Interview with Joy Rhoades – The Burnt Country

the burnt country

Hi, Joy and welcome to my blog, The Book Muse.

First of all, I loved The Burnt Country, and would like to go back and read The Woolgrower’s Companion, to see what happened before 1948.

 

In The Burnt Country, Kate is determined to keep running her farm. Where did you get your inspiration for Kate, and the characters who surround her?

 

I’m so glad you loved The Burnt Country ! Kate, my main character, is modelled on the country women I knew growing up in the bush: my grandmother, my Mum, and the wonderful ladies in whose homestead kitchens I’d sit with my siblings and a pile of kids, to be fed homemade ginger beer (the non alcoholic kind), scones straight from the oven or pikelets off the pan. Delicious.

 

Were there many people, like Kate, in the mid-twentieth century who defied the Aborigines Welfare Board to protect people they knew or worked with? Or was Kate an anomaly in a world and society that was racist and sexist, and didn’t like threats to what they knew?

 

It’s fair to say Kate was never the norm but it’s also true that her brand of activism was not unique. The remarkable academic Professor Victoria Haskins in her book, One Bright Spot,chronicles her great-grandmother’s attempts to help her Aboriginal ‘domestics’ employees against the worst excesses of the NSW Aboriginal Protection Board. She also worked alongside Indigenous activists in 1930s’ Sydney. It’s also the case that entire branches of the Country Women’s Association fought hard in their districts to improve the conditions of Aboriginal women, as Dr Jennifer Jones lays out in her book Country Women and the Colour Bar.

 

You touch on Prisoners of War through Luca, and the discrimination he faces post-war as well – this is a running theme throughout the novel and I think you executed it well, as I believe the readers will hopefully empathise more with these characters than others. Is this your intention, and what sort of responses do you think people will have?

 

I very much wanted to look at discrimination and Daisy, Kate, Luca: they each face different forms, but it’s all prejudice. So far, readers have responded strongly —positively— to The Burnt Country. If people, even for a moment, think differently, or consider their own even subconscious bias, that’s a big win for me as a writer.

 

 

I loved the focus on Kate beyond her relationship with men. I felt this made the novel and the story even more powerful within its setting, as she was allowed to be who she was as a farmer, not as someone falling in love, even though she is. Is this what you intended for readers to see and experience with Kate?

 

I’m so glad this appealed! It bugs me that popular culture still largely represents women as mono-faceted: we’re either wife material, or wives and mothers, defined always as an appendage to others. To men. But that’s not how I see myself or how women are. I wanted to show Kate as a real woman, yes, with a very human desire for love and companionship but also as a person with deep duties and responsibilities.

 

 

The setting you have created for Kate and the rest of the characters is a very distinct one, and you make readers feel like they are there on the dry land, in the bushfire and in the homesteads. How much fun did you have creating these images and feelings for both the characters, and the readers?

 

I write from home in London, a long, long way from Roma in western Queensland where I was born and grew up. At first, that gulf between me the land that I’m writing about, I saw as a loss and a writing disadvantage because I couldn’t just walk outside to check the shape of a leaf or the colour of a grass. But distance forces a kind of discipline too. I have to see the leaf clearly in my head, or smell the scent I want to describe. If it’s clear in my mind, then I hope it will be a vivid image too on the page and in readers’ imaginations.

My books are love letters to the Australian bush and its peoples. I miss Australia very strongly but I hope I don’t sentimentalise it either. A reader will see both the pink of a rainless sky and the pain of animals dying from drought.

How much of your family history and stories from the country did you draw on in your research?

 

The Burnt Country draws on family stories, mainly from my grandmother. She was a great teller of stories, sprung from such a long and varied life. A fifth generation grazier, she lived almost all of her 102 years on a sheep place in northern New South Wales. We would visit her when I was a kid, and she was always a great teller of stories. She loved family history too so that was an underlay to the carpet of her anecdotes. She was one of those remarkable country women, kind, incredibly hard working and with a surprisingly wicked sense of humour!

 

If you don’t mind sharing, did you have any favourite family stories that inspired your writing and the way you write about the land with such love?

 

My favourite story will always be one from my grandmother. But it’s not a grand story of her bravery or her resilience but a domestic one: her raising of wallaroos. If my cousins or the rouse-about on the place saw a dead wallaroo by the side of the road, they’d always check the pouch. Any live joey would be brought home to my grandmother and she’d try to save it  and then raise it. Each had a glamorous name like Matilda and Julia, and she loved them dearly. It was mutual. They’d follow her about the garden. She once brought a wallaroo with her when she came to visit us. We only realised when its ears popped up out of the bag she was carrying.

 

Research processes are something I enjoy reading about – for this novel, and your previous one, where did you start researching, and what are some of the most interesting sources you found in your journey?

What were some of the more challenging topics to research, and why?

 

Historians, other academics, veterinarians, sheep and fire experts: they were all essential to an authentic story and so enormously helpful. But the most challenging research was on Aboriginal historical aspects.

I found it disturbing and confronting to learn about really quite recent Australian history: the brutal policy and force of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board (as it was known from 1940), about the domestic servitude of young —very young—Aboriginal girls. In addition,  for The Burnt Country I explored an aspect I knew littleabout: ‘exemption certificates.’ These certificates were granted by the relevant state Aborigines Board and relieved a person from the strict laws regulating all Aboriginal people. But the conditions could be draconian and often divided families.

I was very fortunate to get guidance from a distinguished academic, Dr Katherine Ellinghaus. Through Dr Ellinghaus, I was wonderfully able to meet Aunty Judi Wickes, an academic and an Aboriginal Elder, who has explored the terrible impact of exemption certificates in her own family’s history. Aunty Judi was enormously helpful in guiding me on the implications for the exempted person and their descendants.

I found it easy to read this not having read the previous book – but would you recommend people read them in order, or does it not matter?

 

I’d be thrilled for people to read both and if they can, in order, with The Woolgrower’s Companion first. But The Burnt Country (the second book) is standalone so can happily be read by itself.

 

Finally, are you planning further stories for Kate and her friends, or is there a new project on the horizon?

 

I have the beginnings of an outline, in note form, for another story set in and around the Longhope district. But that’s competing with another novel where the outline is further along and quite detailed. So we’ll see which one grabs me to be written first!

 

Thank you for joining me here, I always enjoy reading books by Australian women exploring a diverse range of topics and stories.

 

 

My pleasure! Thanks so much for having me along.

Interview Tanya Bretherton The Suicide Bride

suicide bride

  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.

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.

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

Interview with Anthony Hill – 2nd July 2018

Hi Anthony, and welcome to The Book Muse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booktopia

Interview: J.D. Barrett on The Upside of Over

upside of over

Hi J.D., and welcome to my blog, The Book Muse.

  

Congratulations on publishing your third book, The Upside of Over. I read The Song Of Us as well last year as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed both.  Thank you so much, Ashleigh!

Of all the books you have written, which one has been the most enjoyable to write?

They’re all enjoyable in different ways – The Secret Recipe for Second Chances will always be special, it was a life raft in many ways… The Song of Us and The Upside of Over had also been digging into my subconscious for years. Each of them is unique and took me on a very different journey! The Upside of Over certainly gave me a lot of joy as I wrote it… I had to keep pushing myself to stay brave and sass it up!

 

Olivia is an intriguing character, filled with flaws but also, I thought with a lot of self-confidence – during your time working in television and media, did you find this was a common trait of the people you worked with?

Absolutely! I mean as humans we are flawed and all loveable in our fallibility. I think if you’re working in an arena where presentation is everything it can be even more challenging and confronting when failure strikes. I also can see how easy it can be to become your persona.

JD Barrett.jpgThe experiences that Olivia went through following her personal video to her husband going viral felt raw and genuine – do you think these are common experiences for women in the media industry?

I think anyone who has experienced the breakdown of a marriage, a long-term relationship, sudden unemployment or the loss of a loved one knows what it feels like to be completely stripped bare. All those things you thought were important no longer matter, the way you sorted your life goes out the window and you’re on the coal face of what really matters and what’s left when all those comforts and distractions go. Getting to a place where you can love and accept yourself in that and reinvent from an authentic place is (I feel) one of our biggest lessons as humans.

Being as expansive as you like, and using your own knowledge and experiences, why do you think women in the media have these experiences and what do you think this does to their sense of self and identity?

Working in an industry where age and appearance is your currency throws your self-esteem out of whack. If you only feel as important and worthwhile as the number of likes on social media, the number of ratings on your network or the amount of fan mail complimenting your appearance you receive, at some stage you will come unstuck. Most of the women I know in the media are also exceptionally intelligent and savvy women. Valuing what you do over your age or the dress you’re wearing is vital but so very difficult to sustain. Television is a visual medium and unfortunately, we have a curated and reduced idea of what is aesthetically desirable. I believe this is changing.

I adored all the diversity in this novel, hearing voices we don’t often hear in literature and media. Were any of these characters a challenge to write, and what did you do to create the authenticity in them?

To be honest quite a few of them are permutations of people I know or know of, it always morphs into something and someone else during the creative process… and I think the author is present in every character. There were times when Olivia was difficult because in some ways she’s like me. The naughty poorly behaved characters were a lot of fun! Atticus became a different character to who I originally planned him to be. I believe there’s a bit of magic that goes on when you write and if you listen carefully the characters reveal themselves to you.

 

Based on this, how could other writers approach it when they are writing about similar characters?

Listen to your characters, work out who they are and what they want, find their individual speech patterns and rhythms… tune into them… and never judge them.

When you first wrote this novel, were you aware, or did you have any inkling about how prophetic it could be with the #TimesUp and the #MeToo movements that started in late 2017 following the Harvey Weinstein scandal and subsequent fall out?

I began this story, as a pilot script in 2010 so no, I had absolutely no idea. I had completed the first draft before the Weinstein story broke. I think it’s something that’s been bubbling away for years (well clearly by the stories coming forward). I was also aware of it due to my own experiences.

I did like the little nod and reference to the main character in the Song of Us – did you plan on linking the books in any way or was this just happy coincidence? (It did make me smile and chuckle, it felt very meta).

I like to have a few links because our worlds are always interconnected, and I like my readers to know the other characters they’ve invested in my other books are still going strong. There’s also a nod to my first novel, in that Olivia and Dave have dinner at Fortune. Hugo was also in the first novel.

Olivia’s achievements at the end of the book, and her coming together with her friends, family and everyone who saw her through and supported her was a lovely ending. Do you think many cases of sexual harassment brought against those in the media will have an outcome like this, or will we just see more coming out all the time, with more people trying to hush things up or make excuses?

I believe this is a watershed time and there is no going back. I truly hope the women brave enough to come forward and speak out and the men and women who support them will all have their own happy ever afters. I also believe the paradigm shift in the psyche of the media and western society, will enable potential bullies and abusers to see the light and come from a place of respect and integrity…. I am all for a happy ending, always.

J.D., Thank you for agreeing to be a guest on my blog, and thank you for writing fun yet thought provoking stories that people can relate to as well.

Great questions, thank you so much for having me! x

The Upside of Over by J.D. Barrett ($29.99), published by Hachette Australia.  

Booktopia

Interview with Zanzibar 7 Schwarzenneger, Author of Veneri Verbum

NB Question 6 is intentionally written as it is, taking inspiration from a chapter in the book.

Zanzibar, welcome to the Book Muse, and thank you for taking time to dive down into this quaint little rabbit hole of mine, riddled with plot holes of course, and zillions of plot bunnies that go nowhere. But before yet another bunny creates another plot, which brings about another hole in this interview, let’s have a chat.

Q: Your first novel, Veneri Verbum, is a novel about a novelist writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month. What inspired this?

I’m a novelist and wrote my first real life book during National Novel Writing Month. It seemed a good case of “write what you know”.

Q: Christopher Cullum experiences many common afflictions of the NaNoWriMo process – what are they and are they common for many participants?

You realize Christopher is just a character, even though he thinks he’s a writer, right? He falls for his main character, doesn’t want anyone to die, changes things on a whim, and runs on caffeine. Isn’t that more or less how all writers function?

Q: Plot bunnies. Just how dangerous are they?

Shhh! They can hear you! They have very big ears, you know. They also have claws that dig deep into your soul and teeth that bite down to your very essence. Occasionally they’ll do you a good deed on a whim, but they’re about as dangerous as The Conductor. They’re just much cuter.

Q: What do you like to read when you’re not writing about Figments and Christopher, and who are your influences?

I tend to experience books more than read them, but I do have favorites. If I suddenly turned into Jasper Fforde (The Eyre Affair) in the middle of a book, I’d probably die of joy. Pleasant way to go, but still dead, so I only hope to be as funny as he is. I think the late Lewis Carroll had the best grasp of how the Figment World works, even though he was writing about chess, cards, and tea parties. The late Terry Pratchett also influenced me, although he went and died, so I’d rather not emulate him yet. Still, mad respect that he could write as much as he did with Old Timer’s disease. Oh, and Monty Python is a definite influence. Those guys understood the power of “I’m not dead yet.”

Q: What does Christopher like to read?

Christopher doesn’t really read much. He has great friends who recommend books when he needs them for a plot, though.

Q: Eye heard a rumour that speeling lyke this macks you twich. Is this true?

I’m sorry. I just had a minor seizure. You were saying?

Q: I heard that many writers research extensively when on a project. I do, and it feels never ending. What kind of research do you do?

I, um, don’t research. (One of the many reasons I’m in the Character Witness Protection Program.) I pick up bits and pieces from things I see and put them all together. There are lots of things in Reeyal Lyfe that just beg to be put into a story. I hate to be a miser, so I use them all.

Q: Speaking of research, does Christopher Cullum do any?

Christopher likes to surf Soshal Meedya without a surfboard—or an ocean. I don’t think that counts as research, but he does.

Q: What are your favourite writing snacks and drinks?

I’m a Figment, so I don’t require food or drink. I’m rather fond of the occasional afternoon tea or morning mocha, though. And cake. You can’t go wrong with cake.

Q: How many plot bunnies does it take to make you twitch?

*twitch* Just one. Or the mention of one. Or thinking about mentioning one. Mere existence is generally enough for a good shiver.

Q: Let’s get down to business…how many times can Eric die?

So far, nine hundred and eleventy-leven. Not all of those are my fault! I can account for the eleventy-leven.

Q: What is your favourite time of day to write?

I still don’t have the hang of this Tyme stuff. I write when I sit down to write and I stop when I get up. Sometimes it’s light outside. Sometimes it’s dark. Sometimes there’s a major apocalyptic event occurring, but that’s a different interview.

Q: Finally, Zanzibar, I’m sure you have legions of fans out there that have read Veneri Verbum. Just when can we expect to have the second book available, and what will it be called?

I’m mentally writing my second book, Fire N Nice, already. I hear some call this procrastination, but I call it pre-writing. I expect to have it out when it’s finished and no later. Maybe one day later. Things happen slower in Reeyal Lyfe than the Figment World.

Odd that you mention Legions, since there are Legions of super heroes and super villains in the book. I tried to pitch it as non-fiction, but was told it will still be designated fantasy.

Thank you again for participating, Zanzibar, and feel free to reblog this on your own blog for advertising purposes.

Thank you for asking me questions and putting answers somewhere on the Interwebz. I appreciate your genius in being one of the first to recognize me in my quick rise to Book Domination and Fame.