of Australia and the Pacific Islands throughout the journey – which includes the various understandings and misunderstandings that occur when two cultures clash, and attempts made by the crew of the Endeavour to ensure respect is given to these people. As Anthony said in an interview, he did his best to balance the story, to show that the stories told in the history books are not as black and white as they appear. but more nuanced. Through this story, Anthony hoped to show this – and I hope it opens up conversations about lesser known aspects of history that should be known, and the nuances that go with them to improve upon and contribute what is missing from the current historical records.

Going off available source material, Anthony created a story that whilst seen through a European lens, has balanced what is known, what is taught and what is sometimes hidden or not included. Had stories with more of the facts Anthony wove into his work been available when I was at school, this period of history might have been more balanced – a big might because even if the information had been there, it might still have been dismissed for inclusion.

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I think this is an important story because it shows just how easy it is to misunderstand people, and to react without thinking when these misunderstandings cause friction. It shows how curiosity and uncertainty can contribute to assumptions and understandings, and what can be achieved when two er different cultures make attempts to get along.

So thus ends my 14th book bingo for the year – a very interesting and nuanced book about a period of Australian history often only taught in absolutes – from my own experience, where instead, the nuances should be taught and all those involved in the connection of two cultures should be given a voice in the history books. This would allow for a greater understanding of the development of Australia as the nation it is today.

Booktopia

Interview with Anthony Hill – 2nd July 2018

Hi Anthony, and welcome to The Book Muse.

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First, I really enjoy your historical fiction books, and have read a few. What is it about historical books and historical fiction that interests you?

From childhood I have always been fond of history and stories from the past. As a journalist for some 40 years my interest has necessarily been with the world around me and how it came to be. What events from the past shaped today’s society … our outlook, sense of place, social and political values? As a novelist I am deeply involved with individual men and women – their emotions, desires and motivations. The techniques of historical fiction allow me to explore all these facets of human society in a way that is both personal and true to the facts so far as I can determine them.

Previously you’ve written books set during World War One – Young Digger, Soldier Boy and Animal Heroes about animals throughout all the wars that Australia has been involved in. What inspired you to write Isaac’s story this time?

I’ve written five military novels about Australians and their involvement in the First and Second World Wars, and I think that’s enough. I’ve nothing more to say on the subject – although if the right story came along I might well have another look at it… In a sense Captain Cook’s Apprenticeis a military novel since it concerns the Royal Navy, but it is of course much more than that. The Endeavour voyage was a pivotal event in the history of our nation and the region we inhabit. It opened the Pacific to European trade, incursion and settlement for both good and ill. I’d long wanted to write about it with the immediacy it would have had to people at the time – and finding Isaac Manley mentioned briefly in Beaglehole’s Life of Cook gave me a way into it. He was a servant boy on the ship making his first voyage. Everything was new to him. He rose to become an Admiral and lived to the ripe age of 82, long enough to see some of the consequences of that voyage bear fruit with settlements in faraway places that he was among the first Europeans to see as a boy.

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I learnt the basics of the Endeavourvoyage of 1770 at school – and this book delved into it a bit more and gave it some more depth and character, making it much more interesting. Is it your hope that it will do this for other Australians and history students?

Yes, this is exactly my hope. The great thing about historical fiction is that it allows you to concentrate on a single individual; and by seeing historical events unfold through their eyes, with all the fears, joys, hopes and emotions that involves, the reader may feel much more engaged and empathetic with the characters, and the story itself become far more memorable. The Endeavour voyage is such a great adventure … death in Tierra del Fuego, the seeming paradise of Tahiti, the warlike Maori, Botany Bay and near destruction on the Barrier Reef, the horrors of Batavia where a third of the crew died of fever. We Australians know only little bits of the tale. We deserve to know it all, for it’s one of our key foundation stories.

It was an account that I could have used in high school, to help piece some of the facts together rather than just being told what they are – is this something that good historical fiction should do for readers?

This is certainly the aim of good historical novels, and they can be far more entertaining for the general reader. Of course, we must always remember that the inner lives of the characters we write about are fictional and can only come from the author. We don’t know what they really felt and thought unless, like Cook or Banks, they kept full journals. For myself, I have always tried to make the external facts of my books as accurate as I can by reading, researching and travelling widely. I never alter a known historical fact to suit my story: the story must change to suit the facts. Where I have to make an assumption when the historical record is silent, I mention it in the quite full Chapter Notes. Yet I would hate to think that historical fiction would ever supplant traditional history which is grounded entirely on verifiable fact. Academic historians provide the real bones which writers like me clothe with fictional flesh.

 

In reading books like this and seeing history through the eyes of ordinary people who were also there, not just the ones whose names made it into history books, I feel it gives a well-rounded view of the history of a country. Is this something you hope to achieve when writing?

Yes, indeed. As I mentioned above, historical fiction writers attempt to humanise the past – to bring the characters in the academic histories to life using all the techniques available to a novelist. We have the advantage – denied to a traditional historian – of imagining the thoughts and emotions of our characters, together with the godlike gift of perfect hindsight and foresight which mere mortals never have as we live day to day through historical movements over which we have scant control. But of course, it is all fiction: my version of the Endeavour story may be quite different to the next one.

You dealt with Isaac’s interactions with indigenous people in a way that felt respectful – did these fictionalised interactions arise from imagination, from personal accounts of Captain Cook, or a combination of both?

I felt it important from the beginning to give a balanced account of the meetings between the Endeavourcrew and the indigenous peoples they encountered. It means including, as they say, a view “from the other side of the beach”. Cook’s instructions were to treat the native people with kindness – although it didn’t always work out like that. His first meetings with the Maori resulted in five or six native deaths, something he sought strenuously to avoid when he reached the east coast of New Holland and met his first Aborigines. I drew closely on the accounts of both Cook and Banks in their journals for my description of these events, and also had valuable insights from several Maori people, a Gweagal man from Botany Bay (Gamay) and Guugu Yimithirr people from the Cooktown area, who gave their perspective on these interactions and the misunderstandings that arise when any two quite different cultures meet.

When you were writing about the interactions of Cook, Isaac and the rest of the crew from the Endeavour, how conscious were you of how to portray these interactions to be fair and equal to both sides?

It was a very important consideration. For example, there was a clash over taking turtles between the Endeavour men and the Aborigines of what is now Cooktown, where the ship was repaired after striking the reef. From Cook’s point of view the sea turtles were there for the taking. From the Aboriginal perspective, the turtles belonged to them, and while they were happy for Cook to have some he should share them with the local people. The people I met impressed me strongly with the importance of the “sharing code” to this day: the culture demands you share food even with an enemy, for it might be you who’s in need tomorrow. I tried to reflect this in my account of the incident.

When you came to these sections, how important was it that you incorporate Indigenous and immigrant/coloniser narratives and stories, and what impact do you think this would have had on our history if this practise had happened from the start, as opposed to our current and historical approach?

As mentioned, it was important to try to incorporate both perspectives on these events … and to be fair, Cook and Banks and other members of the crew did try to understand something of the different cultures they encountered. They recorded many indigenous words for the first time – “kangaroo” entered the language from the Guugu Yimithirr, “tattoo” and ‘Taboo” from Tahiti. They recorded at great length different customs, beliefs and religious practices, especially in Tahiti. Banks and his scientists collected artefacts, weapons, items of clothing and veneration, and laid the foundations for what became the discipline of anthropology. To be sure these insights were often flawed (like their view of the turtles), but the intention was there. It would have been good if these high principles of the Enlightenment were adopted by everyone during the period after 1788; but under the imperatives of convictism, land, wealth, expansion, resistance and the use of force, they were too often forgotten, and we are still living with the sad consequences of that. But the British also brought their notions of political and economic liberalism and the rule of law, and the country became a free, self-governing democracy much sooner than might have been the case had some other nation become the colonisers.

How many years did it take you to first, research the book, and second, to write it?

I took about four years of fairly solid work from the time I began the first serious research to publication. I spent about 18 months gathering the material. It included four hours with Cook’s EndeavourJournal at the National Library of Australia in Canberra where I live, a 10-day sail on the Endeavourreplica from Melbourne to Sydney, which I loved and want to do again before I’m too old, and a six-week research journey to Sydney, North Queensland, New Zealand, Tahiti and the UK. The actual writing took about a year, with detailed research continuing throughout, six months for redrafting, and the last year with the editorial and production process.

What difficulties did you experience during the researching process in terms of available sources, especially any that might have been by or about Isaac?

The real difficulty was finding anything of substance about Isaac and his views of the great adventure. He lived to be 82, he was the last survivor, you’d think he’d have written something down for his posterity. But I could find nothing, and I was in contact with his direct descendants who provided information about the family but not Endeavour.  Still, I did stay for three nights in the lovely house he built for his wife and family in Oxfordshire, and you can tell a lot about people — their taste and worldview — when you live for a little in the rooms they made for themselves.

How often was he referenced or spoken about in sources about the voyage and Captain Cook?

Isaac is not mentioned at all in Cook’s Journal, although he appears on the muster roll and in the pay books. Cook referred to him explicitly in a letter to the Admiralty when they returned in 1771 as one “whose behaviour merits the best recommendation.” His death was reported in the Gentleman’s Magazinein 1837, which states he was the last survivor of the Endeavourcrew. He is mentioned in Beaglehole’s definitive Life of Cook and in the annals if the Captain Cook Society, but until recently nothing of substance has been done on Isaac Manley.  Now I have published Captain Cook’s Apprentice,and Isaac features in a book by Jackie French – The Goat that Sailed the World.

When writing your historical fiction, what do you find is most important – the facts and figures that inform your plot and research, or extracting the story and creating characters around these facts?

As I mentioned earlier, I regard the known facts as sacred. I never sacrifice them to the story: it is always the other way around for me, although I know other authors may take a greater licence with them. Perhaps it’s my background as a journalist. For me, however, when reading any novel that contains what I know to be a factual error, the whole artificial fictional edifice begins to weaken, and if it happens too frequently the structure will collapse and fall to the ground. 

Captain Cook, as you mentioned in your author’s note, has been immortalised as great and humane navigator. Do you think this idea came through testimonies from the time, or interpretation of the sources by modern historians?

Cook’s greatness as a navigator was well recognised by his contemporaries. The Admiralty was so struck by the accuracy of his charts, his care for the health of his crews, that when Endeavourreturned they immediately set about preparing for a second voyage to the Antarctic to determine whether a great southern continent really did exist. It did: but so far south as to be uninhabitable by humans. And on his return, when Cook should really have rested, he was persuaded to undertake a third voyage to find the north-west passage over the top of America. It seemed too much. His judgement became increasingly severe and questionable, and ultimately, he was killed in an altercation with indigenous people in Hawaii. On his death, however, Cook became immortalised in popular culture no less than in the world of science and seamanship. Even today, you can place a satellite image over a chart of the eastern Australian coast mapped by Cook with his sextant and rule from the deck of a sailing ship, and the accuracy is remarkable.

Finally, what would you like to see future historians and authors of historical fiction exploring when they look into Australian history?

There are endless possibilities – and not just with new themes but finding new perspectives on an old story, as I did with Isaac and the Endeavour voyage. Tales from other voyages, the inland explorers, pioneering days, the great wars of the 20th century and more recent times can always be told afresh for a new audience. One significant theme of recent times has been relations between European and Aboriginal Australians. I’ve touched on it in several of my books, including Captain Cook’s Apprentice and especially The Burnt Stick. Relations between older Australians and the new wave of migrants and refugees is another important theme for contemporary writers. But really, I think it all depends on the story and the metaphors it contains. The tale is everything for an historical novelist: meaning comes afterwards. Do it the other way around – have a point of view and then try to find a story to fit it – and you’ll usually end up writing a polemic.

Thank you for joining me on my blog today, Anthony, and thank you also for writing such informative and interesting books.

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