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

the botanists daughter

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

Advertisements

Blog Tour #1: Review of The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

the botanists daughter.jpgTitle: The Botanist’s Daughter

Author: Kayte Nunn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 388

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

‘I loved The Botanist’s Daughter. I was transported to the 1880s and Chile, to contemporary Sydney and Kew. A gripping, warm-hearted read’
JOY RHOADES, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion

‘The riveting story of two women, divided by a century in time, but united by their quest to discover a rare and dangerous flower said to have the power to heal as well as kill. Fast-moving and full of surprises, The Botanist’s Daughter brings the exotic world of 19th-century Chile thrillingly to life’ KATE FORSYTH

~*~

This review and upcoming Q and A with the author are part of a blog tour with Hachette during August.

AWW-2018-badge-roseElizabeth Trebithick lives in Victorian England, in an old house, alone after the death of her father and sister’s marriage. Headstrong and determined to make her own way in the world and not be confined to the female universe that society, her sister and brother in law seem bent on setting out for her, Elizabeth sets out on a quest presented to her by her father before his death – to Chile to find a rare plant with miraculous qualities, that might have the answers and cures to many ailments, but getting it from Chile to England will be the challenge. But so will life aboard a ship for many months, and then life in South America: falling in love, making enemies and the consequences that come with hiding secrets and secret missions.

In Australia in 2017, Anna’s discovery of a tightly sealed box containing a diary, sketches and watercolours, as well as a hidden secret that draws Anna into the mystery of the diary of Elizabeth, known at first as ‘E’ – it ruptures her ordered life of work, and routine, and beings to force her to face her own demons, the memories of her past still haunting her as she tries to let go and move on with her life – which is why she has created such a well-ordered schedule, so life doesn’t overwhelm her. When the box she finds triggers a mystery that potentially involves her family, Anna leaves to go to England to trace the story of Elizabeth and the flower she was searching for – the Devil’s Trumpet. Keen to find out more about Elizabeth, and the diary, Anna’s trip takes her to London, Kew and Cornwall – to meet a descendant of Elizabeth’s father whom she hopes will be able to help her solve the mystery of the diary and paintings. With the help of her sister, Vanessa and friends who also work with plants, Anna’s interest is caught: and it is a mystery that had me turning each page diligently and eagerly as she met botanists in England at Kew, and found a kinship with them, and a shared interest in botany that Anna will soon learn hits much closer to home than she, her mother or her sister ever realised.

Elizabeth and Anna are strong, wilful characters whose driven presence gives the book its strength. It is through these characters that the world of botany comes to life, the smells and sounds of both centuries and cities, and the scent of flowers wafts around as you read – even the unfamiliar plants and scents filter through, and come to life in the imagination. The characters in both timelines were so full of life and complexities, both linked by a love of botany, which shines through, as does their determination not to let families, times or other people define what they do and who they are – they are allowed to be themselves and – particularly Elizabeth – work within the confines of what is expected of them whilst maintaining a sense of self and individuality that springs in a lively form from the page.

With a few twists and turns, the mystery of the diary, sketches and forgotten stories and family are solved, and brought together in a riveting ending that has whispers of the past potentially coming through on the very last page.

A well written novel, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. My Q and A with Kayte will appear on the blog on the 12th of August as part of the blog tour with Hachettte.

Booktopia

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

after the lights go out.jpgTitle: After the Lights Go Out

Author: Lili Wilkinson

Genre: Young Adult,

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th July, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: What happens when the lights go off after what might truly be an end-of-the-world event? How do you stay alive? Who do you trust? How much do you have to sacrifice?

‘After the Lights Go Out is a terrifying yet hope-filled story of disaster, deceit, love, sacrifice and survival.’ – Fleur Ferris

Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters, Grace and Blythe, and their father, Rick, on the outskirts of an isolated mining community. The Palmers are doomsday preppers. They have a bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year’s worth of water.

One day while Rick is at the mine, the power goes out. At the Palmers’ house, and in the town. All communication is cut. No one knows why.

It doesn’t take long for everything to unravel. In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sisters decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything, and family comes first.

‘A gripping portrait of catastrophe at the edge of the world, love in extremis, and the lengths that survival can drive us to.’ – Justine Larbalestie

~*~

Prudence Palmer has lived in an isolated country town called Jubilee with her sisters – twins – Grace and Blythe, and their father Rick for three years. In these three years, they haven’t attended school, have barely interacted with friends, and have pretty much kept to themselves because their father is a prepper, who believes that the world will end, and they have a bunker filled with food and water for a year. They also have bags ready to go should they need to “bug out” as their father calls it. When the power goes out at the mine when Rick is there one day for a conference, and mass tragedy hits the town of Jubilee. In the small mining town of Jubilee, though, the tragedy unites the community, and the young boy whose mother has come to lead a conference, Mateo, who is quite fond of the word unacceptable throughout the book, befriends Prudence, and they form a bond that makes Prudence question what her father has drummed into her the past three years as he has cut them off from everything and everyone almost, pushing the idea that family should come first in a disaster, that worrying about the community is a waste of time and resources. With Rick missing for the majority of the novel and the several months it takes place over, Prudence and her sisters find themselves caught in a conundrum: do they keep their secret or share it with the town?

Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, things unravel, and the girls are drawn into the community after a few weeks alone, apart from going in to help each day, where they face more tragedy, and yet at the same time, Prudence finds that perhaps banding together and sharing resources is not such a bad thing – as each person has something different to offer – maybe they can find a way to get out of Jubilee and somewhere safer? As they go about their lives, the absence of Rick flutters away until the climax where Prudence is caught in a decision – loyalty to family or loyalty to the town?

The book is filled with diverse and amazing characters, from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, in a tiny town where yes, there are conflicts, but the quick realisation that working together will be the best thing – that community will help, and in the end, this rings true. They all band together for the memorial, for birth, for death and everything in between. Written with great care as well, the diverse cast is real, they’re family and they’re there for each other – including Mateo and his mother, Clarita, who are cut off from Mateo’s other mother in Melbourne – but who still soldier through to help Jubilee. Each character is integral to the plot and the way it unfolds and concludes, ensuring an ending that is uplifting and hopeful in the face of a tragedy that very nearly ended a town.

The premise of this #LoveOzYA novel is very different and unique, when put next to other ones, and that is what attracted me to it in the first place – the idea that the bonds of family, friendship and love of all kinds can be tested in a variety of ways, proving the strength of community in dire times – when everyone bands together to help each other, and does their best to set aside their differences. Whilst there is a touch of romance, it is not the be all and end all of the novel, and the way it was written, guts and all, flaws flailing about, and the general atmosphere of having such a relationship in the circumstances Prudence and Mateo found themselves in was refreshing – Lili doesn’t shy away from the realities of bodies or needing to wash, the lack of hygiene that the characters face for months on end – it is raw and real. This is what I enjoyed about it the most – they were free to be themselves, though they did have concerns about certain things, and they were free to make mistakes.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs were all characters. Nobody was perfect – not even Prudence’s dad planned for having three teenage daughters in his bunker, it would seem. So the girls have to use a bit ingenuity to come up with solutions to problems, that in turn they get to use to help the town. For much of the book, there is a hope that things will turn out, until the return of one resident sets in motion a series of quick events that force people to make last minute decisions, and that leads to a conclusion that in some ways, I had not expected, but that i had also hoped for – and leaving it open ended felt right, allowing the reader to imagine what happened next.

Booktopia

Review and Give Away: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

scrublands.jpgTitle: Scrublands
Author: Chris Hammer
Genre: Crime/Mystery
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 25th July 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 496
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: Set in a fictional Riverina town at the height of a devastating drought, Scrublands is one of the most powerful, compelling and original crime novels to be written in Australia.
In an isolated country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.

A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town’s secrets stay buried.

A compulsive thriller that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page.

~*~

MPB_4595_small.jpgMartin Scarsden is travelling towards a Riverina town a year after a tragic event took the lives of several townsfolk at the hands of the priest, to write a piece on the anniversary of the events. He arrives in a town with a ghost-like aura, where many businesses are shut, or failing, and where everyone has their own version of events that doesn’t quite line up with the official record that Martin has to work with, and he finds that he needs to probe further, and dig into the rumours spun by previous articles – which leads into conflicting account after conflicting account, and further conflicts with characters as he asks the wrong questions, writes a story that goes to print too quickly and brings a media storm to the town, resulting in more deaths and the discovery of more evidence and hints that the crimes committed a year ago were not as cut and dry as the first seemed – questions of motives and suspects, and whether they were linked in anyway come up throughout the novel. Through all this, Martin is quite taken with young Mandalay Blonde, whose involvement and knowledge of the people involved must be peeled away slowly, throughout the novel as the secrets of the town and its residents are uncovered in a media frenzy that seems never ending.

As the novel ambles towards a conclusion where many threads of what was once thought of as a singular, lone crime splinters off into four, and implicates crimes from the past in the concluding chapters, wrapping up the mysteries that Martin encounters and that the town has been hiding – each person with the secrets hiding them for various reasons. Occasionally, the novel touches on Martin’s past as a correspondent in war zones, and how his fellow journalists feel this has impacted him – he has been given a chance to show them he can write still.

The portrayal of the media is interesting – showing that a push to publish from an editor can force the hand of a journalist, but also, the anger at a journalist for reporting what he has been told, or in other ways not told, and how interviews can be warped for the gain of others. It shows that what is first reported or known isn’t necessarily the truth – and that sometimes it can take a while and a lot of digging to get to that truth. The conflict between the media, law and townsfolk was well written, and had notes of intrigue that kept the story going even when i thought things were wrapping up – there was always one more thing that needed to be taken care of.

It is a very long novel – though it didn’t take me forever to get through. The premise is interesting, with a very well written execution and delivery. The compelling mystery that isn’t quite what it seems presented a good opportunity to explore human nature and what people will do to keep suspicion off of themselves, and protect themselves – and in some cases, hurting others in the process. It interrogates the nature of small towns, and crime within these towns, and the impact that tragedies can have on a town and on individuals. Crime can affect anyone, anywhere, as this novel shows, and it also shows that the past will eventually catch up – for better or worse, and betray the flaws and cracks in humanity, where cover ups and secrets start to fall apart at the seams to reveal the truth. At times meandering and ambling in some scenes that felt slower than the rest of the novel, it is still a compelling story, that will capture the imagination of those who enjoy these kinds of mysteries and want to enter a world of secrets, betrayal and murder. It is one I enjoyed, though, and recommend to crime fiction fans and fans of Australian literature – there is an audience out there for it.

 

Giveaway

Allen and Unwin have kindly said they have three copies of this novel to give away via my blog. To be in the running for this giveaway, please comment on this blog post within one week of it going live, and answer within 25 words or less the following question:

Why do you think small country towns in Australian crime fiction have higher levels of crime?

The giveaway will run for a week, from today until the 1st of August, and is open to Australian residents. Remember to put your entry in via the comments section to be in the running, and send me a message via the contact me form to let me know how I can contact you if you win. Prizes will be mailed out by Allen and Unwin.

Booktopia

The Legacy of Beauregarde by Rosa Fedele

THE_LEGACY_OF_BEAUREGARDE_BOOKCOVER_1024x1024.jpgTitle: The Legacy of Beauregarde

Author: Rosa Fedele

Genre: Australian Noir/Suspense

Publisher: MoshPit Publishing

Published: 10th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 424

Price: $39.95

Synopsis:‘You could lose someone down there, couldn’t you? Anyone could get buried under the concrete slab, and no one would even know!’

The Beauregarde women have lived in the shadow of The Seminary for four generations. And there is nothing conventional about Marcela, or her family.

When the decadent and obsessive Gordana acquires the iconic Sydney property and invites a television crew to film the building’s transformation into a magnificent showpiece, strangers suddenly penetrate Marcela’s world, each with a dark secret of their own.

But Marcela conceals a sinister bond which inextricably ties her to the derelict estate, holding the power to not only unravel Gordana’s grand designs, but expose bloodstained treachery, long-buried betrayals and lies.

A decadent and eccentric tableau of theatre and treachery, old secrets and betrayals; exploring friendship, guilt and obsession … slipping between characters to gradually reveal a century-old mystery.

#australiannoir

~*~

The Legacy of Beauregarde takes place over several months during 1990 in Sydney, surrounding a family legacy, and the renovation of what was once a home and Seminary linked to them, and the mysteries of the people who have lived there and been involved with the family. Marcela’s family have lived in the shadow of the seminary for generations – but when Gordana acquires it to renovate on a television show reminiscent of Grand Designs, these strangers that enter Marcela’s world and shatter the sense of calm she has built around her for many, many years.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs well these characters, friends of Gordana  Claudia, Madeleine and her husband, and Ilijana and her brother, Dan, are present, and their stories and links to the Seminary and Marcela are woven throughout – and there are mysterious incidents and deaths happening, and each character, whilst trapped within their own lives and dilemmas, is somehow linked to all the other ones – and each chapter is told from a different characters perspective, which at first , feel like individual stories linked simply by time and place, by the setting of the novel.

The premise of this book, and the basic plot is intriguing, with gothic, mystery and suspense elements that are engaging for the reader, yet at the same time, confusing for the first several parts, until the links and connections between characters hinted at early in the novel become clearer and more concrete, culminating in a series of unforeseen and tragic events that will rattle each and every character to their core.

With so many characters, it did get a little confusing at times, especially when a new one popped up quite suddenly and unexpectedly – adding to the feeling that each chapter at first felt like an individual story that somehow had a link to the overall plot of Marcela and her family, and what they experienced throughout the years and what their history was – which was hinted at throughout as well and came full circle towards the end. In time I got used to it though, even though there were a couple who only made a couple of appearances, and I wasn’t sure what their purpose was – it still worked for the novel.

The personalities and relationships that make up The Legacy of Beauregarde speak to feelings of abandonment in some, and reliance in others, a feeling of who can be trusted and who can’t, and why – perhaps illustrating the complexities of relationships, human nature and society, and how different environments, circumstances and people can have both positive and negative influences on us as children and adults.

As the characters tell their stories and the century old mystery is gradually revealed, the fluctuating pacing ensures that it is unclear who has what motives and indeed what those motives are until the end – which makes the mystery compelling.

This is a book with many threads to make sense of, and threads that weave together slowly, which I found I needed perseverance and patience for, and even though it may not be one of my top reads for the year – it was still enjoyable and for readers who enjoy a meandering mystery with lots of twists and turns like this, I highly recommend it. The meandering ensures the suspense is kept up throughout the novel and potentially, never really leaves.

Booktopia

The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

the desert nurse.jpgTitle: The Desert Nurse

Author: Pamela Hart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 10th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits

It’s 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.

From the casualty tents, the fever wards and the operating theatres of the palace; through the streets of Cairo during Ramadan, to the parched desert and the grim realities of war, Pamela Hart, beloved bestselling Australian author of THE WAR BRIDE, tells the heart-wrenching story of four years that changed the world forever.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1911, Evelyn Northey has just turned twenty-one – the age she believes she will receive her inheritance from her long-dead mother and be able to go out into the world and make her own life, and her own decisions – away from the controlling home of her father. When she finds the conditions of the will – and her father’s ruling – prohibit this – she spends the next three years training to be a nurse in secret – a step towards her goal to becoming a doctor.

When war breaks out in 1914 in Europe, she enlists as a nurse in the army – and is sent to Egypt, and the tragic, and disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Prior to her departure, she meets Dr William Brent at her physical assessment, a polio survivor whose disability has prevented him from enlisting and heading to the battlefront – yet he finds that he is able to serve in another way – in the hospitals of Egypt and Cairo with Evelyn.

Together and apart – they work in casualty wards, fever tents and the operating theatres, and William tutors Evelyn in Latin and medicine, preparing her for her plans to attend medical school in Edinburgh. Through four years of war, Evelyn and William drift in and out of each other’s lives, their friendship and relationship develop along the way, with the ups and downs of life in war time. Both are determined to forge their own paths and not be reliant on another – Evelyn wanting to become a doctor, which means making sacrifices in her life – marriage, a family – to achieve her dreams, whilst William is hesitant to enter into a close relationship with anyone and burden them with having to care for him later in life due to his disability. But the friendship between William and Evelyn that blossoms into more is based on respect and understanding for each other.

Pamela Hart again positions a woman in a man’s world- that of war, and this time, the medical world – and gives her a voice that the doctors and matrons she works with respect – especially William and Dr Fanous, who were like a balm to Evelyn’s harsh father. This contrast showed the spectrum of attitudes based on gender during this time, and I felt that poor Evelyn was treated quite unfairly by her father at the start of the novel, and through her stories of what had happened after her mother’s death – all of which was dealt with very well, and I enjoyed William’s response and the way he made sure he tried not to be like this – a true friend.

The historical backdrop to the novel was made more authentic with the inclusion of the real desert nurses – Evelyn and Hannah were the only fictional ones in Pamela’s story, and her inclusion of Connie Keys, Selina (Lil) MacKenzie, Alice Ross-King, Mabel Pilkington, and Dr Agnes Bennett – the first female doctor in the British Army who was in charge of the hospitals in the Serbian theatre of war. In doing this, Pamela has ensured the recognition of what these women did during four awful years for the world and for the Anzacs who left their homes in Australia to assist Britain against Germany – more information on these women can be found on Pamela’s author website.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. The historical story, and Evelyn’s story and journey towards independence were my favourites, with the touch of romance on the side, which added to the story, and gave it a touch of humanity and hope amidst the death and destruction of World War I. Equally enjoyable were the inclusion of Rebecca Quinn and her brother, Linus from A Letter from Italy as good friends of Evelyn and her brother, Harry. Seeing two women who wanted more than what was expected of them was wonderful. Also, having a main character with a disability, who didn’t let it stop him doing what he set his mind to, was excellent to see as well. William didn’t let his polio stop him, nor did Evelyn let his disability colour her perspective of him – rather, she respected him and looked out for him when necessary, just as he did for her. An excellent representation.

A wonderful read that evokes the gravitas of war, nursing and expectations of women in the early twentieth century alongside a love story that evolves throughout the novel to reach the conclusion readers hoped for.

Booktopia

Book Bingo 14 – A Book by an Australian Man

Book bingo take 2

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

Book bingo take 2

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.

Export-0135

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