Alice to Prague by Tanya Heaslip

Alice to Prague.jpgTitle: Alice to Prague

Author: Tanya Heaslip

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 6th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:What happens when a young independent Northern Territory country girl decides to follow her dreams and go off in search of adventures abroad? An honest, often funny, bittersweet memoir of love, loss and belonging; of the hard-won understanding around where home lies.

‘I loved it! I laughed and cried and it was very hard to put down.’ Fleur McDonald, bestselling author of Where the River Runs

‘A story of love for country, for home.’ Toni Tapp Coutts, author of A Sunburnt Childhood

In 1994, with a battered copy of Let’s Go Europe stuffed in her backpack, Tanya Heaslip left her safe life as a lawyer in outback Australia and travelled to the post-communist Czech Republic.

Dismissing concerns from family and friends that her safety and career were at risk, she arrived with no teaching experience whatsoever, to work at a high school in a town she’d never heard of, where the winters are frigid and plunge to sub-zero temperatures.

During her childhood on an isolated cattle station in Central Australia, Tanya had always dreamed of adventure and romance in Europe but the Czech Republic was not the stuff of her dreams. On arrival, however, she falls headlong into misadventures that change her life forever.

This land of castles, history and culture opened up to her and she to it. In love with Prague and her people, particularly with the charismatic Karel, who takes her into his home, his family and as far as he can into his heart, Tanya learns about lives very different to hers.

Alice to Prague is a bittersweet story of a search for identity, belonging and love, set in a time, a place and with a man that fill Tanya’s life with contradictions.

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~*~

In 1994, Tanya Heaslip, who had grown up in the Australian outback on a farm, and attended boarding school in the city, heads off to live in Prague, in the Czech Republic for year – only three years after the collapse of Communism, and five years after she saw the Berlin Wall come down. Heading there to teach English, she enters a world that is unfamiliar, and in some ways, is still clinging onto the Communist past, yet at the same time, trying to embrace the new way of life and venture into a new world. Unable to speak Czech, Tanya had to rely on the generosity of the Czechs who spoke some English, and the keen students at her school like Pavel and Kamila who loved learning from her. She found ways to connect with her students through Australian songs like Waltzing Matilda, and met Karel, a man who would help her find her way in Prague, who she would fall in love with. Yet their cultural differences and understandings of love and relationships did not always see eye to eye.

The Prague that Tanya visited and lived in is very much the Prague I visited in 2007- where remnants of Communism still cling on, and where the first MacDonald’s built in Prague is opposite the Museum of Communism – which goes through the history of Communism in the Czech Republic from 1948 until the Velvet Revolution.

What we know of Communist era Prague and Eastern Europe from the Western tradition, and what the people Tanya became friends with told her have a stark difference for understanding and interpretation. Where the West – and Tanya – believed it was oppressive, people like Karel said they found it safe – they knew where they lived, where they worked and how their lives would turn out. The fall of Communism had made that uncertain for some people yet given hope to others.

Visiting in 2007, there are still elements of Communism amongst the new capitalist areas, and the old, medieval icons such as the Astronomical Clock. Each of these elements combines to create a unique city that has seen many changes, war, revolution and everything in between. Its identity is clear in Tanya’s memoir as one that has been cobbled together of all these elements, and one that continues to grow in Europe. Tanya’s story is amazing and intriguing – and the way she adapted to life in Prague illustrated how anyone might have to adapt to any environment starkly different from the one they are familiar with.

Where Tanya had the freedom to head back to Australia, and younger students expressed a desire to leave Prague and head to what they saw as freer nations, people like Karel expressed that they could not leave their lives for uncertain futures or places. In this meeting of East and West, Tanya discovered through discussions with her students at the school, legal institutions and a ministry, that both sides had been fed a narrative that suited their respective governments. That everyone had a valid viewpoint but some things simply did not translate or crossover – and only Tanya could make the decisions she needed to make about her life and her future – which she touches on at the end, and where she ends up in Australia, a decade after her journey to Prague.

This book gave an interesting insight into travelling to and around a former Communist country in the years just after the changes came forward, and the difficulties in transitioning from one to the other, and the conflicts of those who want change, those who don’t, and those who have come from an entirely different place where definitions of freedom and security are very different. It is eye opening and engaging – and I could picture Prague as she wrote about it – the River Vltava, Charles Bridge and all the ancient architecture peppered with newer, Communist bloc buildings. An interesting read for all into history and Prague, and for those who have visited or want to visit.

Saving You by Charlotte Nash

saving you.jpgTitle: Saving You

Author: Charlotte Nash

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 370

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Three escaped pensioners. One single mother. A road trip to rescue her son. The new emotionally compelling page-turner by Australia’s Charlotte Nash

In their tiny pale green cottage under the trees, Mallory Cook and her five-year-old son, Harry, are a little family unit who weather the storms of life together. Money is tight after Harry’s father, Duncan, abandoned them to expand his business in New York. So when Duncan fails to return Harry after a visit, Mallory boards a plane to bring her son home any way she can.

During the journey, a chance encounter with three retirees on the run from their care home leads Mallory on an unlikely group road trip across the United States. Zadie, Ernie and Jock each have their own reasons for making the journey and along the way the four of them will learn the lengths they will travel to save each other – and themselves.

Saving You is the beautiful, emotionally compelling page-turner by Charlotte Nash, bestselling Australian author of The Horseman and The Paris Wedding. If you love the stories of Jojo Moyes and Fiona McCallum you will devour this book.

~*~

Saving You is the first Charlotte Nash book I have read – I had heard of her before, but her books had never really crossed my path until this one. Saving You is the story of Mallory Cook, a single mother living in a small Queensland town in Australia, by the coast, and her son, Harry. Mallory has been waiting for her son to return from a visit to America to see his estranged father, who left them a year ago to start his company in New York. When Harry’s father refuses to bring Harry home, Mallory sets off to America, and a long road trip across America to find her son and take him home. What she doesn’t expect is to take this trip with three escaped pensioners from the care facility she works at, each with their own goals and desires.

They are on a journey for themselves, each other and those that they love – so the romance in this story is more about family than anything, and in particular, a mother’s love for her son. Desperate to get him back, Mallory embarks on the journey, with unforeseen endings and events that reveal more about the lives of her residents than she previously knew. In writing this review, I did some research on Charlotte Nash, and found this story appeared to be quite different from her rural romances I haven’t read before, and I think it was the basic premise of a mother fighting for her son and a road trip that sparked my interest in this story, because it was so different from what my research suggested Charlotte wrote.

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I enjoyed that the love story that predominated this novel was familial love and struggles, as well as support from friends and support that comes from the most unlikely places and the journey that is taken to do whatever it takes to get there.  Even so, there is still a little romantic subplot with AJ, an ex-Marine on a road trip, who pops up every now and then when Mallory needs him, and slowly, they get to know each other. Because this wasn’t an insta-love was why I enjoyed it – it allowed them to grow and get to know each other. This was a very effective way to tell the story.

It was a quick read for me – let’s face it, many things are. It can be devoured or savoured, depending on how you read and want to experience this book, and I hope Charlotte’s fans enjoy this new book.

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Check in #5: Australian Women #60 to #78

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn what is likely my final Check in for 2018 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I’m making my list a little longer as it did not make sense to make another post for one or two books, given I did this in blocks of fifteen – and am debating whether to do monthly, or blocks of ten for next year to increase my content output. Most books are already out, but the seventy-sixth book is only out in January, and based on challenge rules and discussions with a fellow participant, counts in both years – as the review goes up in 2019. This is one of my wrap up posts for the year – still to come, my overall challenge, my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, my overall reading log and number books read over the past twelve months, and my wrap up post for book bingo, which in theory, should include the intro for next year and that means I need to pick a book to read for the first square I’ll be marking off on the fifth of January, 2019 for book bingo with Theresa and Amanda.

My past check-ins have each had fifteen books – but given how close to the end of the year we are, I did the final seventeen in one post. Over the year, I have read a wide variety of books by Australian Women, but mainly Young Adult, Fantasy, Kids, and Historical Fiction or Crime. Of these books, Graevale, We Three Heroes, Lenny’s Book of Everything and Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls have been amongst my favourites, for various reasons.

Graevaleis the fourth book in the Medoran Chronicles and sees Alex and her friends trying to prevent their visions of the future coming true, now that Aven Dalmarta sits on the Meyarin throne. He is a threat to all Medora, and Alex must find a way to unite all the kingdoms and species. Despite resistance, for the most part, she succeeds. Until it comes to Graevale and the Shadow Walkers – whose indifference to the message she has been delivering around Medora will lead to a series of catastrophic events with devastating consequences.

In the same series, is We Three Heroes – a trio of novellas told from the perspectives of D.C., Bear and Jordan across the series, based around key events that affected them as well as Alex. Chronicling their lives before, and after they met Alex and became the group of friends we love, as they navigate Akarnae and the ups and downs of life as their world heads into a war that they may not be able to win.

Taking quite a different turn, is Lenny’s Book of Everything.  A story about a family, a brother and sister whose lives revolve around building an encyclopedia letter by letter, and a rare genetic disease that makes Lenny’s brother Davey keep growing. With a bittersweet storyline told through Lenny’s eyes about these years and her search for her father and his family, this book will make you laugh and cry in equal amounts and stay with you long after the last page is turned.

Finally, for everyone who always wanted to be the princess but be more than the girl waiting to be rescued – the girl who can take care of herself and where sometimes, the prince changes his fate for her, we have Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls. Filled with four fairy tales where the girl traditionally must wait for the male to come, these tales show Rapunzel, Thumbelina, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood taking charge of their own fate, as inventors and activists, adventurers and scientists within a fairy tale word frame. A wonderful addition to a growing fairy tale collection of traditional and reimagined ones.

The Final Seventeen:

My stats and final comments will appear in my wrap up post in the coming days – but to finish off the year, I am looking forward heading into the 2019 challenge as the YA editor for the AWW blog as well as everything else. This has been a great challenge and I have had some excellent crossover with other challenges, that I hope to continue into next year.

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The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

psychology of time travel.jpgTitle: The Psychology of Time Travel

Author: Kate Mascarenhas

Genre: Science Fiction/Crime

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia/Head of Zeus

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A time travel murder mystery, set in a female-centric alternate world.

A time travel murder mystery from a brilliantly original new voice. Perfect for readers of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven . 1967 : Four female scientists invent a time travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril… 2017 : Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady… 2018 : When Odette discovered the body she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, that strong reek of sulpher. But when the inquest fails to find any answers, she is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder? What readers are saying: ‘A complex murder mystery thriller that offers something new and exciting … I was gripped!’ ‘Fantastic! The plot was hugely thought-provoking and the characters engaging’ ‘A fascinating, thought-provoking thriller about time travel, murder and a conspiracy that threatens to explode through time’

 

 

~*~

 

In 1967, four female scientists – Barbara, Grace, Lucille and Margaret – invent a time machine. The initial tests send them minutes, or hours into the future, before they start travelling years, and decades into the future, meeting their future selves and future families, and form an organisation called the Conclave, where they work within their own laws, uninhibited by the courts of England. As the novel goes back and forth between 2017, 2018 and various years of significance for the four scientists and the rest of the time travellers they work with, there is a death in a museum, a woman is found shot to death, but with no discernible evidence pointing towards a suspect or weapon. In 2017 and 2018, Barbara’s granddaughter, Ruby, crosses paths with a time traveller to be, Odette, and the intersection of their lives starts to reveal more secrets about the Conclave and those involved and those to come.

 

In this diverse, and female driven novel, various identities are explored, and the idea of time travel, and being able to interact with ones future and past selves, see their deaths but go back to one’s own time and see them again, and the implications of actions taken during time travel that can influence ones future are all explored in Kate Mascarenhas’ first novel, The Psychology of Time Travel.  Her characters are typically English, yet interspersed with the diversity of race and sexuality, giving the novel an atmosphere that is delightful to read and engaging, because the diversity is broad, and incorporates age, and personality as well, ensuring there is something to like for all readers.

 

Equally delightful was the entirely female main cast – showing the power of femininity, representing women as they are, with flaws, with varying characteristics, of different races, sexualities and also disability and mental illness. The story does not shy away from the rather harsh side effects of time travel on some of the characters, nor does it shy away from the devious nature of others, and the mistrust that time travel can bring for some people, the conflict of needing to know, but not wanting to know, of wanting to tell people what is to come, but at the same time, wanting to protect them from this knowledge, creating emotional journeys for all the characters amidst their penchant for science and time travel.

 

The raw humanity and the feminism that drives this female centric novel, where women are who they are, where they have family and relationship conflicts like anyone but where they accept each other without judgement for the most part, is a wonderful example of the power of female driven stories, where women can see themselves represented in a variety of ways and not just in the archetype of maiden, mother or crone, or as romantic desires – which there is nothing wrong with these topes, it is always nice to see women taking centre stage in narratives and points in history where their stories might have been overpowered by others.

 

It is important to see the kinds of representation in other fiction that is present here: female, bisexuality, lesbians, mental health, and different races, all on the spectrum of these aspects of identity that make up who we are as humans. It is a refreshing book to read with these aspects of the characters so raw and front and centre, with a realism about them that doesn’t shy away from the realities of the lives of these women as they travel through time and space. It is an intriguing book with a very curious premise, a time travelling murder mystery, where all the pieces of the puzzle do not fit as neatly together as one would think, yet this is exactly what makes it work so well, and gives it the story its unique characteristics.

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The Butterfly in Amber (Chain of Charms #6) by Kate Forsyth

the butterfly in amber.jpgTitle: The Butterfly in Amber (Chain of Charms #6)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction/Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published:

Format: 1st July 2008

Pages: 266

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Life is always hard for the gypsies, who live to their own rhythm and their own rules, but since Oliver Cromwell had seized control of England, life had been harder – and drabber – than ever. But now life for the Finch tribe has gone even more horribly wrong. They have been accused of vagrancy and murder, and thrown into gaol with only three weeks to live. The only members of the family to escape are 13-year-old Emilia and her cousin Luka. They have been entrusted to find the six charms and bring them together again. Then, perhaps, the gypsies could once again have some luck… And the Finch tribe could walk free. What Emilia and Luka do not realise is that there is a price to be paid for each lucky charm, and that the cost may prove too high…

28th August – 3rd September, 1658:
Luka and Emilia travel to London to find the last of the Graylings tribe, who has married a Puritan lawyer and turned her back on her past. As well as all the perils of the capital city, the children must escape the vengeful Coldham, and still get to Kingston-Upon-Thames in time to rescue their families. But then, on the anniversary of his greatest victory, the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell is mysteriously stricken down… Will everything change? And can the children save their family in time?

The thrilling conclusion to the Chain of Charms series.

Winner of the Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Long Fiction 2007

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AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Butterfly in Amber marks the finale of The Chain of Charms series, and it reaches its climax as Luka and Emilia reach London, the capital and the heart of Parliament, and where Cromwell is destined to die within days of them arriving. As they set foot in London, they are pursued by Coldham, and arrive at the home of the Countess of Dysart, whose loyalties are uncertain until she agrees to shelter the children as they make their way through London, searching for the last member of the Grayling family, who has married a Puritan lawyer, turning away from her past. Here, they will meet family they never knew they had, be reunited with a friend from the past, and have to continue to try and evade Coldham as Cromwell is struck down on the anniversary of his greatest victory – all things Emilia has seen as they travelled across the country. With the charms reunited at last, can Emilia and Luka save their family in time?Kate_Forsyth

In the final instalment, Luka and Emilia, now in London, must use all their luck and abilities to evade Coldham, the Roundheads and pickpockets – as they seek to reunite the charms, save their family and meet up with the rest of the traveller families that they have encountered on their quest for the charms. As they venture onwards, sacrifices must be made – and they are always on watch, in case they fall into the wrong hands. Fate will bring an old ally to them and set forth a series of events that culminate in the finale of their quest, and the resolution written down in history about the end of Cromwell’s reign and the return of peace to England.

Kate Forsyth’s series  finale is as exciting and engaging as the previous five books, and brings together all the threads of story, plot and characters that have been popping in and out since the beginning of the story. I read it in two nights, eager to see what happened and how it was all resolved, and was caught up in the history, adventure and magic faced by Emilia and Luka on their perilous journey to find the charms and reunite them to save their family. She combines magic and history to create a believable  and inspiring world, where there are good characters, like Emilia and Luka, the evil characters such as Coldham, and the characters who, at great risk to their own safety and lives, help Emilia and Luka such as Tom Whitehorse, Countess Dysart and the many others who sheltered Emilia and Luka, and helped them get away from Coldham and find the charms on their journey.

I had so many favourite characters, especially the crew from the previous two books that included the Royalist Duke, a highwayman, Tom Whitehorse, and a Catholic Priest, whose company kept them alive and showed that people from all walks of life wanted to end Cromwell’s rule and were willing to do whatever they could to achieve it – including the Catholic Underground helping Luka and Emilia, proving the complexity of issues in the world can be seen from many angles, and is dealt with exceptionally well in children’s books.

I have now completed my read of this series, and thoroughly enjoyed it as I have all the other Kate Forsyth books I have read. Onto the next adventures!

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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.

Captain Cook's Apprentice - cover image.jpg

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

The Far-Back Country by Kate Lyons

the far back country.jpgTitle: The Far-Back Country

Author: Kate Lyons

Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A superbly written and compelling novel about the bonds of family and home set against the outback landscape.

In 1979, at the age of fourteen, Ray McCullough ran away from his home on a western New South Wales sheep property following a violent confrontation with his dad, Jim McCullough. He left behind his mother, Delly, and his sisters, Ursula and Tilda.

Now forty-one, Ray works as an itinerant cook and labourer across the remote outback. A practical man in love with history and landscape, Ray leads a solitary life, convinced he’s inherited Jim’s streak of violence. Ray has spent his life running away from memories of family and home.

When the body of a man is found in a country pub along with Ray’s identification, Ursula believes that she can finally lay to rest the search that has defined most of her adult life. After Ursula collects Ray’s belongings, she begins to follow the tracks left by Ray across the far-back country, each one leading her closer to understanding the man he became and why he disappeared all those years ago.

The Far-Back Country is an extraordinary story about memory, mistaken identity, false knowledge and how the idea of family can define us.

~*~

Ray McCullough has spent most of his life as an itinerant worker, going from job to job, and town to town, after running away from home at the age of fourteen in 1979. For most of his life, he has lived alone, afraid his father’s violent streak lives on in him. Twenty-seven years later, his sisters, Ursula and Tilda have come to see if a body found in a country pub is him – his identification is on the body, and the police need to know if it is him – and this sets in motion a string of events that move backwards and forwards between Ray and Ursula as Ray tries to escape his past, and Ursula continues her search for him, and for the truth of where he is, where he has been and what happened to him.

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For years, it has been a mystery, and the early 2000s story is peppered with memories of their childhoods, and what led to their departures from the family home, and the splitting of their family across country NSW. Family secrets abound in this story, and are more often than not subtly hinted at, and not wholly revealed. Clues are instead dropped for the reader to discover what is going on for themselves as they read.

Ray’s journey begins in December 2006, and Ursula’s in June 2007 – after that, their chapters alternate and whilst there is some overlap with the people they meet, because each chapter is written with a six month distance depending on the character arc being told, they are never in the same place at the same time, but they meet and interact with the same people as Ray gets further and further away from his family, and Ursula finds herself getting closer to finding him and finally uncovering and putting long-forgotten and long hidden family secrets to rest.

Because of this style, the story meanders a little through country NSW but is no less interesting – it did take me while to realise how Ray and Ursula’s stories were written, and the timeline, but there was one scene near the middle that made sense and helped to cement my initial thoughts about the way it had been structured and confirmed the settings of each character. Ray, whilst still on his solitary journey, makes an effort to find Ursula and connect with her, only to find she isn’t where he thought she was. And so, as the brother and sister appear to keep missing each other, the mystery deepens throughout the novel.

The intriguing story of Ray and Ursula’s relationship ebbs and flows, and the truth is slowly revealed, though perhaps not really confirmed, adds to the mystery and secretive realm that their family has lived in for many years. It is also a novel about how family can define us, and who we are – and how we separate this from our sense of self. With the mistaken identity of the body at the start, Ray can fashion a new life for himself, yet his sister is determined to track him down and find answers.

A strange, yet intriguing read that sparked more questions than answers, but is at the same time a fresh mystery that takes a family on a journey they didn’t expect.