Isolation Publicity with Kirsty Manning

 

the lost jewelsDue to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

The second interview in this series is with Kirsty Manning, author of The Midsummer Garden, The Jade Lily and The Lost Jewels. Kirsty, like many authors who have book releases over the next few months, and festival appearances, Kirsty has had these cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the current pandemic. In an attempt to help, I am interviewing those who have taken me up on the offer, and I’ll be throwing in a couple of bookish podcasts as well along the way. So, here is Kirsty’s interview.

Hi Kirsty and welcome to The Book Muse

1. When you set out to write The Lost Jewels, how did you find out about the Cheapside Jewels that form the backbone of the novel and its mystery?

A little over three years ago I was in the final stages of researching and writing my last novel set in Shanghai in World War Two—The Jade Lily—when I stumbled across an extraordinary newspaper article that completely knocked me off track.

It was a review of an exhibition of 500 priceless pieces of Elizabethan and Tudor jewelry–The Cheapside Hoard–that was on display at the time at the Museum of London, and I paused to read it. Who doesn’t love a diamond?

Naturally, I put aside the manuscript I was supposed to be writing and started to research everything I could on this shiny new topic. I found out what I could.

As my imagination took flight … the same questions haunted me: how could someone neglect to retrieve 500 precious pieces of jewellery and gemstones? Why was such a collection buried in a cellar? Who did all these jewels belong to? Why did nobody claim this treasure in the subsequent years? Who were the workmen who actually discovered the jewels in an old London cellar at Cheapside in 1912?

No-one knows the answers to these questions.

2. I really enjoyed this novel – you seem to capture the essence of both time periods you focused on. What do you like about writing a dual timeline story, and do you think it creates a more intriguing plot?

I love diving into different worlds, and it keeps it interesting when you are writing … if I get stuck on one plotline, I can jump across to the other!

I think a dual narrative can create intrigue if cleverly crafted, because the reader often knows the outcome for historical sections, and that expectation creates an added layer of drama in the text.

3. How much research did you do for this novel, and what was the most interesting thing you had to research?

I spent about a year researching this book before I started on the manuscript proper, noodling about with characters, timeframes and places.

I write about three eras of London, the 1600’s, 1912 and present day. For the 1600’s I read plenty of contemporary texts, like Shakespeare (who was writing at this time) and the diary of Samuel Pepys—the philandering public servant who kept a diary of his life in London at the time, including the Great Fire. He was the guy who buried wine and a block of parmesan cheese in his London garden—resolving to return to for it after the fire had passed. That’s my kind of correspondent!

Before I set off to London, I visited the breathtaking Cartier exhibition in Canberra. I was guided by a jeweller, who not only talked me through the design and setting, but what it took to facet an emerald—stones so fragile they splinter—and the flaws in a sapphire that make them so special. The best part, perhaps, was a replica of a goldsmith’s room, complete with the leather that folds across the lap, anvil and polishing stones. It wasn’t hard to imagine talented artisans sitting at tables just like these in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Milan, Paris and London hundreds of years ago, just like they do today. Later, I’d go on to visit jewellers in Melbourne and London, who’d show me to their tiny workspaces before pulling out diamonds, sapphires and gold bands from secret leather pouches and spreading them across the desktop to catch the light.

London is perfect for steeping yourself in history. I visited with my teenage son, Henry, and together we took tours with historians tracing the path of the Great Fire, visited the buildings, churches and monuments designed by Wren—who clearly loved a dome. We walked the streets of the East End learning about all the suffragettes were doing in 1912, and took a turn about the Burough Market and Dickensian London.

We spent the best part of a day at the Museum of London learning about fires, plague and revolutions, as well as suffragettes and life in Edwardian London. The Museum of London is also home to the Cheapside Hoard (although it is currently in storage) so I saw some replica jewels and stocked up on reference books.

I struck it lucky at the British Museum, where a sympathetic curator opened up a room containing some of the buttons and jewels allegedly from the Cheapside Hoard and it blew me away. To be in that room in London, looking at pieces with rubies and sapphires from Sri Lanka, diamonds from India, and emeralds from Colombia all set in exquisite gold rings and buttons, crafted in London when it was the centre of the exploding trading world. The Victoria and Albert Museum also has a fine selection of jewels, and the Natural History Museum is great for seeing real gemstones up close in the rough.

4. I had never heard of jewellery historians before this book – what do you think the best thing about being a jewellery historian would be?

Unravelling the true stories and mysteries behind a hand-crafted piece. The story of a jewel tells a bigger story of trade and globalisation, design trends, economics and politics. I try to show how many hands pass over a jewel—from origin to purchase in The Lost Jewels. A jewel changes someone’s life every time they come into contact with it, then either pass it on to a loved one and sell it on. There are stories with each handover.

5. I found moving between the key moments in the history of the jewels to be effective – was this a conscious decision or did it evolve while you wrote the novel?
A bit of both! I wanted to give the reader a sense of the hands that pass over a jewel, from origin. And I had an idea of the history, but it is all speculative … so I wove that in with my own narrative.

6. I love the way you centre women in your stories – do you feel that by doing this, you are contributing to a previously ignored historical record?
Yes indeed. The Lost Jewels is my imagined tale woven between the facts. I love bringing to life forgotten pockets of history—in particular, women’s voices that have long been overlooked or dismissed. For me, a novel begins between the gaps of history. I build my world on the bits we don’t know.

London was in turmoil in 1912—on the brink of war—with women marching in the street demanding the vote. Both these eras seemed ripe for fictionalising, placing strong, interesting women at the forefront of each story.

As for Kate, my main contemporary character—I’m in awe of the research of historians, curators and conservators around the world. They tenderly dive into our past to give us stories for our future. To teach us lessons, to give comfort and warning where needed. This is my love letter to their important work in libraries, museums and galleries around the world.

7. Do you have a favourite bookseller? Why this one in particular?
The Avenue Bookshop in Albert Park – because I can walk there! I also love New Leaves, in my former home-town of Woodend because a country bookshop keeps a country town engaged and inspired.

8. What is your favourite thing about the literary and writing community in Australia?
The camaraderie. Australia is awash with literary talent and in Melbourne I’ve made connections with writers who will be friends for life.

9. Books are always important. But in times of crisis, they can be a great comfort to people. For you, which book brings you comfort no matter how many times you read it?

To Kill a Mockingbird … always

10. You’re involved in the arts community in Australia – how do you think the arts will help people through the next few months?

If history teaches us anything, it is the power of the human spirit to be optimistic and rebuild after tragedy. Now is the time to contemplate what is really precious. It is the perfect time to celebrate art and beauty—also a time to read and reach for topics that bring a little hope and sparkly magic to our lives.

11. Favourite writing or reading companion – cat, dog or both?

My new puppy, Winter.

12. How long do you like to spend researching a book before you write those first words that begin the story?

About a year. But the research never stops until the story is done.

13. What are you going to be reading during this isolation period, and do you have any recommendations?

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins.

14. Finally, what is your next project going to be about?

A mystery set between the French Riviera and Germany …

March 2020 Round Up

March was a strange month – it started out as normal as could be, though we knew about the coronavirus, and then a few weeks into March, everything changed, and by the end of it, they had changed again with strict social distancing rules. Despite this, I got a lot of reading done. My stats are:

20 books read overall
11 read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge
8 for the Nerd Daily Challenge
1 for the Dymocks Reading Challenge
1 for the STFU Reading Challenge
1 for Book Bingo
1 for Books and Bites Bingo

Overall stats so far:

The Modern Mrs Darcy 9/12
AWW2020 -26/25
Book Bingo – 10/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 40/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 12/25
STFU Reading Society 5/12
Books and Bites Bingo 11/25
General Goal – 51/165

Most of these books have been reviewed on my blog.

 

March – 20

Book Author Challenge
Esme’s Gift Elizabeth Foster AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Girl Detective R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Last Firehawk: The Cloud Kingdom

 

Katrina Charman The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily 3.5)

 

Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow Natasha Pulley The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Paris Secret Natasha Lester The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, AWW2020
Museum Kittens: The Midnight Visitor Holly Webb The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Firewatcher Chronicles: Phoenix Kelly Gardiner Reading Challenge, AWW2020, STFU Reading Challenge
The Lost Jewels Kirsty Manning The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Girl She Was Rebecca Freeborn Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Bingo
Ninjago: Back in Action Tracey West Reading Challenge,
Layla and the Bots: Happy Paws Vicky Fang Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daring Delly: Going for Gold

 

Matthew Dellavedova and Zanni Louise Reading Challenge,
Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach 

 

Rebecca Johnson and Lucia Masciullo Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback 

 

Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair  Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Besties Make A Splash Felice Arena and Tom Jellett Reading Challenge
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them JK Rowling/Newt Scamander Reading Challenge
Liberation 

 

Imogen Kealey The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Year the Maps Changed

 

 Danielle Binks Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

Onto April and hopefully lots of reading during these trying times.

Puppy Diary: The Great Toy Rescue by Yvette Poshoglian and Phil Judd

great toy rescueTitle: Puppy Diary: The Great Toy Rescue
Author: Yvette Poshoglian and Phil Judd
Genre: Junior Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 1st July 2019
Format: Paperback
Pages: 96
Price: $9.99
Synopsis: Hi! I’m Archie! I’m a Schnoodle puppy and I love writing all about my PAWESOME adventures in my diary!

Read all about my puppy pals at doggie daycare and all the adventures we go on together! Archie is going to his first day of doggie daycare. He meets a whole gang of new friends and loves playing in the garden. But Archie’s most favourite toy, Foxy, goes missing! In fact, all his friends’ toys have gone missing too! Can Archie help his puppy friends find the missing toys?

~*~

I’ve had this book on my shelf to read for a few months now, ever since meeting the author, Yvette Poshoglian at my local independent bookstore, BookFace Erina, where she signed my book for me. Archie is a schnoodle puppy, off to his first day at doggy daycare. Here, he meets new friends, and has to uncover the mystery of where everyone’s favourite toys have been going, all whilst avoiding the cat next door, Geoffrey.

Archie and his friends embark on a plan to get the toys back – but will they succeed?

AWW2020This is one of the most adorable books ever, and I have the next two ready to go as well. This is perfect for readers who are growing in confidence and can be read alone or with someone. It is also the perfect read if anyone of any age wants a quick and fun read. I read this in between lots of books that I have for review over the next few weeks here on the blog and will be doing the same with books two and three, and eventually, four, when it comes out. it’s a simple story, and simply told, yet the engagement is there and the illustrations by Phil Rudd contribute something amazing to the story that the words cannot always communicate. Illustrations can be just as important to the narrative as the words are, and fill in the gaps where the words are not present. Phil and Yvette have done a marvellous job bringing Archie and his friends to life in this series.

I loved this book, and it was a delightful introduction to a new series. It is filled with fun, laughter, and of course dogs. And who doesn’t like puppies? Puppies are always welcome in books, and I am keen to see what adventures Archie has next.

A great book for early readers or readers of any age.

The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

the lost jewelsTitle: The Lost Jewels

Author: Kirsty Manning

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: From the bestselling author of The Jade Lily comes a thrilling modern-day treasure hunt brimming with family secrets.

Inspired by a true story, The Lost Jewels unfolds an incredible mystery of thievery, sacrifice and hope through the generations of one family.

In the summer of 1912, a workman’s pickaxe strikes through the floor of an old tenement house in Cheapside, London, uncovering a cache of unimaginably valuable treasure that quickly disappears again.

Present day. When respected jewellery historian, Kate Kirby, receives a call about the Cheapside jewels, she knows she’s on the brink of the experience of a lifetime.

As Kate peels back layers of concealment and deception, she is forced to explore long-buried secrets concerning Essie, her great-grandmother, and her life in Edwardian London. Soon, Kate’s past and present threaten to collide and the truths about her family lie waiting to be revealed.

~*~

Kate Kirby is busy with her work as a jewellery historian when she receives a call from London about the Cheapside Jewels, a treasure trove of jewels discovered in 1912, that disappears from the worksite it is found at. What follows is a story that moves back and forth between 1912, the present day, and London in 1666, just after the plague and during the Great Fire, and India, where the jewels have moved from hand to hand and been lost to history.

Kate’s great-grandmother, Essie, appears to know something, but has never spoken of her life in Edwardian London, and soon Kate finds that the present and the past are about to collide as she investigates where the jewels are and where they came from, and what happened to them whilst wondering if there is a connection to her family.

Essie’s story, and that of her younger sister, Gertrude, runs parallel to Kate’s story, and slowly, the hints at what has happened come out as the story evolves, and the mystery of the jewels is revealed.

AWW2020I have read a few books lately that move between the past and present – each in very different ways, yet each work very well to tell these stories.  In this one, each story is told in third person, and each year and chapter is clear titled, so we know who is speaking at the time to the reader. This makes it easy to follow, and more intriguing – as just as the story gets somewhere in one era, there is a cliffhanger as it shifts to another so that the pieces can be put together.

It also explores the complexities of families and the secrets that impact the lives they lead. It shows how one generation impacts those that come later, and at the same time, explores friendship and love, and new beginnings. Again, this is a book where the love story bubbles beneath the surface, and where the mystery of the jewels is drives the story more.

The Cheapside Jewels, or the Cheapside Hoard and its discovery in 1912 really did happen – I looked it up and found a fascinating series of sources – too many to list here, some were videos, and this gives a great gravitas and grounding in history to the novel, and it was something I had never heard of before. Kirsty Manning captures history and her characters, with clear voices and personalities throughout. I found Essie to be a very interesting character – and quite possibly my favourite, although I do like the idea of Kate’s job – it sounded so interesting!

I recommend this book to people who enjoy historical fiction and who have read Kirsty’s previous books. It is a great book, filled with mystery, intrigue and drama, and I hope people enjoy it.

 

Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback by Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

meet eveTitle: Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback

Author: Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 64

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state in Australia.

8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Eve from Western Australia.

Hi! I’m Eve.
I live at a roadhouse in the Nullarbor. We don’t get many visitors. But today my cousin Will is coming. We’ll have so much fun!

~*~

The Aussie Kids series is a new and continuing series for this year, where each state and territory will be represented in a story about where they live. In Meet Eve in the Outback, readers take a journey to the Nullarbor in Western Australia, where they will meet Eve and her cousin Will for a day in the vast outback that covers much of our continent. Eve is excited to show Will and Nan around her outback home – to see the kangaroos, and the wildlife that calls the vast expanse home, to introduce them to the people she knows and to share her world with him.

Taking place over a single day, this story shows one of the ways  life is different for children, and compares it with cousin Will – who lives where dolphins play in the river.

Along the journey, Eve, Dad and Doug show Will how their farm works, what they do every day and tell him stories about their land and what is around it.

AWW2020

Each of these stories can be read alone, as each is its own contained story and is aimed at early readers aged five to eight years old, with simple, two-colour illustrations, short sentences and simple vocabulary that will make this series the ideal place to start growing confident readers, whilst teaching them language, and help them learn about Australia and diversity so they can go further and explore these themes in more challenging books as the years go on.

With thanks to Pengiun for sending me this and another in the series to review.

The Girl She Was by Rebecca Freeborn

TGSW_3DTitle: The Girl She Was

Author: Rebecca Freeborn

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published:  31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 392

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘She’d long ago stopped wondering whether anyone would find out what she’d done. It was in the past, and Layla didn’t dwell on the past.’

At the cafe in the small town of Glasswater Bay where she works after school, seventeen-year-old Layla enters into a volatile relationship with her married boss.

Twenty years later, she receives a message from her former boss’s wife.

As Layla relives the events from her youth that have shaped her present, her past starts to infiltrate her life in a way she can no longer ignore.

She’s run from her town, her friends and the memory of what she’s done. Now she must face them all.

~*~

At thirty-seven, Layla feels she finally has her life under control. She’s married, has kids and a good job – she has come a long way from her final year in Glasswater Bay and the affair with her boss at the café – and the events that led to her family fleeing the town shortly after she graduated high school. She has spent the past twenty years running from that, until a message from someone in Glasswater Bay appears – I know what you did­ – and Layla’s memories begin to resurface.

AWW2020

As she grapples with what happened, and with facing the people she left behind, Layla finds who she can really trust, and starts to face not only what she did but also what happened to her, and how she and everyone around her, everyone who was affected by it, feels.

In another novel – my third this month at least – that pings back and forth between present and past, this one uses a different tactic to tell Layla’s story. Each chapter is clearly labelled then and now – to delineate where we are in Layla’s story, and the ‘then’ chapters are told in first person, in Layla’s perspective of what happens, and the ‘now’ chapters in third person, but also through Layla’s eyes. Because it is told in this way, the reader gains a good understanding of who Layla is, who she was and why, how and what led her to each of these stages. It deals with some pretty heavy stuff, which comes out much later in the novel, and is a topic that might upset some readers, so just a heads up if you are sensitive or can find it difficult to digest stories centered around possible abuse and power imbalances. The novel also celebrates female empowerment and friendship, new and old, that form as a result of something – or someone – pulling people together over unexpected experiences and circumstances.

This is a powerful book that hints at issues surrounding the #MeToo movement as referenced in the author’s note at the end and assures the reader that speaking out can help – and trusting in the people who love you can help. It also deals with the issue of not being sure what to do, and what happens when people question themselves. Layla shows that it is okay to be scared and reluctant, and also shows what it can feel like when finally admitting what has happened, and how doing this can start healing wounds and repairing relationships.

 

Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach by Rebecca Johnson and Lucia Masciullo

Meet KatieTitle: Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach
Author: Rebecca Johnson and Lucia Masciullo
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 31st March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 64
Price: $12.99
Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state in Australia.

8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Katie from Queensland.
Hi! I’m Katie.
I have a wobbly tooth that won’t come out! But it’s not going to spoil my trip to the beach. We’re going to eat mangoes and play beach cricket!
~*~

AWW2020

 

Katie is about to leave for the beach – but her wobbly tooth keeps bothering her, and Dad wants to pull it out for her, poor Katie is very upset at him for this. So they head to the busy Queensland beach near the flat she lives in with her parents and siblings, where she’ll play in the sand, build sandcastles, play cricket and swim.

While she does this, Katie forgets all about her loose tooth, until she discovers it has fallen out during lunch. The family launch a desperate search for it before they head home – but where has it gone, and will Katie ever find her tooth?

Another great story in the Aussie Kids series, exhibiting the diversity in place and people across our vast nation. Of course, these books only touch on a fraction of this diversity, and there is much else to discover and read in other books and series beyond these books. Yet they are a good introduction, and a good way to encourage reluctant or early readers to take that first step into independent reading.

These books certainly give children exposure to words, vocabulary, and diversity, as well as story construct in a simple and easy way. They can be read alone, or with someone, as a learning tool or for fun, and hopefully both together. A great example of just some of the diversity in this vast country, and a good start in exposing kids to this and allowing them to grow their literacy skills.