Book Bingo Fourteen – Non-Fiction Book About an Event

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Welcome back to Book Bingo for July! For this fortnight with Theresa and Amanda, I am ticking off the non-fiction book about an event with The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretheton, accompanied by an interview.  

A book with a red cover is covered in Book Bingo Eighteen, I updated this card after checking that square off.

 

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In 1904, Alicks Sly killed his wife, Ellie, and then killed himself, leaving four children orphaned, and at the hands of the state. Whilst their daughter was adopted, the three sons were sent to orphanages, and the experiences they had would affect them for the rest of their lives.

Here, she takes an ethical and sociological look into a crime that changed a family forever, and that, according to the interview I am including here, happened fairly often and possibly with similar disastrous and life altering results. In times when people could not get the help they needed, it seems this may have been the only solution for some, and in this case, a crime that I felt still had questions that may never be answered left at the end.

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Row Two:

A book by an author with the same initials as you:

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Fictional biography about a woman from history:

Memoir about a non-famous person: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Book written by an Australian woman more than 10 years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)*

Row Two:

Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Themes of culture:

Book set in the Australian outback:

Written by an Australian woman: Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

Interview Tanya Bretherton The Suicide Bride

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  1. Welcome to The Book Muse Tanya, it’s a pleasure to have you here.

Thank you very much for having me.

  1. You’ve written two true crime books about Australian crime – what drew you to this genre, and these cases?

As a reader, I am a big fan of crime stories, particularly those that seek to explore the darker side of human nature.  As a writer I am attracted to the true crime genre because it provides a very dramatic backdrop to tell deeply personal stories.  Loss, tragedy, heartbreak and desperation are all there – both before the crime is committed and they are present in its aftermath as well.  Both The Suitcase Baby and The Suicide Bride begin with true crime events, but they unfold as personal stories.  Crime stories, in some way or other, are always stories about families and secrets.

  1. Can you give a brief explanation of the term suicide bride for my followers who may not have read the book yet?

I began the journey of writing the book by examining at one horrible true crime event in particular. In January 1904 in the inner-city suburb of Newtown in Sydney, two young brothers discovered the bodies of their parents in the family home.  Thirty-two-year-old Alexander Sly murdered his wife Ellie, with a cut throat razor, and then killed himself.  Their four children, all under the age of eight (Bedford, Basil, Mervyn and baby Olive) were orphaned.

As I began to explore the social and economic context in which the crime was committed, I discovered to my horror that this was not the only case like this.  In the late nineteenth century there were many cases of husbands who planned their own suicide and factored the murder of their wife as part of that act (hence the term ‘suicide bride’).  In the year of 1904 alone, there were murder-suicides attempted and committed by husbands in every single month in every state of Australia. The cases all shared some remarkable and macabre similarities with the Sly murder-suicide case.

  1. What was it about the Sly case in particular that you found interesting, and why?

It is hard to imagine a family story more tragic than that of Alexander and Ellie Sly.  I had to know what happened to the children.  As a researcher, I have studied child protection and from what I knew about trauma and its long-term impacts, I knew the outcomes for the children in this case were not likely to be good.  I wanted to know how a child’s life might unfold in the wake of something so tragic and at a period in history which had a reputation for being very tough on children.

During the research process I also discovered something unique about the Sly family.  I don’t what to give too much away, but there is a twist in the book which I think readers will find as fascinating as I did.

  1. Was it hard trying to determine what really happened with limited resources and evidence for the Sly case, and in turn, the fate of the children, and where did these challenges arise from?

I undertake a lot of research before I even start to write a true crime book, because I want to see if there is enough material to sustain both a big picture account of the event, and a personal story as well.  I was well down the research road before I decided that there was enough viable material to write The Suicide Bride.  With this book I had the unusual situation of having too much material, so I had to make decisions about which stories I was going to focus on, which characters were going to play the leads, and who would play the minor roles.  In the end, those choices came down to decisions of the heart not the head.

  1. When writing true crime, what are the most important, or most informative sources for you, and why?

I tend to write social history and life history narratives disguised as true crime stories.  For this reason trial transcripts, inquest documents and those resources that might traditionally form the foundation for a true crime account play a lesser role in my research process.  I do a lot of genealogical research for my books, as I think there are powerful discoveries to be made in uncovering how deeply a crime event impacts loved ones and how long it reverberates down through a family.

  1. Do you find looking at these crimes from a sociological perspective rather than a criminology or criminal investigative perspective gives a different insight into the crime? What do you think the differences are?

There is no doubt that sociology deeply influences both how I analyse true crime events and how I write about them.  In sociology, a lot of emphasis is placed on understanding the roles we play in collective settings, social norms, and the labels that we use to categorise people.  I think this is important because it gives us a deeper understanding of the really complex context that underpins crime. In exploring murder, for example, law and order perspectives consider the question of motive: why would person A kill person B?  I think sociology can help fill the bigger canvas of ‘why?’ by asking what is the social, the economic and the familial context for ‘why’.

  1. What sparked your initial interest in true crime stories in particular, and do you plan to look into further cases that we might not know much about, or that might not have been solved?

I think my interest in the true crime genre goes way back to childhood.  We didn’t have many books in our house when I was growing up, but my Dad was an avid reader of murder mysteries.  So almost every book in our house had a dead body in it – that probably had an impact on an early reader!  To this day I write stories that have a twist in some way or other, and if I don’t find that twist, I will abandon a subject as a possible book and move on to another case.

Yes, I definitely have a number of books planned!  I always like to select cases that have not had a lot of exposure to date.  I am developing two more Sydney-based true crime books at the moment.  Both of these books will also deal with issues of women and crime.

  1. Do you think we will ever find out why Alicks Sly committed the murder-suicide and left four children orphans?

The murder suicide of Alicks Sly and his wife made national news.  It was a big story at the time.  Alicks Sly was a local spiritualist and medium who believed he could communicate with the dead.  He saw visions and heard voices.  The family were also profoundly poor as well.  All of this absolutely fascinated the public at the time, and retrospectively we continue to reflect on the different ways in which this crime can be viewed.  Was Alicks mentally ill?  Was there a pattern of violence in the home prior to the final tragic incident?  I think the same questions that investigators were asking about the Sly case in 1904, we are still asking about murder-suicides that occur today.  We might draw a clinical set of conclusions as to why this kind of crime occurs, but this analysis will always fall short in the face of something so tragic and heartbreaking.

  1. How often do you find living descendants of the families involved to talk to about the cases, and what are the ethical issues you navigate when you encounter them?

To date, I have chosen historical true crime stories that are very old.  This means there aren’t any relatives (still living) who were directly impacted by the tragedies.

  1. Are there any legal issues or obstacles you face when looking into these old crimes, and like the previous question about ethics, how does it affect the outcome of your book?

I purposefully select cases that I know won’t present me with the kinds of ethical dilemmas that will disrupt the writing process.  I want to be able to write unencumbered by those responsibilities.

Any ethical questions I face during the writing process tend to be more abstract and relate to writing in the spaces of grey that exist between rigid depictions of good and evil. Can a person be a villain and a victim at the same time?  Can a criminal act ever be a noble choice?  I hope that I offer up enough evidence to the reader, that they get to decide.  I want them to make the moral call on the crime, the criminal who committed it and how they feel society should have handled what happened.

  1. Finally, what do you hope writing about these crimes does to help society and possibly those who have links to those involved, and can this have a positive impact on crime solving?

I think true crime stories are often written as psychological portraits, and this plays an important role in helping us to understand the pathology that can underpin some criminal behaviour.  But there is also a wider social and economic context for crime.  Putting moral questions about crime and criminals aside for a moment, people who commit crimes may be labelled criminals, but they are also people looking for solutions.  We may not agree with their approach to problem solving, we may even abhor it, but understanding what drives people to commit crime remains important and conflicted terrain for us all to reflect on.  In both The Suitcase Baby and The Suicide Bride, a criminal act resulted from absolute desperation.  The people in those stories were looking for solutions.  They made unthinkable choices, terrible choices.  In the end what they found was not a solution at all.  Their choices also created even more heartbreak for the people they cared most about.  I can’t claim that my books have any impact on the field of criminology, nor the methodologies we use to catch criminals, but it is fascinating terrain to work with in terms of character and story.

Thank you for joining me on The Book Muse, Tanya and good luck with your future projects.

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

AWW-2018-badge-rose

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.